Disco Beats From The Gateway To The Fjords

‘Untz untz untz untz’. You know the sound; leaking out of a sweaty club into the adjoining street, thumping through the body of a souped-up car restlessly pawing at a red light, straining through your ceiling from some unseen merriment in an upstairs apartment. It is the sound of muffled pumping bass, the sound of the night, the sound of dancing, the sound of Party. So from the off Untz Untz Records’ ambitions are clear. This freshest of Bergen electronic labels is going all out for shaking hips, flailing hands and nodding heads.

This is a special time for Eirik H. Fagertun and Tarjei Nygård, the two founders of Untz Untz, label manager and ‘studio wizard’ respectively. November 6th saw the release of their first 12″, UntzUntz001, a four track beast that boasts a quartet of Norway’s most exciting new disco names, but this is just the culmination of what comes across as hyperactive bustle within the Bergen electro scene on the part of the managing duo. Under the aliases Pastor and Touchable Terrence, Fagertun and Nygård both DJ, remix and produce separately and together (as UntzUntz DJ’s), they curate club nights, run an insightful music blog and of course keep the label functioning smoothly. “It has always been a dream for us to run a label and release music, our own or others, since we started dj-ing in our own bedrooms as teenagers” say the duo, who see their fledgling label as a priority within what they call the “big pulp of barely manageable Untz Untz”. To them it was almost a duty to help the great tracks they were hearing onto the record store shelves: “taking responsibility for other people’s music is just a pleasure. Somebody had to step up and get these songs released.” Not that it’s some kind of selfless slog, however: “it’s a pretty special feeling when you are holding the first 12″ in your hands that you have released on your own label”, Fagertun reveals.

The duo’s ambitions may be modest (“We want to keep it small and vinyl only for now. We are just getting in to this business and we are not in a hurry.”), but Untz Untz is nonetheless a synecdochic figure in a nationwide disco scene that has seen Norway emerge as an unlikely genre world leader. The success of Oslo-based producers like diskJokke and Todd Terje, and most significantly the space-disco king Lindstrøm have ensured that right now Norway is pretty much the eye of the disco storm. UntzUntz001 is apt evidence of this nationwide trend. The 12″ unites artists from all three of Norway’s major cities: Oslo, Trondheim, and of course Bergen.

By rights disco is the last thing Norwegian artists should be turning out. This is a place of ice and snow, of year-long darkness and murky waters, of a tangible pagan past and a reputation for interpersonal restraint. Think Scandinavian electronica and The Knife, Trentemøller or The Field fit the bill. The adjective ‘glacial’ should be freely applicable. And yet Norway’s electronic artists are giving expectation the finger and unceremoniously blending the musical equivalent of a tropical juice with lots of bits in. “It is strange”, admits Fagertun, “we should all be making dark angry Viking metal up here shouldn’t we.”  He sees the widespread success as thanks to the initial pioneers both inspiring others and opening “eyes and doors outside of Norway…  So now when you put the words ‘norwegian’ and ‘disco’ together it is seen as quality and good music outside of Norway. The first guys that became big and sold decent amount of records are really important for the guys that are establishing some sort of a career today.” Nygård is more conspiratorial: “difficult to say, maybe global warming has something to do with this?”

It is warm disco beats that unite the four tracks on UntzUntz001. Telephones’ ‘DIG!’ is like a slice of funked-up Devo, Touchable Terrence’s own contribution ‘Find Love’ blends a massive Quincy Jones disco beat with cut-up Ed Banger abruptness, Solli Diskoklubb’s ‘Fest I Bakgården’ wraps hypnotic chimes around a warm pulse, and Velferd’s closer ‘Driveby’ sprinkles twinkling Italo-disco droplets over the naïve synth swells familiar from his band The New Wine’s confident output.

Velferd (Geir Harmansen when he does synth duties for The New Wine) signed to Untz Untz back in April, and Untz Untz had been following (and encouraging) his progress since his first efforts at solo production: “I became friends with Geir when he was just starting out producing disco music on his own”, Fagertun recalls, “so I was one of the first who heard his first tracks. They were remarkably good so I showed them to Tarjei and we agreed that this guy had something special going on. We kept on encouraging him to make new tracks.” Fittingly UntzUntz002, the next scheduled release, due in March, will be Velferd’s.

Touchable Terrence’s presence on the 12″ needs no explanation (the reason for Pastor’s absence, Fagertun admits, is that “I was not producing anything worth a mention at the time, and I still don’t”), but Telephones and Solli Diskoklubb took more roundabout routes on the way to UntzUntz001. Henning Severud (Telephones) was met through mutual friends in Trondheim, and a request for him to send in some tracks uncovered one particular standout: “the ‘DIG!’ track was the one that we kept listening to again and again. The funny thing with ‘DIG!’ is that there was a period when we played it a lot in clubs, then there was always one or two per night that asked what it was. So we signed it and made it the opening track based on that.” Fagertun’s account of first contact with Mikkel Haraldstad, a.k.a. Solli Diskoklubb, is even more coincidental. Fagertun recalls meeting Haraldstad after opening for Australian successes Cut Copy in Oslo last year. “He came up to me after my set asking for a playlist. He spoke to me in English and we talked a bit. Then suddenly he asks me: ‘Are you Norwegian?’ ‘Ehm yes’, I said, and then we burst out in laughter. After a few months he sent me some tracks via MySpace. I didn’t connect the dots that this was the same guy before much later. Anyway, his first tracks sounded cool so we asked him to send us some more. When we got ‘Fest I Bakgården’ we contacted him straight away saying that we wanted this track.”

It’s a good thing he did too, because all four songs make for a varied, exciting and crucially listenable feather in Bergen’s disco cap. The duo behind Untz Untz records make it clear that world domination is far from their minds, but UntzUntz001 is a fine start. After all, they see their shiny new label as “Young, childish, forward-thinking, fun, semi-serious… It has to be fun for us or else there’s no point.” With their frenzied activity across a whole spectrum of musical enterprises it’s clear that fun is exactly what they are having at the moment, and rightly so, because that is what defines Norwegian disco. They can dream, of course, of huge success (Nygård intriguingly describes his ideal Untz Untz signing as “a mutant of Giorgio Moroder, Afrika Bambaataa and Daft Punk”), but for now they are firmly grounded. “Our ambition is to release 2-3 records a year and that some of the tracks will be successful as club tracks”, they reason, “we would also like to see our records available in more and more countries as we go along. If some of the releases get sold out down the line, we would be pretty satisfied.”

Notorious Gonzo mind-expander Hunter S. Thompson once grunted that he felt “the same way about disco as I do about herpes”. If only he were here to experience Norway’s flourishing disco scene today, where white suits and glitter-balls are quite forgotten. The only similarity between the disco of UntzUntz001 and herpes is a body-shaking catchiness – two modest Bergen DJ’s have added another worthy release to Norway’s estimable disco catalogue. If you ever spot Eirik H. Fagertun or Tarjei Nygård washing their hands in the toilets of some hip club, don’t be surprised to see a smile play on their lips as they feel and hear the steady pumping bass, the ‘untz untz untz untz’, and recognize in the beat one of their own – for Untz Untz is the new sound of the night.

Various Artists – UntzUntz001 is available from:
Bergen: Robot and Apollon
Oslo: Filter and Tiger

First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2009

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