The creative melting pot of Bergen has produced loads of internationally successful Norwegian bands over the years such as Röyksopp, Kings of Convenience and recently DJ artist Kygo, and is also the hometown of one of Europe’s best high-energy bands, Kakkmaddafakka.
Messed!Up’s journalist meet two of “the Kakks” for an interview just right after they arrived in Hamburg. Axel and Pål Vindenes take the opportunity to share some words of wisdom while being completely immersed in a round of online gaming, a discussion focused on why Kakkmaddafakka’s fans are mostly young girls, the influences of Erlend Øye and the neverending conflict between Bergen and Oslo in terms of being recognized as a successful pop band.
You’re on tour with your latest album “Hus” and considering where you perform you are doing twelve shows in Germany. If you have a look at earlier tours, Germany and Spain seems to be popular places for Kakkmaddafakka. Why is it like that?
We’ve never got much attention in Norway and decided quite early to not care about Norway and go for Germany instead. Our first album, “Down To Earth” was only released in Norway and got horrible reviews and didn’t sell in particular well either but we toured Norway anyway because we had this reputation of doing good shows. But we thought “If nobody gives a fuck about Kakk, why should we care about Norway” and then changed focus to Germany instead. Today we are reaping the benefits of that change in focus. In Munich this old dude in his fifties went to his seventh Kakk show, only in Bavaria, and a 26 year old girl watched us for the sixth time in Munich. We have also been here in Hamburg and performed at least ten times and at quite many Docksville Festivals.
But other Scandinavian countries such as Sweden don’t work out at all for Kakkmaddafakka although your kind of music is usually very popular in Sweden. Why?
Exactly, we haven’t hardly performed in Sweden for such reasons, and it’s kind of fucking strange since we [Alex and Pål Vindenes] are half-Swedes. We have performed at my uncle’s farm in Kisa where our family has a summer house. Our uncle has a huge ecological farm and organizes some kind of “rock in the barn” festival every year, and that’s where Kakk has played. A Swedish fan even travelled all the way from Uppsala with her brother just to see us perform. But yeah, we have mostly been doing minor shows in Sweden. Here in Hamburg we perform at Docks or Uebel & Gefärhlich – that’s a huge difference in size of venues!
The reason is that we put all our effort in getting established outside Scandinavia because we felt that people didn’t get it. Kakkmaddafakka isn’t a political correct band – the band name was one of the reasons why nobody liked us. It’s cool now but back in 2005 when we started people found it offensive. It may also explain our attitude at the time – Norwegian guys who wanted to have fun.
The album release from September last year, ”Hus”, differs from former albums since you don’t work with Erlend Øye anymore. Did you feel that it was enough with Øye collaborations?
Not at all! He is part of this album as well but not hands-on in the production process. Erlend isn’t the magic knob-twiddler on this one.
But what influence has Erlend Øye had on Kakkmaddafakka, both in terms of the sound and the production process?
He has been vital since the ”Hest” album when we started to understand what was important for us, and since then we have the same work process – Erlend doesn’t need to be nearby to support us. We don’t release anything he doesn’t think is really good. But our work processes are also quite different when we create new music, after all we are different persons. However, it is needed to be said that he is an untouchable master. He has given us what we needed despite our differences. He’s a perfectionist, we use our charm and don’t rehearse that much. As such we are quite different.
The rumor say that the work process on the new album “Hus” is different and involves more people than on previous albums. Tell us more about the process and what differs from previous albums.
Actually not! I would say that we have involved fewer people on the album. It has only been the band in a house – we rented a house. The major difference is that we haven’t stayed in a studio, just an ordinary house where we put up our stuff and recorded the album, and then we sent everything to our mastering guy. We wanted to do it all on our own, work with Cubase on our own, and not have anyone watching over us. After doing the previous albums we knew how to do it. But of course, if Rick Rubin would’ve worked with us it may have been a great album as well.
As for now though, it’s great as it is when we have the possibility to decide on our own, owning our own label, release stuff when we want to, get all the money – it works out great you know. And this is the future for us; the whole industry is too much, it’s not needed. We felt it clearly when we signed with Universal Music in Germany. When we arrived in Germany they picked us up in these nice cars with private drivers, and that may have been cool if the music industry were made up of billions of Euros.
At the Justin Bieber level there may still be billions but many artists and bands need to learn that it’s not like that in most cases, thus they don’t have an economic mindset. They are just stuck in “We are signed by a major label and therefore we need private drivers”. They don’t need it at all! You can still have a simple life! To us it’s a philosophical question. In this respect we are Stalinists. Of course earning money is good but that’s not our purpose with Kakk. When you listen to music you want to see an awesome show and hear great songs, and the show is our thing.
I read in a local magazine in Hamburg that Kakkmaddafakka’s fans love you for the lyrics. How important are they to you?
That’s the most important Erlend taught us. 90% of the quality is in the lyrics. I didn’t listen to the lyrics myself when I grew, just like most guys in general, but girls always listen to the lyrics. Hadn’t it been that we want more girls in the crowd, we had probably been doing metal – that’s the reason for doing pop music! That’s the real confirmation! Just dudes in the crowd won’t bring good vibes but if you have 70% girls there will be damn good vibes. That’s something we really appreciate Erlend for, that songs need to have contents.
What’s interesting in the context of Kakkmaddafaka is your Bergen origin, one of the major music cities in Norway. Kings of Convenience and Erlend Øye’s other projects, Ralph Myerz & The Jack Herren Band, Röyksopp (although originally from Tromsø they started in Bergen), a famous Black Metal scene and in recent years Kygo, they all originate from Bergen. What do you think is the reason for Bergen being such a great music cluster?
Bergen is something very extraordinary, and it’s strange because we don’t know why. When we started we hooked up with the indie scene in Bergen in which everybody helped each other out. And then this guy Kygo turns up from nowhere, the most well-known of us all. It has nothing to do with the setting though, rather something unexplainable. There has been high quality pop music from Bergen already in the sixties. Norway’s Cornelius [Vreeswijk, Swedish singer-songwriter] is from Bergen. It’s just extraordinary.
Sweden has completely different traditions in terms of cultural manifestations, Norway is quite new in that respect. At the moment we are at the peak where Sweden was a few years ago. The thing with coming from Bergen is to not be accepted by Oslo a.k.a. by:Larm [festival promoting new bands] a.k.a. the Norwegian music industry. Considering that most music export – I would say 90% – stems from Bergen it is really strange that rarely anything is accepted in Oslo. You have to have a breakthrough outside the Norwegian borders before Oslo accept your music. It’s an ongoing conflict between Bergen and Oslo which may explain part of the reason why Bergen became a strong music hub. Just look at Kygo; he continued on the Max Martin sound at a point in time when it became a worldwide sound, and he didn’t had to pass through the Norwegian music industry filter. It was similar with Kings of Convenience, they tried out England. Erlend tried to break in Norway but he didn’t even made it in Bergen. At first he failed in London and then he went on to Manchester where he received great reviews – and then he was accepted in Norway as well!
But don’t compare these stories. They are unique and not possible to compare!
If you consider Kakkmaddafakka’s position in Norway, how big are you?
Fairly big but we don’t get particuarly much attention in Norwegian media. For instance, we have never been nominated for a Grammy and no one reviewed “Hus” when it was released. We even paid 3 000 Euros to promote the album – but nothing! In Spain it’s a huge difference and Mexico works out great but in Oslo we sell, at most, 1 500 tickets, and we may sell out two shows in Bergen. On the other hand, we’re more underground in Norway and don’t expect any massive feedback. They see us but look down on us.
As we are not fully accepted we feel that we have to work double as hard as other bands do. That’s one reason for doing the last album ourselves, trying out doing podcasts – we are legends you know! The more stuff we do, the more legends we’ll become, and we still have energy to do more! That’s why we invented the expression “Spread the Kakk”. It has been essential because people will play more Kakk then. People will come back for our shows because they are intelligent, love the lyrics and understand smartness.
We have never been a mainstream band, rather a band that made the “music groundwork” in our own way. We always knew we had something special to offer but no one pushed as up to the top. Instead we started doing everything ourselves – it’s our own effort. Right now we’re on tour with four gigs in Germany last week, then back home before we returned today and ten additional shows in Germany, altogether fourteen shows only in Germany. Before Christmans we were in Mexico. At this moment it’s a lot of work but it’s fun!
Since you do everything yourself through your label Bergen Mafia, do you distribute responsibilities for promotion, tour planning, production etc. between band members?
We wish but everything is so good damn unorganized. We have a long list of stuff to do and just do it.
But you don’t care at all about the business concerning your music?
Well, it’s us doing it as well but we have had managers before we did it ourselves. It’s all about being smart, that’s what being a musician is about today, and we’ve had time to learn to be smart – it’s nothing you learn in a day. We have learned to differ bullshit from bad shit.
Is it in any way possible to be a fulltime musician by earnings from releases, merchandise and shows?
Since 2011 and the ”Hest” album, yes. I haven’t had [Alex] any other job at least. It was great for us to end up on Bubbles Records, maybe not in terms of money but they brought us forward, into the spotlight and we had a very good start in Germany because of them.
Do you think the music industry is worse off after the major record labels lost control of the market, in particular the opportunities to distribute music?
Yes, it was much better for a few decades ago although we weren’t around at the time. We started our own label in 2007, Bergen Mafia Records which we are back on with the latest album. The last two albums – even “KMF” – were released on our own label but we had a licensing deal with Bubbles. The numbers are not as good as back in the days on Bubbles but you will get full control of the process instead, and if you have a quick look today it doesn’t look bad at all. We have our own distribution deals with, for instance, different streaming services and don’t need any intermediary in any part of the process; we rarely used anyone previously either. Basically, the reason for starting our own label is because things happen with different speeds in the music industry. In Germany, everything has progressed very slowly and nothing happened because we didn’t have any label there. Everything in Germany is very old-fashioned such as releasing physical albums etc. and we do it as well but we don’t like to do things in old-fashioned ways – we want to release singles quicker and more often.
And it has become more important to feed your fans with new stuff more often?
Absolutely! We really like it, it’s the quick approach that we want Kakkmaddafakka to be associated with. After releasing some really good albums we feel that we know much more how everything works out. The competition is intense since music was introduced on the Internet and you can’t release one good album and think that it will earn you money until you retire. It may have been like that for some bands in the nineties. What we want to do is to release and album every year – music is fun! However, you should do it without compromising on the quality, it’s easy to end up with bad quality.
For Kakkmaddafakka it’s much easier today because we have made five great albums which take away much of the pressure and we can use the “quick approach” to greater extent today. That’s why we want to release a new album every year. In the past we used three years to record a new album, to do all the songs, and although you learn a lot of it you will get tired on such an old-fashioned approach. We do take responsibility, and if we would have continued on the old-fashioned path it would never have worked out even if media would have helped us out with publicity. Our way, to be more hands-on, works out.
It’s almost fourteen years since you started and you have been sticking together since school I guess. Honestly, haven’t you ever reached a point when you get fed up on each other and started to throw guitars around you?
Yes, we have been going on for more than thirteen years and experience a really good period for the moment. Pish [Pål] was around fifteen years old when we started and nobody could hardly drink any beers after the first shows because we were too young.
But you’re right, we have had our fights in between and of course we get tired of each other but we are also a family and stick together for such reasons. In the end it’s about focusing on what’s important and to us it’s not about the money. If money would have been our primary motivation, Kakkmaddafakka wouldn’t have existed today. It doesn’t mean that we don’t earn any money but we now how it is to endure periods of no money at all. That does something with the focus. We know that we’re doing this because is awesome anyway, and if you want to do it for the money there are more efficient ways to do it. The band is not the only thing in life. Everybody has their own stuff they like to do, and if you do these things you will be happy and satisfied, even better if you can earn something on it. At least that’s how we see it.
Kakkmaddafakka’s indiedisco-pop is made for live shows and is also what you’re most known for. Tell us more.
Exactly! You say indie and we may also call it that but honestly, it’s just Kakk music! Kakk is indie but also contains big band elements. Music is a visual experience you know, the way you enjoy music. It’s just like with food that taste better if you eat slow and not eat like an animal, just enjoy the food. The same goes for music. If you just listen at distance you can’t enjoy it completely, and it’s our mission as entertainers to teach the crowd how to enjoy music.
Finally, what can you Hamburg fans expect of the night save for the usual crazy live show?
Hamburg is the best place on Earth so you’re in for a good treat. They know their Kakk here. It was in Hamburg everything started, just like with The Beatles. Hamburg is always the first place to sell out, we are spoiled! The crowd is crazy!