Quaaludes in Africa with Olefonken

Olefonken (Ole Petter Hergum) has had an incredibly busy year. 2016 has seen the producer and DJ hit a new creative stride with the release of two exceptionally beautiful EPs on Snorkel and Ille Bra records, including one spectacular moment in the artist’s career and our 2016 in the form of Quaaludes, a track created solely to soundtrack an orphaned music video created by Thea Hvistendahl. The track, which featured the mesmerising vocals of Ary, emphasised the hidden depravity of humanity visually constructed in the video to great effect with Olefonken translating the storyboard into a serene musical event that was as much soundtrack as it was pop song. It highlighted some of the eclectic personality behind the music that can often be found in Jæger’s booth floating between House, Disco and Afrobeat with ease.

It reflects something of Olefonken’s, musical heritage that runs through Botswana, where he undoubtedly spent most of his childhood encountering the rhythms of Africa, moving through Oslo as an adolescent, where he would’ve invariably been exposed to the spacey synths of disco, and today finds the artist in London, where who knows what musical adventures awaits him. Olefonken’s first release Ubuntu Tutu introduced us to this diverse musical personality whose music extends from the contrapuntal rhythms of the original dance music to a frosty sound palette, often carrying a playful melody on its wings.

It’s something that he’s reflected time and time again in his sets, and will be bringing to Oslo again when he plays at Hestival this weekend, and takes to the booth alongside Lindstrøm, Loveless and Oliver Rottman. But before Hestival kicks off and establishes a new kind of music festival in Norway that combines Gambling Horse Racing and good electronic music, we got in touch with the artist via email and he was gracious enough to answers some questions while he was packing his bags for the trip. Ole is a man of very few words, and often just lets the music do the talking, but on this occasion he’s allowed us the opportunity and we jumped at it, and the results…. well you’ll see.

What inspired the move to London and what have you been doing with yourself there?

My girl kind of packed me in her bag. It was a comfy ride, though. And it was time for a change. The move made it seem like the right time to pursue my dream of starting my own label. So my friend Ibrahim and I started ‘Snorkel Records’. To my roommates’ great enjoyment, the living room is now filled with boxes of vinyl. But it’s great fun, I have just been biking all over the city – pushing the vinyl to various shops. I actually just came back from Brilliant Corners where I dropped a copy into Phil Mison’s record bag. Happy days!

You’ve certainly been releasing more music since the move. Are you making more music too and how has the move had an affect on your creativity?

Well to tell you the truth, the ‘Til Hanne’ release is just a bunch of old demos dating back to like 2010 and it was only meant to be a Soundcloud thing. Kenneth Bager asked me if he could release it on Music for Dreams, but I was a bit hesitant due to the fact that it was so old and scruffy. Later on I got a nice long email from Jonas at Ille Bra Records and it just seemed cool since they where such a small label and that would mean more love for the release, so I figured what the heck! The Quaaludes video and release I worked on before the move as well, though I had to postpone several flights back to London on various occasions so I could finish it up in the studio in Norway. I hoped the move would make me buy a baseball cap and sit on the laptop with Beats by Dre making music all day. But I just find that pretty boring, so I’ve usually ended up playing Samorost instead. Haha!

You grew up in Botswana and I’ve always wanted to ask you about your experiences there, especially when it comes to music?

Well, the school days often started with an assembly and the music class would play these big marimbas and all the kids would just dance and be all crazy. Even the teachers. I remember I was really looking forward to be old enough for music class. I already played the drums because of my older brother and the marimbas seemed like the next step, but then again we also had a pool at the school – and the swimmers where the cool kids, so yeah you see where this is going.

That being said though, I just remember it seemed like music was a more natural part of life there. People got together. Let loose. Clapped their hands, stomped their feet. While in Norway and similar places, it often feels like music is a background thing – people listen to Kygo or whatever while they’re showering or driving their car to work. But in church on Christmas eve, it’s a total mumbling choir. It’s like we’re not there to celebrate, it’s just to pass time so we can get home to that rib! That’s the most vivid memory I have of music in Gabarone, when my Mom took me to the local church down the street, which was made of cow-dung. It was only lit up by candlelight, and all these big African women were just singing, dancing and playing drums for hours. The Christ knows how to throw a hell of a party down there, I’ll tell you!

There’s something to your music in the sweet kind of melodies you use and the percussion that definitely reflects something of southern Africa for me. Would you say there’s something fundamentally African about your music?

I definitely envision it a lot while making music. My dad has worked in Africa since long before I was born, so he would often bring some mbiri’s, shakers, small marimbas and drums and so on when he came back to Norway. So yeah, playing the mbiri easily takes me back to when we lived in Zimbabwe.

Is Ubuntu Tutu, your first release as a solo artist, supposed to celebrate this connection or am I reading too much into those track titles?

Haha, nah, that would have been a nice little story though. I think I just had been back to visit Botswana and South Africa at that time, so I figure that’s when I heard Desmond talk about Ubuntu, which just stuck.

At the same time much of the music on that album and Til Hanne (To Hanne), reflects more of your Norwegian heritage, especially in the disco-leaning foundation of the tracks. Where do you take your cues from in Norwegian music?

Well, it’s all the obvious ones. But I have also been very proud of when things hail from Norway, especially since Norway is so small – so the possibility of someone making a kind of quirky disco song back in the 70s is so rare, that when you hit on something after hours of digging is just the best feeling. I still remember the day when I came across Frank Aleksandersen’s Circus Diskotek and Huckleberry Hound. It wasn’t a 300 kroner record at Råkk & Rålls back then, more like a 10. Actually, I remember the D2 spread about Titanic’s disco hit Sultana. Strangefruit had a top 10 of old Norwegian disco songs and I thought he missed out on some of the best ones. It made me realise how many undiscovered gems must still exist, which led me to make some mixtapes of only old and rare Norwegian music under the alter ego Sure Sivert. Norwegian lyrics only! Volume 3 and 4 is soon finished btw – don’t sleep on it.

Fettburger is on the remix of Speilegg on this last release and he turned it into this very quaint subversive version of the track with little more than a bongo drum in there. What did you expect he would do with that track, and is that level of uncertainty he has in his music specifically the reason you sought Fettburger out for the remix?

Actually it was all Jonas from Ille Bra who got that little shindig together. I was familiar with him and Sotofett of course, but I hadn’t really found the time to properly listen to it. So it was when the remix came that I was let in to his world, and I really enjoyed it. Those bongos have this great Light in a Miracle vibe to it.

Fettburger played at the Skranglejazz event recently and it seems there’s a close connection between that DJ and the musical community that you’re a part of here in Oslo. How did this connection come to exist?

Yes, and what an event that was! I really enjoyed his selection.

I think Skranglejazz has had him on the radar for some time and since it was the release of ‘Til Hanne’ on Ille Bra Records, which also hails from Moss, I reckon it just seemed natural. I’m not too sure about the inside facts on Skranglejazz, I just smooch on their free beer and enjoy the good vibes.

Has being separated from this musical community had any affect on you since your move?

Dude, they hardly recognise me when I am home now. Pretentious pricks!

A big part of this community is centred on the hubbabubbaklubb. How has your time with the group affected your understanding of music?

Being in a group can be very tough – no doubt about that – but when everybody is onboard it’s the best thing, really. Just being friends, jamming and having a goodtime is priceless. Not to mention the input of others and the collective vision. But at one point one just has to be a McCartney and re-record those fucking drums while Ringo is sleeping.

Is there any talk of doing something together again in the near future?

Actually the first release on Snorkel was meant for some new hubba stuff and long overdue remixes, but since Thea Hvistendahl asked me to make music for her video we had to re-think and make an Olefonken release instead, just to squeeze the juice out of her beautiful video.

But yes back to the klubb – it’s gonna be a busy summer is all I can say.

And getting back to your music and Thea, the video and music for Quaaludes was probably a musical highlight for most of us this year. We know a little about how it came together as this orphaned video looking for music, but can you tell us a little more about what you wanted to bring across and emphasise in the video specifically through sound?

Thank you. I mean that movie was already a piece of art before I stuck some music on top of it, but I do like to think I underlined the subject a bit and helped to get the mood right. Which was pretty different from the original song, I guess. I asked Ary, who was hanging around outside my studio, to lie on some vocals. The goosebumps were immediate. She’s such a pro. I remember after the first take I was like, shit I think we got it. Haha! But yeah, I don’t know – I asked Thea a lot what the deal was with the family in the video, and she was being a bit cryptic about it. I just felt they kind of had a shady bit of Bill Cosby about them and that’s why it ended up being called Quaaludes. The lyric ‘give me a glass of milk’ is a bit of a homage to Clockwork Orange, I wanted to try to evoke that feeling when they sit in the milkbar with Walther Carlos playing Bach on a Moog. Such a scene!

I really like that these sexually depraved characters are supposedly just this “normal” family. The music very much plays on this for me, with some very obscure elements coming together into a very digestible execution in the music. Is this what the suppressive Quaalude effect sounds like to you?

Yes, I guess that was what I was getting at. I just got this prescribed drug feeling from watching the mom and dad in the video. Like, ‘We are a happy family, but we cheat and do S&M on the side to stay together.’

The imagery was there before the music. How did the writing process change as a result for you and is it something you’d like to do again perhaps?

I had done something similar before, with the ending of the long version of the Mopedbart film. When I edited that movie I would go back and forth to get the music to sync with the pictures. If the shot was too long, I would shorten it and vice versa with the music. In contrast, Thea’s movie was already done in the editing room, so I spent much longer tweaking it and getting it just right. Moreover, the visuals were already so good that I didn’t want the music to be any less. But of course I would love to do that again.

For most people there would’ve been some pause for reflection before releasing the next thing, but you’ve been incredibly busy, and just a month afterwards you premiered a new track, Cousteau. Where is all this creative inspiration coming from at the moment?

Well, actually I think it’s always been there. It’s just that everytime I get a new computer I always copy the same folder with old demos over, but then I read a story about how Lee Scratch Perry burnt down his studio and started fresh, so I thought, fuck it, I’ll finish some of the best stuff I’ve got lying around, render it to disk and never look at that folder again.

And I imagine your DJing a lot as well as a result. Does the DJ personality ever inform the production side of your work?

Definitely. But it’s pretty rare that I run right into the studio after a gig. I’m more likely to do that in the morning, like if I put on McCartney II with my coffee and listen to the mucking around with synths and snares recorded in a toilet. That’s what I enjoy – the random fun in the studio. And then it somehow often ends up being suitable for the dancefloor.

There’s definitely an eclectic nature in your sets that can be felt in your music. What do you look or when you’re digging for new music lately, and is there anything special you’ve found recently that you’re looking forward to bring to Norway next week?

Ah man, it all depends really. Sometimes I come across something on the internet and I run to the nearest shop. But most of the time I just like to be in record stores discovering stuff. I usually find myself in the rare/library/world/new age category or something like that. I have a soft spot for old stuff that sounds modern. But then I’m suddenly in this house mood and end up with a bunch of new 12”s. The stores in London have such good soundsystems, so you find yourself going: ‘What is this? Give me four copies please!’ Of all the stuff I’ve been finding recently, I can definitely say the house genre will be pretty well-covered in the Skranglejazz mixtape I have coming up. But I can add that when my girl came home with a copy of Al Dobson Jr volumes 2 & 3, and the Disco Mantras from Mood Hut, I haven’t been listening to much else. She knows me far too well!

*olefonken will be playing at Hestival this weekend, with Jæger hosting the official afterparty. Find out more here.