JM#100 – Olanskii

“I don’t want Jæger to be the most popular club in Oslo” Ola Smith-Simonsen told me on a rare occasion. “I want Jæger to be a social place first and a dancing place second.” That ethos runs through Jæger’s history and has established a place that has distilled the essence of club culture down to one fundamental part, the culture.

Ola Smith-Simonsen is of course Olanskii, one half of G-Ha & Olanskii and one of the founders of Jæger and together with Scott Jacobsen and Kaman Leung he’s established one of the most unique clubbing concepts in existence: a bar- and club space that’s open 7-days a week, centred around weekly residencies. Channeling the spirit of Mancuso’s Loft and Levan’s Paradise Garage through Oslo’s quirky musical characters, Jæger’s music profile has always upheld the history of club music while providing a platform for new Norwegian talent.

A stint in London at the Nottinghillartsclub was Ola’s first claim to fame as a club night promotor. After moving back to Oslo, he took that knowledge and experience into Sunkissed, bringing long-time DJ partner G-Ha on board for what’s become the longest running club night in Oslo.

Sunkissed is a monthly club night at Blå that has been an institution on the scene long before Jæger. For the longest time it was the only club night with an international booking profile in the city, playing host to everybody from Magda to LCD soundsystem, but like Jæger, one of the driving aspects behind the concept has been about motivating the scene around them, with names like Vinny Villbass and Finnebassen passing through its ranks.

G-Ha & Olanskii have taken that concept on the road with Norwegian nights at Fabric and regular appearances at Panorama Bar, as well as establishing a night of international bookings perpendicular to Sunkissed at Jæger called Frædag. Between DJing, Sunkissed and Jæger, Olanskii has played an integral role in what the music scene in Oslo is today and when it was time for the Jæger Mix to tick over to 100, he was Ivaylo’s first and only choice for the mix series.

The familiar pop and crackle of vinyl introduces this week’s Jæger mix as Olanskii produces a focussed version of what he does every Friday night at Jæger. Channelling the history of this music and the whole idea of club culture through this mix, a distinct Chicago and Paradise Garage sound prevails through Olanskii’s Æmix. It merges that ideology of Jæger and Ola’s tastes through a dynamic selection of music that always look forward while holding up candle to the history and legacy of this music and its culture.

Hey Ola. Everybody knows the history of Sunkissed and Jæger, but one thing I’ve never had a chance to ask you was, what sparked the flame that lead to music and DJing?

Do they :)? Well, music has always been there. But the big one was coming to England in 1996. I lived outside London the first year, and used to go into town to go clubbing almost twice a week – Late train in, early train back home. I mostly went to the Blue Note in Hoxton square, back when Old Street was a heavy junkie town. And the Blue Note blew my mind. Anokha, Back to Mono, Metalheadz, Deviation, all these nights had major impact on a young impressionable mind. So I bought some decks and a mixer, and started doing parties myself.

The first parties was in a disused pub in what had earlier been a shooting range under a gun shop in Chatham. There were two of us doing the night, and the other guy knew the owner from before. We used to open at ten, and people would come before eleven thirty – which was closing hours for all the pubs, and pretty much all else in Chatham – and we closed the doors and partied till morning. Of course the shooting range was totally soundproof! I carried on doing student parties when I moved to London the year after, and at one point we were holding residencies at both the 333 in Hoxton, and The Dogstar in Brixton. And that’s how I landed the job at the Nottinhillartsclub. The rest is history.

You’ve facilitated the scene in Oslo for quite some time through Sunkissed and Jæger. You’ve held Norwegian music nights at Fabric, and played that kind of sound in Panorama bar. What motivates you to promote and encourage the scene here and proliferate it abroad like you do?

It’s what I do. Some djs make records and travel the world. I make club nights, and I get to keep my vinyl in the office and the residency a floor or two below. These connections that we made have been really cool. But the focus is on what we do at home. And if anything, it’s always about creating the club or the club night we would want to go to ourselves. Even if I can’t be out so much these days. This is it.

How do you hope Jæger factors into this ultimately?

I don’t know. There is no end goal in this. Enjoying it on the way is everything. Of course I’m always planning something new, and there is work to be done. But Jaeger is a work in progress, a project, more than a finished and polished thing. As long as we keep enjoying it, as long as we see others enjoy it, we’ll carry on.

You’ve remained an unwavering presence through time. Do you feel that you have to constantly adapt with the environment or is there something in individuality that lives beyond time?

It’s an organic process. I don’t take much time out to plan or consider changes. I change, people change. But it has to come from the heart. If it was just business, I’d do something else, something easier.

I know from the bookings and from the records that get delivered to you on a daily basis, that your tastes are quite diverse. When you’re shopping for records, what do you look for in a record as a DJ that has remained constant throughout your career?

It needs to move something. Feet mostly. But it helps if tickles the mind or warms the heart.

One of the unique features of Jæger is that the residents play an integral role in the very fabric of the place. Why is this so important to you and what makes it unique at Jæger?  

To me, residencies are the core. The club is not the bricks and mortar, but the people and the music. Without any residents, you have a venue, not a club. I’m sometimes struck by how far our scene has moved away from this. Nights programmed head to toe with guest artists, without any real connection to the local scene, have become the norm. Even to the point where I often have to explain to agents about our residencies – that we won’t add more guests, or run that label night without any residents. This is not where we came from, or where we should be.

Guests should be the spice, not the bread and butter. Think of all the great clubs and club nights from our past, each of them helmed not by their guests, but by their now iconic residents. Levan, Mancuso, Humphries, Knuckles, Hardy and al. And I think it remains true today, like the residents at Berghain / Panorama Bar, Craig Richards at Fabric, Sven Väth at Cocoon, Carl Cox at Space (in fact most of the big nights in Ibiza are still resident based).

Yes, in recent years I feel too that the resident DJ is something that’s been lost to the world as touring DJs and bookings have taken more of a center stage and the club becomes a venue. How do you try to avoid that at Jæger an keep the focus on the residencies while maintaining the booking profile you have?

Jaeger is built around the residencies. Period. It’s a fundamental blueprint that will remain, even if some residents and residencies will change with the years. Friday nights are our main night for international guests, but the guests will always need to fit within the musical framework of Frædag, and we’re always there playing too. Keeping the resident side is not really the issue though.

What bothers me more is how everybody is so quick at directing their talent outwards. It surely isn’t good for the local scenes if everyone with  half a successful record is devoting their energy towards the touring circus. I can understand it in some ways from the artist’s point of view. It might be where fame and money is. But there is something to be said for building your local scene, and I’d argue, your artistic character at home.

Even if there are many great exceptions, I feel this festival and event circus as a whole is pretty much everything that is wrong with dance music today: The one hour – or an hour and a half if you’re lucky – time slots as a monkey on a massive stage. The mass of people you can’t really have any meaningful exchange, with apart from doof, doof, long drop, white noise, doof, doof, hands in the air. And that’s not even starting on the whole apparatus you need behind you to get onto the circus in the first place.

All this incessant social media pandering. It’s not music, it’s not people getting together under one roof, and it surely isn’t one love. This is the cult of celebrity. Watching, not dancing. Filming, not feeling. And I don’t mean to say the the artist are not good, or that are not nice people. They mostly are, and we have the pleasure of booking a fair few of them, with great dinners, and great nights at the club. But it’s the general way and focus; that’s all out line.

Lets get on to the mix, JM#100. You were obviously the first and only choice to do the centurion. How did you approach this mix differently from a regular Friday night in the booth?

Meh. I’m not big on anniversaries. And would’ve been happy if someone else took the spot. But as I’ve said no so far, time not permitting, I guess it was time to step up. My goal with all mixes has always been for them to be something you’d play in your car. Driving south to the summerhouse, north to the cabin, or through the city at night. A bit odd perhaps, as I only got my drivers licence a few years back, but this is it.

You’re always holding a candle up to the legacy of House music in your mixes I find, and this  mix is no different, offering a very Chicago and Paradise Garage feel to it. Why do you feel it’s important to unpack the history of this music through mixes like these?

It’s generally true that there’s always some hint of the past. But it’s not so much a history lesson, as it is about using records that I feel are tried and tested, yet still relevant to me. I try to shy from the bigger hits, but still add a few personal favourites. But like so many things, this mix was primarily a result of fruits that were easy to reach. I’m currently trying to sort my records, and getting into the office about 45 mins before the session was about to start with not a single record ready, the choice fell on the stacks labelled Chicago and New Jersey.

Is there a track in the mix that encapsulates the mood of the entire mix for you?

Not really this time. I can often build a mix around a certain track or a couple of tracks. The other tracks building up to and around the chosen one. But not in this case. If anything I feel this mix has more of an even flow, where tracks ebb and flow in and out as you drive through the turns. Of course there’s that Virgo Four track towards the end that adds a touch of Acid, but this is more the odd one out.

You spend a lot of time and effort on the technical aspects at Jæger, from the sound to the ergonomics of the DJ booth. I realise that a lot if that is to do with making the DJ feel at home and giving the crowd the best possible experiences. How do these elements affect the way you approach a mix at Jæger?

Haha, they don’t. This mix is a pretty freeflow affair, like most of my mixes. The DJ booths are a different story. There were these liner notes on a Paradise Garage compilation that I got in the early days, about how particular Levan was about everything, moving speakers and light  about … and that iconic DJ booth.

Now, Oslo is not New York, and Jaeger is not the Garage. But this somehow stuck, and I’d lie if didn’t say this little scrap of text inspires our approach to sound at Jaeger. And I’m old school like this, if it wasn’t obvious yet, haha. A club should have a booth! Riders on blank stage tables are all fine at events and festivals, by all means. But this is our home away from home. And the booth is the heart of it all. For me that’s everything walking into the box. And I know some guests would rather want their pioneer mixer, and their whatsits in a certain order. But this is our house.

Is there anything, from a track to the environment that you would like to have changed in your edition of the Jæger mix?

Surely. Always. But I don’t look back like that.

And lastly, the Jæger mix is very unique. It’s recorded live in the early evening of a Sunday, but mostly people will be listening to it, some time after Wednesday at home or on their headphones. How does this mix move between these different contexts for you?

I don’t know if it moves like this. But I hope they do. Driving through town as the sun sets.