Various Artists – Ploink 96-16 #1

Norwegian Techno has always held a unique position within the electronic music genre. Garnering something of an inimitable reputation through artists like Biosphere and Mental Overdrive, it’s rarely been more than a Nordic cousin to scenes from the UK and the Germany respectively. That looks set to change however, and today when Techno is rather solely influenced by the drone/noise inspired interpretation of the genre coming out of Berlin, Norwegian Techno arrives like a breath of fresh air out of the North, especially on the wave of one of it’s most ardent enablers, Ploink. What started as an events series in 1996, has steadfastly and stubbornly upheld their stance, always swimming up the stream of known convention with the sound of Norway’s Techno pioneers at their bow. As an events series they would showcase local acts alongside international bookings like Derrick May, Jeff Mills, Dave Clarke, Paul Woolford and Marcel Dettmann, to name but a few, while as a label, their sole propose has been the propagation of Norwegian Techno to an international audience since 2014. In the past they’ve featured artists like KSMISK, +plattform and Kahuun – some of the best artists Norway has to offer in the genre. This year the name Ploink celebrates 20 years in the game and to mark the occasion they’ll be releasing four compilation EP’s throughout the year as a testament of the namesake’s origins and the future of the label, with Ploink 96-16#1 making the first mark with some potency.

The first of the series features none other than Mental Overdrive and Prins Thomas on the lead tack, with the latter interpreting the former’s Hellbent in a moody percussive skipping beat extended through a foggy reverbs, laying the foundation for irreverent synthesised tones that shriek and squeal in the upper frequencies. It showcases the progressive nature of Norwegian Techno with a central loop varying very little in theme, just rolling through the motions of the machine, like some cyber swell, that never finds a shore to crash on. Having Prins Thomas and Mental Overdrive on the opening track is certainly a calculated move by label bosses Miss Mostly and Thomas “URV” Paulsen, but it’s not the highlight on this release by far, merely offering us an engaging introduction to more of the musical brilliance that lies beyond the opening track. It’s through the tracks by Urhaug, Nordenstam, Christian Tilt and Hutmacher where something closer to a theme starts taking shape around the release, a theme where Hellbent only scratched the surface.

Through the following tracks, what comes to the fore is the intelligent design that’s at the core of any Norwegian Techno release. There’s a clever use of atmosphere that underpins most Norwegian producers and this release is no different, with Nordentam’s Haustfarger possibly the best example of how to create abundant space in a Techno track. It’s difficult not to get swept up in the associations the music might draw to the landscape that its artists occupy. It’s easy to use metaphors like glacial synthesisers or icy textures to describe the music, but what do they actually mean? For this writer it’s the culmination of a machine aesthetic and the sense of humility that Norwegian artists seem to apply to their music. Yes, it’s Techno, and as such it still needs to bare its teeth, but an artist like Christian Tilt does it in a way that very rarely comes across as brutal or oafish. It’s intelligent Techno if there ever was such a thing. Tilt, like the other artists on Ploink 96-16 #1, gives each element enough space, leaving a door open for the listener to approach the music, rather than trying to bombard him/her with it. Like Prins Thomas’ edit, the form follows the progression of an ever-evolving loop that leaves an organic trail. Even Urhaug and Hutmacher’s contributions to the compilation, which are more energetic in nature and avoids the focus on ambience in comparison to their contemporaries, still rely on this approach and as such you still get an airy quality to music’s through its form. And alongside those crystallised metallic tones in the percussion and the upper frequencies, the word “arctic” hardly comes as a gross exaggeration when describing this music, and that’s exactly what makes Norwegian techno stand out from their continental contemporaries.

Ploink have known this to be true for a while now, and this latest compilation is only the cherry on the top, with +plattform, KSMISK, Kahuun and Vakum having already established the sound of new Norwegian Techno for this generation, but what this first compilation has done remarkably well however is that it looks set to make a larger impression outside of Norway too. Ploink has aligned a newcomer like Nordenstam with the legacy of Norwegian Techno through an artist like Mental Overdrive, who almost appears to hand over a baton to a new generation of Norwegian Techno pioneers through this release.