The Sonic Adventures
of Prins Thomas
Prins Thomas has found happiness.
But it isn’t where he’s currently sat on the floor of his studio in downtown Oslo. He’s leafing through a stack of records amongst the 20,000 that he estimates owning. Something of a hub for electronic music in Norway, he shares the space with long-term collaborator Lindstrøm, Olsen label-head Todd Terje and Andre Brattan. Their four rooms are separated on the same floor, packed with a tonne of digital and analogue equipment as well as lots – and lots – of records.
The DJ and producer, real name Thomas Moen Hermansen, has just flown in from Amsterdam where he played at Closure in the heart of the city. He’s taking a pit stop to pick up a few records before a show at Jaeger in his hometown.
“Despite having all of these I do think there is such a thing as too many records,” he says. “And I’m way beyond that.”
“The funny thing is right now I’m actually a bit overwhelmed,” he explains as he gazes across the records in front of him. “I wouldn’t be able to find the time to listen all of these, even if I decided just to do that for the rest of my life. So in a way, records basically come here to die.”
It’s impossible to write about Hermansen without mentioning the tag that has followed him for a decade – cosmic disco. Few artists have stood at the fore of an electronic music scene they helped shape with such a singular vision as Hermansen. Since their eponymous album Prins Thomas & Lindstrøm in 2005, the pair, along with Terje, have been at the fore of the Norwegian sound that has come to embody electronic music in the country for so long. And through his Full Pupp imprint, Hermansen has released a series of artists at the centre of that scene.
“Norwegian nightlife had a good run in the late nineties when there was a ton of clubs. But everybody was DJing and not spending time building something bigger,” he explains. “With the label I was trying to change that by putting out records so everybody was helping each other get better. It was about making the scene stronger.”
The night before our conversation, Hermansen played an all-night set at a Full Pupp party in Amsterdam, whereas tonight finds him back-to-back with his long-term friend and label-mate, Øyvind Morken – who Hermansen describes as one of the best producers in Norway at present.
“It’s more fun to play all-night and build something out of it instead of just playing killers for two hours,” he explains. “If I start when the doors open it means I can set the tone with some strange or ambient records. Most promoters book a bunch of DJs so you have to be more direct. You only end up giving people a little taste of what you’ve got.”
What an all-night set offers Hermansen is clearly different to playing back-to-back. “I’m packing my bag a little differently
for tonight, which is more about playing killer after killer,” he says. “I’ve had some really shit experiences playing records with someone that I don’t know, but Norwegian licencing laws means there is little time for a warm up, so we’ll have to go straight for the jugular.”
Despite the fact that his current recording name only surfaced around 2003, 40-year-old Hermansen has been DJing since he was just 10 and, as a producer, collaboration has always been at the heart of his work. With Lindstrøm – whom he reportedly met after playing Wham’s Club Tropicana in Oslo where the Feedelity head was watching him during the 90s – Hermansen put out three albums between 2005 and 2009.
The records around him in his studio are reflective of the scene the pair subsequently built along with Terje. Drawing from freeform jazz structures, dub, elements of krautrock, psychedelic rock and a myriad of other sounds, their sound tests the boundaries of electronic music. A continuation of this open- minded ethos, last year Hermansen released his Paradise Goulash compilation, an eclectic homage to famous New York club Paradise Garage.
“When I did the mix I wanted to put a lot of interesting music on it,” he explains. “But I still had a listener in mind. I wanted it to be something that people can put on for a long-drive but then also play before they go to a party.”
It features artists as diverse as Sun Araw, Actress, Kurt Vile, Pev and A Split- Second, and demonstrates the influences that have lead to Hermansen being referred to musically as a ‘spaceman’ so many times in the past. “I really like putting music together that might feel out of place if you don’t mix it,” he explains. “Sneaking in older tracks with new stuff and blending it all together.”
It’s this diverse interest in sound that best explains Hermansen’s new record, Principe Del Norte. On it he’s pretty much entirely packed away the drum machines, which strips back the disco and brings his cosmic element to the fore. It’s not until penultimate track G that a discernable kick drum is present, and this allows the generative side of Hermansen’s sound to breathe.
“My plan was to do something that I hadn’t done as a full album before. I got a record by Joel Brindefalk called Doobedoo Dub’e’dope and it really reminded me of a John Peel Session by The Orb. I posted a recommendation on Instagram and Joakim, who runs Smalltown Supersound, got in touch to say I should make a record like it. So I gave it a shot.”
The result is something like you might expect Brian Eno or Steve Reich to sound like had they grown up on a heady diet of The Orb and The KLF as opposed to Roxy Music and classical composition. “Everybody should be a fan of Brian Eno,” Hermansen laughs. “But if my music sounds like him it’s just a coincidence. I guess if you use a palette with repeating synths, arpeggios, reverb, echo and a big delay, then obviously it’s going to end up sounding like Eno.”
"￼I can’t get rid of the cosmic disco thing; it’s like an evil spell. But I’m trying hard as hell"
Many of the instruments on the album sound organic, with guitar loops exuding warmth whilst repeating and echoing into infinity. As they do, it sounds as if Principe Del Norte is beamed in from the outer reaches of space. “Repetition is my thing,” Hermansen explains. “And if you repeat it long enough then eventually it gets quite spacey I guess.”
The breadth of sound on the record is immense too. It starts with music that could slot neatly onto a Mark McGuire record and moves slowly through to the sublime slice of warm-up techno at its close. “I’m trying to find new ways of expressing ideas I have with music. And this is as spacey as I can get at the moment,” he says. “I’m stretching further and further so hopefully I’ll reach orbit someday.”
This constant desire to express new ideas is represented by the launch of his techno label Rett I Fletta last year, with Hermansen describing the music he pushes through the imprint as primitive. “It’s not necessarily what other people would describe as techno, but it’s my idea of what it is,” he explains. “Before everybody was walking in the same footsteps but now there is so much diversity here. It’s more vibrant than ever. So there are people that are half my age making really conceptual music.
“No matter what I do it seems I can’t get rid of the cosmic disco thing though. It’s like an evil spell. But I’m trying hard as hell,” he laughs. “Really I’m just pleased that I can continue to make music, put it out around the world and that people still want to listen to it. For me that’s happiness.”
Principe Del Norte is released 19 February via Smalltown Supersound