As we dip back into the files from this year’s SXSW, we bring you our interview with the Norwegian DJ collective known as Rytmeklubben. These four young men from Trondheim headlined the Music Norway showcase at the festival and turned the venue into a bacchanal of beats and giddy future R&B melodics. And, to our surprise, they played nearly everything in the set themselves, tapping out beats and fluttering their fingers over synthesizers every step of the way.
Beyond their brilliance on stage, these gents—Torjus, hi tom, Henrik The Artist, and DJ KARAOKE—are driving a renaissance in dance music in their native Norway, both on their own and as a collective, and gaining an international audience for their efforts. It’s not hard to hear why as their tracks are so engaging and ebullient, verging on tropical house with the music’s sunny disposition. But you can hear the impact of hip hop and modern R&B on their sound, as they seek dancefloor nirvana.
While we were in Austin, these boys stopped by the hotel for a chat about how they got started, the method to their madness, and the dance scene in Norway.
NS: This is your first trip to the US as a group. Have you been here before individually?
Torjus: Yeah, but just holiday type stuff. This is our first musical trip to the US.
NS: So how has that been, playing music for an American audience?
hi tom: At times better than a Norwegian audience.
T: i think it’s been really good actually for us. I think we kind of knew that some people out here have been listening to us, but coming over here, going to L.A. last week and coming here as well and seeing people actually show up and they know the songs and they know who we are and they come up to us and say “Hi,” it’s kind of overwhelming really. It’s been beyond what I could’ve dreamed about for a first trip. You hear about all these bands going to the U.S. or abroad for the first time and they play 10 shows for 10 people, that kind of a grind. But for us, I feel like it’s been very humbling and cool to see all these people that actually kind of know what’s up. Could’ve been a lot worse.
NS: How is that different from Norwegian audiences as you were saying?
h: The kind of engagement and…
Henrik The Artist: It’s hard to know what they think and feel because people can stand [still] and have a good time. But here I think most of the people who are actually enjoying it are showing it. So it’s easier to tell in real time. You actually feed off the audience and get some feedback.
h: they are dedicated.
T: And it feels like we have more dedicated fans here just from the few shows we’ve done than in Norway even. Our shows here this couple of weeks, they’ve been the best shows we’ve done in a long time, which is interesting because I didn’t even know that people were listening.
NS: One of the things I enjoyed from watching you last night was how much you perform these songs. You’re not just pushing one button and standing back and dancing. Your were playing a lot of different stuff and working out the drum beats and playing the rhythms. How did that come to be a focus of your live show?
H: That’s how we started, originally. Focusing on playing live. Our music sounds a lot like it did then. The way it kind of came to be was we were originally just a collective and label and we’ll release a mixtape with solo music. Then we decided with launching the project we wanted to have a live concert where we got together to perform each other’s songs. So that was like the first initial activity that we did. And I think doing that we realized when we’re more people, it gives us the ability to actually do more compared to somebody who’s just one DJ. You can be one producer and you can make these songs, but it’s hard to perform them alone. Especially in the Norwegian climate when it comes to concerts, it was something that the audience would be more open to because DJ concerts wasn’t something people were more open to. Unless it’s a big big name like Calvin Harris or whatever, people don’t really get it.
h: What could make it exciting live is that it’s never perfect. so basically it could be like, yeah, some things can happen that would not happen if you just played the song.
NS: How did this whole project get started then?
T: We went to school together. We studied music technology, and over time, we realized we were all making beat-focused music.
H: I think we connected over Madlib and the L.A. scene.
h: Different Internet and beat scenes back in 2012 or something. I wanted to just get something going so I asked these guys, and a bunch of other people to make short beats for a mixtape and it had maybe 16 songs on it, and i called it Rytmeklubben Volume 1. We decided to have a release concert. We had a drummer, and we practiced and we put together this show. When people saw that show, they wanted to book us a group, which we hadn’t anticipated. So we got booked to some local gigs and some festivals. And we got approached to do remixes and stuff as a group. It wasn’t really intentional that it was gonna be this way but because of these kinds of requests we started working together more in the studio and playing more shows and it just became the four of us.
NS: When it comes to remixing or making music together, how does that work? Is it just one of you taking charge of a track and everyone throws in their ideas or is it as collaborative as it sounds?
h: There can be so many different starting points.
T: We usually work together in the studio. Especially with original tracks, we like to start it out together, which sounds weird because you think it’d be easier to start something up alone but i think it’s easier to get on board with each other’s ideas.
H: When you start a song alone, or you’re 25% into the process, you don’t have lots of ideas of what’s going to happen. But if you start together at the same time, you can capture that same feeling of what’s supposed to come. It’s always a dialogue through sound.
NS: Is it just when you’re writing a track together or will one of you be working on something at home, and think, “I don’t know where to go with with us, if i bring it to the rest of the guys, they can finish it”?
T: Yeah. We can also start something off together and, because we live in separate cities right now, we might start something together and then finish it online so somebody’s working on it at home. We start the initial idea together and we kind of spread out and piece the pieces together afterwards.
NS: I’m curious about the remixes and edits you’ve put online. I know some of it is work that you’ve been asked to do but there are some that are just things you’ve done on your own like your mix of Katie Deraugo’s “Heaven.” What inspires you to grab a track and mess with it.
H: There’s lots of things. The first thing that comes to mind is if you want to make a song that’s more club heavy. But I guess the most creative stuff is when there’s a reference in a track you want to use and flip it. Putting the song in another space. That’s kind of the most fun thing to listen to. But it’s also great to have club edits and more heavier kicks.
NS: It’s probably good for your DJ gigs, too, to have those things at the ready.
T: It’s a nice way to be able to showcase your own aesthetic and production value, but in a context that people might relate to because they might know the track you remixed. The kind of reference they can jump come and connect with faster
h: People never want to hear new stuff. You have to find a way to give them the old same thing.
NS: What is the scene in Norway like for beat-heavy music like this?
H: Almost non-existent.
T: I wouldn’t say it’s huge compared to other countries. There’s been a house scene that’s really rigid for a while now, in Oslo at least. And I feel like there’s some people like trying to do new things.
h: There’s lots of rap groups.
T: R&B is coming up too. There are a lot of talented people coming out and we have a lot of people doing amazing stuff, but it’s not that recognized in Norway. There’s no real audience for it, which pushes the need to grow online. There’s a lot of great producers and great creatives, a lot of inspiring people. But they’ll be touring out of the country because how long are you gonna stay at home and try to grind and force a scene?
NS: That’s why it’s important for you guys to get out to SXSW and build an audience.
T: We just wanna come where people want us to be really. I’d love to have a bigger scene for these kinds of things in Norway. I guess it’s because the cities are small and there’s very few people there, the niches don’t get to grow that much. There’s just not room for it. And the clubs are dysfunctional and the prices are high and people just want to listen to ‘90s hip hop all the time.
DJ KARAOKE: When you narrow it down as well, you have to divide it into Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim. Those are the three big cities where you can find people into club music. Everything else is pretty much country and rock.
NS: What is next for you guys after you get back home?
T: Finish school? And make SO many tracks.
h: Yeah, we won’t be able to count them.
T: We’re gonna work on finishing a bunch of songs with vocalists and stuff too. Hopefully you’re gonna start seeing those very soon on big labels and we’re gonna be rich.
h: Is that an okay thing to say here?
NS: Oh sure! That’s what everybody wants!
h: We’re just trying to adapt here!