Beneath the aquamarine hue of Norway’s Northern Lights sits the Arctic circle city of Tromsø. Here Norway’s underground dance music scene was born – it was forged from boredom, a need to escape the dark, isolated landscape.
It was a collaborative space – many of the artists within the scene would share any international music that they could get their hands on. The music also represented the shifting cultural landscape of the country. During the late 80s and early 90s Norway was beginning to drift away from its identity as an agriculturally focused nation.
From this shift emerged the structure and careful combination of sounds that we’ve associated with the Norwegian dance scene, or “cosmic disco”. The alchemy of arpeggiated, off-kilter basslines and dub-like effects nods to 70s disco and 80s synth-pop, while eerie sounds and subtle drum machine echoes makes it distinct.
Rocket into the celestial stratosphere of Norwegian dance music below/
Biosphere 'Novelty Waves' (1995)
Tromsø techno trailblazer Biosphere put the city, and the nation, on the electronic music map with his sophomore album 'Patashnik'. Much of the early influence for Biosphere’s music, and releases under his alias Bleep, was drawn from the Detroit techno and Chicago acid scene. For this cut, a bass-heavy beat is the bed for an acidic synth loop and various sound effects that battle for prominence, including an eerie bird-like tweeting and male vocal sample from the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact, sequel to 1984 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Spacey samples are peppered through the album and the title is supposedly drawn from a Russian name for an astronaut who is lost in space.
Those Norwegians 'Hurdy Burdy' (1997)
A legendary trio formed from one half of Röyksopp in Torbjørn Brundtland, a huge influence on the cosmic disco sound in Rune Lindbæk and serial collaborator Ole Johan Mjøs, Those Norwegians released their 'Kilpisjärvi' EP in 1997, named after a notoriously difficult to pronounce town in Finland. This track features an enticing disco bassline, warped guitar licks that hark back to the 70s, eerie sounding synths and the quintessential mid-range drum echo that became so closely associated with the Norwegian sound. Interestingly, this cut also features a sample of an echoed steel pan sounding drum that was re-used on 'Poor Leno'' from Röyksopp’s debut album, 'Melody A.M.'.
Those Norwegians 'Da Kingue D'Mazda' (1997)
Releasing their debut album, 'Kaminzky Park', in 1997, Those Norwegians supposedly named the LP after a baseball stadium, Comiskey Park, the location for the infamous disco demolition night. It’s an ironic name for the LP, considering the trio would play a part in the rebirth of disco into the noughties. Featuring shuffling hi-hats, frequent bass guitar stabs, truly funky guitar riff and layered synths, this track, and album, is not to be missed.
Torske 'Vil Være Søppelmann' (Erot’s WOW! Edit) (1999)
Erot and Bjørn Torkse played back-to-back in clubs all over Bergen, and this track is the B-side on a collaborative effort from the pair. Translating as “I want to be a garbage man”, the track brings a myriad of samples to the table, with busy bongos taking centre stage in a percussive opening before exploding into Erot’s piano-led disco dance fest. Torkse was famously too drunk when producing the opening part of this track and never found out how it was created.
Erot 'Song for Annie' (1999)
Tore “Erot” Kroknes is described as one of the biggest influences within the Norwegian scene. Todd Terje, whose sister was a close friend of Erot, is said to have listened to his tapes as he was growing up. Erot was a pioneer who rose to the forefront when many of the Tromsø figureheads relocated south to Bergen. He was a huge creative force within the iconic Norwegian record label Tellé, releasing records and designing artwork. Tore Kroknes dedicated this song to the singer-songwriter and his girlfriend at the time Annie, who began collaborating after meeting through Mikal Tellé. This track is tinged with a slightly sombre horn over the top of an infectious two-pitch arpeggiated bassline, subtle echoed bongos and hi-hats. The reverb-soaked drums before the final drop into that familiar key loop is so indicative of Erot’s dubby style.
Mental Overdrive 'Disco Dog' (1999)
This track from Mental Overdrive’s 1999 LP 'Ad Absurdum'' is a wonky disco banger, featuring a driving kick drum, simple two-note bassline, bouncy sound effect, abrupt, a single key drone and a keys solo with chords and abrupt, spiky notes. The bassline and kick has flavours from his earlier, more ravey productions, and the closing and opening sound effects give off proper The Clangers vibes.
Torkse 'Sexy Disco' (1999)
The track that supposedly turned Terje onto disco. Bjørn Torske’s 'Sexy Disco' is a disco dub masterpiece. That walking bass guitar takes centre stage, providing the basis for an addictive kick and hi-hat one-two punch. Dreamy chimes come in later with various vocal sample snippets completing the full-bodied production. The snappy guitar riff marries it all together perfectly. The EP’s B-side is by the heavily influential Erot, and is aptly named the Erot(ic) dub. Sexy disco, indeed.
Annie 'Greatest Hit' (1999)
Produced by Erot, this hugely popular track contains a Madonna sample from the 1982 hit 'Everybody' that was never cleared. Annie played the song to Tore Kroenkes who reworked the bouncy bassline and infectious synth loops after hitting a writer’s block producing music. The pair formed a perfect marriage of producer and vocalist and were reportedly working on an album together. But Tore, who had been battling with a degenerative heart condition since birth, was taken ill in late 2000. He died in 2001, aged kust 23. Despite the short length of his career, his impact on the Nordic scene was tremendous, and the unique Norwegian flavour of his disco dubs lives on forever.
Kahuun 'Long Time No See' (1999)
Serial sampler Kahuun’s debut effort, released on Paper Recordings in 1999, is a funky bassline bongo banger. Bongos slot perfectly in between a balanced kick drum before the unconventional Norwegian style creeps in. Flutes? Radio interference? Random disco guitar sample? It’s all there, making for a great example of what makes Norweigan dance so separate from other scenes.
Röyksopp 'So Easy' (1999)
No Norwegian list would be complete without at least a nod to the iconic downtempo duo Röyksopp, comprising Torbjørn Brundtland, a third of Those Norwegians, and Svein Berge. This inaugural release from the duo is a drum-driven masterpiece, with signature added reverb and warped, distant vocals repeating a 1961 sample from a Swedish vocal group Gals And Pals. The bass jumps around in two keys while an eerie voice assures us that everything is “So Easy”.
Röyksopp 'Eple' (2001)
The end of the album version of 'So Easy' encourages us to enjoy some “good frequencies” before bleeding into the beginning of 'Eple', the Norwegian word for apple and second track from Röyksopp’s album 'Melody A.M.' that was re-released as a single in 2001. An infectious, trippy synth is the driving force, alongside a carefully strummed guitar and spaced-out pad trans effect synth that ascends and descends with the beat. The whole track undulates; it's a a real trip hop and skip through how versatile the Norweigan sound can be.
Kahuun 'Batteri' (2001)
The impact of disco on Norwegian dance is so clear to see, as the music drifted further from the Chicago acid and Detroit techno influence of its conception during the late nineties and early 2000s. The second Kahuun track on the list is a good example. Elongated horns take centre stage on this silky smooth jazzy disco banger, ringing out above a catchy key solos and funky bassline. Originally released in 2001, it’s been reissued twice, with DJ Fett Burger the latest to give this one a release on his label Sex Tags UFO. The track is complete with careful resonating percussive touches, a triangle and rousing instrumental solos.
Rune Lindbæk 'OK, kjør Romskip' (2001)
Another of Those Norweigans, Rune Lindbæk, created this track very much in the mould of Röyksopp’s trip hop rollers. This percussive anthem has a sneaky, spy-like atmosphere as expansive synths sit over the orchestral production style. The bassline is deep and sounds like it's jumping out from underwater in the opening sequence, abd various sound effects that travel through high and low pass filters are weaved throughout. Essential listening.
Ralph Myerz 'Think Twice' (2002)
This chilled-out, downtempo dub tune from Ralph Myerz was initially self-released, like a lot of Norweigan records at the time. The carefully constructed two-tone bassline explodes in that typical Norweigan style, with a hi-hat doused in reverb following some descending, atmospheric synth noises. A compelling vocal urging us to “think twice” sits above it all before the track grows to a stirring crescendo in the form of strings coupled with various wonky sound effects.
Mental Overdrive 'Diskodans' (2003)
This electro disco anthem features a catchy sample from Finnish dance teacher Åke Blomqvist; tense, ascending electro synths; a lethal kick drum; mean snares; and intricate hi-hats coming together to create a distinctly 80s feel. Mental Overdrive himself was a versatile producer, producing some weighty early 90s industrial techno releases before making the switch to more electro and disco flavours later.
Todd Terje 'Eurodans' (2004)
Todd Terje's only release on a major record label, apparently only 60 odd copies were pressed before he fell out with the record company, Soul Jazz, and the record reemerged on Full Pupp the following year. On this cut, the sonorous synths are the perfect base for everything you’d expect from a Terje tune to swirl above, including positive, beautifully simplistic loops, an arpeggiated bassline, palpable disco influence and reverberating drums.
Lindstrøm 'I Feel Space' (2005)
Here it is. The classic. Starring an infectious, staircase synth bassline, an echoey clap and perfectly mastered drums, leading to creepy melodic keys seeping in, before the bass shifts and keys are paired with their off-tone counterparts. Lindstrøm’s take on Donna Summer’s 'I Feel Love' puts a real cosmic spin on a classic. Lindstrøm went on to have an illustrious career, collaborating with Prins Thomas for three albums – including tracks like 'Boney M Down' and 'Mighty Girl'. But for fans of Norweigan dance, this is the track that really sticks out amongst his versatile discography.
Prins Thomas vs. Blackbelt Andersen 'Juling I Ringen E' (2005)
Prins Thomas collaborates with Blackbelt Andersen for this final track of the list. That borderline acidic slapping bassline comes together with the hi-hat echo, thumping kick drum, cowbell, heavily distorted synths and warped use of sound effects to create a truly dub -lavoured thumper. Not to be missed.
Max Penny-Barrow is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter