“It’s like Andy Warhol said, everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes, except today everybody will be a DJ for fifteen minutes.” David Dajani breaks out in a snigger as he rolls into the second phase of his sentence. There’s a kind of mischief in his voice, like he’s taunting an imaginary audience, and even though what he’s saying asks some very serious questions of DJ culture in our contemporary society, he simply shrugs it off. “It’s a whole different ball game, but I don’t feel intimidated by it.”
There’s no reason he should feel intimidated, because David Dajani certainly doesn’t subscribe to the hyperbolic image that crowds the booth today. For the best part of the last twenty years he has focussed on a niche aspect of DJ- and record culture in Norway, where his sets can go between the eclectic (from psychedelic fusion sounds of Africa to the provocative Black Metal sounds of Norway) to the functional (from the jazz-informed House of Moodymann to the proto-Hardcore sounds of 90’s UK Techno).
David Dajani might have rose to prominence as the frontman for the anarchic Garage punk outfit PRTLVX (formerly Pirate Love), but a promiscuous youth spent digging for contemporary House and Techno and a lifetime of playing records in and around Oslo, has established the artist and DJ as a prominent figure in the booth. He thrives in the obscure left field depths of the scene alongside the likes of Raymond T. Hauger (DJ Lekkerman) to become a distinguished individual in a counter-culture conducted from the DJ booth.
It’s possibly why he seems so unperturbed by the latest DJ craze, because if anything it simply gives him more agency to cultivate his particular brand of DJing in the last remnants of an underground culture that has been by and large exploited by a generation of DJs on their quest for 15 minutes of fame.
“Right now it’s a trend and it was the same in 1998,” says David of a time when “everybody had turntables for two years” before moving on to the next craze. “People that were DJs from that era, I can probably count on two hands today, and they were hundreds back then,” and David suspects the same will happen again as the popularity in DJing wains in the near future. He’s seen it all unfold before in a career that started back in the mid nineties where a teenage David was discovering a world of music locked in the grooves of the vinyl format.
Although it was through the noisy confines of Rock where David would eventually leave his mark, it was actually House and Techno that first encouraged the future frontman and DJ to explore music. David grew up in Hurdal, a twenty minute train ride from Oslo in what is essentially rural farmland. It’s a “secluded” town, but it’s accessible proximity to Oslo put David in reach of the metropolitan delicacies of a big city. By his own account he hardly grew up in a musical family and it was the radio that would introduce David to electronic music.
Saturday nights, he would tune into Pål Strangefruit and Olle Abstract’s shows on national radio, where the DJs would introduce the Norwegian population to the sounds of House and Techno from around the world. “It just blew my mind,” remembers David vividly and it was those sounds and the video for Goldie’s “Innercity life” that encouraged David to ask his parents for a set of turntables when he turned 12. “When I got the turntables I put on a Louis Armstrong record and a Temptations record,” recalls David. “I put them on simultaneously and I was like, ‘what… this doesn’t sound like drum n bass.’”
With no prior knowledge to DJing and at a decade to early for the instructional you-tube video, David assumed DJing was about “making music” with a pair of turntables. He quickly understood the mechanics of DJing after his initial gaffe and when he realised it was about playing other people’s music, it was something of a eureka moment for the latent DJ. “I realised I don’t need to make music,” says David in wide-eyed stare. “I was perfectly fine just playing other people’s music and to this day, that’s what I like the best.”
He would make regular trips into H&S records in Oslo where “they had a huge floor of House and Techno, Trance, Drum n Bass and probably some Hip Hop too,” accumulating records he heard on Abstract and Strangefruit’s shows. With 200kr in his pocket at a time when records cost 90kr, he “could only afford 1 record” at a time. He would “spend five hours in the listening booth” to pick one record and then take the train back home where he would devour the record. He was immediately taken by records like Moodymann’s Brown Mahogany, “the 17 minute 12” version on KDJ” and for reasons still unknown to him today, that’s the music that still resonates with him. Although his mother played church organ, there was hardly a musical background, but David “felt I understood it instinctively from the first time I heard it.”
He spent his late teens buying contemporary House and Techno records like these and by the time he turned 15 he and some friends started their own label called Groovecentral Recordings. Why a label? “You don’t ask those questions when you’re young,” says David with a smirk. David and his cohorts weren’t really trying to “intellectualise” it at that point, they were just a bunch of kids with a passion for music .”We were blue-eyed, and we were really into it, so we weren’t thinking in any rational way about it.” In naïve optimism they pressed 300 copies of their first record, expecting H&S records to pick up the bulk of the order. The store took 10 copies, and the rest were resigned to boxes that are still sitting in David’s mother’s garage today.
Spurred on by sheer youthful exuberance, they did however manage to sell most of their second release and in the 2 years of the label’s existence, Groovecentral Recordings released eight records, including Nils Noa’s first record, “a kind of ethnic House record” recalls David. Groovecentral Recordings would largely be a Drum n Bass label which was the style-du-jour of that period, and by the time the label ceased operations, David too would drift away from club music.
David was still in high-school when the label came to its conclusion, providing the impetus in part for him to explore record stores beyond the electronic music isles. “I started with Rock music pretty late,” says David. It was in high school during the early 2000s at the age of 17 that he uncovered the likes of “Velvet underground, the Stooges and the Ramones, Suicide and New York Dolls.” It was music that “fuelled me in a different way,” explains David. Rock had also offered an escape from House and Techno, which in the early 2000’s had succumbed to allure of popular culture. Groups like Stardust and Basement Jaxx were flirting with chart success while artists like Thomas Bangalter and Armand van Helden were becoming household names “And then they became huge,” continues David “and everybody started copying those Disco House sounds.” At the same time “Dutch Trance was at its peak,” and for a DJ like David who revered the underground aspects of this culture “it was like; ‘what’s happening with the quality control here.’”
It was during this time he would relocate to Oslo and meet the likes of Raymond T. Hauger (Beglomeg, Den Gyldne Sprekk), Gylve Fenris Nagell (Darkthrone) Emil Nikolaisen (Serena-Maneesh) and his brother Ivar Nikolaisen (Silver, Kvelertak) and Milton von Krogh. “They introduced me to a lot of music that I hadn’t really heard before,” stresses David. It was in the city’s dominant rock scene where he would first emerge as an artist and a DJ. “In Oslo in that time, 2003, the House clubs from the nineties, the ones that were cool, they were all gone,” remembers David. “What you were hearing at Garage (the predecessor to Jaeger) on a Saturday at peak time was the Ramones and White Stripes,” but for people like David and Raymond, these kinds of playlists were just a little too pedestrian for their discerning, eclectic tastes and they started a club night called Knulldrøm, which ran for an impressive nine years at Revolver.
Can, Kraftwerk and Suicide informed DJ sets at Knulldrøm that could span the breadth between the exotic sounds of Nigerian Funk to the industrial clattering of Norwegian black Metal. Somewhere in the midst of this David thought “it would be fun to start a band.” He didn’t play an instrument, “so they said you have to sing… I didn’t mind.” David was the co-songwriter with Milton Von Krogh, who provided the riffs to David’s nihilistic lyricism. Together with a fleeting band of musicians, which also included Raymond on bass at some point, they released their debut LP, Black Voudon Space Blues, to some unexpected fanfare from the press. “It was quite crazy,” recalls David with the advantage of hindsight “a band that was as negative as us!” he expels.
They released two LPs and a third under the pseudonym PRTLVX; toured extensively around Europe and North America; and were featured on the front pages of local newspapers and MTV during their tenure. People were saying “they can’t play but they are really entertaining,” and that’s all Pirate Love wanted out of it: “We just wanted to entertain.” There was no grand conceptual intent behind their music, and in their efforts to entertain their music quickly went from nihilistic Punk to incorporate elements of psychedelia and post-pop on their second LP, Narco Lux High School.”That’s our best album,” insists David, “but the European record company didn’t want to release it because it was too catchy.”
Pirate Love’s short but electric career was quickly coming to its conclusion before it really got off the ground, and meanwhile David was rediscovering the sounds of House and Techno in Oslo. “I started getting back into House and Techno around 2008” contemplates David and he suspects Villa had some influence in this decision. Before Villa, David’s sets were still very eclectic. “If I played a track by Bjørn Torske or Erot, people weren’t accustomed to that sound.” He started playing at Villa before it became official and saw the second wave of House and Techno in Norway gestate in the bowels of the basement club where it “has gradually progressed,” to a point today where it’s completely swung the other way and “you can’t play rock music.”
During all this time, David’s approach to the DJ set remained unflinching. If being in a band was about the sheer entertainment value, then DJing was the complete opposite. “It’s not about entertainment for me,” answers David with an urgent severity creeping into his voice. “I just want to be in the darkest part of the club. I can’t fucking stand that Boiler Room stuff… I despise it.” At same time David agrees that “DJing and club culture is about people being entertained, but the role of the DJ is too hyped.”
In some regards it’s the late nineties all over again, but it’s many times worse in the hyperbolic mechanisms of the internet and social media, where every DJ with a youtube account is a superstar DJ, but David’s seen and experienced this kind of hype before, and he’s just going to keep “doing what we did in the nineties.“ “I’m very adamant about finding records,” he says, “I don’t go to trushmixes and ask for track ID. I just dig and find cheap stuff that I don’t think anybody else is playing.“
Lately he’s been digging in the annals of breakbeat acid and proto-hardcore in a habit that started in his teens and has never left him. Whether it’s contemporary Techno or those early Moodymann releases, the record “just has to have a specific feeling” and although he can’t describe what that feeling might be, he instantly knows it when he years it. It can be a hook or merely a fx soundbite, but there has to be something innately “rough” yet “intricate” to appeal to David today. “It’s not based on genre or BPM” he elucidates and “it can just be a beat and a handclap.”
For his upcoming month at the helm of Den Gyldne Sprekk, he expects to extrapolate in sets from psychedelic folk to Russian Synth Wave, while in search of that elusive “feeling.” Hele Fitta, Krass, Prins Pål and Rabbit Brown join him on his infinite quest during the month of November at Sprekken, a night which David Dajani defines as “anything else but House and Techno.”
While the rest of the scene’s 15 minutes are almost up, it’s a DJ like David Dajani that will remain after the dust settles, and whether it’s the vicious sounds of Garage rock or the soulful interpretations of modern House, he will most likely be in some booth, playing music to an unsuspecting audience with formidable results. “It might sound a bit cliched,” he says, “but for me it’s all about the underground vibe.”