On the Record – EP. 1: The nineties with Kompressorkanonen

As we progress into the autumn years of our lives, priorities change. The beckoning call of nocturnal urges dissipate into a faint whisper only indulged when they grow too loud and we our preferences change to savour the more refined… possibly distilled and fermented fruits of life. Ours becomes an acquired taste shaped by awareness and experience, negating obvious temporal allusions to trend and nostalgia, in favour of something far more enriching and substantial.

The soundtrack of our lives play out in harmony and counterpoint, and the pieces that have made most significant impact on our lives remain never fading in personal value while we continue to add those those enriching experiences. These are the records that define us, not as DJs or as selectors, but as people, the records that speak of the most significant time of individual musical histories.

Few are the days of experiencing these records on a packed club floor, where banal functionalism has become the dominant feature, so we opt for the relaxed atmosphere of a comfortable abode, a record player, and a glass or two of some reasonably priced wine while we talk records and the mark they left on our subject.

Our first guest is Ørjan Sletner, a Oslo native and DJ who might be better known as kompressorkanonen or one half of the ambient duo K3. Ørjan’s musical education begins in the 1990’s, where he as a young music enthusiast started to indulge the sound of Techno as UK breakbeat and Belgian rave were at their most prominent. His gateway to these styles came from radio, naturally, with Techno OD and New Zone leaving an indefinable mark on the shy adolescent. An obsession started to grow in Ørjan, one that led to a collecting, listening, partying, playing, broadcasting and even writing, an indulgent obsession since the early nineties, that has no sign of abating any time soon. Some of his notable accomplishments include a compilation with Arildo and Trulz & Robin called Keep Music Evil; writing credits for Olso fanzines, Mutek and Mute; a radio show (where he would refine his skills as a DJ, often “live on air”);  and a host of memorable sets under the alias kompressorkanonen and more recently as K3.

Today his record collection has become an “unmanageable monster” and he continues to play in and around Oslo, his most memorable set  a set in Stavanger in 2013 where he played “ until 7 in the morning”, stopping the music only “because it felt right not because someone told us to” – a rare experience in Norway.

Ørjan’s sets are very diverse, featuring an incredible range, with a sound that caters to the more visceral experimental aspects of dance music. He can often be found languishing in his favourite era, the nineties with an inherent knack of finding those records that still manage to pique the interest and the ear as something obscure, yet familiar. It’s often around Ørjan during his sets, that we find some of the most intriguing tracks from a previous age, without sounding stale or dogmatic, and it’s exactly that reason this series sprang into existence. Ørjan is the first guest  to take a deeper peek into those enigmatic record bags which define the personality carrying them.

So with that we open a Portuguese Tempranillo and Merlot blend known for its fruity, full bodied texture that’s not too acidic. “Much like me” suggests Ørjan with a smile as he puts the needle on the first record with a very purposeful and fitting title. 

Shannon – Let the music Play

Mischa Mathys: What’s your association with this track?

Ørjan Sletner: When I was in primary school all the cool kids were break dancing at the time, particularly the kids that we all looked up to. Everyone was doing it including myself… at least I thought I was doing it (laughs). I wanted some break dance music for christmas so my parents bought me a cassette, which had this track on it. This style, I later found out was called freestyle – New York Electro with female vocals. When Electro died this basically took over.

It’s quite close to House this track, and I’m pretty sure that’s a 303 in the background there .

It might be… there is an album from Shannon, which has this track and another which definitely sounds like it has a 303 on it. The cassette however, which was on a Danish label, only had a lame cover version and didn’t have the original artist on it, and I only later got my hands on the original.

I notice there’s a dub version on the back. What’s that like?

It’s an instrumental version, in the style of an eighties single, which is kind of lame. It’s mainly just the backing track with some dub effects and delays. Usually those type of additions, weren’t all that interesting.There weren’t that many artists of that era that took a a lot of time and effort to create interesting B-sides.

You only picked it up the original later, so you kept the track in the back of your mind all this time?

I don’t really know when I identified the track as that of Shannon, but it is a huge classic in the Electro scene, and it was really one of the first freestyle records, ever.

Space Cube – Feel positive

And it does make you feel positive. As I was talking about earlier (before we started recording), about how electronic music can express exactly express these moments of pure joy. This record I bought in ‘92. I would love to say it was the first 12” I bought, but the first was a cheesy Italian House record. It was the second or the third though. I bought this at the first specialised House and Techno record shop in Norway called music maestro, which was located in the ugliest street in Oslo, now called Hammersborggata.

For some stupid reason I sold it later on, maybe I just needed the money, but later I realised what a stupid mistake I had made and at a record fair one day, there it was. Here’s the funny thing though: I have reason to believe it was the very same copy. I’m not sure, but the guy had some other records I had also sold and it was quite an obscure collection of records to have for sale.

It accredits Pooley on there, is that perhaps any relation to Ian Pooley?

It’s not just related to Ian Pooley, it is Ian Pooley and the other guy is DJ Tonka. When they did this record, they were incredibly young. They were precocious in their youth and got into Detroit Techno when they were 12 or 13 years old.

This came out on Force Inc, and the were  one of the very artists on the label. They released some very early records on the label, but this is number 23. The Spacecube project was quite ravey and this is one of the more easy tunes on there – They also put out an album in ‘93, which is noisy and full of teenage adrenalin. We used to call this kind of record breakbeat, and not Hardcore or Rave. Those were things that we associated with London, but there were a few German artists that had started experimenting with this style and most of them were on Force Inc. None of them really stuck with it though, except maybe Alec Empire, but he’s just crazy. They had a specific name for it in Germany, they called it Breakcore.

That’s a genre I associate today with acts like Venetian Snares and Aphex Twin’s crazier adventures.

Yes, it was really odd when it came out as a genre, because to me it had been a style of German Rave from the nineties that had lasted for six months and then they stopped doing it. It’s just one of the examples of a how a genre name mutates into something else, and the meaning just totally changes like Tech House and Deep House. And don’t get me started on Trance! (laughs)

You mentioned Music maestro earlier and it’s a name I’ve heard mentioned countless times amongst Norwegian DJs and producers I’ve interviewed. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

At the time when it was around, there weren’t many Techno or House DJs. There were probably in total 15 DJs and they would play all the parties. They would all go to Music maestro and nearly everyone of them has worked there at some point. People like Trulz (from Trulz and Robin), Pål Strangefruit, Olle Abstract and Roland Lifjell have all worked there. Nearly everyone has been behind the counter at some point or another.

The street the shop was on was rough as hell and the shop itself was rough… and it was just the perfect Techno shop. It was started by a guy called Morten Winsnes (aka DJ Lownoise) who seems to be cycling a lot these days, but I have no idea what he does for a living. He had a small shop in Møllergata at first and then moved down to Hammersborggata. If you wanted to buy Techno records you had to go to music maestro to get your tunes. Whenever a new vinyl came in, there would almost always be a fight, there’d never be enough to go around.

I recall from my youth in the nineties in South Africa that there wasn’t much in the way of records, and CDs had become the norm and pretty soon the exclusive format for music. I don’t recall seeing a record in a shop until only recently again. What was it like in Norway?

Hip Hop and dance music kept vinyl alive here during the nineties, because for the rest of the businesses vinyl was dead. If you were vinyl collector in the nineties, you had a field day, because guys in their 40’s and 50’s would just dump their vinyl collection in the record shops for peanuts to get it all on CD.

Record companies could release all their music again, and because all their expenses had been paid, they were swimming in money at the time. They even tried to get into Techno as well, so there were quite a few Techno releases on major labels. They would release whatever just to get on it, to see what would work and what wouldn’t. The nineties were a strange time, but a good time to grow up.

It was indeed and it felt like you really had to work hard at getting to new alternative music from the mainstream. I remember having to stay up late into the night to catch a Carl Cox set or a Prodigy track and trying to tape it through a cumbersome old Blaupunkt radio tape deck.

Yeah I did that too. Actually the first time I heard Spacecube was on a radio show, called New Zone, and the DJ who had the show, was definitely an unsung hero of the early Norwegian rave scene, DJ Applepie. In retrospect, he was probably one of the best DJ in Oslo in the nineties. He became ill in the late nineties with some neurological disease, which he wrote a book about. Obviously, he withdrew from the scene, but he was a very good DJ and he was actually the one that  introduced me to the term breakcore.

I was too young to go to raves, so radio would be my whole connection to this thing. It’s strange to think about it, because I haven’t listened to the radio in 20 years. It has completely ceased to be an influence on my life but back then it was. It’s your turn no to play a song.

KLF – Wichita Lineman was a Song I once heard

One important group that was responsible for me getting into this music was KLF and this record. I didn’t buy this one when it came , no-one did, but after I got into the KLF and their popular records like Last Train to Trancentral I started buying all their stuff retrospectively, and I bought this one, Chill Out. I bought this record not really knowing what I did. It wasn’t an instant classic for me, but it grew enormously on me, and it’s now one of my favourite records.

There’s a breakdown in there which was later used in Last Train to Trancentral, but this record is also chock full of samples, and incredibly obvious samples. It was before samples became a criminal activity, so people would sample things that were incredibly obvious. This was before the record companies knew of anything that was going on. The preacher in the background there is just some guy they sampled from the radio in America.

They classified this album as Ambient House, which doesn’t really exist, but describes acts like the Orb and all those guys in the nineties. KLF were part of a culture where people would go out to clubs, go home and listen to more dance music. It was always dance music everywhere all the time, and they realised that maybe we should try to… Chill Out. So they decided to make a record, which nobody had ever done before in that particular scene. This was a major influence on one of my favourite producers Pete Namlook, who became a big ambient guru around 1992-93 (Silence, Air etc.) when the Fax label started to release CD albums as opposed to trance singles.

I believe the first real ambient / chill out room was in heaven in London. It would offer exactly that contrast you mentioned between the House and the incessant beat, with music that wasn’t really called ambient at that time. From what I’ve read, there wasn’t really any purposefully produced Ambient music at that time, and it would be a mix of library music and things that we’d probably classify as new age or world music today.

Yes, I went to raves with chill out rooms, and in the mid nineties, it just sort of died, I don’t know why it happened and I miss it. At the raves I went to, you would have a main floor where they would play boshy stuff and then you would usually have a second room, where they would play stuff like this KLF record. I wish they’d bring back the chill-out room.

My parting thoughts for this record is that certainly opened my ears to ambient music, not as a new term but in the context of House and Techno. It’s just a really a wonderful record.

Rhythim is Rhythim – Kao-tic Harmony

While we’re on the subject of chill-out I think might be pertinent to play a record you mentioned earlier before we started recording. Do you think Carl Craig was responsible for a lot of this type of melodic Techno appearing on the scene?

He was one of many. He was definitely influential. One of the things was that he did loads of strange break-beating things, but not in the UK sense. If you heard the original version of the climax, that came out in 1990. He was like twenty when he was doing these records!

Everything just sits so well in his tracks. There are usually very many layers to a Carl Craig track, with many things working in counterpoint to each other, but still it never sounds cluttered or dense. Neither is there any strict formula he adheres to.

No, not all. What I think is a bit sad in some ways is that I’ve only heard it being played out once. This tune was on a compilation CD that came out in ‘92, called Positiva ambient collection. Positiva is mostly known for very cheesy stuff, but that was a really cool compilation and the guy who compiled it was Andrew Weatherall. It’s the only time my dad actually knocked on my door, and asked about a song, and still to this day, he likes that song. I can’t believe it’s twenty five years old. What a track.

Source  – It’s A Kind Of Magic (From the compilation Trance Europe Express)

Where do go from there.

Brace yourself…

Back then finding out about things was just such hard work, and that’s why I brought this compilation along, because this was a series and with each release a book full of interviews and features about the artists, record labels, and the different scenes would be included. This was the first one in a series. The book is just trashed because I read it so much. There was so little information available, so the little you got, you just had to consume as much as possible.

Robert Leiner is one of my favourite Techno producers and this isn’t his best track, but it’s very raw. The production is immaculate, but it’s still very intense. If I were to bring my favourite records from this artist it would be a different record, but this record was the most influential in the sense that this is how I had found out about him, and it was through this compilation. I’ve loved that track for 20 odd years and it reminds me of when you are a teenager and you have such an intense love for music, something that you could never really replicate as you get older. For a lot of music fans as you get older it’s about chasing that first fix. Occasionally you get there and that’s why I do it.

DJ Hell – My definition of House (Resistance D Remix)

I agree with you completely and that sentiment is probably exactly why I wanted to start this little series on the blog. It all goes back to a record I played at MIR (you were there), which took me back to that sense of discovering something exciting, even if it might not have been newly released. Although the A-side is a track I’ve known for a while, I only got the record recently, but it was the B-side and that Resistance D remix, that really struck a chord in me. We got talking about resistance D right there and then I recall and that really led me back to that feeling of that first discovery of an unfamiliar record or artist.

Yeah this is my territory. It’s absolutely amazing, and it’s actually a remix. They used elements of the original, but very sparingly. The original isn’t actually the original either, it’s basically a re-arranged David Byrne track, where DJ Hell did very little. He does have a knack of finding very obscure tracks and making it his own. He’s a proper digger that’s been around for a long time.

Resistance D though, I don’t know anything about them.

They are Pascal F.E.O.S, who is still a touring DJ, and his style of DJing is very hard and minimal, very different. The other guy was called Mike Maurice, not a DJjust a producer. The first records they did were on Cyclotron and  then Injection records, and eventually Harthouse records. Harthouse, which began as the brainchild of Matthias Hoffmann and sprang to life with none-other than Sven Väth, had a few compilation series that were very popular, and when the distributor WEA started looking for a label to to jump on the Techno band wagon, Harthouse became it. The first Resistance D track I heard was on one of their compilations, and was 150BPM, but still a very nice Trance track. That’s the thing with Frankfurt Trance from that era, it could still be melodic, really pummel along and still not sound like a nose-bleed record. Everything of their Harthouse records, are pretty much essential. What I like about this record, is that it’s still so unmistakably them.

It was very infectious and energetic, and you just got it or you didn’t. It wasn’t tailored made for a particular scene or sound, they just kind of did it and seemingly effortlessly too. There’s nothing contrived about it. Today Techno can be very contrived, but then it was just about let’s do it. I remember talking to Mental Overdrive about this, and him saying, the nineties were just a big research period, and producers were just trying different stuff. They went as far as they could go. I like that perspective, because that’s really what the nineties felt like. Experimenting wasn’t just for the sake of doing it, it was just working.

Senseless – Zekt

Since the last record I played was a bit nosebleed,I thought I’d crank it up a bit.

It’s from ‘93. When I went to high school, we were two guys that liked Techno music and obviously became good friends. He used to hang out at Music maestro and he got into this type of music before I did. At some point he was selling some records and I bought this from him and I have had ever since.

I learnt later that this style of music was called Acid Core, a mixture between acid and hardcore. I’d never heard a record that sounds anything like this before or since, it’s really something else. It’s become quite sought after and I only discovered that because of discogs. I thought it was only a nineties record that nobody else cares about, but it now very rightly has an audience that loves this kind of stuff. Regrettably, I’ve never heard it out. Not that many DJs in Oslo would play this. The only DJ I’ve heard it from was Spacebear.

Spacebear really? The few times I’ve heard him play, I’ve never heard anything come close to this level.

Yeah, This is what he started playing. He’s been DJing since 1990. Last year we actually had a hardcore party at Mir. We started at about 140BPM, and ended at around 200BPM.

Storm – Speedjack

So this is staying at that same level of energy of the previous track.

This came out when I started going out to raves, and it was on the best Techno compilation in my opinion – In order to Dance V from R&S. Every single track on that compilation is a classic, but they weren’t classics when they were released. They had such a knack for finding the best stuff out there at R&S, they were real Techno scouts at that point. I think this was when they were the most visionary label out there.

This I heard at several parties in ‘94 and, you know when you start going out, it’s like you’ve been let out of your cage. To hear this track that I’d listened to at home, at a rave played loud was just incredible.

It’s an entire different feeling.

Exactly. This tracks doesn’t sound too dissimilar to the previous one. I can’t begin to tell the goosebumps I’m experiencing, listening to this record again.