Charlotte Bendiks’ career has run a different track to most. In her late teens, she began organising events in her hometown of Tromsø, Norway. As well as putting on underground raves with co-conspirator Maximo [Graesse] under the name ‘Moist’, Bendiks was heavily involved in the development of Insomnia Festival. The Tromsø-based event has been running since 2002, pulling together an eclectic mix of talents from all over the world. Previous editions have seen the likes of Public Enemy, Apparat and Thomas Fehlmann booked, yet Insomnia are also keen to showcase Norway’s homegrown talents, such as Biosphere, Lindstrøm and Röyksopp.
Around 2010 however, Bendiks’ own productions began to gain traction. As she made the transition to artist and DJ herself, labels like northern Norweigan powerhouse Love OD Communications and John Talabot’s Hivern Discs began to take note, playing host to her bugged-out dancefloor jams. Most recently Cologne institution Cómeme put out ‘Hidden Tracks’; blending silk-spun drum-machine workouts like ‘Hjemme’ or ‘Kaia’ with small hours mindbenders such as ‘Moped Jacks’. Musically, Bendiks describes her releases as ‘body music’, and it’s fair to say both her productions and DJ sets are delivered with a bump.
At the end of the month, Bendiks will DJ at Malmö’s Intonal Festival. In light of this, we caught up with her while she was in Berlin working together with collaborator Jon-Eirik Boska on a couple of upcoming live shows. Among other things, we discussed how her experience has changed transitioning from running events through to travelling as a DJ and artist, the arctic sound, and DJing fetish events…
What’s it like being booked at events having worked on things like Insomnia and Moist yourself?
One thing I noticed when I started travelling more as an artist - compared to when I used to travel as an industry guest - is that if I was invited to a meeting or to network as part of Insomnia I was invited to speak in meetings and have an opinion. As an artist I don’t really have to think at all… Now I feel more like a teenager again. When you are an artist you are there to play and create content. When you are an industry guest you are there to think and discuss and be part of meetings.
I used to meet a lot of the people when I travelled as an industry guest - they were curators that had been musicians when they were starting their career. I went in the opposite direction. I started putting on shows and gigs and stuff when I was very young and then figured out I wanted to do more music.
I watched ’Northern Disco Lights’ the other night - do you feel connected to the lineage of that scene?
I feel very connected to the northern Norwegian scene, not so much the Bergen and Oslo scene. What they talk about in the film - this started way before I started making electronic music. Everybody in that film is like a generation before me somehow. Northern Norwegians like Mental Overdrive, Bjørn Torske and Biosphere were people I met when I was a teenager and started going out. I heard their music and had the chance to become friends because we come from a super small city, which was super inspiring.
I felt very connected and I still do in some ways, but I also feel that like I’m kind of an outsider there somehow. Per [Martinsen] aka Mental Overdrive that put out my first two EPs also said that. He was like: “somehow you’re the only person that makes music like this in Norway, because the sound is quite different. The percussion isn’t the normal way to do it here in techno or disco”. Maybe that’s because I lived in Cologne and met the Cómeme crew and got inspired by their stuff. But Per also said that there was also some kind of arctic sound that he recognises in my music.
I wonder if people make the connection in retrospect. If they know your from Norway they make the link - if not maybe it doesn’t matter.
Per also put out some tracks from Boska. The first track he put out was called ‘Arrival’. It’s a very garagey, UK bass kind of track. When it was released, Juno Download’s summary was something like “Norway disco, Oslo, Prins Thomas, etc…” But then they described the track as something very different. It feels like people need to place you in some scene to categorise you, even if it doesn’t really fit. In my case, many people think I am German because I lived in Cologne…
I guess nowadays it makes even less sense because the internet means we are much less tied to our location - we can hear music from all over the world.
Yeah nowadays, but when I started buying CDs and vinyls I was still living in Tromsø and not travelling as much as I do now. The internet wasn’t such a big influence on music when I was a teenager so in the end I felt disconnected and I felt isolated.
I guess that part of the whole arctic sound - when you’re so remote as Tromsø - you are somehow an outsider. I was recently playing at a festival in Murmansk in arctic Russia. I was there with Mental Overdrive and another guy from the Tromsø scene, Third Attempt… We did a panel discussion and they were asking how they could grow the scene like we did in Tromsø. Per said something like “dare to be different and personal”. Find your own sound that fits with who you are and where you are coming from, don’t try to imitate the sound of big central European cities.
I’ve always liked Biosphere and I find it really interesting how directly linked the scenery is to his music because he was into mountaineering and that kind of thing.
It is. He’s a very outdoorsy kind of guy, he likes hiking and skiing and he does field recordings in the high mountains, so it is very location specific. His music was very influential on me when I started making electronic music.
I remember one super early version of a track on my first EP called ‘Lofoten’ - before it was finished I played a version in a DJ set. A friend of mine asked if it was ‘Novelty Waves’ by Biosphere… I later told Geir [Jenssen] aka Biosphere - that I thought it was because of the bassline. He asked what synthesiser I used and I said I borrowed a friend’s Yamaha. It turned out he had the digital version of that synthesiser. I didn’t know how he’d made his music but obviously I was inspired by that.
Can you tell me a bit about your time in Cologne and linking up with the Cómeme crew?
I was in my early 20s. I was working with Insomnia and had just started DJing; it was before I’d started making music. I started travelling a little bit as a delegate for Insomnia and realised that I wanted to get out of this small, remote city and get some perspective. I was planning to go to Berlin like everyone else [laughs].
At the time I was putting on illegal raves called ‘Moist’ together with my friend Maximo in Tromsø. Maximo had lived in Cologne in the ’90s and was an old friend of many people in the Cologne music scene, including Matias Aguayo who runs Cómeme. I got to know many of these people because the c/o pop festival was doing projects together with Insomnia and I was attending the meetings in Cologne. Ralph Christoph from c/o pop then attended some meetings at Insomnia and at an afterparty where we all were hanging out together I decided to move to Cologne instead of Berlin, at about 5.00am… A couple of months later I was in Cologne.
You mentioned you put on nights like Moist… What were those early parties like and how does it work running underground parties in Norway? When someone mentions an illegal rave I instantly think of someone playing raggatek or something out in the woods off a motorway…
In Norway there really were no clubs for underground dance music. Tromsø is a city with lots of electronic music exported, but when we started Insomnia, the first year only 50 people came. It was always a rock and roll city so it was really hard to create an environment where you could experiment and play less-available dance music.
We arranged it like a private party and sold tickets upfront so we had money to rent the soundsystem and everything. We worked with an art student and put on parties in the basement of what is basically an arts society building. They were really cool. They liked us and rented it to us super cheap. We also got good deals on soundsystems, but we spent lots of time and money on lights, projections and installations… I think half the parties we lost money because we spent so much money on the decorations [laughs].
I saw you played at one of the Pornceptual nights in Berlin recently, do you take a different approach playing there to say, a festival like Dekmantel? How does the experience change?
Pornceptual is a very mixed crowd which is great. It is not really a music party, people dance but the main reason they are there is because it is a fetish event. I hadn’t been to any fetish events like that before.
It’s a cute story as to how I got booked for it actually. In November I was working here in Berlin and I used a friend of mine’s studio. It’s near where Pornceptual have their photo studio and meeting rooms. They were sitting outside having meetings while I was working on music and they were just asking me who I was. The next day they were asking about my mixes and decided they wanted to book me. I would walk in on their meetings and they’d have naked people in the photo studios [laughs].
I was curious to see these parties. I’m not the kind of person who would have public sex or get naked in public, but I really appreciated that people that wanted to do that could, without judgement and in a safe space. They have very strict rules on how to behave and how to respect other people. I felt very safe there. I walked around and the vibe there is very free and liberal. I tried to work on that in my set and build some sexual tension. DJing is a very sexual experience anyway because you’re trying to move people - have them respond to you and find out how you can push them further. It’s a pretty physical and sexual experience - moving your body and being emotional. I felt like I fit in really well there.
What is next on the horizon?
I have this workshop which I am very excited about doing as an uneducated idiot [laughs]. I feel nervous about it but I’m also very excited about teaching and showing my methods. I think I will learn a lot from that. I’m also working on an art project which will be showing at Insomnia this year. I was hired by a curator working for the municipality of Tromsø; they have six sound artists creating art for public spaces.
I’m also going to Nuits Sonores in May… They are part of this content sharing thing called We Are Europe. They ask some of the artists that are part of the festival to deliver a podcast. It could be a DJ mix, it could be field recordings, it could be a joke or your family’s cheesecake recipe… I’m going to start putting that together when I finish the workshop in April. I want to do a radio podcast with some unreleased tracks of friends and also interviews with friends from northern Norway. I think it’s going to be strange. Probably half the people listening to it will think I’m crazy or won’t get it. It’s all about being playful and daring to be personal…
Catch Charlotte Bendiks on Saturday 26 April at Intonal Festival in Malmö.