A joint ‘It’s cold’ is the reply from Copenhagen duo Northern Structures when asked about life in Denmark. From a stuffy and unconditioned Melbourne town house I’m greeted via Skype video link by ex drum and bass head turned expat Troels B-Knudsen and ex Culture Box bus boy Lasse Buhl.
Northern Structures so far only have two releases to their name, both on Adam X’s Sonic Groove. Unbeknown to the two that Adam X was in fact the legend he is within the graffiti scene, their unrelenting Self Similarity EP came off the back of a graffiti conversation with the New Yorkian. With an arsenal of unreleased loops and tracks, Northern Structures live show, an analogue expression session said to have had Kenneth Christiansen's Culture Box teeming with sweat, is one of the reasons why the two are beginning to be held in such high regard.
Lasse and Troels galvanised their friendship through Vermona's DRM MKII drum machine, responsible for the duos first three tracks. The two pay tribute to the work of Kenneth Christiansen for what can be seen as a blossoming Danish electronic music scene, with names like Pattern Repeat, Mikkel Metal, Northern Structures or Kasper Bjorke and Kenton Slash Demon on a houseir tip demanding as much attention and respect as one of the countries biggest musical exports Trentmøeller.
The two digress further with their take on Copenhagen's Culture Box, Christiania's impact on the city, Kenneth Christiansen as a mentor and a different slant on how to consume tea.
How and where was the mix recorded?
Lasse It’s different from our DJ sets because it’s a Ableton Studio mix and we have never tried that before.
Troels The idea was to mix some tracks that we like and make it a bit friendlier and at home listening. That was the idea anyway, it turned out a bit rougher than what we first planned (laughs). We would never do an Ableton live dj set, our sets always have a live format where we there is a possibility of us making a mistake, there is always an element of chance in our dj sets and they will always be manual.
To date you only have two releases, both on Adam X’s Sonic Groove. Your live sets must feature a lot of unreleased material?
Lasse I think we have around 20 unreleased tracks.
Troels Some of them are just tools but then they turned into actual tracks. The last live set we did was done in a serious rush. We agreed on the fly to do a live set and we had a month or two to get it ready. We finished off all the loops and tools we had and the rest was us jamming and improvising over the top.
I have also seen that you use the Vermona DRM MKII drum machine?
Troels The first track we did together was with the Vermona.
Lasse I thinks that’s how we actually first got together. I went from Logic to Ableton and wanted to take some lessons from Troels because he really knows his Ableton. After a few sessions at Troels house I said to him that I am getting a new drum machine and that we should hook up and try it out. When we did we ended up making our first track Self Similarity.
So Northern Structures are in debt to Vermona?
Lasse Yes it is because of the Vermona, so thanks Vermona (laughs). We knew each other a little bit before through mutual friends, but not that well. When I got the drum machine Troels wanted to try it and then we started making tracks from there.
Treols The first three tracks on Sonic Groove were the only tracks we had made at the time, we made Self Similarity and were really happy with it, from there we made two more.
How did the Sonic Groove connection come about?
Lasse I was in Berlin with a friend and we went to a party at Horst. My friend Maj knew Adam X and introduced us and we got talking. I used to be very into graffiti and Adam is a very well known artist in the New York scene. We started speaking music and I mentioned to him that I was working on some things and he said to send some of it through, so when we made Self Similarity I did.
When you first met Adam did you know much about his art?
Lasse We are both big Traversable Wormhole fans and I was at that party because I wanted to see him play. I was quite surprised because I knew Adam by his graffiti artist name but never knew it was actually him, he is a legend in the graffiti scene.
Sonic Groove looks to be an integral part of Northern Structures.
Lasse Sonic Groove is great for us and we love the label and its artists. Having said that we are open to other labels that we really respect but Sonic Groove is definitely home.
How does the dynamic work between the two of you in the studio?
Troels We do equal parts of everything. I do most of the mix downs because I have been producing for longer.
Lasse Troels is a very famous drum n bass guy (laughs).
Troels I have been doing music since I was 15 and I was part of drum n bass for a long time, for around 10 years. Slowly I began to think that it was time for something else, part of that came from opening up to techno.
What brought about the transition into techno?
Troels I’ll be straight up about it. I got really sick of the drum n bass scene.
Lasse Bla Bla (laughs) *motioning guns with hands*
Troels It got a bit juvenile, I’m not afraid to say that. A lot of sixteen and seventeen years olds started getting into it which killed it a bit. It became more about energy than about the actual music. It got a bit much and leading up to the end I didn’t even like drum n bass when I was making it. From there I found house and techno which seemed to be more of a mature scene and that made me really hungry for electronic music again.
Are you enjoying the broken beat style of house and techno that a lot of producers are making at the moment?
Lasse Anything goes, we are just music lovers. I’m really into breakbeat techno and most of my own productions are breaks, rough breaks, but of course I also really enjoy four four.
Troels I definitely liked four four for a while, it was really liberating to keep it simple. I had spent the previous 10 years focusing on complex drum patterns. But once again anything goes, no rules and that is the beauty of techno.
Lasse That is kind of our rule, that there is no rules. Why have rules when creating something beautiful, we’ll even use a guitars (laughs).
Troels When we first started Northern Structures we tried jamming everything out in one take, partly so we could walk straight out on stage and play, our aim was to always be able to to play live. We have moved away from that slightly and if there was ever a rule that was it. I think that helped us stand out from everyone else.
Lasse The first record we made had a lot of mistakes because it is mainly us jamming. Sometimes when I listen back to it I think what the hell were we doing. That record has a lot energy and we like that
The live show looks to be an integral part of Northern Structures. Is it something that evolves from week to week or is it something that is developed in stages?
Lasse This month has been pretty much the same idea and now that we have a lot of new tracks we need to put a whole new live set together, it's never the same when you improvise. We never know how it will go.
Troels It mainly changes when we have new tracks, we always have stuff lying around and it’s always a good way to test things out.
Your are based in Copenhagen. How big of an influence has the Culture Box been on you and the city?
Lasse For me the Culture Box means a lot, it is how I got into techno. I used to work there as a bus boy collecting bottles and I used to think it was a brothel. I would walk past and see the red light and always wonder what was going on. A friend of mine told me it was a night club and one night when I was walking home I thought I’d go check it out. I went in and it was full of people, people sweating, people in suites, all sorts. People were coming in as they were and that really attracted to me to the place. It was down the street from where I used to live, I could go down whenever I wanted and be myself, I wasn’t pressured into thinking about what other people were thinking. It has a really nice atmosphere and I was so hooked on the place that I asked if I could work there, they gave me a job collecting glasses which I worked for a few years.
Troels Kenneth [Christiansen] has brought up a lot of people through the Culture Box, he's definitely had a big impact on the scene here. For me it was instrumental because it was the first place that I knew that was dedicated to electronic music. We don’t have a a lot of that here and now there is a place for it.
Lasse I would say that Kenneth is a musical father figure. He taught me everything, I used to play a lot dub techno and a lot from his label Echocord. It’s been a journey with him, he is a crazy guy and he taught me a lot about music. He took me to Berlin when he played and showed me around. He was the one that got me into DJing. When I started I just wanted to play and he was like no you can’t play now, you are not ready, you need to wait, your not good enough. He would’t book me until I was ready and then one day he said now you are good enough.
How did that first gig happen?
Troels Kenneth was the one that spurred us on to do a live set.
Lasse There is a monthly Berghain night at the Culture Box, Marcel Fengler and Ryan Elliot were playing. He said he wanted us to play live. We had two months preparation for our first live set and we did it, it was a crazy night and one of my most amazing experiences of all time, sweat was trickling from the ceiling, the place was packed, it was beautiful.
Troels It was very fitting that we did our first live set at the Culture Box.
Lasse It was a big one for me because Marcel Fengler is my favourite Ostgut artist.
What was life like in Copehagen pre Culture Box?
Lasse There were a lot of private or special one off events.
Troels Techno has always been in Copenhagen and a lot of it has to do with Kenneth and the work he did before the Culture Box. Copenhagen is kind of a neighbour to Berlin and Hamburg, so we knew what was going on, people would go back and forth and come back with all kinds of stories, I think that had a big impact on the city. I have known about techno since the late 90’s and it was a kind of reverse thing, I got into it through techno inspired drum n bass. Then in the mid 2000’s I started digging further for acts and the whole no rules attitude to techno was very attractive.
Lasse Techno came into my life a little before Culture Box.I was listening to a lot of EBM and a lot of Industrial so I think techno was what the missing link. I was also listening to a lot of Jazz because I used to play the saxophone.
Lasse, you also have a very interesting or what some might say disturbing Tumblr.
Lasse I don’t know how to explain it. Troels and I have a very dark side which you can hear in our productions.
Troels Copenhagen is very civil city, Scandinavia is in general. For us it is very refreshing when things are honest and realistic. When life terrifies you it can be an experience that moves you more than others.
Lasse The pictures on my Tumblr simply inspire me. I know it sounds so cheesy but I can see the beauty in the darkness. Sex and Violence. It’s not a big part of me but dark thoughts can be inspiring. For example I like the winter, no one in the winter asks me why I am sitting at home making music for seven hours. People are always ask me why I’m not going to the beach in summer and it’s simply because I don’t want to go to the beach.
Weather in the winter can be a great back drop for making music.
Lasse Especially in the north, that’s why we named ourselves Northern Structures. The north is really special in the winter because everything is so grey but still so beautiful.
Does this mean you enjoy horror films Lasse?
Lasse I can’t watch horror films because I get nightmares for around 3 weeks afterwards. People often ask me to go see scary movies and I’m like no way, too scary. I prefer a romantic comedy (laughs).
Troels It tends to be more interesting what is going on inside of peoples heads. I’m a big Science Fiction fan. Science Fiction tends to deal with how things interact with people instead of how people view things externally. Space is full of experiences that would be life changing for most people and that is the type of thing we tend to gravitate toward, rather than real life monsters and bad guys.
How much has Christiania given to the cities music?
Lasse I don’t really go there anymore, not for the past 3 years anyway.
Troels Some of the first drum n bass parties I went to were out there. It is a special place, it’s an old military base which was turned into a squat in the seventies, it's now a small town with a community. You could say it was a lawless place held together by a bunch of hippies and I think a lot of them are still around. A lot of poets, writers and artists came out of there and it’s famous for being a mini Amsterdam. The government tried cracking down on it a few years ago but they failed. People in Christiania don’t pay tax, not in the traditional sense anyway, they ended up renting the property from the government and it’s been a big grey area ever since. Christiania has a lot of backing in Copenhagen but the politicians are getting fed up with crime that happens there. We really hope it sticks around because it is going through a lot of changes.
Are either of you working on solo material?
Troels Yes we are talking to labels but none of our solo stuff is out yet. I have a solo project called ctrls, and my first ep is coming out this year, other than that we are hoping for some other releases.
What is next for Northern Structures?
Lasse We will have at least one more record on Sonic Groove.
Troels We are talking to a lot of people but nothing is definite yet. At the moment we are working on finishing tracks.
Lasse For us it is just about having fun. We don’t feel the need to keep up with releasing six or so records a year. We want to make sure we are enjoying making music.
Treols We are going to broaden our live set which means stepping it up, which means new gear.
Lasse We want some more analogue gear to make our set crazier.
Treols and Lasse We also want to thank a few people that have helped us a lot along the way. Rune Zetterstr¯m for excellent mastering, Regina Libian for help with the artwork on the last EP, Pernille Krog Mogensen for booking, all the djs that supported our records and a big big thanks to Maj Kristiansen for being sprawled out on the couch in the background with a huge hangover when the first track was made.
What are your favourite teas?
Lasse I used to smoke tea when I was twelve for the fun of it but it didnít work. Iím actually a big coffee drinker. I do like a chai tea but green tea is my favourite.
Troels I'm a green tea guy.
Take a look a Lasse Buhl's Tumblr here