Make something you want to hear with Christian Engh

The pieces have fallen into place for Christian Engh and his music recently. Over the last 3 releases he’s found a sonic identity that has seemingly eluded him in the past. Starting with his 2020 release Voltage and arriving at the Detache, a sound has coalesced around his work that has now been reaffirmed by the fourth edition to this series of records, Skywae. It’s a long way from the Italo sounds of his first split release, Kyllingsmak and even further still from his dalliance with Techno on 2017’s suburb Snurrbass EP. It’s not necessarily even in that comfort zone of the label Full Pupp’s sonic signature, and yet it signals an artist that has certainly found his comfort zone.

“I think you’re right,” nods Christian in agreement as he takes a sip of his beer in Jaeger’s  backyard on a cold, but sunny Saturday afternoon. It’s here where I first met Christian and it’s here, I still regularly bump into him on a night out on Jaeger’s dance floor. We share some stories of recent nights out in the backyard/gården which was largely empty on the day we met for this interview, save the furniture and one other patron. 

I had just listened to Skywae for the first time and I was unable to shake the nervous energy it’s relayed through its gritty kick drums and warm soul-stirring bass. There’s no particular earworm to hang on to, nor is there anything specific like a sound or a particular rhythmic structure that stands out, but there is a definite mood there. It’s something that touches on a nostalgic pulse from House music’s earliest vibrations, but it’s more than that. It’s bold and aggressive, but not in a brutish way and it comes together on a record that is just screaming to be played through a hefty sound system.

It’s “just the way it turned out,” says Christian, almost dismissively. Skywae is the latest in a series of records that has seen the artist cultivate a sound based on his earliest influences and finding form through the artist’s voice. It was all supposed to come out on one LP, but the pandemic and Full Pupp’s backlog of records prevented the album from coming together. Instead both label and artist opted to put the music out through a few EPs and together these EPs create a watershed moment in Christian Engh’s discography.

“I really want to make House music with that American sound,” explains Christian about this new phase in his music. “That’s what I grew up with.” He’s found a stride in this approach, and it turns out, it has resonated with a few influential tastemakers on the upper echelons of the scene too.

“I started to get some recognition from the producers and DJs I really look up to,” says Christian coyly, and he’s being modest. DJs like Cinthie and Honey Dijon have been getting behind his music for the last two years and through them Christian Engh has reached a larger audience. At the time of writing Ctairs has almost a 100 000 plays on Spotify thanks to a Honey Dijon playlist, and it’s given Christian the much-deserved credit that continues to compel him to make and release music. “Hearing something I made in a club and people dancing to it, that’s just so cool,” says Christian and it’s that which has driven him since he first started releasing his music.

He started merely “dabbling in electronic music” early on in his life, but he’d mostly avoided presenting his experiments to others. The chance to eventually release something at all was little more than a happy “coincidence” that came about being in the mix at the Full Pupp stable at a social level. 

Through a common friend he had been introduced to Magnus International and Magnus introduced him to Daniel “Blackbelt” Andersen, and the Full Pupp stalwarts became fast friends with Christian very quickly. “I started hanging out at Blå at their (Full Pupp) nights and got to know (Prins) Thomas after a while too,” continues Christian. He hadn’t played any of his music yet in their company, but as they became more familiar, Magnus, Daniel and Christian would “have some beers before going out” and eventually those turned into listening sessions where Christian “would show them what I had done.” During one such session Magnus latched onto what would become Kyllingsmak and after playing it to Thomas during a Full Pupp night at Blå, Christian’s fate was sealed. 

Witnessing the physical response of a dance floor reacting to something he made for the first time ”was such a rush,” for Christian and it sparked a desire to create more. 

Christian admits there’s a “huge difference” between those first few releases and the music he makes today. He explains it’s all down to the production. “I’ve learned a lot” and everything from Voltage up to now stands a testament to that. Consulting youtube and talking to Magnus and Daniel with some input from Prins Thomas, Christian believes that his productions have reached a point that even though “I still hear stuff that I’m not happy with, it’s not as severe.” 

There was an “a-ha moment that happened in the last two years” when he started to “learn how to use effects” and got more comfortable with aspects of compression and reverb in his work. He waves it off as “a technical thing,” of little interest for people outside music, but you don’t need to be an expert to hear the difference between those early releases and these latest ones. 

“I should have probably taught myself that years ago, but I just suck at being structured,” says Christian jokingly. For somebody that is only doing music as a “hobby” it’s never been a priority” to release records and there’s no reason why he should be so particular about his work, but I sense there’s a perfectionism behind it that has more intent than a mere hobby would. It had taken Christian ten years of making music without releasing anything and then another half decade to get to this point, but there seems to have been an inherent skill for the artform that’s been there since the first record. “I’ve been doing music for a long time,” admits Christian, “but not on the production side.”

He started to play the guitar after hearing Metallica’s …and Justice for All” as an 8 year old. “It was mind blowing,” and attempting to emulate his guitar heroes like James Hettfield and Kurt Cobain, he became quite adept at this instrument early on. His tastes evolved through death- and eventually black metal, which was a thing in Norway at the time 8or so we’re told). By the time he was 14, he had a record deal and was touring Europe and by 17, he had retired from the band and hung up the guitar, abandoning it almost completely…

“After that it’s all been electronic music,” says Christian and while he might still meet up with the people from that scene, “it’s not my interest anymore.” He’s convinced “electronic music has so much more going on.” He’d been courting these two seemingly contrasting worlds throughout his youth, and it seemed like electronic music eventually one him over.  

Yet there remains one constant between these two worlds today for Christian today and that connection is Fenris. “Fenris was a big part of my education,” insists Christian “and he still is.” The Darkthrone frontman is known for his expansive listening habits and that is something Christian has always had in common with him since his black metal days. “We started hanging out, because we were the only people in that scene that would listen to electronic music” and “it’s not exactly” the genesis of Christian’s appreciation for electronic music, “but it was there at the start.”

Even though he left the scene some years back, there are some things that he certainly carried over from that era and that world and not just his friendship with Fenris. One aspect of his music in particular that has survived the mortal coil of death metal,  is a philosophy to “make what you want to hear,” he says. Even as an adolescent guitarist with no formal training, this mantra has followed him, unwavering from one discipline to another. ”That’s my approach to House music as well,” he echoes. 

It’s embedded in his earliest memories of hearing the genre of music. Things like “the old DJ-Kicks stuff from the nineties, and the X-Mixes” is a familiar touchstone for Christian’s own influences. “That’s where it started. For instance, Kevin Saunderson’s X-Mix has this really nice combination between really rough drums and bass and super nice strings and other elements on top which are kind of futuristic – that’s my favourite kind of music,” explains Christian enthusiastically.

You can clearly hear those influences on Skywae more clearly today. The record and the three preceding it, is as much an homage to that era, as it is Christian finding his feet in that sound. It was there all along, it seems, he just needed the time and patience to develop it and now he’s confidently arrived at the point. He might still find fault in his music, nitpicking over details, but Skywae is an archetype of a classic House record if there ever was one, and one that can certainly stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of them.