Smooth Operator – Øyvind Morken (Cocks#001)

Øyvind Morken’s Smooth Operator mix and interview taken from the first edition of Cocktail Sports

Memories of sweltering nights during the height of Oslo’s midsummer come flooding back. A midweek jaunt in a cool backyard with the sun lingering just over the horizon, stretching rays like tendrils into the dusky midnight firmament. Overzealous stars make ineffective contributions on a cloudless sky while nightfall refuses to arrive. Sensuous sonorities dripping from wax play over an over-compensating soundsystem, as the first premature rays of dawn’s rosy fingers touch bare skin. Bodies gesticulate in complete submission to the rhythm and hands touch the sky, reaching for the tails of elusive melodies.

It’s Øyvind Morken at his best, as a resident DJ playing to a homeground advantage and everything is conspiring around his intuitive selections, tempered in the sultry mood of the environment and emboldened by a receptive audience, eager for the DJ to take them to the extreme limits of his uniquely versatile record bag. The DJ reciprocates the trust of the people, playing between the accessible and the more progresissve, acquiescing to the determined demands of the growing dance floor. 

It’s a collective memory of many nights I would enjoy in the company of Øyvind Morken at Untzdag; the only residency in Oslo that would push the boundaries of the dance floor beyond its cursory traditions. Stretching across continents, styles and genres in an eclecticism that weaved its way through polyrhythms, charting an instinctual course through psychedelic plains, Øyvind’s sets were mesmerising, illuminating and unpredictable. Memories across years intertwine in the image of one of Oslo’s most distinguished and uncompromising DJs. 

He honours me with the inaugural mix on this new platform which he coined the name for, a mix that he says is “full of left turns, wrongspeeders, heavy chugging techno, wave-y but also very dance oriented.” Music stretching from 1973 to the present day makes for “50 years of good shit” according to Øyvind, encapsulating his legendary idiosyncrasies as a DJ and selector. These are skills he’s been cultivating as youth in Hauketo (a 15-minute train ride out of Oslo city center) where between skateboarding and tagging trains, music was an outlet for teenage frustrations. 

After an extensive career that saw him regularly playing abroad, in 2019 he took the unprecedented decision to quit his residency and his agent, get a day job, and turn back to music as a hobby. The result has been some exclusive and rarefied DJ sets and a period of musical creativity that has seen him return to the label that started it all for him, Full Pupp. It’s on the back of the EP Lullaby for a never ending sunset and a recent remix for a new Prins Thomas label called Blank, that we meet Øyvind Morken for a chat and mix. 

What are you working on in terms of music at the moment?

I’m working up the courage to start to organize and catalog my record collection. So far I have managed to avoid starting with it, due to other obligations. I did manage to make a few tracks during the start of the Covid 19/Corona situation. 

Is there time to make music during these times or do you find, like me, that it’s just impossible to focus with so much constantly going on around you?

It’s been hard getting time to do it the last month or two, but then I’m not that keen either at the moment. The sun is shining and it’s 30 degrees outside. I’d rather hang out and play with my kid than make music in the summer. Unless it’s raining.

The stuff I’ve been hearing from you lately, especially the Lullaby to a never ending sunset, suggests your work is moving in a different direction. What’s currently moving you to explore new realms in your music? 

I get inspiration from what surrounds me, family, friends, music, film, books, nature, architecture, cooking. I’m interested in personal growth, sometimes you can feel it happening, other times we regress as human beings. When my son was born, I was gifted with some heavy emotions, and I like to think that somehow this shows a little in my music.

How’s your music changed since something like Kakemonsteret do you think?

The music has more musicality and more emotions, and I have gained more technical ability. But I still have problems making a banger like Kakemonsteret. 

Let’s go back in time for a minute: Take me through being a naughty kid in Hauketo, Norway, tagging trains and then finding music as an outlet?

I think graffiti and the hip hop movement which it is linked to was the freshest thing for a kid like me in the late eighties and early nineties. Breakdancing, graff, hip hop and electro felt like it was beamed down to a little group of us. The rest didn’t get it, and we thought that was great. I used to skateboard too, and it’s the same with that, it was/is outsider culture. I still get goosebumps when I see a train that’s painted, or a good spot with a piece on it. I don’t think age will change that, it’s my culture, I tell myself every summer that i’m gonna go out and hit some walls, but never manage. 2002 was the last time I painted.  

And how does that reflect on what you’re doing now?

I think it’s pretty linked. It’s all about getting creative and putting something personal into it, that can be painting a wall or making a track.

You were being chucked out of DJ booths in your local youth center when you first started DJing, and now you’re the one chucking other people out. What do you think your younger self would tell you if he could see you now?

Play something we can dance too. Get the fuck off. Speed it up mate. Who knows. 

Do things like becoming a father and having a day job affect how you approach music today, either in a subconscious or concrete way? 

I had a breakdown/breakthrough where I decided to quit my residency, quit the booking agency which handled my international gigs, and get a day job. I want music to be a hobby, a thing I do because I want to, not because I need to pay some bills. I think it has given me some freedom. 

How has not DJing every week affected the music you make now?

Still work the same way I always have. On and off. Some periods I am very creative, others not. I don’t force it. 

Residencies like yours at Jaeger were becoming rare just before the pandemic, dominated by insistent bookings and festival lineups playing clubs. What in your opinion has gone wrong?

Not sure if it’s gone wrong, that kind of depends who you ask. But it’s kind of like the iceberg, where you only see about 10% of it. It is the same with the DJ’s and live acts that get booked, It’s almost the same line up at every festival. I think festivals can be great, and I have only had nice experiences paying them in one way or the other. They are usually very professionally run. But I think they could switch up the line-ups a bit, and maybe give the lesser known a better spot or stage. Regarding a weekly residency, I think the only way to get one would be to find a club that no one goes to, and make a party good enough. It’s not that I was given the golden ticket when I was offered the Wednesday night residency. If you work really hard, and have something to offer, there is a chance you can make something of it. 

Do you feel that perhaps now in this current situation, that it will change again?

No, I think it’s back to business at the first chance. It’s human nature.

As a DJ you’re still taking it easy right, giving your ears a rest, so when you do get the opportunity to DJ now, how do you change your approach to playing every week?

My approach is and will always be the same. Play the music that I connect with and hope others will too. The only difference from when I started out is I used to think I don’t have enough music to play all these hours, and now it’s I don’t have enough hours to play all this music.

I see you around Råk n Rolls quite often, with a bag full of records. If you’re not DJing what’s dictating your buying habits?

How much time and money I have to spend, that’s basically it. I might have hang-ups. Sometimes it’s modern electronic music, other times music from the past, be it synth/wave, disco, exotica or african records. The best times are when you arrive with a clean slate and a full wallet. 

So take me through your thought process when you pick up a record in a store like Råkk n Rålls, how does it go from there into your shelf at home? 

A gentleman never tells. 

But you’re also buying some stuff online, newer music. What do you usually look for in the case of a new record?

I buy loads of new stuff. I absolutely love Bandcamp for digital music, I think it’s the best thing that has happened to the artist. Usually I look for something that catches my ear, music with character.

Some of my most prized records were the records I’ve bought on your recommendation. Out Of The Storm (C’s Planet E Special Mix) and Warden CA Lurid springs to mind immediately. And it all happened when we were in a record store together or you were playing it out. That way of sharing music has changed drastically since social media and shazam. What do you think has been lost in the way we share and talk about music today?

There are more people sharing music than ever before because of the internet. But it might not feel as personal when it’s not done face to face in a recordshop. I miss the days in the mid 2000s with music message boards like DJ History and CBS. But that’s my nostalgia kicking in. I love record shops, but I also love bandcamp. I say embrace it all.  

It seems that everything has become too hyped for its own good, so a kid coming into this today is more focussed on a media presence than ever before. Surely that has to have an effect on the music coming out too?

It sure does, but there are still young people coming at it with their own spin. Just look at River Yarra, the Candomble crew, Lucas Croon. All super talented and young. There is hope. The youth are the future.

How would you like to see it evolve from here going forward?

People facing each other on the dance floor, not the dj. 

And if you were faced with that rebellious youngster from Hauketo now, what advice would you give him today?

Use earplugs.