Robin Crafoord is an artist, a DJ, and a facilitator and he warrants as one of the most innovative and progressive figures in Oslo’s electronic music scene. His musical career has been defined by a kind of all-encompassing machine music that has gone from Italo to Techno, and has always returned in one way or another to his first love, Electro.
Robin’s record collection begins in the first half of the 1990’s where he found a job at the London affiliated Black Market music in Gothenburg and what had been a faint interest at first turned into an obsession through the shelves of a record store. Robin came of age through the infamous rave commission in Sweden, when clandestine events. held around the forest edges of Gothenburg, were hosting some of the most exciting acts of that era and inspiring a whole new generation of artists and DJ’s like Robin and his friend and Electro mainstay Luke Eargoggle.
With the rave commision squeezing the life out of dance culture in Gothenburg, Robin moved to Oslo and struck up a friendship with Truls Kvam that would set he and his newfound friend on a musical career together that has seen them release music on Full Pupp, Planet Noise and friend Arild Lopez’ Cymawax.
Truls had been working at Music Mæstro when Robin moved to Oslo, which was naturally Robin’s first destination upon his arrival. Truls would pick out a record and Robin would go “perfect, this is exactly what I want”. They had an instant report and when the new arrival needed a place to stay, Truls came to his aid. In a week Robin had moved into Truls’ spare room in a flat that Robin still lives in today with his small family, their three cats and their dog and what is Robin’s daughter’s room today was the site of the original Trulz & Robin studio. Robin had the production experience and Truls had access to finding cheap second hand equipment through the shop, and in a matter of a few years they had made their debut album, Mechanized World.
“It’s pretty fun to think that Truls and I are still together making music”, says Robin of their extensive career together, but Robin’s work also extends to other projects like Dance Disorder with Georgina Fernandez, Robin C and the many other projects he shares with Trulz, namely KSMISK, SYNC and his Electro project, Robomatic. Amongst these projects his work has found itself on PLOINK and Ellen Allien’s BPitch and though these projects he’s delivered diverse results with the machines playing a central role in his music.
Behind the scenes however, Robin Crafoord’s music has always been informed by an ever expanding record collection with its genesis in the machine music from Detroit we’ve come to define as Electro today. With this in mind we invited Robin our loft music hovel to discuss the life affirming records of his career and we were happy to find that many of them still make an appearance in his collection and his sets.
* Robin Crafford’s Elektro Romantik returns to Revolver this weekend with a live set from KAN3DA and a DJ set from Luke Eargoggle.
It’s on Warp and I guess it’s the Drexciya boys. I’m still unsure, but I believe it’s Gerald Donald and it’s from 1995.
Where did you get this record?
At Black Market, when I started working there.
How long did you work at Black Market?
For a year maybe, and it was really fun. I didn’t even own one Techno or Electro track before working there. I started DJing a little in the shop, trying out the turntables there and I remember when I first realised which record is going too fast or too slow, and that was the eureka moment. (Laughs) It’s funny how I can still recall that moment perfectly in my mind.
I started buying anything from Psy Trance to Techno from there on in, getting a feel for what I liked, before moving into more Electro and Techno.
This record sounds very much like that Dopplereffekt sound, and those guys had so many side projects, so it could be Gerald Donald. The thing with their stuff is that it always sound incredibly contemporary.
There’s definitely some magic going on with these guys.
In the last episode of this series Kompressorkanon mentioned that a huge part of the Detroit / Underground resistance sound was that it was all mastered by this guy that essentially came from a Motown background.
Realy? This record sounds really good. This sounds thin, but when you play it on a big system it’s super tight and thick. I don’t have a favourite track, but this is one of the many favourites.
What attracted you to the record?
I think it was the sound of it, this mechanical feeling. Everytime I listen to Electro, I feel this futuristic and robotic mood still captivates me.
That’s the common consensus for Electro’s appeal right, and even new acts like ERP manage to capture a little of that futuristic sci-fi feeling.
And that’s what makes it timeless. It’s futuristic and it’s also retro at the same time. I don’t know if there is any other music genre that can do that in the same way… maybe Detroit Techno.
But that’s very close again to Electro. DJ Stingray often mentions that he doesn’t separate Techno from Electro.
There’s definitely a feeling I get, a feeling that I want to dance. I don’t really feel that when I listen to a Techno track.
It’s funny because by all accounts Synth Pop should have the same effect, but it doesn’t really, because when you listen to something like Kraftwerk it just sounds old, and nostalgic.
Kraftwerk were doing the future, but then they stopped. The intention of acts like Electroids were probably the same as Kraftwerk, but perhaps when you see Kraftwerk doing their thing behind their podiums, playing the same repertoire, it’s something that just looks a little dated now.
I was discovering a lot of music at the same time as that Electroids record, but something that always stands out from that time was Autechre’s work. Two tracks from the album that blew my mind at the time were these two and especially this one. Looking at the artwork, there’s also this kind of mechanical feeling, like an error message. It fitted the music perfectly. It was one of those life-changing moments.
Did you see them when they played here in Oslo recently?
Yes, but I also saw them in 1996 around the same time they released this record, at Tresor. They were playing in the backyard and I went to see them with some friends from Gothenburg. It was such a big moment for me.
This must have been so strange to hear right at the cusp of when it was happening. It still sounds innovative today, but must have sounded absolutely from another planet when it came out, like nothing else out there.
Yeah, there was this label called Clear and they were releasing some of this kind of electronica, beat things. And then there was also Warp, who released quite a lot of different styles. But with Autechre, nothing else sounded like it. There were some drum n bass and ambient influences in there, but it was certainly something new, like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
This to me defines computer music, whereas that previous record was more machine music.
Yes, the Detroit stuff was based on drum machines and synths, whereas this is more based on sample music. That was one of the things I couldn’t understand about this music; how could you make these sounds. We (Trulz & Robin) were doing a bit of music back then with drum machines and synths, but we didn’t have a sampler. I was listening to this music, listening to the voice samples and the punchy drums, but it wasn’t possible to do that with a drum machine. So that caught me a little off-guard.
I eventually got the sampler, but when I tried to make the music, I still couldn’t figure out how to make it. It was pretty impressive and when I listened to them recently play live, it’s clear they are geniuses. I think Autechre started that whole electronica wave, with a few artists coming out of that, but they nailed down the genre in terms of how it should sound.
They pretty much established the IDM genre with Aphex Twin.
After Amber, Autechre got more and more complicated and I actually stopped listening to them, because there were too many tempo shifts and too many weird rhythms. I discovered some other stuff shortly after, but Autechre definitely opened the door to that style.
So how did you go from listening to Electro to listening to this type of thing?
It all kind of happened at the same time. I might have had like ten records of Electro, ten records of Techno and four records of this music. Electroids and Autechre came out the same year, but it definitely didn’t feel like it.
This is a really important record to me. In 1996, the last year I spent in Gothenburg, we went to love parade and we stayed at my friend Udo’s (DJ Angel D) place, who we had booked to Gothenburg a couple of times. We were hanging out in his place after the party; it was me, this guy called Jeremy Starseed and Luke Eargoggle. We were lying on the floor listening to Udo DJ, and he played this record. He was playing every track from the record, mixing them together and we were lying there a little bit high, and it was just so far out, so minimal and a completely genius record.
It would have been one of the first minimal records.
Yes. If this is the first Robert Hood record I bought, I definitely bought every Robert Hood record after this. The reason I bought this was because it was on Axis, Jeff Mills’ label and I had been buying every Jeff Mills record before then. The reason I haven’t bought any of my Jeff Mills records with me this time, is because I thought it was a little bit obvious. The few Jeff Mills records that had changed my life are a little bit hard, but this I can still listen to, at home even, because it’s so funky and mellow.
What do you think of Robert Hood today?
I haven’t followed him that much. I think the stuff he was doing with the gospel singers is not my bag. There were a lot of people that said, “wow this is Robert Hood doing something completely different” and I get that because you can’t do the same thing for thirty years, but for me it missed something. Then again, I’m really happy that all those old-timers get a second chance now, that’s really cool.
Yes because there was a time they were not being booked and basically just stuck in Detroit with their legacy going unnoticed.
Yes for at least ten/fifteen years.
I also think a lot of them are touring incredibly hard these days because you never know when the bubble is going burst. That’s what’s cool about being a DJ, because age doesn’t really have any relevance since you can play contemporary music.
There was an interview with DJ Harvey in which he said that the older a DJ gets the more seasoned, experienced and better they get. DJs don’t get old in that sense.
Your collection just grows, and your influences and references grow.
And you’re following the audience and you’re not performing your music, so you’re not doing the same thing over and over again. It’s a dialogue rather than a one-way communication. When I saw DJ Hell this summer, he looked significantly older than the last time I saw him, but he played just as well.
Getting back to Robert Hood
I’d never heard anything like this before when it came out. It sounds like a funk sample, like James Brown when they go into their repetitive business, but I wonder now if it’s a sample or a synthesiser. It’s just pure funk, this record.
I have to go back to Bleep, because bleep made a big impression on me. There were maybe three or four records I got, before I started working at the record shop. There was sweet exorcist and LFO’s Frequencies. There’s just something about those Bleep basslines that really got me.
From Frequencies we also got into some breakbeat. This was before Drum n Bass and Jungle. There was quite a scene for this kind of music and we went to a Rave in Jonkoping where there was this really young guy throwing the coolest parties in one of the most christian cities in Sweden. He managed to get people from all over Sweden to take busses to that small town, and he had this breakbeat party in a warehouse and it was insane. It never got that big in Gothenburg, but I really liked it a lot and that is kind of the same vibe for me.
This is fun….
It’s super cheesy, but it sounds really cool. I usually don’t play the whole track, and I just play the breakbeat part, and play it over another track. It’s just a bit too crazy to play the whole thing. I like to mix the beat in and out really fast or just mix it under something else. It’s one of the reasons I’ll always like breakbeat.
When did you start making music.
I started making music when I was living in Gothenburg. My dad was the janitor in the block we lived in and I had access to the basement. I told a few of my friends that we could set up a studio in my basement, so they moved all their equipment in. It was ‘94 and they had 303’s and drum machines and I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I had full access to the stuff, and I was just trying different stuff out.
Was there any particular music you were trying to get out of the machines?
I actually still have the tapes. It’s quite hard Techno. Two years after that I moved to Oslo, but we didn’t have any equipment, so we needed to start from scratch. I had a bit of knowledge by then and I knew what I needed, so we got an Atari computer, an EMU sampler, a 707 drum Machine, a DX 27 and a Nord Lead.
Our first album, Mechanised World, we made only with the Nord Lead, the Emu Sampler and the 707. I spent one year just working to afford the sampler. My parents went to England and they bought it there for me, and it was 26 000kr. Now it’s worth like 1500kr.
But yeah Hypnotic ST8; It’s a bit cheesy, but recently I thought I should play it again. I go through these phases where I play this too much. Some people have a reference to it, and some people will hear it for the first time and they’ll freak out anyway. It’s over twenty years old and I’ve been playing it all this time.
Every time I play this Andreas (Sannergata) tells me the story of how this album came to be, and every time I forget. All I remember is that this is on a metal label and as far as I know this is their only electronic release. I found it in a record store called “voices of wonder” in Grunnerløkka and it is probably where Andreas bought it too. All the tracks are insanely good, but I still don’t know who it is. This goes very well with the doomsday Autechre track we played earlier.
And you know nothing else about the artist or the label?
No that’s the thing, I’m terrible with this. I never dig further into the details. I buy the music because I like it and I play it.
There are a few artists that I do follow and buy regularly, like Jeff Mills or Robert Hood, but maybe it’s because they’re more frequent with their releases.
I’ve learnt the hard way, where I’ve followed an artist or a label and need to have all of their records, but often found there might only actually be one release I like from them. So I refrain from being loyal to one artist or one label. I imagine Andreas is the opposite though.
Yes, but he’s usually right about it. You won’t find any bad records in his collection… if you like Aphex Twin, that is. I realise lately that I probably need to get rid of a lot of stuff that I’m not into anymore. A lot of my music I buy because I’m in a particular mood on a certain day, and then usually I go into Electro again.
I find if I’m playing somewhere I’ll often buy a record to cater for the theme of that night, even if I might not like it. Do you do that?
Yes, I used to. I’ve done that a lot and then you end up with a few of those records that are a bit crap. (laughs)
You don’t buy that much vinyl anymore, right?
No I don’t, but when I buy digital stuff it’s mainly like reggae and funk, the kind of stuff I’ll listen to at home. Also, I don’t play that much, so I don’t buy that much.
Getting back to the track, it certainly sounds like it belongs on a metal album.
It’s a bit industrial, yes and you can definitely hear it’s been made by some metal folk. You’ll have to get the whole story from Andreas eventually.
Let’s go back to Electro. It was the first Direct Beat record I bought and I had never heard anything like that before either. I’ve bought every direct beat record and that’s probably the only label I was a slave to, to a certain point, after which I thought everything sounded the same again.
Electro is definitely having a moment and they should be capitalising on it. You were also telling me the other day that your friend Luke Eargoggle is getting booked a lot again.
Yes, I follow him on Instagram and he’s playing America every other weekend. I think Electro is a really big thing there.
That’s interesting, I thought they’d really lost touch with electronic music there again after EDM.
But that’s the cool thing with Electro, it’s always kind of a sub-movement. Whatever happens with Techno as it goes through phases of popularity, doesn’t really affect Electro in the same way and it just bubbles underneath the surface. The only time it went really popular was with Gigolo and DJ Hell.
A few releases after this Aux 88 release it got a lot tighter and then you have a lot of other artists that kind of just copied their style. This is a bit more dynamic than the later stuff. It’s not the record I play the most from Aux88, but it is where I got started.
From there I started also listening to more Ghettotech like DJ Deeon and DJ Assault, who were probably also producing Electro before, only from a HIp Hop perspective. You can definitely play this Aux 88 record together with those records.
Ahhh, I never realised that this is actually 0-1-11 vs Lekebusch, I’ve never seen that before today, but it makes a lot of sense now. 0-1-11 is a really nice English guy from Gothenburg called Jim. He made an album on hybrid records using only one drum machine, the R-8 from Roland.
And that kind of explains why I really love this track actually, because I rarely liked Lekebusch. Jim made some really cool tracks. He was a really good DJ and he booked acts like Luke Slater to Gothenburg in ‘94 when we only just discovered Planetary Assault Systems.
When was this released?
In 1999. Lekebusch had this really amazing studio in Stockholm, with all the machines you could imagine, and on this track they put the drums through the vocoder.
It gives it a bit of a glitchy element.
Yes and it’s got this deep sub-bass.
Do you still play this out?
Yes. Maybe the arrangement sounds a bit dated, but the sounds themselves are still fresh. Maybe the only record I don’t play out that much out of this batch is the Quadrant record from Aux 88, because it doesn’t sound that good.
Many of these older records I put stickers on to remind myself which tracks to play and a lot of the times I don’t even listen to the other ones.
Isn’t always a case that you’ll buy a record for one tracks and forget about the other tracks only to rediscover them later as the better tracks on the record?
Yes, I need to start listening to some of the other tracks, because there is probably a lot of good tracks just lying around.
Juan Atkins is one of those producers that I followed pretty much through his career. One of the other records I was looking at bringing along was infinity, the double LP; I’ve listened to it a lot. Juan Atkins captures that vibe Dopplereffekt have too, that’s kind of this timeless retro future.
Yes and the vocals help a lot. It can get a bit cheesy like with Egyptian lover, but like this and Dopplereffekt it can engage more with the listener.
I feel that Egyptian Lover is a bit like Kraftwerk, because he’s just reproducing the same stuff, whereas Dopplereffekt have never done the same thing twice. There are so many other Juan Atkins tracks, like Technocity and Technicolor that I really love. Also lyrics are just perfect for this kind of music: “the future is here”