Transformers: an interview with Omformer

Musikkfest Oslo 2018: In a grotto under a bridge in Grünnerløkka, a dark force has me transfixed in my spot, from which I can’t move until the last note of music dissipates into the cold summer air. Exhuming harmonic motifs from the deep, where perdition’s chorus plays through the devil’s triad, it was the sound of Techno embalmed in the syncopated rhythms of modern electronic music languages. Between live- and DJ sets, there was something fresh and captivating about the stage run by the, then new Techno outfit Uteklubb. The young collective had found something interesting and exciting that set them apart from the other two Techno stages, and had brought a certain vibrancy that was fully reciprocated by the crowd, kicking up dust in a sandbox, repurposed as a dance floor.

Two years on and Uteklubb went from DJ collective and event organisers to label with a slew of records and CDs cataloguing the continuously changing mood of the members behind the collective. Through individual releases from artists with names like Oprofessionell and Mikkel Rev on UTE.REC and compilations like Groundcontrol, they have gone from pandering to European Techno trends, to establishing an outlier sound in the grand narrative of electronic club music in Oslo, with touchstones on the orgiinal sound of Techno from Germany, often referred to as Trance today. Mikkel Rev is also Mikkel Haraldstad and Oprofessionell is Filip Storsveen, and as well as making individual contributions to the catalogue, they’ve played a notable role groundbreaking contributions to UTE.REC’s discography and particularly its sub label, the Trance and Ambient leaning CD label called Sinensis. 

Sine01 to Sine03 set the tone for the label and Omfromer’s music, following a formula which by one dance floor leaning Trance track would be accompanied by an hour long Ambient piece on each release, which in the case of Sine03, took the form of a live recording session. Since coming together to create Omformer, Mikkel and Fillip have been conjuring the sounds of early nineties Trance and second room ambient flirtations in thoroughly modern interpretations of the genres, which in a contemporary landscape dominated by perfunctory dance models, has breathed new life in the archetypal sounds of nineties rave culture. With a new EP arriving on Hjemme Med Dama in September, and more in the pipeline, Filip and Mikkel have been nothing short of prolific in their output as Omformer, something they substantiate when I call them up in their studio.

“We meet once a week,” says Filip who says they create at least one new track whenever they meet. It has been a “very productive” era for the duo and Uteklubb affiliates who were first introduced at the Uteklubb raves and then later shared a musical bond while digging for records at Filter Musikk. Filip, one of the original members of Uteklubb found “a like minded guy” in Mikkel and quickly inducted the latter into the Uteklubb consortium as a solo artist around the same time as the pair started working on music together. “Roland (Lifjell – Filter Musikk) had just gotten a nineties collection from somebody,” remembers Mikkel, who had found a kindred spirit in Filip, digging through the same section of the store. “There were quite a few nerds digging through the box as well,” but the pair shared an unlikely taste in music from the nineties archives and specifically Trance music.

While Mikkel had grown up with Trance, albeit a “cheesier kind,” Filip was just opening his ears to the original form of the genre. “It has a lot to do with digging for music and Filter Musikk,” insists Filip. Outgrowing juvenile tastes like Tiesto, Mikkel and Filip had their start in production through Techno, before going back to the origins of Techno in Europe and the original sounds of Trance. And it would be under these influences that they would lay the foundations of Omformer going into their first recording session together. “Some of the first sessions were great,” remembers Filip, with some of those original recordings still finding their way on other labels, like a new upcoming EP for an unknown Danish imprint. Filip and Mikkel were already dab hands at the studio, having started early in the realm of production as teenagers, and while Techno had been their main pursuit they had found a new channel for creativity in the old Trance records they were picking up in the bargain bins of Filter. “It’s very inspiring, those early Trance records, they are so creative, “ explains Mikkel. For a couple of younger DJs and producers on a shoestring budget, these cheaper records and their availability in Oslo, turned out to be direct influences for Omformer and where they would take their sound, and incidentally the sound of UTE.REC. 

Uteklubb laid the groundwork for their reputation in Techno at the time when the genre had been at the peak of its popularity, which at the start of Uteklubb as an event series and at the beginnings of the label, they coerced into remarkably different territory through Trance and goa Trance. “I guess it is just naturally evolving,” considers Filip, who’s been with the collective since the beginning. “Digging for those kind of records” and the natural evolution of their musical landscape followed Omfromer into their recording sessions where Mikkel describes their process in very pragmatic terms: “We press play on Ableton while all our synths are in sync and maybe one of us comes up with sequence and we record that and just add things.” Then there’s the creative enterprise of a duo at work, where Mikkel says “maybe the other person hears something in it that makes it onto a recording” and Filip agrees saying; “it’s nice to have four ears.”

Long passages emerge in their music, where melody develops in very slow and subtle modulations, within the sonic palette of their nineties forebears. In the ambient realm, their music takes on a life of its own, gestating from a simple sequence that grows and subsides in an artificial ecosystem. Those melodic traits linger however when they set their sites on the dance floor too with excessive tempos squeezing harmonic resonances from percussive machines.  Across their two Sinensis records and now this latest from Hjemme med Dama they’ve maintained this duality on their records as if to present two very different sides of the same coin, harking back to an era where room 2 lived in sympathetic harmony with whatever was happening on the main floor.

In their efforts together Omformer have honed something unique from this backward glancing perspective, something that avoids blatant nostalgia, and instead builds something new off the remnants of a forgotten legacy in electronic music. It’s a legacy that has been left abandoned by the influential and embarrassingly shunned to the back of bargain bins to collect dust, but Omformer have found something inspiring in that legacy, dusting it off and re-evaluating it for theirs and future generations. And while it’s something they’ve extended to the entire Uteklubb repertoire, they’re not merely content on resting on these newfound laurels, digging ever deeper as their music continues to evolve.

Filip sees Omformer heading towards new realms with records like Notsignal’s Planet 3 leading the way for inspiration, and while a live show has been left on the back-burner during the time of the pandemic, Omformer is likely to return to the stage in the very near future. “First of all, we need to make it interesting for ourselves,” says Mikkel, who simply “hate(s) standing in front of people with nothing to do.” After making their debut live appearance at Villa back in the beginning of this year, everything else was put on hold as the coronavirus measures were put in place. 

They continue to use the period productively to work in the studio together, with Filip suggesting “it’s just getting better and better.” It leaves an interesting prospect for the young duo and the UTE.REC catalogue as they continue to cultivate a truly distinctive sonic identity in the current musical landscape. 

* Omformer HMD002 is out on the 18th of September with a release event at Filter Musikk.