The Scandinavian disco maestro opens up about his latest full-length, Smalhans.
Sometime it’s nice not to have your cosy assumptions about what goes on in foreign lands challenged. So the fact that snow was softly smothering Oslo as Lindstrøm told Crack about his latest album, Smalhans, was somehow reassuring; it’s exactly the weather that progressive Nordic disco should be made in.
Smalhans is the third full solo album from Hans Peter Lindstrøm, but the fifth if you count collaborations with long-time cohort Prins Thomas (way back in 2005) and a critically acclaimed album with pale-faced diva Christabelle. Lindstrøm has never had a problem with critical acclaim, and there was a point around the release of his first big single, I Feel Space, when it seemed like his bendy, arpeggiated, strung-out prog-disco was signalling a new celestial turn in house music.
Remixes for LCD Soundsystem, the emergence of Prins Thomas, Todd Terje, and Diskjokke, and a resurgence in the Italo-stylings of the likes of Mike Simonetti and Black Devil Disco Club all suggested a lurch towards the spacier side of the dance floor. Lindstrøm’s Late Night Tales – a sensual grind through the cocaine camp of hazy 80s disco jewels – seemed to capture perfectly the influences that were seeping back into mid-noughties dancefloors. But, by the time Lindstrøm’s full length debut, Where You Go I Go Too, arrived in 2008, the cosmic bubble had already become bloated with a slew of copycat artists making a hash of the subtle art of creating a disco tune that lasts 25 minutes.
Always ahead of the curve, Lindstrøm’s last album Six Cups of Rebel – released only months ago – shunned the strung-out disco for more experimental, electronic grooves. The record shares a progressive philosophy with Lindstrøm’s signature sound, but precious little else. And although it is an intriguing and engaging record on its own terms, many have greeted Smallhans as a welcome return to form
“I’ve always been really interested in progressive music. When I was in high school I was in a band and we were into weird time signatures and I just wanted to do something like that with electronic music. Basically, I just allowed myself to do absolutely everything on (Six Cups of Rebel), I just wanted to go crazy. In the new one I had some rules for myself I guess!”
The rules he chose seem to go something like: 1) Take cosmic disco template, 2) Stretch into six songs of roughly equal length, 3) Sprinkle on some magic Lindstrøm dust and 4) Get long-time collaborator Todd Terje to mix it. Smallhans is not a stylistic move forward for Lindstrøm, but it is a return to the sound he made famous, and the album is a solid body of work.
“After I finished the record I didn’t think of it so much. Now it’s out, it’ll be good to play those songs in my shows and know that people actually have heard them before, because it’s really fun to play those tracks, it’s much more easy to promote this record than the previous one. I totally expected that it would puzzle a lot of people!”
Lindstrøm has claimed on several previous occasions that he doesn’t listen to dance music, and rarely visits clubs when he isn’t playing in one. But given the impact his own music has had on club sounds, can it still be true that he keeps such a safe distance?
“Once in a while I listen to dance music, but I guess because I’m making that kind of music myself I don’t really feel the need for listening to it too much. Usually if I listen too much, I kind of fear I’ll try to copy it, because usually I tend to copy things I like. I don’t really know anything about what music is being played in clubs. I don’t really go out except on those occasions when I play here in Oslo. I get to know a little bit of what’s happening in clubs around the world when I’m travelling, but I don’t feel the need to stay up all night listening to electronic music or a DJ.”
Lindstrøm is a home-bird at heart, But it seems impossible that the Nordic cosmic disco sound emerged fully-formed out of the ether. Surely it had to come from somewhere?
“We (Terje, Prins Thomas etc) might have the same set of references, the same set of ideas of what is good. The Idjut Boys came here many times in the late 90s, early 2000s, and I guess everybody went to listen to them and everybody was agreeing that this is a good sound, this is the kind of music that we want to make. But I guess that was before internet and before being able to reach people so easily. If you’re interested in a certain style of music it’s really easy to get in touch with that guy in Poland, or that guy in Ukraine, or that guy in New York who is interested in the same stuff. When I started making music, I didn’t know Thomas or Terje, I’m not from Oslo originally, so when I moved here I didn’t know anybody.”
Despite being one of the originators of a sound that has filtered into the DNA of more discerning dancefloors, Lindstrøm is modest about his own influence.
“I don’t really believe, even now, that what I did had an effect on lots of people. I really didn’t see it like that, I never really felt like it was a big hype. I think the best thing is not knowing everything that happens around you, because I’m pretty sure most artists or bands feel the pressure of doing something similar, or develop their already existing sound. But I guess there is always a lot of expectations when a band has to do another album after a success … I’ve been doing this for 10/12 years or something, it’s been kind of going slowly upwards all the time. After three years of running the label I was pretty sure that any day now the interest would fade, and there would be some other music that would be popular. But maybe because I didn’t really peak early in my career, nobody has been telling me what I should do next.”
And, true to his word, that next step is not easy to predict.
“I really like to collaborate and sometimes the results get much better if you work with other people, but I don’t think I would survive if I only did things with other people, because I really like to do things my way. Usually I do one or two solo albums and then I do something with other people. I have been asked to do a film score recently, but I don’t know if it’s happening. It would be interesting to do it and see whether I am comfortable with that, I haven’t really tried. Some of my music is big and melodic and epic, so maybe!”
Watch this space. And while you’re watching it, download an exclusive track, Vōs-Sākō-Rv (Vocal Edit), donated to CRACK magazine by the man himself – it’s a perfect soundtrack to those long, dark, snowy Oslo nights.
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Smalhans is available now via Smalltown Supersound. Download Vōs-Sākō-Rv (Vocal Edit) for free here.
Words: Adam Corner