Curated

By Röyksopp, Musicians

Words by Nikolaj Hansson / Illustration by Sine Jensen

Röyksopp describe themselves as "a two-headed Norwegian monster" and that might not be entirely wrong. Upon meeting Svein and Torbjørn of Norwegian electronic duo, Röyksopp, it's inevitable not to notice, how Svein is able to finish Torbjørn's sentences and vice versa, however cliché that may seem. This goes hand-in-hand with their music which seems to possess a strong coherence, making it seem as if the music was made by one person. But it's not. It's made by the two-headed Norwegian monster. We sat down with Röyksopp to discuss living in the Northern part of the North, New Age music and doing remixes of Coldplay.

You both origin from Tromsø and live in Bergen; a city with 235.046 inhabitants and often mentioned as the rainiest city in Europe. How do you think this has influenced you, compared to growing up in a larger metropolis?

Svein: I think it has influenced us quite substantially. With Tromsø, we tend to say, that there’s a bit more physical space in our music and a certain ambience, if you want to call it that, which, perhaps might not have been there, had we grown up in Brixton or Shoreditch. That’s what we think, at least. We might be wrong, but that tends to be the case. You normally don’t get music with spacious qualities from those places. It’s more hard and dry. We grew up in Tromsø in the eighties; it was extremely secluded from the rest of the world. Far up North and before the Internet, we started with electronic music. Our access to it was limited. We had to use our own imagination and creativity.

Torbjørn: That’s also important, the cultural limitations of music. We didn’t have too many varying influences. I’m not sure, had I grown up in New York, that I would be able to filter influences the same way that we could. We had time, we had the element of being bored, if you didn’t do anything. We weren’t bombarded with information and that gave us certain clarity in our vision of what we wanted to do. I’m not sure I would have had that, if I’d grown up somewhere else.

Back in the nineties, you would mainly hear whatever was playing in the TV and on the radio. Today, we have the Internet, where people can release their own music. Is it a positive thing that the filter from the nineties has disappeared?

Svein: There’s was a certain seclusion and limitation, which has been good for us, as it spawned a certain amount of creativity. You had the TV, the radio or you had to seek it out yourself. Go to your local record store and say: “I like Depeche Mode. What do you have?” and normally, nobody would know anything. So you’d have to seek elsewhere, thus keeping your hungry and interested. In hindsight, it has definitely been a good thing for us. I don’t want to come across as an old man who knows better. It’s not as if I’m sitting here with knowledge, that other people don’t have. I think that there’s a lot more music out there now, obviously. The channels are open all the time. It’s there whenever you want it. If you’re a creator of music, you need to have a good idea if you want to stick out of the masses. As a consumer, you need to have quite an extraordinary level of dedication. It’s everywhere. You can’t go anywhere without music. 

Torbjørn: Culturally, we don’t just see things as black and white. Things change. It’s really a rather low bar for being some sort of curator now. The less interested you are in something, the more automated the curation of this particular thing becomes. There are parameters telling you which films to see. It’s there and it’s chosen for us. But it doesn’t have the same status like a really intelligent music program, educating people and informing them about it.

Svein: I remember being a kid and going to the local record store. I knew that if I wanted to find the music that I liked, it would be filed under New Age, except for Depeche Mode. You would find Kraftwerk and Vangelis side by side filed under New Age. That’s obviously gone, as there’s more knowledge now. If you go to a streaming service, they’ll say: “Okay, you’ve listened to this. Then you must also like this,” and sometimes, that’s as wrong as anything can be.

Back in the nineties, you would mainly hear whatever was playing in the TV and on the radio. Today, we have the Internet, where people can release their own music. Is it a positive thing that the filter from the nineties has disappeared?

Svein: There’s was a certain seclusion and limitation, which has been good for us, as it spawned a certain amount of creativity. You had the TV, the radio or you had to seek it out yourself. Go to your local record store and say: “I like Depeche Mode. What do you have?” and normally, nobody would know anything. So you’d have to seek elsewhere, thus keeping your hungry and interested. In hindsight, it has definitely been a good thing for us. I don’t want to come across as an old man who knows better. It’s not as if I’m sitting here with knowledge, that other people don’t have. I think that there’s a lot more music out there now, obviously. The channels are open all the time. It’s there whenever you want it. If you’re a creator of music, you need to have a good idea if you want to stick out of the masses. As a consumer, you need to have quite an extraordinary level of dedication. It’s everywhere. You can’t go anywhere without music.

Torbjørn: Culturally, we don’t just see things as black and white. Things change. It’s really a rather low bar for being some sort of curator now. The less interested you are in something, the more automated the curation of this particular thing becomes. There are parameters telling you which films to see. It’s there and it’s chosen for us. But it doesn’t have the same status like a really intelligent music program, educating people and informing them about it.

Svein: I remember being a kid and going to the local record store. I knew that if I wanted to find the music that I liked, it would be filed under New Age, except for Depeche Mode. You would find Kraftwerk and Vangelis side by side filed under New Age. That’s obviously gone, as there’s more knowledge now. If you go to a streaming service, they’ll say: “Okay, you’ve listened to this. Then you must also like this,” and sometimes, that’s as wrong as anything can be.

Today, films can be streamed for free off the Internet after one Google search and a diminishing amount of people purchase records. Have people forgotten the true value of the artist’s work?

Torbjørn: I think it can go to both extremes. This might be prejudiced. But I can be picture an incident in France, where the artist is given too much value. It’s humbling to realize, that everybody is standing on the shoulders of the giants before them. There’s no person making a cultural expression these days, who doesn’t basically interpret everything that he or her has seen already and then gives it their own take. But it’s the work of economics. When there’s so much work out there, it devalues by itself. I just see it as a function of logic. But it doesn’t mean that it has become any easier to make something that’s good, lasting and appealing. Even though it’s technically easier to get the means of distribution, as long as you can digitalize it.

Svein: It might also be harder for the consumer to find all this in the jungle of material. One has to simply embrace it as a new thing and as a good thing. Embrace what you’re given. You have to look at other ways to earn your income. You can’t just look at the consumer and say: “You need to get my merchandise or otherwise, you’re a knob”. You have to adapt to it and give them what they want. Live performances seem to stick though. People are more than ever going to live shows. And buying dodgy t-shirts.

You’ve remixed the likes of Kings of Convenience, Depeche Mode and Beck, while others have also remixed your own music. What’s it like being on the receiving end of a remix?

Svein: That’s a joy. We encourage people to destroy the music and do whatever they want with it.

Torbjørn: There are two schools of thought when it comes to making remixes, that we both enjoy making and to have made for us. It’s the one where you basically reinterpret the original, where you preserve the essence and message of the song. That could be as simple as having the chorus in there. Then you have the other school where it’s about simply getting inspiration from something and creating something else out of it. It’s a bit more detached to the basic idea of having a remix, but still, it’s becoming a thing of it’s own. It’s beautiful. When you work on things, you become a bit precious around your own material. A remix is a good chance to not be precious about something, that people have put of a lot of effort into. We want people to treat our music the same way.

Svein: I think the times were I become the most disappointed about a remix that someone have made on us, is when they’ve done too little. “Oh well, they just added a hi-hat and turned up the bass a bit. They should’ve done more.” We did a remix with Coldplay over Clocks. We stuck to the song as it was but made a new instrumentation and soundscape of it. If you want to keep the original, you need to do a bit more than just adding a hi-hat and turning up the bass. The ideal thing would be to deconstruct the track while preserving its essence and making something completely new from that.

Some artists release their music but don’t go on tour. Can the perception of an artist truly live on, if the artist doesn’t do live performances? 

Svein: I think so. There might be many different reasons for a band not to go on tour, with regards to getting your economics running. I don’t think a band like Daft Punk need to go on tour. That might be one of the reasons why they don’t do it. Plus, it can be hard to present that music in an interesting way live. It demands a lot of effort. We come from a background of electronic music, where concerts played a marginal role. Not as with blues and jazz, where it’s all about the moment and the atmosphere. Where we come from, it’s about what you’re able to achieve in the studio.

 

 

You are known for, quite often, sporting eccentric outfits, when performing on stage. How big part of a concert is the visual aspect?

Svein: Electronic music was considered a bit dull in live context ten years ago. Also, people weren’t as educated in it as they are now. People understand what’s being communicated if there’s a drop or a breakdown. The language has been more established in the consciousness of the mainstream. When we perform live, we like to add another aspect to it, just as you do with lights and smoke. It becomes an experience and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not anything groundbreaking but we appreciate doing it that way. It’s the same with going to the cinema. You want the full thing and have every sensory part of you triggered.

Duke Ellington once said: “There are only two types of music. Good music and bad music”. What are your thoughts on this?

Torbjørn: There probably is, but that’s a moral question. Talking about new phenomena as either good or bad is very difficult. When Ellington said that, the artist was placed on a pedestal. People listened to and wanted to quote every word the artist said. They were talking in quotes because of that. But it’s from a time that makes it irrelevant today. It sounds like Hogwarts to me.

Svein: He makes it sound like it’s solely based on skill: “He can play 5 instruments. Oh, he’s a good musician because of that.” It doesn’t apply to the music of today. I can’t relate to it. Down with the Duke!

Do either one of you have any formal music education?

Svein: No. I think it has been a good thing. Most music that we appreciate stems from people who mainly have learned it themselves. The autodidact artists tend to be the ones sitting best with us. I guess it’s the same for us. We have certain knowledge, but obviously don’t know it all. It keeps you hungry. You discover new things. It’s quite evident in what we have done. We’d never imagined this when we were in our early twenties. Back then, it would’ve been preposterous, to imagine us writing lyrics and singing. We need to keep moving forward.

 

 

As your popularity has gotten bigger, has your love for making music changed?

Svein: It’s the same. If anything, it’s the external factors that can make it difficult; you don’t have the time or something else. The love is still there, there, the creativity is still there. We’re still hungry, just to stay in the rap lingo. When we started, there was a lot more uncertainty. Is that what I was going to do with my life? Will they laugh? Today, we’ve proven our worth. We’re not high on ourselves in any way though. But you might say that it’s not all luck. We haven’t been lucky for twenty years.

Does music last forever?

Svein: We want our music to have longevity. Sheet music is probably the best way to do it. Just say fuck any production.

Torbjørn: The production styles of the early 20th century will be completely outdated by mid-century. You’ll end up listen to music from the path. When listening to old gramophone records, you can hear that it’s from the path. It speaks to you through all these years. We’re not deliberately trying to make music that would last for centuries. Rather than that, we’re using contemporary means to the fullest. We want to go deeper. What the future holds in terms of the common interest in this time period, you’d be very optimistic if you believed that your music would be interesting when you’re past mid-century.

Svein: You’ve done something, if your music sounds like something that was made last month. It has to last longer than this week.

Torbjørn: There are certain things that are different in the respect. If you made groundbreaking drum’n’bass music with a certain type of equipment in 1993, that song is going to have a huge cultural impact in its present. But it’ll be extremely outdated in the future. It will always represent that period in time, when that certain type of music was popular. If you say something lyrically that people can relate to and you write something that can be performed on different instruments, you’ve automatically ensured longevity. It’s not as if it can be the only goal. Then it would be pointless to do anything else than singer-songwriter music.

Svein: But it can secure a larger degree of longevity. That’s probably why people like Bob Dylan still have a large relevance, whether you like them or not. Or John Lennon. Their music lives on.