“It feels like now I have a chance to make some noise,” says Helene Rickhard over a telephone conversation, inhaling the sentence like she’s taking a drag from a cigarette. She’s just moved back to her hometown Arendal, and I imagine her sitting in some remote location on the outskirts of the southern Norwegian town in the midst of a sprawling record collection that consumes every inch of where she lives.
She’s back in Arendal after spending years in Oslo, and like many of our peers, has used the pandemic to relocate and re-adjust. “The pandemic changed everything for me, and the lifestyle in Oslo changed a lot,” she says. “So I ended up selling my apartment there and bought a house in Arendal.” She’s still just settling into the familiar terrain, but she’s determined to use the opportunity to “focus more on creating music.” With concrete plans to build a studio in the new house and some vague plans to set up a label, Helene Rickhard is entering this new phase of her life with some excitement and some trepidation. It’s “scary to have all these plans,” she considers, ”and then you have to do it eventually.”
Over the last few years in Oslo, she’s made a name for herself on Oslo’s music landscape as a DJ with a style all her own and more recently as an artist making music as an extension of that style.
Helene Rickhard would feature on nights where the tone would be left of left-field, with a sense of intrigue and originality setting her apart from even some of the other DJs on the flyer. Sonic journeys through early synthesisers and drum machines conspire through re-constructed pop arrangements that live in the obscure shadows of synth pop and synth wave. There’s something nostalgic, even in the new music she plays, and she weaves these expressive tracks together in a cohesive mood that permeates through mixes like this latest, we recorded during Øya Natt in 2021. Foregoing the ubiquitous beat matching style of today, she plays each track in its entirety, giving the listener a unique introspective view of her individual tastes, which is in every set she plays, regardless of where she might find herself in the lineup.
“I’ve always been an eager collector of music, since I was a child,” says Helene of the origins of these tastes a week after she played the opening set to Øya Natt at Jaeger. Growing up in Arendal to artist parents with a penchant for classical music, “popular music was extremely exciting early on,” for a young Helene. “It started with cassettes,” she remembers. “Making mixtapes via the radio” and buying tapes from catalogues a collection started to grow, which eventually included vinyl, cds and more recently MP3s and armed with all this music, you’d be forgiven for thinking a career as a DJ was just waiting in the wings, but that would only come much later…
As a child of the eighties it was the “electronic sounds” of hissing synthesisers and dusty drum machines that set the tone for her earliest influences. When she eventually heard Kraftwerk, “it was mind-blowing,” and she dropped 7 years of piano lessons when she by her own account had “learnt nothing” to focus all her attention on getting her first synthesiser. With an early Korg synthesiser and Akai sampler manifesting around 15 years of age, Helene has been “tinkering with all kinds of synthesisers and computers” ever since.
For as long as she’s been tinkering on synthesisers and collecting the exotic electronic sounds of electronic music, Helene has been “involved in the club culture” and has known DJs. She, alongside a group of friends “threw the first rave party in Arendal, in 1993” for example and although the fascination with Djing existed from an early age, back then Helene was quite happy to spend a night “on the dance floor and listen to other people” play.
…“I was 35 before I started Djing,” recounts Helene today at 43 years of age. In a culture that has recently only seem to mature, 35 is still very young, but Helene’s experiences with making music and collecting records gave her an uncanny advantage in the DJing scene in Norway. Yes, she’d been a recognised artist, working in the cold tactile environment of dark ambient, releasing records for the likes of Rune Linbæk’s Drum Island records and Center of the Universe’s Metronomicon Audio label before attempting to DJ, but what she developed as a DJ set her immediately apart from the others, due to her esoteric collecting habits.
“I was making music before I started DJing, because I was so scared,“ explains Helene of her delayed inauguration into the world of DJing. Fear of performing, didn’t stop Helene getting involved however, at a rudimentary level at least. She would make mixtapes for herself, and some of those made it onto soundcloud where eventually peers and friends suggested she should start DJing out. “I was like ‘oh no,’” recalls Helene, but after some persuasion she caved and thought, “I have to try.”
She remembers her first set out, or more accurately she remembers the “black-out” that ensued. It was incredibly “nerve wracking” and she clearly recalls thinking at the time; “I never want to do that again.” Luckily she persevered and today she plays regularly, from club locations in Oslo to festival stages in Bergen. She’s featured on esteemed platforms like Lot Radio and Hjemme med Dama’s mix series and DJing has played a role in the drive to feature her original music on record labels like Snick Snack.
She remains nervous when it comes to DJing, but she “prepares a lot” to overcome some of that anxiety. Pouring through her records, always “looking for something new to play,” Helene is a self-proclaimed “junkie when it comes to songs” and requires something new all the time. That’s the collector in Helene speaking. “If I bought 20 records one day it’s old the next day. It’s a kind of hoarding” she proclaims. “I hate going with the same bag to play the same set.” And when she says new, she means “new for me.” The “golden era” of music for Helene remains that period, most of us are too young to remember, but have some innate impulse towards. For Helene this is music made between ‘77 to ‘83 made from the early sounds of affordable synthesisers and drum machines.
During the pandemic, without being able to go to a record store, she had to turn to the digital outlets and platforms like bandcamp for music. Through those efforts, she’s found newer labels and artists making the same music and she’ll often mix these pieces in with their older counterparts. Even so, “a lot of the new stuff sounds like it was played in ‘83” says Helene through a hearty chuckle. It all actually sounds like Helene Rickhard.
She is a unique entity in an increasingly homogenous landscape, and even while she goes through different phases in her musical tastes, her “self-indulgent” tastes never sound like anything else around it. “That’s some kind of personal thing” she remarks and “it has a lot to do with emotions” for Helene. Lately, she’s very into the “cosmic balearic sound, because, it’s very free” and she can piece elements rather than sounds together through her mix as she moves through uncharted territory of her own visceral response to the music. “Sometimes I find myself playing super weird stuff” says Helene questioning herself with “what the fuck am I doing,” but it’s all part of the intrigue of her sets, and often makes for some of the best moments in her selections.
She’s still fairly new to DJing in terms of playing out, so it is a constant point of evolution and education for Helene Rickhard, and from these warm up sets she’s played at Jaeger to “dance slots” she’s been enjoying recently, she is impulsively adaptive. “It changes all the time” with her “moods,” she remarks and a mood quickly solidifies around a selection of songs. This is why she also foregoes beat-matching in her mixes. “I’m more into moods and harmonic mixing, than the regular beat mixing.” she explains. Always one for “a bit of drama in her sets,” Helene considers herself “more like a selector” than a DJ, and while we know she can, she’ll avoid beat-matching in favour of creating some some sense of suspense in “musical connection between the songs” rather than a simple rhythm based link.
It’s a lifetime’s worth of musical knowledge coalescing around a couple of record players with Helene Rickhard echoing through every track. There’s something intriguing, mysterious and visceral of the past in every track, and while her sets might differ from one night to the next, there’s always something appealing and something new to explore through the rabbit hole of her extensive musical knowledge.
Diving through a Helene Rickhard mix is a trip. It’s a journey through the personal, clouded in some abstract swathe of musical colour. Nothing concrete ever really emerges, but there’s a distinctive emotive quality to her mixes and by extension her music.
Asked whether DJing has had an effect on the music she’s produced recently, she says “absolutely.” “I like a mysterious, psychedelic sound,” she explains; “A bit dark and I tend to like to dance to slower music.” Apart from featuring on a few VA’s over the last few years, Helene has yet to bring out an EP or even a single, but that looks set to change as she settles into her new home and establishes her new studio. She claims she has “tons” of unfinished projects gathering dust on her hard drive and she’s looking forward to getting them out to the labels that request them.
The new home studio will be a place where she can work on music, unconcerned about noise complaints from the neighbours, and it seems that it might predicate a new creative phase in Helene Rickhard’s life. Labels are continuously knocking on her door, and having featured on compilations for Hjemme Med Dama, Snick Snack and Hærverk Industrier recently, her music has been reaching a wider audience. Imbued by a new confidence that comes from DJing, where she can “step a bit to the side and see your own music objectively,” she’s found it “easier to finish stuff now.” More importantly however it’s the sound of her sets that have started filtering into her music. Moving on from the dark ambient music she was making before, Helene feels she is “more sure about the sound or the aesthetics” she wants and like her DJ sets, it’s music that reflects her personality and her esoteric tastes.
There’s certainly and ensuing noise to come from the artist, and even though she might have relocated, she’ll continue to have a presence in Oslo and Norway’s DJ scene. Between Djing and music, Helene Rickhard it seems, is only just getting started.