R$N catches up with Todd Terje: edit wizard and producer extrordinaire, to discuss Ibiza and the Adriatic coast, making music with a single machine, physics and why, sometimes, Another One Bites the Dust is better than Villalobos.....
Good afternoon Todd. Your playing in Ibiza as part of the Innervisions residency at We Love..Space in a couple of weeks. How much time have you spent in Ibiza and what have been your impressions of the place?
The first time I played in Ibiza was two years ago, I was playing the back room and Pete Tong was playing the main room - so there was quite a difference in the music. I think it worked, actually, because our music was so different, if people didnt want the banging, cheezy pop stuff they could get the real, grown up adult music in our sweaty back room, it was nice! It was a good first trip, we stayed in a remote part of the island in a really nice villa (as I heard that’s what it’s all about) tried to stay away from San Antonio and just chilled. It worked for me. I said to myself then that I only wanted to play at the end of the season or out of season - I think people behave very differently in Ibiza during peak season. The first time was the only time so far, but now I’m playing the end of the season for Innervisions at We Love... Space so it’s perfect.
There’s talk at the moment around Croatia becoming the new Ibiza, with old timers declaring the Adriatic coast similar to the early heady days of Balearic bliss. What’s your personal take on this?
It sounds about right, I’m not old enough to have been in ibiza during the early years and most of the people that say this probably werent either, but I think they’re probably right. I’ve played in Croatia four times, at the electric elephant and garden festivals. The few times I’ve played in Croatia its been lovely, really lush and laid back. It’s full of brits, and british people make the world go round - they know how to drink, how to put on festivals, how to party. I play a lot for British people all over the world. They all seem laid back, into the music and not up for a fight or any of that, just good festival people.
What is your perfect length set, would you like to play for hours on end building up your own atmosphere or prefer a two hour slot at peak time?
It depends, I’d love to play more long slots, but only if I’m comfortable with the place, the soundsystem, if I know the club and then, yeah, it’s definitely the best way to present music and get into the music yourself. If you’ve got a two hour slot it’s really easy to fall into that ‘ah, I need five fantastic bangers and then I can build everything around that’, where as if you play 5 hours you can choose much more widely and pick some odd numbers, which are the interesting numbers for some people.
It’s common to hear Djs bemoaning insufficient sound systems these days, wether it’s a badly calibrated system or faulty 1210s. People have suggested we have become accustomed to bad sound due to squashed MP3s and the tinny laptop/mobile speakers most music is consumed through. Do you find this to be the case as you travel around djing, do you think sound quality is diminishing?
The sad thing is that as a DJ you never know what’s in that signal chain of the soundsystem you’re playing on. Even though you bring gold, sound wise, it can still be diminished by the compressors, limiters and digital processes in the bar - and that’s what the audience hear, so sometimes that’s more important than what you bring as a dj. But, yes, of course it’s very, very important to have the best possible sound quality as a dj. So, if you’re a dj: don’t play 192 kbps mp3s! You know, basic rules! But most djs, myself included, dont want to go through the whole signal chain - I never do sound checks, I just want things to be practical. On the other hand, I do wish more people were interested in learning about sound, but of course, that takes time and patience.
You studied Physics at University, as you delve deeper into the science of synthesizers and sound, is what you learnt through your degree becoming applicable?
I think I apply a lot of mathematics and, yeah, we learned a lot about wave physics. It taught me how to cope with sound waves, and we learnt a lot about how to do things with waves - we randomly built a lo pass filter in class one day, that was quite funny.
I really like the Let’s Nerd interviews you’ve done. To ask a question that you’ve asked others, what piece of musical gear would be your own desert island pick?
I think I’d have to say a piano, yeah. It’s pretty big though, so I’d prefer if somebody else could bring it to me. If I’m tossed off a ship and could only carry one thing, I’d probably choose something lighter - but you can never choose your destiny, can you?
Your last release ‘It’s the Arps’ was produced entirely using the Arp 2600, If you did the same thing again in the future, which piece of gear would you use?
Well, it could be done - obviously you’ve got to be quite creative to find an instrument versatile enough to make a wide enough pallette of sounds - making music with just a drum kit probably wouldn't be that interesting. It’s just an idea really, I like limitations and I’ll probably try it. I think the only instrument that I can think of right now would, again, be micing up a piano. You can get some really nice percussive sounds out of it, obviously tweaking alot to get the bottom end sounding right and percussive enough for people to dance to it, because that’s what I want. I don’t just want to make a concept EP or something that doesn’t grab you - it has to be good, of course. Quality is more important than the concept, but I think the concept can help to get you inspired.
Do you find the duality of the isolation involved in producing music and the public performance aspect of Djing difficult? Do you allocate periods of time to hibernate and delve deep into production, or are you fitting it in between gigs?
Ideally I’d work Monday - Thursday in the studio and not think about dj work until the weekend, but it’s not like that because as a dj you’re always wanting something new and fresh to play so you spend hours looking for the right song, making edits and all that. Especially in summer, when I also spend a lot of time traveling and djing - there isn't that much time left over for actually producing.
I read a previous interview where you spoke about the Norwegian style of Djing, with fast cuts, dropping in wildly different styles every couple of minutes. You suggested this was down to the strict licensing in Norway and having to cram a good night into a few short hours - when you play in Norway is this the style you adopt?
I don’t actually play much in Norway anymore, and things have evolved a bit in Oslo too. I’m not saying that’s the only way you can play in Norway but it’s traditionally how we’d make a good party. Now huge international stars are booked to play here at places where you’ve got to play much, much more monotonously and it works here as well - but that’s when you really focus on it. When people are just out to have a good time then I think, yeah, Another One Bites the Dust is better than Villalobos.
And in terms of Djing as an artform, who do you think has really pushed forward the boundaries and who’s style of Djing has most impressed you?
Well, I can only speak for the time I live in, I’ve heard mixtapes from the 70s and 80s from the obvious classic heroes like Larry Levan, but its really hard to say if thats a good mix or not because it all depends if it’s right in that party, if there’s no one there, its not a good mix, you know? So, I can only speak for what I’ve experienced - I’m quite biased of course, but my Norwegian friends Prins Thomas and Strange Fruit are among the most inspirational djs I’ve heard.
And which producers do you most appreciate for pushing forward the art of electronic music?
Today, I like artists that think forward, like Four Tet and Caribou - guys melting the difficulties of technology into listenable music. Sometimes you can be really good at patching a modular synth but you can’t make any listenable music - I really love those geniuses that do everything at once. Right now I look up to a lot of sound engineers of the seventies and eighties, more so sometimes than the musicians. So much of the sound we love today from classic disco, boogie and rock is down to the really talented mixing engineer in the studio. Mainstream stuff, enormous hits, for example - who mixed Bohemian Rhapsody and made it sound so brilliant?
Finally, what have you got going on for the rest of 2012?
The years pretty much laid out: I’m mixing some music for a band; doing some production work for another artist and I’m composing some music for a concert in November - that’ll probably end up with a release of some sort, an EP or album but nothing set in stone as yet. I have enough to do, which is all I care about!