Erlend Øye— "This is the problem with electronic music: It’s fucking boring to see live." – Telekom Electronic Beats

Erlend Øye— “This is the problem with electronic music: It’s fucking boring to see live.”

Words by laurietompkins

It seems as though nothing stifles Erlend Øye’s enthusiasm. When I met the Norweigan musician at the end of a long press day of back-to-back interviews, the singer-songwriter laughed off news that the Bubbles record label planned to unveil his new album, Legao, on German Unity Day, when all record shops would be closed. Doh. His judgements on electronic music and reggae are refreshingly frank and a bit caustic, but he remains optimistic and committed to the simplicity of his current acoustic set-up, which you can witness in person on November 8 when he performs at EB’s festival in Zagreb alongside Patrick Wolf, Den Sorte Skole, and Eyedress. In the end, Øye comes across as a deeply loveable crank. First in his line of fire is Manchester, a town he lived in between stints in London, Berlin, and Sicily. I fled the city myself less a year ago, so I opened our conversation with our common ground.

What led you to Manchester in the ‘90s?

In 1999, I met the guys around Twisted Nerve Records: Badly Drawn Boy, Andy Votel, and Alfie. I’d been in London for about a year, and it was so impossible to get anywhere. I met those guys from Manchester, and it felt like here was a possibility to go and actually be part of a scene. It was because of Manchester in the end that I actually made it happen.

How did you find living in Manchester compared to living in Berlin and elsewhere? You’re now living in Sicily, right?

I mean, if I wasn’t there for this music scene, well… it was a terrible place! Everything’s wrong with that place! Violent people, the food’s not great…

It’s cheap, though.

Yes, and that’s crucial.

How do you find that being in different places has affected your songwriting? Is it to do with the city itself, or the music scene there, or something else?

It’s different from place to place, really. All my life, I’ve been learning things about music. I remember Ian, the guitarist from Alfie, and we’d hang out at his place and he’d play me some music I didn’t know. He’d say, “Can you hear that?” and I’d think “Ah, that’s something.” When you meet different people and you see that they like something, you want to figure out why they like it so much.

You’re attracted to it because you don’t know what it is or why people like it?

It must have changed, because at some point, I was really against a lot of things. It’s easier now, I’m much more into things that I don’t know.

Is there one record which has been your “Holy Grail” over the years?

No. The funny thing is that when I listen to the records that used to be a Holy Grail now, I think, “Eurgh, that doesn’t sound so good, does it.” It changes all the time. The only things that really stick with you are the records you listen to as a teenager, like Wish You Were Here and Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd. I mean, there is still nobody making these kind of records, there will never be anything like that ever again.

What do you like about them most?

I like the pretentiousness of it all; “Let’s just make a huge opera.”

Why’d you choose Hjálmar to work on your record as your backing band, and how did they influence your songwriting?

I make a lot of song ideas, and if I played them all on an acoustic guitar they might sound a bit like the old records. The idea is to try to move these sounds in different directions than how I would have done it 10 years ago, just so that they have a different taste.

Hjálmar is an Icelandic reggae outfit, right?

Yes, their own band is pretty much a kind of reggae music.

Is reggae an influence on your own work?

There was a time in my life when I would have said that I don’t like reggae. But then I remember a random night in my hometown when I was listening to a DJ play loads of actually good stuff, and I thought to myself “I think I was wrong.” It’s just that there’s so much crap pop-reggae that we’ve heard in the last 20 years on the radio without any subtlety. It’s too clean and there’s nothing exciting about it. With this band, anyway, they’re not religiously into reggae. They don’t live a “reggae lifestyle.”

Did your time in Berlin inspire you to experiment with using electronics? What made you attracted to electronics, and what made you move away from it?

Well, I started when I met the guys from Royksopp and I found that my voice really gelled with electronic music. I made a solo record in 2002, worked with many different producers from around the world. Then I tried to tour it live, and it always seemed very complicated. You can’t “play” it, so you record it, and it’s very hard to recreate without bringing a huge amount of equipment with you on tour. Ultimately, it’s not very exciting, because people don’t see what you do—you’re moving a button. In the end, I couldn’t imagine working with a kind of music where the live show was just a presentation of what we’d been doing in the studio. I want to be in a live situation where right here, right now, magic can happen, new music can be created. This is the problem with electronic music: It’s fucking boring to see live! No one’s able to visualize what the musicians are doing, there’s nothing to look at.

So you don’t think you’ll ever return to that way of music making?

If I did, I wouldn’t want to do a live version, and that’s where you make money, so I’d lose money on the record. Maybe I could crowdfund it.

Erlend Øye will appear at the Electronic Beats festival in Zagreb on November 8. Buy tickets here.

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