In David Byrne’s book “How music Works” the Talking Heads singer outlines the band’s motivation for wearing suits on stage at the start of their career, as a way to counteract the extroversion of the glam period that came to before them, and land major Tom back on solid ground. Wearing suits like everybody else during that period, Talking Heads could engage with their audience at eye level, and draw the eye away from the band and the ear back to the music.
Transport that idea to 2018 where suits have been replaced by comfort wear like hoodies and tracksuits and we arrive at Joggebukse (Norwegian for track pants) and a trio of established musicians that are looking to redefine the band in the era of the club. Mats Oven, Syver Breiby and Petter Helland-Olsen are Joggebukse; an instrumental live band that bridges the gap between the dance floor and the stage and who are going about music and the industry in a wholly unique way in this era.
Joggebukse is a brand new project, with only a few gigs behind them and before they’ve even released a single bar of music, I meet Mats and Syver in the rehearsal room in the centre of Oslo. Instruments and empty beer cans give the floor an unnatural geography and I manage to kick over a guitar on my way down to a vacant chair facing Mats, before Syver enters the room wearing a luminescent pair of white adidas track pants, the very same pair that were the inspiration for the band’s name.
Is that what you wear when you play out Syver?
Syver: Yes, I think that was the whole point of the theme. I just want an excuse to wear my “joggebukse” everywhere. I feel like everyone looks down on you if you wear sweatpants everyday, but it’s just a social norm that doesn’t really mean anything; Why can’t I be comfortable everywhere?
Mats: It relates to the whole concept of how we make music and play the gigs too.
Mats, Syver and Petter have been playing together since high school, where they attended a vocational school for music. When Petter left for university to go on to do a master’s degree in classical guitar, Mats and Petter and some kindred spirits went on to form Tuba Tuba. Comprised of a few key players and a host guest musicians, Tuba Tuba took the road and the stage with great force over the course of the last ten years. Tuba Tuba’s sound can be summarised as a kind of indie pop made for DJs. That group consolidated elements of Disco and indie rock in one project that called to mind the quirk pop of Hubbabubbaklubb with a more comprehensive approach to instruments and a determined focus on the dance floor.
Joggebukse came in the wake of Tuba Tuba when the latter couldn’t commit to an unnamed arts festival in early 2017. Faced with a decision, Mats called on Petter to take up the gig, albeit under a different name that Mats and Syver are reluctant to share. The gig was to be little more than an impromptu jam session with Mats and Petter improvising bass and guitar respectively around pre-recorded samples and it immediately found the favour of the captive arthouse audience, encouraging them to explore these themes further, while enlisting the help of Syver and Joggebukse was officially born.
Has Tuba Tuba disbanded?
S: Not exactly, we’re just taking a break.
M: It’s just nice to play something else.
S: We’ve been playing together for ten years so it was cool to take a beat and just do some other things, and perhaps come back as a stronger version of that band.
How does this project differ from Tuba Tuba?
M: In some ways it’s very similar, but Tuba Tuba is also very schizophrenic.
S: It’s a little easier to do things when there are only three people instead of six. It’s easier to make decisions and get songs done. We were pretty democratic in Tuba Tuba.
And that’s not always the most efficient way to work in a band?
S: Yeah, the bureaucracy doesn’t help.
As Joggebukse, Mats Syver and Petter, are re-contextualising the idea of the band. They’ve avoided the traditional band orientated club venues in favour of dance-floor venues like Jæger and Villa, and have started incorporating visuals in their live show in the same way an electronic act or DJ might do in a club setting. For their last gig at the Villa they moved their setup outside of the DJ booth onto the dance floor where they played at eye level with their audience, and that line of distinction between performer and the dance floor disappears. Unlike Tuba Tuba where, they seemed to be disconnected from their audience with the usual security detail or fence between them and their audience, Joggebukse are more at home playing in close approximation to their audience.
S: I like the idea of playing on the floor with people dancing around you.
M: You have to show that you’re playing your instruments.
S: I don’t like watching DJs, I like to watch people play something and that’s not around much in clubs, or even concerts lately. I figured, why don’t we fuse those two things by jamming over a DJ set.
M: We are more compressed and we choose to play at places like the Villa, which makes the biggest difference I guess. The small venues where it’s so much more intimate, you can give something back to the audience.
S: I think that’s where we work best, in a small club with people dancing behind me and in front of me. It was a pretty loose concept, just making beats and doing gigs, and now we’ve consolidated it more like a band.
Syver mentioned a DJ set, but I imagine that is not in the same sense of what the club will understand as a DJ set?
M: Yes, that’s a bit misleading, because we only play original material. It;s our samples that make up a backing track. Syver will create a song, record the various parts, and remove the parts we play for the live show.
Those initial recordings are secreted away on a hard drive somewhere, unavailable to general public for now, but Syver assures me, “they’re coming”. There’s a video in the works that will see the light of day on the 10th of February as Joggebukse make their official debut in the recorded format, but they’re going about the band in a completely unique way. Joggebukse like so many of their peers are in completely uncharted territory. The traditional model for the industry of music can’t be sustained in the age of streaming services and an independent record industry that holds no financial value for the artist. Even releasing a record, be it independent or through a label today is merely for the purpose of getting gigs and people to the gigs, which is the only real viable source of income for a band today.
Even a band like Tuba Tuba, which at the height of their touring schedule had some critical success as a live group and played over a hundred shows to this date, were in no way a success according to Mats and Syver. The only money they’d ever really made was the 640 kr they got to split at one particular gig and for the most part they were barely covering costs. It puts bands like Joggebukse in a curious position where they really have to be be able to justify the time, effort and money it takes to create a record.
In the age of social media that means a video is probably more effective in that regard than releasing a pristine new album. “It all depends at which stage of your career you are” according to Mats and even with Tuba Tuba they never really thought they were anywhere near that next rung in their career ladder, a band able to sustain a living from just music.
M: We put a lot of work into Tuba Tuba and at the end when you’ve played for ten years and barely broke even, you do get tired.
S: I don’t feel like people picked up the Tuba Tuba the singles or the albums. It felt like we were almost making music just for ourselves.
M: I guess there’s not much point on using a lot of energy and money on the physical form at least and probably do it as indie as possible with any of the releases.
S: I really love the vinyl format, it’s a whole package and you can make a concept out of it, but it seems that there’s really no point anymore. People just want singles, which they chew up without much consideration.
M: In that case it’s cooler to make a video and just release it without much fuss and use that to get other bookings.
For the moment Joggebukse are for all intents and purposes a live band, harking back to an era before soundcloud and spotify, cutting their teeth on the stage rather than the studio. It’s an interesting situation and besides a few short instagram clips, there’s no way of knowing what they actually sound like without seeing them live, putting the audience in a position we’ve not really experienced post-internet.
There’s a degree of anticipation there you can’t really explain in a modern context, as you experience a new band for the first times. With no recorded references to their work, there’s only the band on the night, much like Talking Heads would’ve been discovered, playing at CBGB’s during the start of their career. People can’t get “disappointed by what they haven’t heard” suggests Syver.
But how would you describe your music to the uninitiated?
S: Funky is a keyword. Or Neo soul, something that you can really dance to…
M: …but with cool chords.
S: Sometimes I’ll just make a Hip Hop beat and it ends up being something you can dance to.
What are some of your influences for Joggebukse?
S: I thought of that on the way here and I wrote down Herbie Hancock and Mario Kart.
S: Yes the 64 version. There’s some really great tunes there, especially at the loading screen and where you get a star.
M: We actually use the star theme on a song.
S: Yes, I sampled the star theme and we use it in the live show. It’s really cool jam over.
Is the live show about improvising or playing fully composed songs?
S: Both actually. A lot of songs are the product of a lot of jamming and the songs are the best of the jam sessions.
M: When the beat goes a round a few times it’s the same thing we always end up jamming. We know the framework and we just jam within those limits.
S: We’ve been jamming for a really long time together so we have a collective memory.
M: In the future, we want to keep the distinction between the live set and the studio.
Although they never go into much detail, there is almost certainly a record on the horizon for Joggebukse, but without having heard a bar of music from the group as of today it’s still fairy uncertain to what that might sound like. Tuba Tuba on a Nintendo tip is the closest conclusion I can draw at the moment, and the rest is up to the night and the next show at Jæger.
*Joggebukse play Den Gyldne Sprekk next Tuesday with Legs 11.