Yeah, that's right. In Norway you have to play with the dynamics to keep the crowd interested and dancing. What would happen over the course of five hours in Berlin gets compressed into two, because of the strict alcohol restrictions. So that makes the dynamic of a club night just crazy, but it also makes for more playful sets.
So does this apply to you when you play abroad as well?
I definitely have to adapt when playing abroad. My first booking outside of Norway was in Birmingham about six years ago. I was going to bring the Norwegian eclectic way of DJing to the world, so I packed every record I considered fun regardless if it was mixable or not; samba, punk tracks, old disco. I was really keen on bringing the vibe you'll have at clubs like Nomaden and Dattera where you'll drop-mix tune after tune. It went terribly. The crowd couldn't relate at all. That's when I learned you have to warm-up the crowd with more streamlined tracks in the beginning to prove to them that you're able to mix properly. After that fact is established, you can take them on a ride. I had to learn the hard way.
How do you adapt to the different cities you're playing in?
These days I'll pack a more diverse selection that can cover any crowd or situation. So what I'll do is test the crowd with a few more standard house cuts, maybe that is the boring 30 minutes of my sets, but when I do I get a feel for what the crowd is reacting to; the beat, the percussion, the disco breaks or melody. I don't mean to sell out or anything, but you got to know what you're working with.
The purists may not like this, but a DJ's job is also to entertain, right?
Yes, exactly! I remember Pål (DJ Strangefruit of Mungolian Jetset) once stated on his radio show that he was perfectly fine with playing Madonna in his sets. "Cause Madonna is cool and DJs are, after all, entertainers." This was a real eye-opener for me; especially that it came from Strangefruit, one of my heroes, and a DJ that I feel always plays quite artistically. This attitude also helped me adapt to the reality of playing in Norway. When you have an empty floor and 18 girls in the corner thinking what you're playing sounds shit, why not get them on the floor with a Madonna tune and then play your shit afterwards?
So just be an entertainer then?
Not just. He probably didn't mean it that literally either. I look at a DJ's role as somewhat in between an entertainer and an artist. If you are the entertainer for two tracks it will give you so much space to take your set wherever you want. Rather than just playing the most introverted, weird stuff from the get-go.
releasing 'Ragysh' at all."
Let's talk about the producer side of Todd Terje. How did you get into making music?
I guess it started with a computer. A friend of mine showed me the music-making software called Modtracker. It had four channels and was on a PC 386 that had about a megabyte of RAM. At the time I was listening to Dutch dance music like 2 Unlimited and Scooter. So when I saw this program my first idea was to make something similar. I copied the program went straight home and made my first tune called "Mastermind."
It was really bad. The software had only four channels. So I started with the kick, but because of the lack of channels I had to place the hi-hat on the same channel, hitting in between kick. The next channel had a pad—a sample pad—cause if I played it, it would use up all the processing power. The main element was a one note bassline which I changed the offset on, so it would hit at different times as the beat got moving. Looking back at it was incredibly primitive, but this period also helped me understand sequencing on a basic level. So now when I'm programming I know exactly where to place that rimshot, simply because I've been doing it since I was 13.
Some of this experience is definitely proving useful now, as my next tracks will be quite percussive. I want to play more with rhythm structures because that's what got me into this music. Things like Prodigy. I had no idea their beats were old funk samples. I thought it was programmed, and was amazed at how they managed to pull off such complex beats. So I was sitting at home trying to do the same with my Modtracker program.
Can we expect a breakbeat Prodigy throwback coming up then?
No, not exactly Prodigy. But more rhythms that are not just straight 4/4. There are other exciting things you can do with a kick drum.
I heard there were some interesting circumstances concerning your track "Ragysh." Could you tell me how the track got started, and how its release came together?
Yes. I started it about two years ago. Around that time I was listening a lot to Luciano's remix of Argy's "Love Dose." The thing I loved about that track was the main element, the groove pattern that runs throughout the song. This was also about the same time as the Fedde Le Grand track "Put Your Hands Up for Detroit" came out, that also had the same type of groove going for it. So I was interested in these simple tracks all about one rhythm. I played the Luciano mix a lot actually. One time in Tokyo I played it in 105bpm and that is when the party started. The track really sounds good in -20%.
But anyway, the idea was to make a track all about one riff. It was really simple to make. If you have a cool beat going, the riff will almost come by itself. So it was just eight bars with groove and the beat—sampled from Tom Tom Club and Salsoul Orchestra—to begin with. It lay around for about two years until I looked at it again. So I just added the trance-y chords without much intent one rainy night when I probably should have been working on something else.
I don't really get a feel when I make tracks like that. They're fun, but it's not the most intricate thing to make, you know. But I finished it regardless and tried it out. It worked really well. Gerd (Janson, owner of Running Back Records) had heard it in a DJ set and asked me for it. Gerd always asks if I have material lying around, even if it's not finished. So he got his hands on "Ragysh" and showed great interest in releasing it. I wasn't planning on releasing it at all, but he was so persuasive that I just had to put it out. So without Gerd, the track might not have been out there at all.
Sometimes I get the sense that there are two Terjes fighting for your attention, there is your DJ persona and then a more artistic side of you that is the producer Terje. How do you balance the two?
You're right. There is definitely a battle going on. I would really like to spend more time further developing Producer Terje. I feel there is so much I'd like to do that I haven't had the time to do yet. Especially ideas with rhythm that haven't been fully explored. Of course you have broken beat and dubstep playing with rhythms, but I'm not interested in them. That's what I want to do next.
It's a bit difficult, though. I'll be in the studio making some inspired tracks that are weird and interesting, but back on tour I always have to let my shoulders down and play for the lowest common denominator to get the floor working. So when I make tracks that are weird and fun, and that I have a real good feeling for from an artistic point of view, they might not know what works on a dance floor. Sometimes I wish I had a dream disco somewhere where I could play all of this stuff, but I know when I get on the road it's always the more smacking disco stuff that has the biggest impact.
sounds and grooves that crave
your attention, pull you out
and wake you up a little."
Do you think one sometimes stands in the way of the other?
It might sound like it, but on the other hand DJ Terje also really helps the producer with the final stages of a track. The simpler the track, the better it works. Right now I'm working on a very detailed track, working on it on a micro level. If I would allow more of DJ Terje in the process I would get it done really fast. There are infinite ways you can go with arrangements, but it helps to think in the context of the dance floor. For now, though, I'm consciously trying to give the musician and producer space to experiment.
Do ever think about separating the two?
Maybe, but for my album I want to do a mix of both. I would like to show there's more to Todd Terje than just beat-mixing and making the break come in and the beat drop where it should. It's not rocket science. For now, I feel it's important to produce under one name because people might listen to the music open-mindedly. I might be able to open doors to new sounds for people that never have listened to, say, Weather Report. Not that I make fusion jazz. But if there are Weather Report or weird Norwegian jazz influences in my music and the people that loved "Eurodans" like it, they might go and check out those records. If that is the result, I feel I've accomplished quite a lot.
Then you go into another of the DJ roles, the educator.
Definitely. I'm always trying to showcase the music that excites me—and my influences—without wearing them on my sleeve. I've been inspired by Wally Badarou and his magical sound for many years. His sound is something that really would work on a dance floor. So every once in a while I try to steal a little bit of his feel and sneak it into my tracks. Another example is Jam & Spoon's "Stella," from which I used some of the chords in my own music. What I'm doing is nodding my head in different directions to see if the listener picks up. I guess you can call that a sort of education, even though "Stella" was a big hit record. It is just my way of saying it's time to bring back those records, or maybe even listen to them for the first time.
While we're on the subject of jazz, you've told me that of all your tracks, you've taken a particular fancy to the remix of Bjørn Torske.
Yeah, that track shows the direction I'd like to take my sound in the future.
What is it about that that you would like to show us of your own sound?
Well it's the leftfield drums, the feel that is sort of jazzy and spacy at the same time. Kind of like Jon Eberson's first record with Moose Loose, without it being too jazz-funk sounding.
Is important to you that there is an element of humour in your music?
It's important to have some sounds and grooves that crave your attention, pull you out and wake you up a little. I'm not sure if it works that way on a dance floor but it does in my head. Sometimes that is not the same thing. Again, I think you could be so much more experimental with rhythms in dance music without it killing the vibe or continuity. Every time I play the Bjørn Torske remix it stands out, but it still fits between big minimal hits.
What's coming up for you?
I'm starting a record label with Joakim Haugland and Smalltown Supersound called Olsen. It will be my record label (music, artwork and pressing), but powered by Smalltown Supersound. The first release will be my next EP called It's The Arps. The name of the EP comes from one of my favourite Monty Python sketches, but no one seems to get the reference! Not even the Brits. Every sound on the EP comes from the ARP 2600 synth.
I have plans to do this with other instruments too. I've been buying so much equipment lately that I feel each instrument deserves its own release. You can make almost whatever sound you feel like on the ARP, but even this has its limitations, especially when it comes to fast high-pitched sounds. So if I plan to do it with my other synths, it might not sound as good. Maybe it will just be limitations when it comes to the instrumentation, like just a drum set and a 303.
Do these limitations help you to be creative?
Yeah, because you have your starting point just by figuring out how to create the kick. There are so many sample packs and sounds these days; most people are carrying around a memory pen with 300 kick drums. So that makes it hard to figure out where to even begin. With this EP it was all about working around the limitations of the ARP. In the process, I came across some truly unique sounds within the synth that I wouldn't have found otherwise.