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Interviews |  07 Apr 2017 20:36 |  By Mallika Deb

Several styles of traditional Indian music are coherent with the basics of electronic music: Bjorn Torske

MUMBAI: Bjorn Torske, one of the most phenomenal DJs and producers from Norway is mostly responsible for influencing the Norwegian electronic music scene and putting it on the global map. The legendary Bjorn Torske will make his India debut on a four-city tour from 19 -23 April 2017.

In conversation with Radioandmusic.com, he shared the prospect of his India debut tour, memories of walking into an Indian food store in Oslo, where he saw cassettes of ‘Amen’ breaks with tabla solos, his idea of Indian music and more.

My impression is that the basics of several styles of traditional Indian music are very coherent with the basics of a lot of electronic music, as a whole. I believe the word ‘mantra’ isn’t a household word in trance and techno for no reason."

In addition, in this article, you can get an idea about his early days where he was in thoughts, whether to pursue his academic career or not, his melodic progression, the essence of his sound and more. 

Torske started as a DJ at a local radio station in 1987; recorded his first tracks during 1990, and two of his tracks were released on 12" vinyl by Belgian label SSR Records in 1991. In due course of time, he has extensively worked with labels like Smalltown Supersound and Sex Tags Mania. Inspired by IDJut Boys, Trevor Horn, Baldelli, and Detroit among others he has an ear for disco, funk, techno, house, dub, reggae, and afrobeat. He continued to release three 12" EP's on Dutch label DJax-Up-Beats under the name Ismistik, which culminated with a full-length album in 1995.

Being the most phenomenal DJs and producers from Norway, Bjorn has significantly formed the Norwegian electronic music for almost three decades now, while discussing the evolution of music he shared, “In essence, my creative start was a mix between DJ’ing and producing. I borrowed drum machines would be mixed in with the records, and sometimes these ‘remixes’ would be recorded and edited. Only for the sake of personal use, though. The idea of actually making records wasn’t given much thought at that time. Then, some older friends who already had a foot in recording put out a series of acid house releases on a Belgian label. A friend and I put together some tracks, recorded on four-track cassette. These were later re-recorded with better equipment and finally released in 1991, on the same Belgian label, SSR.”

“It seemed to me it was absolutely possible to become ‘professional’ - taking a chance to live off what I could earn as a DJ and producer."

At that time, they had acquired a sampler, a keyboard, and they were just using a Steinberg sequencing software for their old C 64 computer. “We made several 12 inches for various labels on this equipment. In 1992 I relocated to the city of Bergen, that is bigger and more happening in terms of house music, where a few small club nights going already,” explained Bjorn. He became involved in one of them and was soon playing there as a resident DJ.

“At that point, I started to realise I had to choose whether to do this full time or not, but the thought of pursuing an academic career wasn’t very tempting. I was already touring as a keyboard player with Biosphere, doing gigs around Europe. It seemed to me it was absolutely possible to become ‘professional’ - taking a chance to live off what I could earn as a DJ and producer, explained he.

Talking about his early days and background, down the memory lane he shared that it was by a ‘mere chance’ that he got involved with the radio station. A school friend of Bjorn with mutual taste in music suggested one day that they should try to get a slot on the local youth radio station. “We started out doing reportages, playing music in between. Gradually it developed into a purely musical show, and after a while, I had two hours for myself mixing records on Saturday nights. I taught myself mixing during this time, while I was buying music from London - either visiting myself and carrying hundred of types of vinyl back, or I got them via mail order. Fax and international money orders were the principle tools back then. I would eventually try my hand in nightspots, but at the time, there wasn’t any scene to speak of.”

Talking about his ingenious process of creating music and evolving funky sound, Bjorn said, he always gets new ideas either for a concept or a piece of actual music. “I usually try to get the ideas down as soon as possible before they disappear again. So I’ll program a bass line or whatever, put a ramshackle beat on top and then store it until I have the means to elaborate on it. So there’s always a tonne of ideas around, only a few of which are actually made of tracks in the end,” said he.

“I look on it as my library, some ideas have been stored for years before suddenly, I’m stuck in a remix or whatever, and I’ll listen to some old unused material - and find what I’m looking for. Then there are ideas that stick in my mind and won’t go away until I realise them in a studio - I have had this idea for a track now the last two or three years, all complete in my mind. It has yet to be recorded, there’s nothing on disk or anywhere, so if I eventually forget about it, and it’s gone.”

“The fusion of styles comes naturally, as I expand my musical horizon.”

The usual way of working on his ideas for Bjorn is to first put them on his laptop. Then, to ‘translate’ the ideas to a studio situation, make a slight plan for the process. “I never know exactly how things will sound when they are finally recorded, so I tend to make a sort of framework for the process itself and then play around within the confines of this framework. If there is a live recording involved (it often is), I might limit it to one or two takes and not allow for too much elaboration. Alternatively, I might decide that I will use only certain pieces of equipment during the process. Apart from that, I stock up on found sounds and audio textures. What one would call noise(s),” he simplified.

Asking on the immense ranges of the genre electronic music, and how does he blend a selection of sounds Bjorn who does not have formal education in music stated, “I get ideas from many styles, trying to work my impressions into my own format. However, it is never forced; I don’t sit down and decide to make a certain style. The idea I eventually have will shape the sound of the music. Then new ideas probably manifest themselves during the creative process. Like 'what if I slow this one way down and add bongos', sudden thoughts like that can change the whole track into something completely different. I try to keep the different steps though, so a radical change can be undone or avoided. As I have no formal education in music, all is by autodidact work and study. The fusion of styles comes naturally, as I expand my musical horizon. My collection is fairly more varied now than it was in the 1990’s.”

"As I have no formal education in music, all is by autodidact work and study. The fusion of styles comes naturally, as I expand my musical horizon. My collection is fairly more varied now than it was in the 1990’s.

During discussing the requirement of advanced understanding of numerous instruments, Bjorn said that it depends on what one is considering while choosing an instrument. “For me, all parts of the production process are instruments. The mixer is, maybe one of the key instruments. It certainly is vital in what comes out on the other end, given that you mix your tracks live, adding effects as you go along, adjust volumes and eq’s in real time. 

Talking about rising electronic and house music scope, also the youth who are inclined to the same genre of music, Bjorn said, “Well, it’s a movement spurred on by the youth, which has been so ever since the start. It is a good thing to see that there are so many young people out there embracing the attitude and substance of dance music. But additionally, a lot of the output is thankfully also resisting the laws of decay - the vault of history has become quite vast, not only in house and electronic music. Eclectic minds have paved the way for a broader field of taste, and there are a lot of the younger generations that have elaborated on that. I find it very gratifying to be able to provide the young people with 'hidden' classics from when they maybe even weren’t born yet. Though, there is a growing tendency they’ll be aware of them already. Which is even better!”

"I find it very gratifying to be able to provide the young people with 'hidden' classics from when they maybe even weren’t born yet."

According to him, he has many favourite artistes however; he is inclined more towards single tracks than to follow certain artistes. “Some of the greatest tracks might be by people whose other stuff is anywhere from average to absolutely crap. But, if an artiste has made just that one good record, that’s good enough in my book,” said he.

Apart from travelling and touring, he is keeping busy with his own production work; also he is working on some remixes. “A collaboration project with Prins Thomas is on the stairs, to be released this year. That’s not really a dance record though. And it’s seven years since my latest album so I should be quite busy,” added Bjorn.

The musician, who has never been behind the wheel of a car, doesn’t have a driver’s license as well and he fears heights! “I basically can’t understand that people actually dare to drive a car,” said he with a smirk. What’s more? He is ‘furiously interested’ in mushrooms of all kinds; be it hunting them, studying them, cooking and even eating them as well. Lastly, he said that he doesn’t own a drum machine and he likes rain!

Presented by the Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi and Royal Norwegian Consulate General in association with Mixtape and Music Norway, Bjorn Torske will perform on 19 April in Delhi, with boxout.fm launch (Summer House Cafe), on 21 April in Bengaluru (Koramangala Social), on 22 April in Mumbai (Bonobo), and in Pune on 23 April (High Spirits).

Before you head for his live performance in the coming days, which will be definitely a dope session, do listen to this extended set which he played at one of the Boiler Room gigs.