In our digital age, music is no longer even a commodity item. It’s artistic value has long ago been monetised, but in the present it barely holds any commercial significance. Music being streamed, downloaded and even bought on a physical format like vinyl or CD, has no monetary value significance other than to perhaps cover costs. The creative form is little more than an impassioned promotional tool that the artist uses to sell the personality rather than the artistic endeavour. Ego is the objective, and music is its stepping stone into public consciousness, where it and not the music endeavours to be the commodity to be traded for a DJ gig, product endorsement or live show.
In one little isolated corner of the musical universe however there are still those individuals that proliferate music for art’s sake whatever shape or form, and in many of those cases, I’ve found cassette to be the favoured format. Cassette allows for the most progressive of musical attitudes, often breaching that unlistenable domain, but always artistically uncompromising. I’ve interviewed many of these tape labels and their artists through the Formant in the past and even though they occupy vastly different musical spheres, the same attitude prevails through them all.
Since arriving in Oslo, I’ve found that attitude prevalent too at Jan-Fredrik Bjerk’s Hjemme Med Dama (HMD), a mixtape series that unsurprisingly utilises the cassette as their desired format. Originally an online mix series started by Jan-Fredrik operating under the Jan Mayen moniker, Hjemme med Dama roughly translates to “home with the missus” in a tongue and cheek kind of irony. It has provided some of Oslo’s most enduring unconventional DJs a platform to dig through the most obscure realms of their collections and string it together in an alternative narrative for modern music, in all shapes and forms.
Going from an online series to the physical format, HMD mark seven cassettes today with mixes from the likes of Fredfades, K3, DJ Hooker and Raymond T. Hauger. The themes of the mixes go from darkroom ambient to breakbeat psychedelic, each DJ digging to the edge of the crate with a palpable respect for the individual cut. The DJs of HMD showcase a broad spectrum of tastes. On occasion live original music has found its way on the tapes too, but these are only short adventures into the world of a fully fledged record label and HMD is very much a vehicle for the more adventurous constituents from Oslo’s DJ community.
Jan-Fredrik is a visual artist and the endearing character behind the HMD series. He approaches HMD with a sense of humour and devotes much of his time to it while holding down two jobs. As well as featuring on the HMD sessions in the role of a DJ, he is also the artist behind the visual presentation on the work, which much like the sessions themselves feature a collage-like building-block arrangement with all manner of quirky and engaging references pulling your focus toward various points on the artwork. An accomplished visual artist in his own right HMD is as much an extension of his creative identity as his musical passions, and over the course of a coffee one sunny day in autumn we proffered to unravel the man, the artist and HMD.
We meet up under the pretext of an upcoming Cassette Store Day, which will begin at Filter Musikk this saturday and eventually make its way to Kafé Hærverk where André Bratten will perform a DJ set. We start our conversation at that point.
What planted the seed for Cassette Store Day?
I saw an ad for Cassette Store Day, but you couldn’t sign up anywhere outside of the states or London. So I just took it upon myself to get it done.
Have you contacted them since?
No. I think because I do everything on my own anyway, that’s the way to go, as long as I’m not stepping on any toes.
The people behind Cassette labels are very community orientated, though.
Maybe next year, we’ll try and get in touch. I guess the idea behind Cassette Store Day this year, is to gather some cool people and music.
How many labels will be involved?
We have like 10-15 labels this year.
Are they all Norwegian?
Mostly and some from Finland; those Trevor Deep Jr. guys.
Who had a release on HMD.
Yes. They put together great live-set on the A-side on HMD05.
I actually met them through my Wife’s band (Kuuk) when they were playing at the Træna festival 2015.
Through the people I’ve met through this community they seem very receptive to all kinds of music, and it’s the only medium today where I think you can go completely off the page and be incredibly experimental.
That’s something you can do on Tape, yes. I find a lot of people buy these tapes just to have them and not necessarily listen to them. It’s a nice object to have.
Is that why you started it, to have this art object that people can display?
Yes, it’s nice to combine the music with art. When I started it, I had less time to make art, because I chose to have a salary and not to spend all my time at home, painting.
Yes, please tell me a little more about the origins of HMD.
I started HMD mix series after I came home from an art residency in Paris. That was 2013. I recorded mixes once a month and released them on soundcloud. It started out with a sense of humour, because the title is not necessarily something that you would stick to. (laughs)
There’s a DJ called Jeff K who said that he made his Resident Advisor mix on a Sunday with his wife in bed, painting her toe nails. It sounded tempting as a regular quite cool thing to do. It’s a play on that and about the early years of a relationship. It’s a time you feel obliged to stay home and when friends call and invite you out, then you say those three words and the conversation is over. There’s some irony and a lot of layers there, because the HMD mixes started out with quite hard tracks, and it’s not really music you’d play for your girlfriend at home.
Why not just keep it on soundcloud?
As I was meeting more DJs and started playing out more, it expanded and I guess a physical copy makes it feel more real. It might seem a bit hipster-ish these days, but it’s nice for me to look back on it, when I see the whole catalogue on the shelf. Since I don’t make them all myself, but rather curate it, it feels like everything is timeless. The first tape is as fresh as the new one.
And people are going to put a lot more effort into it because it’s tape.
Yes, and I can see that every time I get another final version of the same mix. People are putting a lot of effort into it. Eg.: “HMD MIX Final version 3!!!”
It’s more to do with the fact that you can’t really release mixes, because of the legal rights. I try not to make too many copies so I can fly under the radar. There’s no goal to sell thousands of tapes and yes, eventually a record label would be interesting, with vinyl releases, but for now the tape will do. You can also have different lengths on tape, and maybe we can do some things with loops in the future too.
What do you look for in music and mixes to make it onto HMD?
The mixes are all about taking the listener on a journey, of course. It must have some sort of psychedelic character to it and some consistency. We have everything from party tapes to pre-party tapes, like those from Dom Lom and Fredfades tapes.
Raymond T Hauger tape is also surprising in that sense. It wasn’t as intense as I thought it might be, and couldn’t definitely work in the pre-party situation.
Although it’s all downbeat and it does get a bit dark some places. But I think tapes like Trevor Deep Jr., Lumi In The Sky With Diamonds, Agonis, DJ Hooker and K3 is on the same downbeat, leftfield, trippy, chill thing that we all like. Maybe it’s a collective interest in music these days.
Is your intention to have the artwork reflect that aspect?
No, not really. It’s not necessarily psychadelic if you blend all the colours and patterns in the world. I like to strip the visual aspects down almost to their most minimal, although my tapes don’t really look like that all. (laughs) I’m trying to go for a cleaner look next time and after that something messy. There are no plans for the future.
Is there any intent to include other visual artists?
Yes that would be a good thing, but I don’t want to have a design template for all the tapes. A lot of mixtape labels use the same graphic templates. I want to try different things that match the content of the tape. More sketch based.
Do you listen to the mix before you make the artwork and create the artwork around it?
Yes, I have it playing while I work.
So the mix must eventually influence the artwork then?
Yes. Often I’ll have people querying impatiently about the artwork, but I have to wait till I get some sort of visual inspiration before I can start work on it. There’s always structures and things as surfaces that inform the foundation of my work. That’s an easy background, to have nature or something like a brick wall.
Is that your main personal focus of HMD, the artwork?
Yes. When I get the tapes, I spend so much time on doing it. I print, cut them and then use a template to make the folds. But no two tapes are alike really.
For example, I’ve spent the last few days preparing the new André Bratten tape. It’s two tapes with a chrome belt around them like a cigar, with a sticker.
Can you tell me what it sounds like?
It’s four different mixes. The first tape has some “classic” Bratten Techno on the A-side while the B-side starts off with some classic progrock hits, and then it goes quite downbeat. There’s Jungle on the C-side and a surprise Gabber thing, touching the unlistenable spectrum on the D-Side.
Where do you see HMD going in the future?
Not that far as the mix series is concerned. It would be nice to have a infinite amount of tapes that you can mix and match, with custom cassette holders or something.
So what will come after the tapes when you’ve reached that point?
I’ve started arranging parties as well. I’ve put together a weekender earlier this year, and it was really successful. And after Cassette Store Day there will be another event. Maybe a seminar.
A seminar about music?
Yes, but I don’t want to reveal more on that right now…