Noted Swedish experimentalists Frak have put out the final 12-inch in a trilogy of releases for Kontra-Musik next week.
The trio has been active in the underground electronic music scene for more than two decades. Börft Records, the label they own, has been home to numerous releases over the years, but it's only recently that RA's former label of the month Kontra-Musik has brought them to greater prominence in techno circles. Their three releases on Kontra have all maintained the trademark wonkiness of Frak's early works, but also fits more neatly into adventurous house and techno sets than ever before. On the occasion of the final release, RA caught up with Frak member and Börft mastermind Jan Svensson to find out more about the history of the group:
Can you talk about where you all grew up, and what it was like creatively?
Jan Svensson: We all grew up in small villages [in Sweden] not too far from the small cities. The music scene was not that inspiring. Synth music did exist, but in a way we didn't like. For me there were other elements that caught my interest. My sister was a so-called "synthare" and she had those incredible records by DAF, Human League, Devo, Skinny Puppy, etc. Also a classmate's Dad had some synths that we all loved to touch and listen to. Birre's older sister had similar music interest as my sister so he got influences in a similar way. When Birre and I started the Börft label, Frak and Alvars Orkester back in 1987 I guess we were the only ones of our kind in our town, Karlskrona.
I like that you say that you liked to touch the synths. The stereotype is that a synthesizer is a cold, impersonal instrument. What do you think?
I have always, as long as I can remember, loved machines with knobs and slides, and that is what a synthesizer is about. My first real synth was this MiniKorg which produced really cool sounds. (You can be hear it on our first tape, Raggarslakt, 1987 along with the DX7, Casio CZ1000, Korg Mono/Poly and of course the Commodore 64 home computer for drum programming.)
Can you talk about how you got started as Frak, and what your original aims were as a group? Has that changed over the years?
We had already decided to both start a group and a label. So I guess at the same day as we started Frak (Me, Birre and Mikael) we also started Börft Records to later release our first tape. It was recorded at home and at my classmate's dad's studio. There were no aims other than to just start playing and releasing experimental electronic music. When we were really young we wanted to be as bizarre as possible but at the same time trying with amateur fingers to produce music to listen to and dance to...
When you began you were trying to make music for people to dance to? Did you succeed? Can you talk about some of your earliest shows?
I mean, most of our music as Frak had a ground with a rhythm made on a drum machine or computer. We listened a lot to bands like Severed Heads which influenced us a bit and all three of us have always liked to move when a good rhythm is played. Our earliest recordings from 1987-1988 weren't dance music in a common way, but still danceable. A bit later on 1989-1991 we produced tons of material both experimental sounds, even some bad EBM (I want to forget that EBM period) and pure electronic dance music.
The first Frak show was back in Johannishus 1988 at a disco for school kids, I believe that no one in the audience was moving. They were thinking of us as freaks who didn't play real instruments. One other show was in Kristianstad 1990, again at a school but for older students, and there was no room for dancing. Frak had four members at that time and everyone on stage was trying to sound louder than the other, and the result was a chaotic show with a huge soundsystem from hell!
Many of our earlier shows can be watched on YouTube if anyone wants a glimpse of the past. Our shows have not been that much of a success as none of us are real musicians. We are more a studio band to be 100% honest. Today we have a "model" when we do our shows that works for us.
After many years of making music, you're getting a lot of recognition from different types of music fans—electronic dance music specifically. Why do you think this?
Actually we have always been doing SOME kind of dance music (with some exceptions....) or pop if you would like to call it that. But early Frak has listeners of its own and today our sound is more represented in the techno scene I guess. We have talked about this and tried to be a synth band, but most of the times it ends up in some technoacidweird track in the studio.
How did the Kontra-Musik releases come about?
Sture, Magnus (Njurmännen) and I were at the Norberg Festival in the middle of Sweden. It was late and we thought there were no good acts left, so we went to our tents to get some sleep. Then from far away we heard a Frak track ("Malad," Börft 104-2003) being played in a DJ set. I said to my friends that we had to go and check out in which context it was played. We found out that the DJ was Ulf Eriksson (Kontra-Musik). We all took some dance steps and enjoyed what was left of the set. Back home I wrote an e-mail to Ulf and thanked for his great DJ set, and he wrote back to ask if we still do music...
Did you recognize any of the other music that Ulf played that night? What are some of the techno artists that you like to listen to?
Oh, I can't remember, but we liked what we were hearing. It was the last DJ set that night and the peak was past and after the Frak tune it was going softer. To be honest, I'm not following the scene today at all. We are kinda isolated from all hype and things. I was so into the techno scene in the '90s that I almost puked on it a few years after 2000. So you can say that ten years of dance music did pass my / our way without much notice. Frak was still producing tracks during that time, but in our own way. And not very often.
Kontra-Musik will release Wobbler on November 12, 2012.