Plenty of artists extol the virtues of keeping it DIY, wearing their self-sufficiency like a badge of honour. But, for some, the label isn’t always a compliment. “It’s funny, because we’re two girls who do vocals, and we also produce, everyone calls us DIY,” says Henriette Motzfeldt of Norwegian duo Smerz. “We are trying the best we can to be as professional as possible!” Motzfeldt throws her long dark hair back as she laughs at this confession alongside Catharina Stoltenberg – the other half of Smerz – but perhaps there is something in their vision that speaks to DIY culture.
Now based in Copenhagen, Motzfeldt and Stoltenberg control every aspect of their output as Smerz, which straddles the club and introspective home listening – one YouTube comment fittingly describes their sound as “Trent Reznor taking a tour of Warp Records”. Their tracks, along with their self-made videos, play out like a David Lynch script – moody and elegant, with clarity and meaning placed tantalisingly out of reach. “Almost all videos have the feeling that you’re waiting for something, which fits the music,” says Stoltenberg. Motzfeldt continues, “there’s an element of playfulness or vulnerability because it’s not too perfect.”
Smerz’s latest track No Harm lays this vulnerability bare, with lyrics like “I want to feel something”. It’s a response to the nagging insecurities that haunt most 20-somethings: am I doing enough? am I making the most of it? “In your 20s you’re searching – for us at least, feeling a bit unsure. There’s a lot of big choices to be made, that’s nice but also scary,” says Motzfeldt, while Stoltenberg searches for a lighter note: “It all comes out of the positive, of being free.”
As we speak the two are putting the final touches on a new project – “a picture of our sound right now” – which will premiere on instalments of their new NTS Radio show. The project follows this summer’s Okey EP, which cemented their deal with independent juggernaut XL Recordings. It’s a co-sign that’s sure to catapult their homemade nocturnes to further reaches. Whatever Smerz are searching for, their journey is throwing up some fortuitous moments along the way – it likely won’t be long until people recognise them as the pros they are. “We never had these big dreams,” Motzfeldt reflects. “I didn’t imagine myself doing this at 25. It feels nice that I managed to surprise myself.
Sounds like: Nocturnal Scandinavian pop
Soundtrack for: A night spent under the glow of your laptop screen
Our favourite tune: Because
Fun fact: Henriette’s summer job in Norway involves her wearing a blonde wig and dancing by a waterfall in the mountains for the tourists
Jessy Lanza / Yaeji