Bjørn Schaeffner sits down with one of Norway's foremost selectors.
It took persistence to become the versatile and adventurous DJ Morken is today. While most Norwegian DJs around his early days preferred the straight techno ride, Morken took the long and winding road—an approach that's gotten him thrown out of the DJ booth at least once. In the early '00s, club music struggled in Norway, and it helped if you served your punters a wide-ranging selection. Morken was usually the guy who warmed up the backrooms, but word got around and it "balled on like that." Later, Morken would befriend DJs like Prins Thomas and Pål "Strangefruit" Nyhus (part of Mungolian Jet Set), who shared his passion for sounds from far beyond the house and techno spectrum. They were all fond of bargain-bin treasures, exploring jazz, fusion, exotica, Afrobeat, krautrock and post-punk. In 2008, Strangefruit, a highly influential figure in the Norwegian club scene, recruited Morken as a label manager and A&R for the now defunct Luna Flicks label. Luna Flicks eventually spawned a sub-label, Moonlighting, an outlet for Morken's productions that's put out two 12-inches so far.
Charmingly enthusiastic in person and an almost athletic presence in the DJ booth, you can catch Morken playing extended sets at the midweekly Untzdag night at Jaeger club in Oslo. Equipped with an intriguing mixer setup and frequented by a mixed crowd of fashionistas, business people and music lovers, this long-running residency is Morken's place to try out new things. As a rule, Morken only owns records he intends to play, so it's probably fair to say that Untzdag has been a key factor in shaping his distinctive tastes.
How well do you know Gil Scott-Heron?
I'm not gonna brag that I'm a big Gil Scott-Heron expert. But I love the way things move here. How it keeps on building. It feels almost like a good DJ set. It builds and builds and builds.
The groove always holds back a little bit.
Yeah. I play this record at the beginning of a night, and you can really see people get into it, wanting to dance. People who have no deeper interest in music, who are not really into dancing. That gives me hope.
"The man who always came to save America at the last moment,"—that sort of political content sounds on point these days.
When I bought this record, I didn't really listen to the lyrics. The bassline and the groove caught me. It's so funky. Only later I started listening to the lyrics. They are spot on. Really angry but telling how things are. And Donald Trump's candidacy feels like a bad B-movie. But I wasn't playing on that, I chose this record because it's special to me.
Many people in Norway would probably call this an Øyvind record. It's one of those records I managed to make my own as a DJ. I play this track when things are starting to get a little crazy, when it's peaking. I have it both on vinyl and digital because my copy is worn out. Those toms, they're really snappy. It doesn't have that much of a punishing sound, a lot of current techno records are harder. But it's so powerful.
The sirens are quintessentially UR.
I love Underground Resistance. I'm also into that fast electro they do. That stuff is really hard to play in Norway. People don't get that funk. But this they get. I've been trying to make a record like this but I never managed to.
All the records you selected go for reasonable prices on Discogs.
These are great records slept on by the idiotic Discogs gangsters! I don't buy expensive or overpriced records. I do have some, but I bought them before they were pricey. Or I found them cheap. Record collecting—it's not a show-off thing, "Look, here's what I have discovered."
There's the story of you losing 1000 records.
Yeah, I broke up with a girl I was with nine years ago and moved out straight away. I asked her to put 1000 records in the basement. She ended up not paying the rent, so the government took all my stuff. And they just demolished them. So I lost loads of great records, lots of Moodymann and deep house.
Did you buy some of them back?
No, because I'm not buying 100-euro records. Overpriced records I don't buy. My only requirement for buying a record is that I might use it. It has to be used. It has to be something I play.
You'd never buy a record for the sake of just owning it?
I only buy records that, as a rule, I will actually play.
To me, this is techno. If you'd ask Derrick or Juan they would probably agree. I think Joe Zawinul was sponsored by Korg or something. He did a lot of that sequenced stuff on his synths. I rarely play this because it's super hard to make it work. It's humorous, yet serious. Thomas [Hermansen, Prins Thomas] showed me this one at his house. The next day I went to the record store and I found it right away.
What record store was this?
It's a used record store called Råkk & Rålls. It has a million records on three floors. Sometimes I spend five hours finding one record. I go there two-to-three times a week, sometimes four times. It's my favourite spot. Oslo is one of the most expensive places on the planet. I don't have another job, so I can't always spend what I want. But I think that's a good thing. If I had too much money I would probably buy too many records. The thing is with that shop, an ordinary rock album might be overpriced but you will find real gems. But you have to go there minimum once a week.
You go through everything?
Yeah, I go through the uncharted stuff. There's so many records stuffed under the shelves on the floor. Often I'm lying there on the floor, because after four hours of sifting through stuff my knees start hurting, I have to lie down. That's when it becomes super dusty, so I'll have to take a shower afterwards. And you have to be in the right mood for it.
Unearthing obscurities has become very en vogue.
Of course, it's become hyped. But it's a good thing that people are getting into records. At one point, people were merely looking at what other people played, so it's good when people go looking after what they like themselves. It's all about making those discoveries for yourself. But if it becomes this 300-euro market, it's unhealthy. Anyone can buy a 300-euro record, but to find that three-euro record that nobody knows about, that takes time, you know!
Ny Lugg (Kort Bak, Lang På Siden)
Torske has produced quite a catalogue. Why did you pick this one?
I never heard anyone play this. I love it. It has this African vibe. But I can also see a techno DJ playing this. Or you play it in a disco set, it's very organic. And the track on the other side is great as well. Torske is a genius, in my eyes. I think he's very underrated. There's loads of gems on Sex Tags Mania or on Svek. Or take the early '90s techno stuff he did as Izmistik. He should get more shine.
Torske doesn't seem to care much about fame.
Right, he doesn't seem to care, and that's cool. He's more into going into the mountains and fishing. And making his music, and he keeps on doing amazing shit. I'm always looking forward to hearing the new stuff he does. You know what they call him in Norway? The Codfather. Because Torske means Cod.
This is such a fun record. It's almost like a comedy. That fusion style, very dramatic, very visual. It goes into so many different directions. This fits in well between two house records. Like a breath of fresh air. People will let loose.
It premiered on the TV show Soul Train, where it really had the crowd going.
Yeah. This one is essentially about dancing. Because now it's about promoting the artists and stuff. This music should be promoted as dancing, it should focus on the dancing. There's too much focus on who's playing. About promoting this DJ. Which strikes me as funny because you're doing a feature on me, about what I'm playing [laughs].
How often do you go dancing?
Not as much as I'd like to. I remember playing in this club, I was sober and warming up. And after I finished playing I walked around the club and everyone else in the club was stoned or drunk. It was too much. So, I went dancing for two hours. Just dancing. It's a mental health thing. If you have a bad time, go dancing for a couple of hours.
Dancing sober is probably a rare thing in Norway?
Yeah, the whole drinking mentality of the Norwegians is hopeless. People drink at home and then they come out at 12 AM or 1 and they're already super drunk. Everything is crammed into four hours. And these guys just want to get laid, and if they don't get laid they get angry, so they pick fights. We're lucky that at Jaeger, where I have my Untzdag mid-week residency, we don't get many fights. I guess it has a lot to do with the vibe of the night.
It's from a contemporary electronic dub label from Washington, Zam Zam Sound. I have four or five of these records. I really like that sort of minimal vibe. It's an effects record, it works like a tool. I usually play this in the early hours of the night. I like those records, they are building a groove. You can test the vibe with them, or you can reboot something.
Dub played a vital role in Norway's electronic scene.
Yeah, it flows into the whole Northern disco tradition. Prins Thomas and Todd Terje were inspired by what DJ Harvey and the Idjut Boys did. And there was the Basic Channel tradition, the King Tubby stuff. I suppose we Norwegians were discovering a lot of stuff through that. Loads of dubby disco records from the US, some stuff from Jamaica, that whole Compass Point Studios sound.
Tied Up In Red
This was tagged somewhere as a tribal house record.
It's a tribal record for sure. I can totally see Danny Tenaglia playing this at the Winter Music Conference in 1996 in one of those 12-hour sets. It totally works on the dance floor. Each time I play it, someone walks up to me and asks me about this record. And it has this African jungle element in it that I like.
The orchestral part in the middle that sounds like Hans Zimmer.
Yeah, or it could be straight from The Lion King. You instantly recognize it as a Yello record because of the horns. Yeah, that and that voice [Dieter Meyer's]. I guess Yello is big with Pål Strangefruit. Pål and Rune Lindbæk were supposed to do a remix for Yello. But somehow they lost the recordings. So the remix never happened, and they keep on blaming each other now [laughs].
As a kid, did you listen to Strangefruit's radio show?
Yeah, the eclectic radio shows Strangefruit and DJ Abstract did were super important to me. Those guys shaped a lot of guys from my generation. They had probably the biggest influence on the electronic music scene in Norway.
That was before you started going out?
No, I started going to clubs when I was 16. My brother knew the doormen at the club. I could only do it every second weekend when I was staying at my father's house. So I went dancing to house music all night long. When my friends back at school asked what I had been doing over the weekend, I would just go, "Oh, nothing, just hanging at my father's place."
Geir Jenssen, AKA Biosphere, is another influential Norwegian figure.
Yeah, he is one of the godfathers of ambient house. He is from Tromsø in The North, like Mental Overdrive, who is another Norwegian pioneer. That guy actually mixed three tracks on Joey Beltram's Energy Flash EP. No one knows that story. Anyway, this sounds like Warp before Warp. It reminds me of Sweet Exorcist or GAK. My friend DJ Hooker showed me this one. The whole album is cool. The bassline is great. I knew Biosphere from when I was younger but I guess I had to grow up a bit to really appreciate his stuff.
What were you playing back then?
When I started DJing professionally around the year 2000, my tastes were already quite eclectic. I would play Bjørn Torske to Theo Parrish, from banging techno to disco to downtempo stuff, some hip-hop and even some trancey records I liked.
Sounds like the Norwegian cosmic way.
It was a period that is looked upon as a downtime in Norway's club scene, the worst period ever. But it was also the most important period ever. We didn't have a wild and roaring club scene. I had no real guidance on how to be as a DJ because I barely knew any other DJs! But then again, it shaped me into who I am today. I worked off my ass as a DJ. It's funny because every time I have guests from abroad, they talk about how there's a big disco scene in Norway. There's never been a big disco scene in Norway! Most DJs were just playing it straight.
1st Step To Heaven (Instrumental)
This is from 1983. New wavy, mid-tempo, krauty stuff I started discovering about about ten years ago. I used to play more post-punk stuff in the mid-2000s. It's been coming back for a while, just look at what Dark Entries are doing. It strikes me as odd that this is often segregated to the rock spectrum. I mean, really, this is so electronic.
Gabi Delgado from DAF was one of the first guys in Berlin to buy house records.
Yeah, and Ron Hardy was probably playing DAF. You can play a jazz record if it has that dance floor vibe. It's what they called house. Now, it's become a narrow-minded genre, but the way DJs like Hardy did it, it was much more open-minded. I would call myself a house DJ in that old school way. I just don't want to play music that sounds the same all night.
That vibe is echoed in your own tracks, like "New Age Of Faith."
I love the vibe of those old records. They're more honest. They are like accidental dance records. Some might be Italo, some Afro, some jazz. I'm not ashamed to say, I'm trying to create something that's already been done. I'm feeding off this old vibe, stealing from that stuff, in my own way. Rather than making something that sounds new, I'd rather do this because that's the sound that inspires me.
Butter Up (Gimme Some Bread) - Instrumental
This is NY disco after NY disco was dead. That electronic dubby sound, I was discovering stuff like this, from Arthur Russell onwards. This is like a working man's record, very funky.
Tracks with those primal-sounding vocals are a mini-genre in themselves.
You know people get really worked up on the dance floor and start chanting, "Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo"!
What do you know about Elektrik Dred?
I don't know anything about them. I imagine those were a bunch of friends going to a club, maybe the Paradise Garage, clubbing, and then thinking, "Oh yeah, we can do this as well." And they go to the studio, and do this record, just this one record. And this is a nothing-to-lose-let's-rescue-the-dance-floor record.
You know, really, I don't mind losing the dance floor. Sometimes it's even good, you need to break it up. Too many DJs are afraid of this. They're afraid to play something cheesy. Play something cheesy if you like it! It can be nerve-racking to clear the dance floor because building it up again is tricky. But it helps you to become good. It taught me how I can control a situation. I just know a track might not work, but I have to try to make it work. But you have to try out which records work. If I stopped experimenting I might as well play pop music all night. You can go down and take it up again, go into different spaces. Then again, you're catering to people's normal lives.
The DJ's actual job.
Yeah, I DJ for the people! Some people call me the DJ's DJ in Norway. Which I find funny. A DJ that inspires DJs is a good thing, but you don't want to have a dance floor full with other DJs. There's not going to be a lot of dancing, is there? There's people going to stand in line to find out what you play. Or stand in line to shout at you because you played the wrong thing [laughs]. I wouldn't like to be a specialized DJ who only plays certain music for certain people. If people have a good night, great. They don't need to know who the fuck I am.