1am, Sunday morning and I’ve never heard Jæger’s Bakgården system sound so… tender. Mark Broom and James Ruskin’s Hostage is oozing out of the mighty subs, the heavy bottom end of the Techno thriller pulsing through the packed dance floor, embracing each body on its way to the rear and through to the bar. I look around me and every person has his or her hands in the air, touching some invisible beam projecting out from the DJ booth where Andre Bratten’s smile peers over the decks. All the other DJs are on their feet too, punching holes in the air to the time of the beat. “I was going to play Quoth from Polygone Window (Aphex Twin) after that. It’s 142BPM with only distortion.” Instead he drops Blawan’s ‘Why do they hide bodies under their Garage’. Hardly a subtle track in comparison to Quoth; I see some of the bodies evacuate the dance floor, looking somewhat overtaxed and exhausted. “I am not like Prins Thomas mixing six tracks into each other – he’s the best DJ ever. I’m more of I don’t give a fuck kind of guy. I don’t care, I just want to have fun, without being to pretentious about it.” The next day I meet Andre at a quiet little café in Oslo. He’s looking fresh considering the late night, speaking in concise sentences, placing the words in pragmatic sequences like his thoughts mature long before they actually reach his lips. I get a sense that Andre is forming an opinion of me, our roles feel reversed, awkward and I get the impression he is interviewing me in a very calculating manner with some banal questions on everyday life. But this interview isn’t about me…
Last night’s show was a practise run for the Norwegian producer. Having not DJ’d for two years, Bratten has returned to the decks after being exhausted with the travelling hassle of playing live. The set goes through everything from hard Techno to Trance, as he keeps the energy on the dance floor at its peak consistently. “I think Techno DJs also play too much Techno. My DJ style is not about having a DJ style. When I DJ, I do it with the idea that I’m not a DJ.” It’s only in the wake of the release MATH ILIUM ION that Bratten has once again donned the DJ smock and is foraging in the archives of dance music. It’s an EP that is fundamentally a transitional record for his audience, an audience that might have been familiarised with Bratten’s music through ‘Be a Man you Ant’, but grown to adore him through Trommer og Bass. “It’s not the artist EP with hits. You buy the record, and it’s a story between the first record and the next record.” Trommer og Bass is the beginning of that story, a track that has been receiving much love from the DJ community for over a year now. “It was a dance floor DJ hit, but the rest of the EP is way better musically.” The bulk of the EP is the continuation of the story with the crux, of what is essentially a mini album, taking on the form of Minor- and Common- Misconception – two dark Techno monsters that lie in the shadow of the leading track’s mass appeal, bringing an intriguing and alluring dimension to MATH ILIUM ION. “It’s quite dark, darker than anything else in the Oslo scene. I get angry when I hear music that’s too much of a major vibe. It pisses me off when they go into pop territory with a pleasing hook, so I have to do the opposite. It is more fun to make something with more layers. Trommer og Bass is just there to give people the opportunity to buy that track on vinyl, and the other five tracks were the main EP, but I included ToB because I found it interesting and smart to do so.“ The lead track certainly bears similarities to a track like Aegis, but there’s also a clear move from the artist to explore new territory on this EP. “I think I’m very conceptual. I make what I want to make at that time and as a musician your evolving all the time. I feel this record sounds like me but it’s different from the first record. It’s all me!“
‘Be a man you ant’, was released on Full Pupp, the label where most Norwegian electronic artists debut, but very rarely with a LP. “The first record was trying to do Norwegian space disco with a twist of Techno. Aegis was a more Techno-ish, more British more border community kind of vibe.” With some of the tracks from MATH ILIUM ION made before the debut, it shows a producer not evolving as much as being in a constant state of flux, but more significantly, it shows a very cerebral personality behind everything he approaches. “I had to think a little about politics, I couldn’t do a super weird Techno record first.”
Techno, it seems, is the lifeblood of this artist. It was through Warp artists like Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, where Andre was introduced to the world of electronic music and found inspiration as a musician. “I am an Autechre fan, always have been. Autechre is kind of like the father of industrial weirdo IDM Techno. I like Aphex Twin, but Aphex Twin has too much pop in it sometimes. I really like Autechre’s Amber record because it’s a little bit Autechre, a little bit Boards of Canada and a little bit Aphex Twin, and I can see Aphex Twin is really inspired by Autechre. If you listen to the first record Aphex released and then you listen to him after Warp it really goes into the Autechre territory.” Inspired by the likes of these artists it is unsurprising that Bratten likes to fuck with his audience during his DJ sets. At the height of the evening, a familiar bass-line from my youth stops me dead in my tracks. Faithless’ Insomnia starts drowning out the previous Techno track as Maxi Jazz’ legendary poem speaks to us from the past through a set of Funktion One speakers. “That’s the best track ever made you know, and the CD single, with the long track, is the coolest version. The funny thing about that track is, it starts really Housy and then it goes into Trance suddenly.” Andre emulates the sound of the opening bars of the bass line before adding; “I found it funny to play Faithless and everything I had in my folder called bangers.” It kept the audience on their toes throughout the night as the dance floor started to emulate the waves of sound passing through it, people leaving for a quiet moment only to return for the next ‘banger.’ It was a performance at peak time, but peak time was almost four hours long. “I think its good to push the limits and see how long you can stay on a knife’s edge, and if you drop it you will probably fuck the whole thing up.“
This uncompromising attitude it seems is at the heart of everything Andre approaches, and while we focus extensively on his career as a DJ, Andre never appropriates the honorific when he refers to himself. He opts rather for the title of musician, and the divide between the two is too big for Bratten ever to consider bridging. “I get frustrated and irritated by the social stuff around the DJ world. It’s depressing and sad. A bunch of forty-five year olds snorting coke, playing other people’s music, getting laid and drinking, that’s no life.” Andre is quite stern on the matter without resorting to a pure rant, and what particularly comes across while we discuss this, is that he has no time for over-inflated egos, especially in the role of music selector. “If we stigmatise it, the DJs’ thing is that they find tracks and talks about tracks, and they have this weird thing with ownership of music. I really don’t understand it.“ Andre can concede some arrogance on his part too when it comes to his music, but for him the egos behind the decks are not warranted at all. He refrains from social media as a result of this aversion, with his Facebook page holding a mere two posts in its three-year existence, both from his label, and both within the last four months. “I don’t really care about social media, which is a bad thing because I should be better at it, to reach out more. I can see the benefit of being more personal. At the same time I think you should just be yourself and give the finger to what you should do. Likes is not a real thing compared to popularity.“ Andre is not a friend of the crass promotional tricks to sell records that usually accompanies the personalities. His EP was barely announced before it was released two weeks on and although Trommer og Bass had been around for a while, the track remains little more than a precursor to the rest of the EP. Andre even avoids gig announcements these days, preferring a low-key event with nothing but a name in an effort to avoid the trap of the ostentatious musical personality. “Where there’s too much of a mythical thing around artist I loose interest. I think it’s pretentious. I think Aphex Twin is probably the smartest marketing guy in the world, but I find some of it quite pretentious.” My mind drifts and I’m reminded of a brief telephone conversation to plan the interview:
Me: “Is there anything you want to particular discuss during the interview.”
Andre: “No, but I don’t want to make it personal.”
During the interview I recall a quote from Oscar Wilde that said: “Music is the art, which is most nigh to tears and memories.” Surely Andre must infect his music with some of his very unique personality? “You can’t make music that is not personal, sure, but that’s my arena, and its’ not for anyone else. I don’t want to be dictator of what people feel. I find people that need to talk about the personal input in their music need to see a shrink. They use the personal tag to sell it more than anything.” His dislike for the personal tag includes getting an insight into his working methods. He is often labelled as an analogue producer by the media and will go to great limits to avoid the tag if he can. “People asking if its analogue, do you really care? Does it sound good? There you go have fun with it. I’m just an artist making music and I have a modular synth, that’s fucking it.”
Synonymous with this is the Disco tag that often over-excessively is applied to anybody making music in Oslo. A recent review of MATH ILIUM ION on a very popular blog reads like the who’s who of the Oslo space disco scene lumping Bratten together with everybody from Todd Terje to Lindstrøm and although, like Aegis, Trommer og Bass might have a loose connection with Disco, in so much as it features some syncopated hats, the EP is quite clearly a Techno EP, one that specifically ventures into the darker side of the genre. It’s a sound that is quite different to anything else that’s coming out of Oslo at the moment. “I think the Norwegian scene is missing a proper Techno guy, so I’m trying to be that guy.“ I have no doubt that he will be that guy in the light of the previous night’s DJ set, especially with the help of a label like Smalltown Supersound, the next step for any Norwegian artist after Full Pupp. Andre sees the label as being one of the best in the world, perhaps only second to Warp, giving him the opportunity to truly realise the scope of his sound and the layers he likes to work in.
I could speak to Andre all day about music and his acute criticism of many of the unspeakably bad practises that follow the industry around like an awful tattoo, but it’s a rare sunny afternoon in Oslo and the beach beckons. I feel I’ve merely scrapped the surface of Andre Bratten’s career and musical identity, but I don’t believe I’ve seen the last of him either. Our conversation has covered much and I feel, even though not a single personal anecdote was mentioned throughout our conversation, that I could say I already have some familiarity with the person – particularly through his views, but more importantly through his music. He’s unpretentious as a person, and uncompromising as DJ and musician, but above all, his character is down to earth and approachable – a rare amiable character in electronic music. With much of his memorable set still ringing in my ears from the previous night and hard disc full of unforgettable quotes in my recorder, I leave André Bratten to get back to André Bratten.