The question of how we see club music experiences in their absence surely has been an ongoing one since I first started the Electronic Empathy column back in the summer of 2020. Because… well… simply because that has been our reality ever since. There are different ways of coping with that; starting this column, creating a mixtape series and producing my own EP have played a critical part for me while others found alternative paths. Kasper Bjørke surely shares this reflective nature because it has always been a crucial element in his music. That’s maybe one reason why his music constantly crossed my personal path over the past ten years, whether it’s with a new remix, original material or such stunning adventures like The Fifty Eleven Project he recorded with the Kasper Bjørke Quartet back in 2018 which was a musical processing of Kasper’s battle with cancer a few years ago which he luckily won. He’s an eclectic composer and artist that can work in multiple musical fields but in the end he always returns to the irresistible power of the groove eventually.
His latest album Sprinkles is a testament of that love for electronic dance music and synthetic sounds but also an emotional affair. It circles back to the roots of Balearic house music, 80s techno and the things that shaped the 46-year old artist when he first fell in love with that kind of sound. Sprinkles is a shimmering love letter to club music and the warm and positive feeling it can create without sounding cheesy at all, it’s a romance with retro vibe but one that works great in the here and now. I’ve played it a lot this summer while experiencing my own first outdoor and indoor dance experiences ever since Covid put the world on hold in 2020. On the brink of a new post-pandemic (but pre-climate-catastrophe) reality it might not be the worst to think about transformation, to take the good aspects of the past and take it to the future. I thought about that aspect as I listened to the new Kasper Bjørke album and also gave his playlist a spin. Yes, just like previous contenders the Dane curated music for the Electronic Empathy playlist that suits with the vibe of Sprinkles but also gives a broader understanding of his own roots. I suggest you hit the play button before we dive a bit deeper into the sprinkled cosmos of this beloved artist.
Greetings Kasper. Great to talk again virtually. It’s the end of the summer and it almost feels like the end of the global pandemic. Denmark recently ended almost all restrictions. It might be a bit too early to officially declare the end but still – in the wake of it: How are you feeling?
I must say I am a bit hesitant when it comes to celebrating this re-opening up of the Danish society because I feel like it won’t last, just like last year… but at the same time I am enjoying the freedom that comes with it!
Yeah, I know. It’s hard to trust that vibe. We all found different ways of coping with the crisis. Of course, especially artists tend to turn to music. One of the most fascinating things I experienced during the harsh last winter was the release of your 23-minute long piece The Beast. The Tree. The Man. So before we start I have to ask: What’s the story behind it?
Thanks for enjoying it. I was also very weighed down during that period… I was listening a lot to ambient to release some of the stress and anxiety – and Penelope Trappes had put out a track on the Australian online audio gallery Longform Editions and I started digging into their catalogue and was very impressed with everything I heard… so I asked Penelope if she would be so kind to introduce me to Andrew Khedoori who runs LE. Andrew and I started talking about the current state of the world and how the musical background that I come from could be merged with ambient music… so it became a sort of challenge for me to incorporate beats into ambient and from that came The Beast. The Tree. The Man – and it was then put out a while after that long hard winter had passed… It’s a piece of music that I am very happy with and it also symbolises the emotional stress from the state of the world at that time.
I had the chance to attend a few selected club experiences this summer, even an entire festival and needless to say the vibe was pretty awesome amongst artists and DJs. Did you already make the same experience?
I played two proper dance parties so far. The first one this summer was sort of a release party for my new album Sprinkles – it closed at midnight and was outdoor and limited to 500 people dancing and it was so much fun even though it started raining at night. Roman Flügel came and played and I think he was also very happy with the vibe. To feel the energy from people again was just amazing. Then the other weekend I played my first indoor club gig and it was really awesome too. Being in a sweaty, dark room again playing pretty hard tracks for four hours was a great feeling. I got goosebumps several times and it reassured me that DJing is still something that I truly enjoy.
Good point. I never knew how much I would miss clubbing and the togetherness of a packed club of concert venue until Covid hit us. I partially even thought “Nah, I’m too old for this thing” – and now I’m all hyped up for it again and found myself digging even deeper into club music over the past 16, 17 months; especially the whole late 80s/early 90s stuff. Did the whole pandemic situation change your perspective on electronic dance music as well?
Sort of yes, At the beginning of the pandemic I was actually quite happy about not playing gigs and not listening to new dance music because those two things have always been one and the same for me. Without any gigs I wasn’t inspired to make club music and I wasn’t listening to it at home either… but then after some time I started really missing playing gigs and then I realized I also was missing the energy from listening to dance music, which then made me start listening to tracks again… both new and old stuff… and through that I found a huge inspiration to actually sit down and produce new club music. At that point I didn’t know when the clubs would re open or if the music would have a chance to get played in clubs once it was released, but I didn’t care. I just decided to make dance music again and it felt great and intuitive.
A while ago I also released my first own EP which I recorded during the pandemic …
Congrats on your EP! I must check it out!
Thanks a lot. My musical output somehow became a slightly romanticized love letter to the absence of club life – and somehow I got the feeling Sprinkles got a similar spirit … although your music is on a whole different level, obviously. But it’s even more an ode to a gone era of club music. Was that intentional or a result of the situation your found yourself in?
There is definitely a lot of that “love-letter to nightclubs” on Sprinkles, especially the second half which is sort of dedicated to some of the last clubs and locations I played before the pandemic started (Grace is a club in Milano, Biarritz in South France, RVDSpecial was a illegal underground carpark rave in Paris). At the same time Sprinkles is sort of a celebration of how life should feel once we can all dance again and at the same time a tribute of the style of music that inspired me to make club music again. I am definitely leaning more and more towards my ambient path but during this past year I really re-connected with club music, in a time when clubs where closed… very strange somehow but also nice.
Is there something like an outlined blueprint or concept when you start working on a record or did you just follow the flow and sound that comes out of your system?
It was all happening spontaneously in the beginning but when I started seeing a pattern in what I was making, I emphasized it by leading myself further down that road…
What I enjoyed most about the album is its clear and precise sound – very light, almost “cloudy”. It’s got that funky groove but in a very bright sense and it doesn’t seem to feel overloaded at any point. How hard do you find it to limit yourself and “stick to the concept”?
I think this is the first album where I actually succeeded in limiting myself to quite simple productions. It never really worked before because I had access to whatever I wanted – but because I was working mainly in my DAW and on my laptop while being in isolation in the family summer cabin, it worked out this time.
Recording in a cabin by a secluded beach sounds indeed like a nice way of approaching an album – how did that affect the sound and vibe of the record?
Certainly by the fact that I had almost no gear with me – there is mainly software synthesizers on the record – has made it a more clean sound…and I guess I got a bit of a laid back pool party vibe in the music just from being surrounded by ocean and nature… I had a few sessions with my friend Tomas Høffding from WhoMadeWho when I got back to Copenhagen and he played live bass and guitar on some of the tracks which added some analogue warmth…
The whole album (and parts of the playlist) circle back to a certain period of time … but I can’t quite put my finger on it. There’s that 80s Balearic vibe in it, obviously … but there’s more. What references crossed your mind while you were writing and recording these tracks?
You are right about the Balearic vibe… I was definitely also into the dream house style of the 90ies and also the more electro based acid house of that time… 303 and 909 and 606 drum machines certainly plays a role on the album too.
Raised by the 90s
Let’s switch to that lovely playlist you curated for us. I have to say I really enjoyed this selection and it’s full of surprises and great tunes that stick with the album’s vibe. Starting with the Pal Joey edit of Euphoria by Pau Roca is a fitting choice here. Why that tune?
Thanks. Yeah, I love the bass line and just the overall old school vibe of that track. It has a quite suspenseful atmosphere… could work as a soundtrack to a 80s movie somehow.
There are a few fascinating hidden treasures in here. New Age House by The Prince Of Dance Music feels like the perfect track to open a retro house DJ set … and that lesser known Eurhythmics track we got in there (Monkey Monkey) definitely shows a side from the band I wasn’t aware of. Any other special tracks in the list that mean a lot to you or you got special anecdotes you’d like to share?
Yeah Monkey Monkey also blew my mind when I discovered it some years ago – it was actually recommended by my acupuncturist! Another old fave of mine is Congoman by The Congos. Its genuinely one of my favourite reggae / dub tracks ever and the production is out of this world – obviously by the late master himself, Lee Scratch Perry.
I’m always interested in how DJ’s to their “tune digging” these days. Personally, I have to say I’d like to fall into the YouTube rabbit whole these days. And I find myself clicking through Discogs and see what other stuff producers also did. What’s your way of handling this brave task?
I also surf around the world wide inter web all the time – and still go to vinyl shops and dig sometimes… I just ordered my first travel friendly rotary mixer so also plan to start taking up playing more vinyl again on gigs!
Funny to see Paul McCartney popping up towards the end. In a previous Electronic Empathy talk Roosevelt already suggested me to take a look at his track Temporary Secretary which he described as “proto techno.” And this one follows a similar direction. Can you tell me about it?
Yeah Temporary Secretary is also an old favourite of mine… I discovered this song from the same album which is actually just a brilliant LP all in all. You should get into the whole thing. It’s McCartney really investigating and experimenting with new technology – which he actually started doing already while in The Beatles. I can highly recommend the documentary series Watch This Sound with Mark Ronson on Apple TV+ where he interviews McCartney about their approach to making music – it´s very inspiring!
Do you remember the first time you’ve became aware of electronic music and the effect it had on you?
I think the first time I experienced house music played in a night club was maybe in the mid 90s and after that there was no turning back. I was heavily into HipHop in the late 80s and early 90s so it wasn’t such a big turn for me to start listening to Trip Hop (Tricky, Portishead, etc) and then from there I drifted into Drum N Bass (Goldie, LTJ Bukem, etc) and then from there I started listening to House, Techno and then starting digging for 70s disco and 80s Italo records after I realized that this was where all the inspiration came from.
Was there a specific moment while listening to that music where you thought – “Yes, that’s it. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life”?
I got super hooked on the whole French wave with Daft Punk, Cassius, Motorbass, etc. I went to the Respect Is Burning parties in Copenhagen which was “imported” from Paris – and also got deeply inspired by the NYC House scene based around Masters at Work, Joe Claussel, Francois K, etc – and all this led the way for me and my friend to start experimenting with old disco samples on an Atari computer to see if we could make something that could make people dance. Once me and my friend (Tomas Barfod, now part of WhoMadeWho) made the first demo and got it played on a demo show on national radio, I think that was the moment where we both felt like this could be something we could take somewhere.
Nice. Producing electronic music is quite a scientific thing from time to time, I realized. But it can also be quite intuitive every now and then. After two decades in the business – is there still something you learn while making music these days? Even during the Sprinkles process?
There is certainly still a lot to learn, I think that’s what is so inspiring about it. You can always find new ways to come up with new sounds and melodies, either via new software, new controllers, old synthesizers, drum machines – or f.ex. via Modular synthesis (which I am yet to dig into). For Sprinkles I was very much drawn to some new software synths that really inspired me and also made me work very intuitively.
Is there specific sound or pattern of electronic music that still excites you more than others after all these years? For example, I still get hooked up when somebody drops a house piano melody in a tune out of nothing.
Haha yeah. I always get buzzing when hearing arpeggios. Recently I’ve tried as a dogma to avoid using arps because it’s something I’ve been working with for so long. But I just love it…
Clubbing For Future
Circling back to our topic from the beginning: The world is opening up again slowly and it’s interesting to see what’s next for all of us. Even before the pandemic you addressed the issue of DJing in a more sustainable way in an article for NBHAP. How do you approach the new reality of your work as a touring DJ and musician these days?
Yes, sustainable touring is still a main concern and something that I believe is the only way forward for me – even when it means lesser gigs and just playing in Europe. I have to fly a few times a year if trains are not possible but I have cut down flying with more than 90% compared to 6 years ago when I started thinking about this issue. For example I have the chance to tour in Mexico and South America but I am not going until there is a way where I at least can stay for a longer period of time – so I don’t fly in and out only for the gigs. This would mean bringing the family for a month or more and live there for a period and travel around… and that is not happening until they are older. So I make hard decisions to say no a lot… but still hope to play frequently in Europe when it makes sense travel-wise etc.
Do you have the feeling that more people from the scene address the whole environmental issue right now and that they start a change or do you still need to convince a lot of people?
This might be interesting for you as well
I don’t think I will succeed convincing anybody… I prefer to try to inspire people instead – by showing them there is a different way… I think everybody knows that we are in a crisis at this point – and that things have to change if we want to save our planet. Some of the touring DJs that I know try their best to go by train whenever possible. But I do still see many others flying to Mexico for a couple of gigs one weekend and then doing the same again weeks or a month later… I do also get sad when they make posts from their flights and then the next image is from a restaurant with a big steak on their plate… That lifestyle is just not the way forward unless you only care about yourself. So, yeah… I’m honestly not too optimistic about a big movement of change happening right now … That said, I’m happy to see organizations like Music Declares Emergency – and Clean Scene, a climate action collective exploring alternative futures for dance music, who are trying to inspire people to act and think differently. And I guess, just like with any new music genre, it starts from the (under)ground and then eventually it grabs a hold of everyone. I just hope it happens before it is too late.
Yes, Kasper, me too! Thanks a lot for taking the time and exchange thoughts again. Anything else you’d like to add to the kind folks out there, a few final words?
Watch out for some new exciting remixes of some of the tracks from Sprinkles – coming out in November on hen Music!
And until then please be reminded that Kasper Bjørke’s lovely new album Sprinkles is out now and you should grab it right here. The first 30 tracks in NOTHING BUT HOPE AND Passion’s Electronic Empathy Playlist are personally picked by the artist, ranging from the already mentioned Pau Roca tune straight to that Paul McCartney track we also talked about. The rest of the songs are picked by me once again along with a few selections from previous curators of this playlist. It’s a constantly moving adventure, isn’t it?
Please note: Kasper’s selection will be only available for a limited amount of time before it will merge with the picks of the next Electronic Empathy update. So make sure to save your favourites as quickly as possible and discover the music of these lovely artists.