- 18 years ago the concept of Norwegian space disco was so bizarre it was almost laughable. Bjørn Torske helped change that. His pallet of weird, dubbed-out sounds was hugely influential to a younger generation of Norwegian producers. Listen to Terje's It's Album Time next to Torske's early works and you'll hear a shared love of big melodies and psychedelic flourishes. Unless you were into left-field house and techno at the time, Torske's first albums may have passed you by. Thankfully, Smalltown Supersound have re-issued Nedi Myra and Trøbbel, a move that will bring new ears to these LPs.
Torske's debut, Nedi Myra, was not a huge departure from some of the more experiential house music of the late '90s. You can hear shades of Pépé Bradock, Idjut Boys and Daniel Wang. The album's opener, "Expresso," is a fairly straightforward but classy piece of filtered house. Other tracks, such as "Station To Station" and "Fresh From The Bakery," are full of odd character but still totally recognisable as house music.
But in between were hints of something more unusual. Even the album's cover, which looks more like a creepy psych rock sleeve than the work of a DJ, would have seemed out of step with dance music at the time. Take "Smoke Detector Song": it's a burbling, slo-mo synth jam with elements of trip-hop, dub, prog rock fusion and downtempo Underground Resistance. "Beautiful Thing" is equally hard to place, its swinging groove and sci-fi synths calling to mind Floating Points. By far the album's wackiest moment is "Ode To A Duck," an electronic Bossa Nova number from another dimension.
In a way, Nedi Myra's off-beat take on house is fitting for a Norwegian. His is a country with a unique dance music culture. Torske is from Tromsø, a town that's known as Norway's "techno capital." That title might conjure images of a Scandinavian rave-Valhalla, but in truth Tomsø's scene, however remarkable, is small. It's given us acts like Mental Overdrive and Röyksopp, but dance music there finds its home on the radio and in bars rather than in huge clubs. As such, Torske's music is slightly removed from the need to make people dance (although quite often it does).
In 2001 Torske got even stranger with his second album, Trøbbel. It wasn't as instantly likable as Nedi Myra, but it had its own freaky charm. The album's opener, "Knekkerbrød," has a conventional bassline and chords, but in place of a beat is a monotonous synthesizer and a gross slurping sound. "Knekkerbrød" is Norwegian for "Crisp Bread." What that has to do with anything is anyone's guess.
Much of Trøbbel seems to unpack and reassemble the fundamentals of dance music. "Oppi Ura" is a case in point. It has all the elements you'd find in a club hit—a funky breakbeat, a repetitive synth line and a sample from Dan Hartman's disco classic "Relight My Fire"—but the way those elements join together is totally unconventional. Likewise, "Manurenes Mars" strips a beat down to the bare bones then adds a queasy, disorientating synth note. Like most of Trøbbel, it's not too far removed from the more inventive micro-house that was coming out in the early '00s. But much of this stuff is just too mixed up to categorize. "Bobla" could be the soundtrack to the biggest bong hit of your life, mixing a scratchy South American rhythm, dub reggae stabs and an organ that sounds like it's taken from BBC library music. This eclectic mindset was more than just a theme for Torske's best work—it would become a recurring motif in Norwegian dance music for at least another decade.
02. Station To Station
03. Eight Years
04. Fresh From The Bakery
05. Smoke Detector Song
06. Beautiful Thing
07. Limb Fu feat. Are Mundal
08. Ode To A Duck