This is House music: Introducing Henrik Villard

There’s no mistaking it for what it is… this is House music. From the emotive depths of the bass to the sparkling clicks of the syncopated hi-hats, there’s no confusing Henrik Villard’s music for anything other than House music. He’s been toiling away in the deeper registers of the genre since 2017 after making his debut on Nite Records and has stayed the course, pursuing a sound that pays homage to the roots of House music through contemporary voices. It’s a sound steeped in the traditions of House music and would do well coming from one of the genre’s older statesmen, let alone a fledgling talent like Villard’s. It’s a prolific talent at that with over a handful of EPs and a fair few singles coming from the producer in the first years of a still young career. 

“I try to make music everyday, because I just love to,” says Henrik about his prolific output over a telephone call. He’s been fortunate to get his music out there with a “bunch of labels that like the music” requesting releases from all over Europe and a select few like Mhost Likely, Moskalus and Two Five Six Records recently enjoying the privilege of releasing Henrik Villard’s records. “I feel that I’ve been lucky,“ suggests Henrik in what I can assume is only modesty, because this is more than luck. There’s something natural in the way Henrik’s music sounds with an instinctual grasp on House music from the first record to the latest.  There has had to have been a lot of work to get to this point in his career, which is especially remarkable for someone still in the grips of the early stages of a career. 

The House that Steely Dan built

Henrik Villard grew up in Kolbotn, a satellite town to the south of Oslo. His father was a music enthusiast and a fan of yacht rock specifically, soundtracking the son’s formative years on the saccharine sounds of the likes of Steely Dan. It took Henrik on a path towards rock music, and eventually towards heavy metal through his teens, when he first picked up a guitar and started plucking away at those fundamental musical foundations. “Playing by ear, and learning from the other kids,” turned into various afterschool project bands before he would eventually leave the guitar in its case, as the sounds of a new genre of music coerced him down another path. 

“At eighteen I got into EDM,” says Henrik. “Avicii and Swedish House mafia” was the turning point from the heavy saturated sounds of the guitar to the sterile pallets of electronic music. It was the sound of EDM that first drew Henrik to computer music and encouraged him to become a producer. “After hearing modern EDM music, I wanted to be able to create that sort of music myself,” explains Henrik. A youtube tutorial laid the initial building blocks and “it worked well and didn’t sound too bad,” he remembers today. “I guess if I were to open that project right now” he starts before trailing off in a contemplative chuckle. 

“Would you say you’ve drifted away from that kind of music?” I proffer. “Yes!” comes the immediate reply through a breathy laugh.

Around 2015 the music of “Amine Edge & Dance and their label CUFF”  drew Hernik away from those base EDM sounds to the roots of the genre and that “classic style of House” that he himself creates today. “To me they had a raw (in terms of energy) sound, ” explains Henrik, “and (although) it leans toward tech house to a certain degree – to me, their sound definitely took a lot of inspiration from classic house sounds (drum machines like 909 and 707, bass sounds from dx7 and such).” He “realised after a while that the sound was a bit too clean and techy” for him, and started moving towards something more “chilled out” sounds in the lo-fi arena where artists like Kaytranada lurked. Enamoured by these deeper sounds of the genre, Henrik applied himself to the internet for music theory and piano lessons, building on the little he knew of music from the guitar in a quest “to understand music from a technical point of view.” He “wanted to be able to play chords and notes” on the keyboard, jamming out “ideas with recordings“ and turning those into songs. 

A House of his own

It’s that craftsmanship for songwriting, built from human impulses that sets Henrik’s music apart from his contemporaries. There’s a slow-burning visceral mood that underpins all his tracks, and even while they might be built from loops, each loop is imbued with that human touch, bringing a sense of depth to the fore in his productions. Those instincts culminate across a series of EPs, the latest of which comes from Bergen record outfit, Mhost Likely. Bass lines carving deep trenches between kick drums lay deep foundations for sparkling keys and disembodied samples, cultivating a serene mood and humid atmospheres across three tracks. It’s his first release for a Norwegian imprint and it appears he’s in good hands with the label as Henrik can’t stop singing the young label’s praises. He “really appreciated how professional they are” in producing feedback and insists that this “was really essential in developing songs into better versions of what they were.”

With the next release coming from another Norwegian imprint called Klimakunst, Henrik is forging stronger allegiances with the larger House community at home after releasing most of his music on labels outside the country during the first few years. It coincided with a move to Oslo a few years back, encouraging Henrik to get “in touch with other producers in Oslo,” which has built itself into a small network of “other people with similar interests.” But it took Henrik a while to find a community of kindred spirits at home, establishing a connection to the community outside of Norway first.

It was around 2017 when he first started producing music with serious intent. Living in Trondheim at the time, he felt somewhat isolated from what was happening at home in terms of House music, and reached out over the internet to other producers. He quickly found a friend and mentor in the form of Finnish producer Selidos and after establishing a connection as a fan, Henrik sent him some musical ideas for feedback. Unbeknownst to Henrik at the time, Selidos was also the A&R man for a small American record outfit, called Nite Records, and while Henrik was looking for nothing more than constructive criticism, Selidos found something in the music that he could put out on a record. “I owe it to him” says Henrik about his first record, Takterrasse.

“That was the breakthrough in how I wanted my music to sound,” recalls Henrik today. Building on those House foundations, focussing on the deeper elements, with a human touch ebbing through the arrangements, Henrik Villard found a sound that he’s not deviated from since. “It just felt right after I laid down the main idea” for Henrik and it’s only matured and solidified since. Between the labels he wants to release on and the labels knocking on his door, there is no shortage of platforms for Henrik’s music. He doesn’t “know how to explain it,” but it’s given him the opportunity to focus much more on music. He’s gone from working full time to part time in an effort to spend more time on music, and the pandemic turned out to be “great in terms of getting more time to make music.”

Just hit play

Yet, even though he’s making more music, Henrik stresses “quality over quantity.” “I can take my time, and I don’t feel the need to put out music all of the time.” says Henrik. “You have to find the balance between doing a solid release and doing a lot of releases.” It’s this mantra he’s extended to his latest endeavour, a record label, event series and collective he’s founded with Anders “Clastique” Hajem. In his efforts to connect more to a local community since moving back to Oslo, Henrik found a kindred spirit in Anders, and the pair have set up a collective and a label Bitch Club Records. ”I think that’s what we’re called” says Hendrik hesitantly. “You don’t sound that keen on the name,” I suggest. “No, because I’m unsure how it will be perceived by anyone who hears the name… I like the abbreviation more.”

BCR, like everything, started with a chat over the internet. Exchanging ideas about music over soundcloud, an invitation to Anders’ studio eventually planted the seeds for a label and a collective to form. Hosting parties out of their Grünnerløkka studio at night and releasing records during the day, Henrik and Anders have established a small community around BCR over the course of the last year. “The idea is that we release music that we like,” says Henrik and theirs is a determined force. Encouraged by their similar tastes in House music, they are able to get the “music out there for everybody to hear” without the extensive waiting period that usually comes with putting out records on other labels. 

As the label started to come into ficus so did their events. What started as inviting “some friends over to play music all night long” from their studio, has  turned into regular occurrences of late. “That’s when I realised that I really like DJing,” exclaims Henrik. Besides making more music, he’s also used the time of the pandemic to hone those skills as a DJ through the BCR concept. He says it’s “a great feeling to see people react to what you play,” and while it’s always “hard” to play his own music, lately he’s “been much better at incorporating” his tracks in his sets recently. These sets don’t often extend outside of the BCR concept, but with an upcoming gig at Jaeger for Øya Natt alongside Olle Abstract, that is certain to change in the future. He’s nervous, but “looking forward to it” trying to “mentally prepare” for this set out of his natural “comfort zone” which is BCR. 

I am confident however that Henrik’s set will not disappoint. Between the music he makes and this conversation there is something reassuring about Henrik Villard’s work. It’s something familiar and comfortable. It’s simply House music and it’s rooted in everything he does. His music goes back to the roots of the genre, maintaining those essential formulas that will undoubtedly live on forever through each new generation, and now it’s Henrik Villard’s turn to fly the banner for the music tradition. And whatever he does next, here will be no mistaking it for what it is… this is House music.