Peering through WINDOWS with Vinny Villbass

We interview Vinny Villbass ahead of his newly commissioned live show WINDOWS, which arrives with the return of the dance floor at Jaeger

*Photos by Lina Jenssen

Like many of us, Håkon Vinnogg (Vinny Vilbass) spent the pandemic staring out his window. With nightlife effectively closed and days consumed by low temperatures and an energy crisis,  we could do little more than cocoon in quilted hovels, waiting out the latest phase of the pandemic. 

We were caught up in a streaming algorithm, looking out through a digital portal, between episodes of syndicated South Korean television. We’d resigned ourselves to our sofas with glimpses of Netflix interrupting instagram celebrity cats. The feeds lay uninterrupted ahead of a dark January and we were free to plug in and tune out completely. 

Some of us however found new inspiration in these feeds and decided to tune in rather than opt out. Håkon was such a person and assuming his Vinny Villbass moniker, he put those “inputs” to work. He had the sense to stop for a moment, press pause on whatever streaming platform, and look out of his window a little longer. Soon he was whisked away, day-dreaming of a time beyond the pandemic. 

He started thinking about music and what it would be like when the time comes for the dance floor to open again. Taking those ideas into the studio, a project started to emerge and that project is called WINDOWS. “It’s about being bored, wanting to express yourself and getting some energy out,” he says about the project over a cup of coffee.

At the time of talking to Håkon, the 1m rule is still in place and the whole ambiguity around the arbitrary rules still perplexes, but WINDOWS and its creator is ready for the inevitable return to the dance floor. WINDOWS is a live show specifically created with Jaeger in mind and it will be performed for the first time this Frædag

We caught up with Håkon to talk about the live show, the pandemic and the state of club culture beyond the pandemic with some familiar themes running through the conversation as we peer through some windows with Vinny Villbass. 

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Tell me about WINDOWS. Is it an album and/or a live show?

There might be an album, but this is designed to express the re-opening of society. 

People in cities all around the world have been living within their four walls, looking out their windows. They even get tired of Netflix, because they’re more excited about seeing the neighbour’s cat on the balcony. All the music was produced during a time when the window was important. That’s why I called it WINDOWS. 

…And a window could be anything. It could be an algorithm on Spotify. It’s what you’ve seen, that world you’ve been pressured into living these couple of years. 

Was the concept there before you started making the music?

It was kind of more like a reflection afterwards. I didn’t sit down to make WINDOWS. It was more; what’s the common thing about these tracks? It’s all related to the inputs I’ve been getting during the pandemic, which has been limited. You have tv, and radio algorithms, and the small physical window that you see the neighbours through, and you start reflecting how people in the building next to you live their lives. It’s my way of expressing the fantasy. 

It seems there was a literal aspect, where you would be listening to other music, and that it might have influenced what you were doing. Was that a conscious aspect of this work?

Definitely… The whole world of music is copies and trying to make copies in a different way. Look at David Bowie. He was taking from the best and making it better. I guess that’s what everybody tries to do. Imagining that you are completely free of all inputs; that you have full creative freedom, I don’t believe that’s true. These days the inputs are very controlled by the market.

That’s got to be difficult to balance, trying to make something that will be relevant and yet be completely unique. 

Also in club dance music, there’s also this functional side of it that you need to consider. It’s related to where you are performing and how many people are there. There’s a social functional aspect that you need to have in the back of your head when you are making dance music. 

Did you have Jaeger in the back of your mind when you were making WINDOWS?

Yes, because I guess Jaeger has been the centre of dance music in Oslo. During the pandemic you’ve been looking forward to your next gig at your local club. I think  during the pandemic the club scene has become more local. I don’t think we’re going back to huge tours, travelling over the planet, if not just for the sake of climate change. 

This is a conversation that has cropped up frequently since the pandemic. I believe that the big names will be travelling as per usual, (and we’ve seen that starting to happen already), but it’s going to be those mid level DJs, who perhaps play away every second weekend, that will be the most affected by this. 

It might go both ways. You saw the club scene before the pandemic, which was starting to become quite boring with the same lineups at festivals. All those small artists weren’t even considered, because they don’t have enough soundcloud or instagram followers to become part of the circus. 

That made people think more in terms of a collective. Smaller groups of people, maybe even in different countries visiting each other. These small networks started to thrive, and I do hope that after the pandemic these small networks that find themselves through the internet, is going to be the biggest part of the club scene. 

I’m worried that most of the places that survived the pandemic will go back to booking, to avoid the risk of not pulling in an audience. 

Will they be able to afford the bigger names? Who knows, we might be back to normal in half a year. People are very adaptable. 

And in your case… You were playing abroad before the pandemic and playing regularly. How has it affected you?

For me, the whole touring aspect has always been more social. I’m more on the collective side of it. I want to play at a place, because I know there is somebody that has similar tastes. 

I’ve never been tempted to tour and play big clubs and festivals where you never get to meet people, and have no time to see the city. I think it’s very important that when you come to a new city as a DJ, you need to know the social factors of that city to understand wh

at to play. 

Seeing as you made the WINDOWS show specifically for Jaeger, did you have a specific night in mind?

It was more like the utopia of playing at Jaeger again.

That must have informed the way the live set was going to sound.

I don’t know if it’s so specific to Jaeger and a certain date. I think it’s more my imagination, how people would react, coming back. It’s much fast

er than anything I’ve done before. It’s all about the inner-punk wanting to get out and giving people some energy. 

How different is it from your previous recorded works?

It’s much more Housey and a lot more repetitive at 128 BPM. I’ve always been in the middle of the electronic sounds and the acoustic sounds of the dance floor. 

Speaking of WINDOWS specifically, I’ve been listening to a lot of African music and Turkish music, during the pandemic. I really feel that these cultures have much more deep-seated dependency on the human element. 

Will these organic sounds be more prominent in the live set?

It’s going to be a combination of these organic and more functional Techno rhythms. I’ve always played synthesisers live to get that human touch. So the human element will always be in my music. It’s hard to say, but it’s not exactly inspired by Turkish or African music. It’s just the randomness of my fantasies.

Is there a central theme to the sound of the music, based on those ideas?

It’s just classic House music and not being afraid of clichés either. Because in functional music there is a reason African rhythms have worked for 1000’s of years. It’s rhythm patterns that are well known to the human body and in House music, if you have a steady rhythm, you can put anything on top of it. 

Can we expect some gospel vocals?

Not for this project, but perhaps my own vocals. 

So there might be some lyrical content?

I haven’t decided yet. I’ll leave some of it up to improvisation. Something special happens when you go on stage. Then all the rhythms come to you more naturally and everything seems so natural and you dare to do stuff you don’t dare to do in front of two very precise studio monitors. 

It’s all fantasy. Not that there is anything directly connected to it. Let’s see if my imagination of the opening will be the same as the others. It’s going to be an exciting project. Have people been longing for the same things as me?

From our most recent experience, people seem very excited. Then again, people are a bit more hesitant to start a dance floor, as opposed to the summer last year. 

Do you think that’s the regulations or a social anxiety?  

A bit of both.

Actually these stupid dance regulations, reminds me of a time I first played in New York. This was with diskJokke around 2008. It was when Rudy Giuliani was mayor and there was a rule that you needed a dance licence. 

We started playing and I fetched a drink from the bar, dancing on the way over. A dude came over and told me I can’t dance. I thought he was referring to my skill, and he explained that there’s no dancing allowed, because of the dancing licence. 

Here we are playing dancing music and you’re not allowed to dance, and that’s like putting somebody in jail in my opinion.

Yes, it’s that last vestige of freedom, that freedom to move to a beat. It’s something instinctive as a form of liberation, and by clamping down on it, I can’t help but feel there’s this underlying conservatism seeping through those kinds of regulations. What’s quite striking is how they’ve maintained this bit of arbitrary regulation, not just here, but in Europe too, while everything else goes back to normal. 

It’s a fucking disaster. The only thing you need to give people is some personal space, but don’t take away people’s possibility to move… that’s dark.  

I feel however, that in club culture, this is, or at least was, an unspoken rule amongst most of us. You don’t dance on top of each other, and you respect each other’s space. 

Yes. Club culture became so big, because you could be free to go out by yourself. You were not stuck to dancing in couples. Just respect each other.