Chasing UFOs – A Q&A with Kjolbjørn Lyslo

Born into one of the most prolific regions and eras of electronic music, Kolbjørn Lyslo represents a community of DJs and producers that has probably been the most creatively fertile per square mile, and that’s including Detroit and Chicago.

Growing up in Tromsø in the eighties, Kollbjørn was the younger statesman of a generation of electronic-music-obsessive that included Biosphere, Mental Overdrive, Rune Linbæk and Bjørn Torske. At the tender age of fifteen he had started to dabble in the creative pursuits of his slightly older peers and alongside Gaute Barlindhaug Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge (who would later become Röyksopp) he would form Aedena Cycle, an ambient project with one release on Apollo in ’93,before the artists all went the separate ways.

A product of his time, Kolbjørn feigned any preconceived destination for his music and as a solo artist under the Doc L Junior moniker, he’s carved out an idiosyncratic, yet diverse artistic career. Some twenty odd years on from first establishing Doc L Junior, a moniker that mostly carries with it associations of a kind of rough and ready sound of House, and Kolbjørn has established a inexhaustible career as a producer and DJ with releases on labels like Luke Solomon’s music for freaks, Sex Tags Mania and Full Pupp.

Combining the origins of House music with an experimental aptitude for the more extreme borders of the dance floor, Doc L Junior’s creations tantalize the body and the mind with extended spacey atmospheres and dusty rhythms, created from a most obscure electronic palette.

Not to be confined to one particular genre however, Kolbjørn has dabbled in Ambient, Techno, House and just about any electronic music genre that’s informed his rich and complicated musical upbringing, starting with Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode, moving through Detroit and eventually rooting itself in the musical community in Tromsø.

Theirs an eclectic aptitude to everything Kolbjørn touches from that first ambient record to the next “disco-ish” track about to be released on Full Pupp. It’s this broad diversity that informs UFO Lounge too, a hybrid DJ project he shares with Per Martinsen (Mental Overdrive) that appears to soundtrack the history of electronic music through these artists influences. We called Kolbjørn up in Tromsø to find out more about this project and how exactly music and influences have developed for the artist today.

Tell me about UFO Lounge and some of the ideas behind it.

We had this idea some years ago to play music that Per Martinsen (Mental Overdrive) and I normally won’t be able to play. It’s music that we both like from ambient to early electronic music to psychedelic music from the seventies. Things that you normally wont dance to.

Was it about tracing a history through your musical influences?

Absolutely. When I started making music, which was a long time ago today, we didn’t bother with genres. We made music based on what we were influenced by, which was music from Kraftwerk, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and a lot of early Detroit Techno. When I started making music I would go from making Ambient tracks to Techno tracks, but today it’s all about what you’re known for.

So I imagine some of what UFO lounge is, is getting back to that spirit of the nineties and the endless possibilities that an electronic set could contain?

Exactly.

You mentioned psychedelic music as well. Is this something that will be sneaking into your set too?

Yes, but the main focus is electronic music of course. We both have a lot of music that perhaps not many people would’ve heard us play before.

Tell me a bit about the setup on the night, because when Per talked a little about what you needed for the show, there was mention of some outboard gear, making it sound that you might do some remixing in the context of a DJ set too. Is that right? 

Yes. We have a computer each, with slots for effects and the ability to loop stuff on the fly. But most of the time we’ll just be playing music.

Is there a particular mood you want to try to capture for the UFO lounge?

Well we’re both DJs so eventually we’ll introduce a bass drum, that’s inevitable. (laughs). In the beginning we just want people to chill out and listen to the music. The “lounge” part is only the start of the night.

And I imagine the setting and the circumstances play an important role in how it might go. Like when you played with Bjørn Torske in Tromsø you ended up playing Disco.

Yes, and when we played at Jæger for instance we only played dance music, but that was more like a DJ set. We’ve done it probably four times and when we did it in Verdensteatret in Tromsø we’ve had the most success as the UFO lounge concept.

What are some of the highlights you remember from doing it previously? 

In the beginning when you are playing quiet music, people are a bit like; “what the fuck is this”, but something happens when you play ambient music, and people get calm and relaxed. It’s so fluid that you don’t take note of any transition in the music, you just fall into it.

So you ease people into the night?

Yes, that’s the experiment.

You are no stranger to this type of music yourself, and before Doc L Junior, you were also part of an ambient project in Tromsø, Aedena Cycle. Can you tell me a bit about that?

This is something we started in ’89. At some point Geir Jensen (Biosphere) brought a DAT tape down to Renaat Vandepapeliere (Apollo records/R&S) and he wanted to put out. That was the first music we released and that came out in ’93.

We had sent a lot of stuff out and there was even a call from Carl Craig to put something out on Planet E, but we never finished it — that was also supposed to be an ambient record.

 

Why do you think that style of music suits its surroundings so well in Tromsø?

Perhaps coincidence, maybe nature and of course, the fact that it blends in really well into the winter landscape and the darkness. So when you think of ambient music, the northern lights and darkness are not a very bad combination.

I also did another ambient thing a couple of years ago, called music for no film. It was a limited edition record of a weird ambient collection with one track from me on the one side.

 

Last time we met in person, we talked a bit about the Tromsø radio (Brygge Radio) show and it’s a subject that came up again a few times since in other interviews I’ve done. Can you tell me a bit about how important that radio show was to you and how it might have influenced your music?

It was mainly Bjørn Torske, Geir Jenssen, Vidar Hansen and Rune Lindbæk that where involved in presenting electronic music on our local radio shows, like Brygge and Beatservice (which eventually became a label). I was like 15 or 16 when I got involved and started hanging out with Bjørn. What resulted was that we had a lot of electronic music playing in Tromsø, it was like nine hours every week. This was around ’91 and it was very cutting edge music. Bjørn went over to London about three times a year to buy records and Geir had this fanzine and a postal order called Interface and he used the radio show to promote it. He also had a lot of records that you couldn’t really buy that time in Europe, directly from Detroit.

And I believe Rocky Platebar, run by Andy Swatland was also very significant in brining in that music to Tromsø.

Yes exactly — I bought my first Frankie Knuckles record there.

Everybody I’ve talked to from Tromsø has given me different reasons for why electronic music flourished in that region. What is your opinion on that subject?

I’ve been asked that many times, but I have no idea. I started getting into Depeche Mode when I was really young after a friend’s sister gave me a mixtape with the Cure on one side and Depeche Mode on the other. Before that a neighbour had introduced me to Kraftwerk too. So we were listening to that kind of music, Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis before, but to answer your question; I have no idea why electronic music became so big in Tromsø.

This music was just present, but the reason why we started making music, was because we were detached from the rest of the world, and we were naïve. We thought that if they can do it, we can do it and it turned out that we were right.

Through your own music, you went from ambient and this Detroit Techno thing to House music. Was this a conscious decision?

I was actually just naturally drawn to it. I used to make tapes, from records I borrowed from Bjørn and a lot of the stuff on those tapes were Detroit Techno and the Strictly Rhythm stuff — a mixture of House from Chicago and New York. I’ve always liked funk and Disco music, so it is was a natural progression into House from there.

How do you think your music has evolved over the years? 

As I said before, in the beginning we were making whatever came into our minds, and the reason we released an ambient record first, was because that was what we actually managed to produce professionally enough.

And later, I’ve always tried to make things sound dirty, distorted in a way. It’s never mainstream and needs a twist with some kind of dubbed-out atmosphere. I don’t have a good answer for that really, things just happen.

Right now I’m looking at my modular stuff that I’ve pulled out of their cases, and I’m trying to put it together to make some music and this will affect my choices when it comes to music. I’m working on some sound design pieces for the theatre and that’s why this modular system has come out. Also when you make music, you are always influenced by the kind of music you’re listening to.

You were very critical about the current generation of producers that very much paint by numbers, and base their music on online tutorials. Is there something that you do to get yourself out of those formulaic working practises?

I try to avoid that yes. I’m not very fond of YouTube tutorials like “how to make Deep House” and I really believe it’s affecting the music that we hear a lot. Also, similarly tutorials on how you’re supposed to master your own tracks and how it’s supposed to sound good on the equipment, just don’t work for me. You have to make your own music that sounds good to your own ears.

The last question I have is about your next Full Pupp release. I listened to it when I was with you in Tromsø recently, and you had some qualms about the way it sounded. Are you happy with it now?

I’m really happy with it, and the whole release is a good one. Frantzvaag is on the one side and I’m on the other with a Prins Thomas remix.

Is it part of that split series?

Yes.

And when can we expect it?

You’ll have to ask Thomas that. (Laughs)

So in a couple of years?

Yes. (laughs)

And if you were to describe that track, how would you describe it?

It’s a Disco-ish track I made on Maschine about six years ago. The project file suddenly became corrupted so I couldn’t do anything with it or the software would just crash. Luckily, I had a bounce of an earlier version, but I didn’t consider it finished. It was lying about for a couple of years before I listened to it again and I realised, well it actually just needs some editing and it’s finished. I dropped it to Thomas and he wanted it. That’s a very typical story for both my music and myself.

  • Kjolbjørn Lyslo will be playing UFO Lounge at Kafé Hærverk this Saturday with Per Martinsen.