While I was a music researcher a few years ago I had the fortune to travel a lot across the world and often ended up in San Francisco a few times every year, and what better way to spend off-work hours than going to the clubs. In San Francisco, there’s this performance and art venue (I always forget the name) and twice a month they used to have something called an “experimental music exhibition” which displays a wide range of minimal electronic acts, some unheard of and some legendary.
On this warm May evening one of my favorite experimental electronic performers, the 4AD signed Holly Herndon, was on stage, and on a blaring screen behind her during the performance a statement was shouted out: “Everything tonight is live. This is important. Too many seamless ass electronic music shows. Fucking inhuman ass shows. We keep this live or the end result is dead”.
Electronic music is burdened by the rumour of static live shows performed with minimal craftsmanship and heavily reliant on the technological performance of machines rather than musicians mastering the art of playing it live. But then we were rewarded with Göteborgselektronikerna.
Already from the outset, the band was built on the idea of performing synthesizer-heavy songs live, not using backing tracks, sequencers, laptops, or whatever machine we have invented to undermine the craftsmanship of music.
Their debut album Nattrafik, a Kraftwerk-inspired adventure celebrating their hometown Gothenburg, was released in 2016. But shortly after the band went silent due to babies being born and daily lives keeping them away from music. Now, six years later and during a pandemic, the five-piece has morphed into a new setup – only founding member Martin Blom Skavnes and Fredrik Lundvall Kindsäter are left from the first album – and is about to release their second album Retrospektiv.
Messed!Up sat down with Niklas, Erik, and John a few days before the release of their latest single “Uppstuds”, and we had a chat about keeping music authentic by performing it live, their upcoming album Retrospektiv, which by the way is not inspired by Kraftwerk, and creating their own genre called ‘Dadwave’.
The creativity of being in a band
Everyone in the band has different backgrounds and music projects that appear to be your main projects, like Octolab and Niels Gordon. How important is Göteborgselektronikerna with respect to your other projects?
Göteborgselektronikerna is probably our main project today when you consider how much time we put on it, at least for me [Niklas aka Niels Gordon]. We have a fixed day for rehearsals every week and have been good at keeping that routine and being focused on our music. That’s kind of a professional attitude. In our own projects, everything is dependent on one individual and that individual’s creativity, there’s no exchange of ideas. It’s a bit lonely to do it on your own.
In Göteborgselektronikerna, you’re subject to a continuous creative flow with many parallel things happening at the same time. When Martin and John make a video, the rest of us work in the studio. All these parallel creative activities trickle down as energy to the band. That’s quite different from working on your own.
It’s inevitable to compare you to Kraftwerk. The sound and the vocoder vocals are typical Kraftwerk vibes. Was Kraftwerk a common interest that pulled you together?
Not really although some of us listen to Kraftwerk. But it’s a fun question because we have quite different musical backgrounds. Martin, who writes most of the music, doesn’t have any roots in electronic music, he’s a bassist. It is the combination of our different backgrounds that makes this project so interesting. That’s what pulled me [John] into the band.
Martin asked me if I wanted to play in an electronic band but I didn’t know what was expected from me at all. I didn’t know if I had anything to contribute with because I come from a rock/pop background and played in a cover band, but I grew an interest in synthesizers, that’s what got me interested in electronic music. And Martin changed my mind when he talked about putting together an electronic live act, a band where everyone played live and didn’t rely on sequencers or backing tracks, and I really liked the idea of it.
But when you have such a diverse musical background and used to play different instruments in other projects, could it happen that you’ll add acoustic instruments in the future?
Nah, the name Göteborgselektronikerna [Gothenburg Electronics] sounds very electronic, doesn’t it (laugh). But if we catch a vibe, why not. As we said, Martin is a bassist and I [Erik] tried to talk him into playing bass on a song once, but it hasn’t happened yet. He just loves the synth bass (laugh).
We don’t have any rules that would stop us from playing other instruments but we’re quite thrilled about playing synthesizers live, it’s our identity. And it would look so lame if one of us would pick up a guitar on stage among zillions of synthesizers (laugh), it won’t work out aesthetically.
Make way for Dadwave
On their debut album Nattrafik, Göteborgselektronikerna emulated a Kraftwerk-inspired sound and the minimal electronic sonic landscape dominated by that type of synth basses that reminds us of our favorite Kraftwerk album, The Man Machine.
However, with their upcoming album Retrospektiv, the band have started to discover new sonic avenues and have picked up on influences from “dance pop music” and bands like Daft Punk and Röyksopp. And fusing together these influences creates something completely new, called ‘Dadwave’.
Your first album Nattrafik was some sort of homage to Gothenburg and with lots of musical references to Kraftwerk. For you, who weren’t in the band when Nattrafik was released, it must be obvious what’s different soundwise on the new album Retrospektiv.
The first album was probably quite easy to write. There’s this song about a tram line in Gothenburg [“Hållplatz”] where Martin speaks out the different stations. It can’t have been so hard to write the lyrics to it (laugh).
On the new record, all of us contribute to the music although Martin still writes most of it. But it’s not as much Kraftwerk influences anymore. Well, you will probably hear some Kraftwerk but there are other references as well, like Daft Punk and Röyksopp and that whole kind of dance pop music. It’s not a dancefloor record, but we certainly have those influences on Retrospektiv.
We don’t like to use the word ‘easy listening’, but the new album is easy to listen to. When we did a summer gig at Galleri PS in Haga last year, people walking by stopped and listened although they didn’t know about us. It’s not complicated music to listen to.
But the biggest difference on the second album is the band setup. None of us were in the band on the first album. The new band setup brought more creativity and ideas to the band.
Which means that you have found a sort of new identity with the new band setup?
Maybe a little. The single ”Ett Streck Två” is very different from anything on the first album and it’s also the first song with the new setup. It’s actually quite a contrast to the rest of the new album as well.
Our last two singles are very different. While “Ett Streck Två” is quite dark, “Uppstuds” is an uplifting and happy song. But it’s not that we have an idea on how a song will turn out, if it will be dark and depressive or uplifting and happy. There’s room for everything on the scale between depression and happiness (laugh).
Retrospektiv is also a move away from the Gothenburg theme, there are no obvious references to Gothenburg at all. If we would do it again, people may see us as a joke and turn us into a laughingstock. And Martin didn’t want to write yet another record on the same theme, he was done with Gothenburg after the first album. But the lyrics unfold in a Gothenburg context, although not explicitly. He wanted to write personal lyrics about growing up in Gothenburg and become an adult, and how many bands are there out there writing about your boring daily life and singing it through a vocoder. That must be a niche (laugh).
”Uppstuds” represents the whole album in that sense because it’s composed of the two main ingredients: memories from the past when you were young, and growing up to become an adult. It’s about being split-up between these different worlds, a summary of where you came from and where you have ended up.
Releasing a second album usually brings a more serious approach to a band. Has Göteborgselektronikerna started to walk down that path with Retrospektiv?
But we’re not too serious about it. We’re all middle-aged men and don’t expect a huge breakthrough or anything like that at all. That train has passed (laugh). We define our music as ‘Dadwave’, synthwave for people beyond their fifties (laugh). You know, as a musician it’s not cool to be a dad, there’s no rock ‘n’ roll about it. But that’s our message in the lyrics. It’s about everyday life in a wide sense, but it’s not a theme, just this daily life thing that connects the songs on the album.
It’s the same with the music on the album. The songs are all quite different in terms of composition, tempo, and structure, but there’s a sound that glues it all together; the basslines. Martin focuses a lot on building songs around the bass, and together with the vocoder vocals you’ll get a special Göteborgselektronikerna sound.
You want to be a band that play everything live, but does it affect how you write music? It may be that you adapt the songs to what is possible to do live already when you write them.
Unfortunately not at all (laugh). The new album is a typical studio project and we have worked a lot on distance during the pandemic. Martin has done most of the work in the evenings when his children are in bed, but we all contributed.
Everything on the record is played live but it’s a lot of different layers on the songs, and we didn’t really discuss how to play it live (laugh). It has been quite hard to figure out how to morph it into a live show. Some songs have zillions of tracks layered on top of each other and we don’t have enough hands to play it all live. Of course we have to leave something out from the album because when we play live it’s important that it is live music. We use a sequencer on one song because the bassline is a bit hard to play live and then we have a few arpeggios running in the background, but most of what you hear on our shows is live music.
Erik even plays the drum machine, that’s how we see it. Of course we use some pre-programmed drum patterns but it’s just basic rhythms that allow for a lot of flexibility in how you use them. And flexibility is important; it’s not a problem for us to add an extra chorus or verse on stage if we want to because we haven’t planned how long the songs will be before we’re actually performing them live. We want to have the opportunity to be spontaneous because it opens up for being creative on stage. That’s the challenge and also what makes it interesting to do this.
The biggest challenge is to synchronize all of us on stage and it has taken us much time and many hours of rehearsals to get to the point where we feel good about how we communicate on stage and how to be spontaneous. A good way to explain it is that we were good at playing electronic music live when we started together, but have become a lot better at doing mistakes and still making it work out (laugh). When you don’t use backing tracks or sequencers it’s a lot easier to be flexible, even as an electronic act.
The second album is on the way and I guess you plan for more live shows. Is it in the plans to play more outside Gothenburg?
We have a few shows coming up but it’s not set in stone yet due to the pandemic and we can’t put out an official announcement, but we plan for gigs outside Gothenburg. Our ambition is to play a lot more across Sweden but it also has to work out with our jobs as well. If anyone wants us to come and play, just let us know (laugh).
We don’t want it to sound like we’re bragging but on the back of the gigs we’ve done lately, it feels like we have reached a very high standard on our live shows. We haven’t rehearsed as much as this with any project last 25 years.
Since we started rehearsing on a weekly basis we’ve had the ambition to do more live shows. Last year, we did a few smaller gigs in August and September just to get a bit of experience before we play on bigger stages. The release party for “Uppstuds” last week was the biggest so far for us, but we also have a gig booked at Electronic Summer this year which may be even bigger for us. And there’s also another big event booked for us but we can’t say what and when.
We also hope to play at Göteborgsvarvet [Gothenburg Half Marathon] again. That was an awesome experience last time and is perfect for us. Just imagine to playing your own music for four hours. Challenging and fun at the same time (laugh).
Photographer: Krichan Wihlborg