Ever since we plugged in, we have longed to unplug. Part and parcel of an amplified, electronic instrument is its simple, unadorned grandfather: the acoustic version. The invention of the electric guitar pickup in 1931, which allowed jazz musicians to amplify their sound, led to the rock n roll revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. Famously, Bob Dylan went electric and alienated and angered legions of fans. In the 1990s MTV began the Unplugged series, which ended up with career defining performances from musicians as diverse as NIRVANA and ERIC CLAPTON. There’s an innate prejudice among certain music purists: acoustic sessions are seen as pure and stripped down, a true test of an artist’s skills, without all the trappings of amplification.
Whatever your opinion, the fact remains that songs change and take on new life in an acoustic set. Out in the North, a Copenhagen based project, takes it a few steps further. We discovered OITN at this year’s SPOT Festival in Aarhus, Denmark, where we were lucky enough to run into co-founder Frederik Khyn outside the BROKEN TWIN concert. Focusing on Nordic musicians, the creators take them out to bucolic natural settings to play songs, rain or shine. This is a sitting-on-a-stump, under-a-tree, next-to-a-river, overlooking-a-canyon type of thing. The only power supply is a camera to capture it all. Noteworthy recent participants have been JONAS ALASKA and HIGHASAKITE. Watch the videos to see plenty of tambourines, shakers, harmonicas and not a cord or power generator to be found. With all the ambient nature sounds of birds cawing and trees rustling, the performances are one-of, done in single take. The fascinating thing is how ancient this is: before the advent of recording, music is always related to the environment it was played in, whether a concert hall or wooden hut. The wilds and nature of the Nordic countries are unique, and by combining them with local musicians, Out in the North is tapping into the early of origins of music.
Why do you invite only Nordic/Scandinavian musicians for this project? Is there a special connection with nature that Scandinavian people have? Why?
You’ve hit us spot on with this question, since our goal with this project is to set a quandary in context: is there a specific Nordic sound? We don’t necessarily have an answer, but we try to put the music in a setting that gives the viewers an opportunity to settle for themselves.
So that leads to the second part of the question – we don’t know if there is a special connection, but we thought that the best way to present the music was to get rid of all the amplifiers that sit between the listener and the performer. It’s funny that you should mention the ‘Unplugged’-sessions, since they are not that unplugged, in reality. There are a ton of microphones and amplifiers – the whole thing is staged! We thought it would be a challenge: to get rid of all these obstacles and to present the music in the most direct way.
All those involved in the OITN-project are Scandinavian by origin. We share a mutual love for nature and the scenery that our native country and the surrounding ones provide. There’s a lot of environmental damage going on in our time and that is also on our minds. We are not a environmental project per se, but we do care about the future of these natural wonders – it’s our bread and butter.
How did the idea for Scandinavian-only music session come about?
Most of the team went to a school for music together. As a challenge, we wanted to make some videos with our own music and found that natural settings provided perfect imagery for the music. The videos went so well that we wanted to take it to the next level and OITN was born.
OUT IN THE NORTH: “Our only recording supply is a camera and a microphone and since nature is not always easy to get along with, there have been some rather chaotic situations.”
What are some things that have gone horribly wrong during the sessions?
Our only recording supply is a camera and a microphone and since nature is not always easy to get along with, there have been some rather chaotic situations.
I remember recording Danish singer MATHILDE SAVERY on a beach in the heart of the bone chilling cold of December. We thought it would be an easy ride, but it turned out to be an hour or so of fingers turning into icicles and required gallons of warm tea when we returned home after the shoot.
Another session with some stories occurred when we filmed Norwegian band HIGHASAKITE. We decided on a cliff for the location and though the Danish landscape tends to be rather flat, camera guy Matias almost risked his life sneaking around filming the session on the steep landscape. Let’s just say nobody on the team had any fingernails left when the filming was done.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
Hope and passion means everything to us at Out in the North! We can only hope that someone will experience the things we discover about Nordic sounds. Every time we put passion into our work we make that a little bit more likely to happen! In the future OITN-things, the outcome of days in the field with the artists, it will be clear: this project is based on passion. The passion for recording the sound in another creative way, an alternative way of interviewing… depending on what we individually feel like that day, but of course in the frame of our concept.
OUT IN THE NORTH