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In Session: DJ Sotofett

Dance music wildcard DJ Sotofett shares a three-hour mix and talks us through the difference between artists and performers, experimental freakouts, and why he relates to Noel Gallagher

  • Words: Megan Townsend | Photography: Sami Hasselberg
  • 22 October 2021

DJ Sotofett's musical prowess is about as wide-ranging as it gets. Since he first began cutting his teeth as a producer two decades ago, the leftfield jack-of-all-genres has created everything from jungle to ambient to funk to techno — though he'd be the last to admit that traversing across sounds is where he's comfortable being: "At this point, I have a reputation for playing 'all sorts of stuff'," he comments, "It's time to prove to those who think they know – that they're wrong."

DJ Sotofett grew up in the small Norweigan town of Moss, a stone's throw away from the capital Oslo - spending much of his youth hanging around the only local record store. He credits the first time he heard Basement Jaxx's 'Remedy' as a teenager as a moment of clarity in his own musical direction: the album is an amalgamation of influences, that in his words stopped him from being "happily lazy with just a looped sample." Alongside his brother, fellow DJ, and label boss DJ Fettburger, he established Sex Tags Mania in 2004, with a heavy focus on house and techno, while spin-off label Sex Tags Amfibia has allowed the producer to extend his imprint into dub, experimental, jazz and psychedelic genres. His own label Wania has seen releases from the likes of LNS, Madteo, SVN, Dresvn, Vera Dvale, and more.

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Gaining a reputation through the '00s as one of Norway's most multi-faceted club artists, Sotofett has lent his own productions to a broad spectrum of labels - from the jazz and dub-focused Honest Jon Records to the techno and electro of Berlin's Tresor, including a recent collaboration with Canadian-born producer LNS. As lockdown struck, Sotofett embraced audiences flocking to Bandcamp for new music - releasing a track every single day in July 2020. May this year saw the release of his album ‘Noɽ’, which includes a back catalogue of music created from 2001 until the present day, with the most recent additions created on Finnair flights.

Check out our Q&A with DJ Sotofett, and listen to his In Session mix recorded live from Berlin's ÆDEN below.

Your style is pretty eclectic — with influences ranging throughout the width and breadth of dance music history, when did this fascination with music begin? How do you allow such varying inspiration to co-exist in your output?

Compared to the general club scene it seems like I'm still a very eclectic DJ, which still puzzles me a bit. Take Laurent Garnier and DJ Harvey as examples, even the more casual reader of Mixmag is probably acquainted with them, being mainstays of underground club culture. Garnier and Harvey are heavily known for playing a very wide spectrum of dance music, at least in their first 15-25 years of DJing. The question is why their history isn't seen upon as a standard, rather than the exception? If we narrow it down and use the mid-to-late 90's period of Josh Wink as a study case, a DJ who [had a very linear] way of playing, but never only one style of house or techno – he just made all sorts of tracks sound like him, and that's the real Josh Wink sound – a mix of his taste, his function and also his impeccable blending – important to remember is that it was never just one thing.

None of us really wants only one thing – but we tend to be attracted to the illusion of a thing or direction. An artist's job is to create this illusion. If you want to get really fucked up at a techno party the DJ doesn't need to play only really hard techno but applies that as an idea, while going in and out of different types of techno that gives us a feeling of hardness throughout the night. [My] good friend, DJ Tage Tombola, told me that “you gotta make the next track sound louder than the previous, but obviously it cannot actually be louder” – and that's the ultimate illusion the DJ needs to create for pressure purposes. If you manage this craft you can actually play almost any type of music and make it fit in your set and on the dance floor.

We have to remember that you don't need to do everything at once. There's a massive difference between underground clubs where you can play 7”s of funk and lovers rock, really trip out people with a wide variety of dance history for a steaming floor, and on the flip side, the more black-box techno clubs – and both are really great! Personally, I'd like to listen and play all types of music close to my heart, and in more intimate clubs there are very few limits to what styles of music from my collection I play. But being versatile or “eclectic” for me means I need to be capable of playing straight and stylistically solid club nights too, techno or even jungle sets and so on. You just gotta know your time and be attentive to “that feeling”.

In 2012 I started getting booked to the UK, and most people thought I was a house DJ, which made me play anything that surrounded house music – funk, disco, electro, techno, dub, jazz, jungle etc. Quickly I took out house music from that musical equation, I just generated the illusion of a house party – and crafting this illusion so people get that feeling makes you only look less boring than the previous DJ playing generic club music. For about a decade I've refused to accept bookings from the big festivals as a soundsystem that moves 5,000 people cannot carry all sorts of music and people dance to function rather than music, this structure can be an analogy for most elements of big music festivals. For me, fabric in London or Tresor in Berlin have been more than great enough in terms of capacity, sound and vibe – and we should keep that club culture alive.

At this point [I have a reputation] of playing “all sorts of stuff” and it's time to prove to those who think they know – that they're wrong. Surprises are healthy, being spoiled by getting what you want is numbing. Being in opposition is prime goods in underground culture and the second you are not in opposition anymore you're a performer, not an artist. Know the difference!

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You had a series of listening parties at The Museum of Sound in Berlin, where you created sets that were played seven times a day for three people at a time. What was the motivation to do this? Is this type of intimate musical experience something you want to continue doing?

The Museum of Sound is a project by Rikke Lundgreen and Tommi Grönlund (from Sähkö Recordings) where they create temporary rooms for (music) listening. The idea is based on listening to various selections of the music that Finnish experimental and techno musician Mika Vainio (from Pan Sonic) left us to enjoy and explore.

When they wanted to present The Museum of Sound in Berlin I was invited to create a techno listening room in addition to the Mika Vainio Listening Room. We used two locations, the first was in the basement of Audio-In used record store in Berlin, and I prepared a 50-minute techno-set that was played for three people at the time, seven times a day, threedays in a row, in a pitch-black basement.

After those three days, we included SVN in the project and changed location to the Neues Deutschland building where he has his studio and we presented the Mika Vainio selections on his JBL 4502 studio monitors, also this was in a completely dark padded room.

How did people react to these sets?

There was a general confusion about this project, especially in the club scene, [wondering] if it would be a performance or playing back prepared material. But people were very curious and the few seats available quickly became sought after. It seemed like not too many people had been sitting still in a pitch dark room with few other sensory impressions than directed sound and music.

All the music in the techno listening room was my own unreleased techno productions (it featured one collaboration with Pomassl and two with Ronny Nyheim). Just imagine a 50-minute techno and acid album presented in the format of a mix. Nobody was told what type of sound was in the room before they entered, and both locations were previously unused ones.

Your collaborative album 'Sputters' with LNS, on Tresor Records Berlin, was released in July - what was it like to create an entire album with LNS? What was the creative process like?

One of the big blessings of making music is that you can include people in it, and I use that to the absolute fullest most days of the week. There's a different tuning between all collaborators and with LNS there's the part where she is musically trained, while I have no training at all. She's has a very good ear for pitching the right tonality, which I amusingly use for all sorts of things, obviously sorting out regular tones and harmonies, but also trying to “repair” quite wild and psychedelic breakdowns where things definitely fall apart to a level that annoys most listeners I expose it too. But with musical training often comes restrictions and formats that the schooled one seems to have a problem escaping. This quality I don't carry at all, which makes it easy for me to break set, add a less typical and more direct vision to a project.

LNS can relentlessly try to find fitting harmonies and has a direct approach to melody which I would usually find by chance – on the other side – production, mixing, rhythm programming, arrangement and those things come very easy to me, and I can find a hook that's worth building a track on really fast. The track 'Synchronic Bass Blort' was in our removal pile for a while, and LNS didn't like the frenetic aspect of it. But by making it even more frenetic, and also adding very straightforward and deep diving pads that harmonise with the general noise of the track it's now one of her favourites cuts on the album.

Also when roles are switched it becomes really fun, we all learn from each other constantly and at some point enough knowledge has penetrated so the one that is typically “less good” in a field, approaches the new knowledge with really fresh and eager energy – that's when the really interesting things happen – things that you cannot make alone, ideas that are strictly symbiotic, not just two things mashed up.

But the 'Sputters' album was initially me just trying to collect some music by LNS and E-GZR, compile unreleased tracks into a double 12” for my Wania label. While editing, mixing and finishing the tracks the whole project changed, was remade several times and ended up being original music by LNS and myself. As a tribute, E-GZR got the opening track on the album, it's called 'K.O. by E-GZR' and has that original metallic acid sound that kicked off the project.

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You founded Sex Tags Mania alongside your brother DJ Fett Burger in 2004, what is it like to work with your sibling on the label? How do you continue to inspire each other?

When talking about Bee Gees, Noel Gallagher pointed out that there is something incredibly special about performing together with your sibling when the wavelength is perfectly in tune. It's hard to describe, but I have this experience and it really makes me feel rich. When we started putting out records under Sex Tags Mania it was a constant energetic blast, it was the absolute low times for real house and techno in Norway, and for many years we were the only ones releasing house and techno with a steady flow in the country. Even though there's still a common thread there I've been operating Sex Tags Mania mostly on my own since about 2008-2009, and my brother has his own label projects.

In 2008 when most DJs were converting to digital (which we see happening again) I had no time to waste and felt the urge to pour out releases on wax showing the width and depth of all the class music that was surrounding my community. It's about attitude, music doesn't always need to be the very best if it has true passion and the right energy or purpose. In retrospect it's easy to see that I was like a bulldozer full of speed, while my brother had a different tempo and approach for his output. That said, both he and I, and many around us, were all in strong opposition to the corporate demands of digital culture and also the rigid rules of tech-house and trendy minimal techno (not the real techno that is minimal!). If you actually have something to say and mix that with a smile you have a winning combination. Many of the releases from this time you'll also find on the more alternative Sex Tags Amfibia label that we also started together.

As for inspiration, I cannot say what others find inspiring, I can tell you that many people around me find my tempo quite annoying though. But when I see my brother being very active it will absolutely not slow me down as we share a common drive. And we have this mutual project we started with around 2002, which is still going on, and one day we'll reveal it more directly but we still have decades to go so no hurry. Also both of us find records we can keep for five or 10 years before playing them in a club, and we already know that the day we find them – that's a funny “agreement” of time that we share.

Your May album ‘Noɽ’ featured music from 2002 to 2020 - with some even predating Sex Tags Mania, do you think your music has changed dramatically since then? Or does it fit into your ethos now?

The earliest track is actually from 2001! And sure my music has changed a lot, but it's not all linear development. I make a lot of different music, straight-up techno, house, electro, braindance, but also disco, dub, hip hop, experimental music, ambient, and band projects with afro, funk, or jazz. I don't understand how it is possible to make one style of music unless you're a visionary proprietor of a certain direction, but even a new direction is a combination of several things.

In my home, there's as much flamenco as dubstep, and I'm no pretentious wanker that we do see much of in the “vinyl collector scene”. Hip hop and looking for samples, breaks, bits, and pieces are in my DNA. The impact my good old friend Don Papa had on me is also crucial, when I was a kid and hung out in his studio he would blast out salsa or something that sounded like dubstep (years before the term was coined) and just forced the funkiness on me and my friends. The mix of whatever music, from whatever period, can, could, and definitely should always be blended at any given time. It was a point of no return and is a fully embedded ideology of mine.

When I was a teenager I went to a local music shop, or the only music shop in the city, and asked if they had some second-hand stuff – the guy said “well, we got this...”, it was a metal suitcase with a 12-channel mixer built into the bottom and two effect racks on the top part – it was a dub suitcase!. Shortly after, Atle Meyer, an old partner in crime, and I cleaned out a computer room in my school and we recorded live drums through the suitcase at night during one weekend. Some of these tracks are a bit Latin and downtempo, other ones are heavy experimental freakouts. I played one of those tracks in Oslo a few weeks ago, a gig where I played only my own unreleased productions the whole night, and it was by far the edgiest track that night. On the 'Noɽ' album released on Sued there are two early tracks, from 2001 and 2002, most people that heard the record say one is the nicest and the other the heaviest, so I'm guessing the spectrum was already there.

Read this next: 18 best Norweigan dance tracks released across '95-'05

On ‘Noɽ’ some of the tracks had been created on Finnair flights - is this when you feel the most creative?

There's a strong connection with Finland for me, and there's so much music that has been made there it's simply endlessly incredible. Just check out Sähkö Recordings, Keys of Life, and Puu as a starter. Also, Finns tend to be very particular and get stuff done which I really like. Finnair in itself isn't so inspiring, but I did program two of the 'Noɽ' tracks on a flight from Helsinki after one of my many great stays there. Even though there's a strong “analog” reputation surrounding me, which is partly true, I'm probably one of the people in my circle that is the most into computers as well. For 10 years the only soft synth I had was one called MDA, which was free, and I still have an old version of Ableton installed so I can use it. Those two “Finnair” tracks on the 'Noɽ' album are only made with MDA and a few drum samples. Actually, at least half of that album was made with the MDA soft synth. These days I also use Helm, another free soft synth.

It's always funny how people hear what they wanna hear – there are reviews of tracks I released and the writer dissects the music as being “dreamy analog synth pads, hissing hats and boomy kicks from a TR-808 made in his analog studio”, while it's actually computer programmed 606 drums and synths from tracker software – it's cool to describe the sound aesthetics, but you should know the difference between an 808 and a 606, or just don't mention it. But also the other way around is particular, with all original productions, where I in my studio recorded singing, flutes and percussions and it's called “an edit”. I don't mind the confusion, but people shouldn't underestimate that regular people can actually make a broad variety of music, not just fiddle around on their computers using pre-designed sounds that all sound the same.

What’s next for Sotofett?

There are quite a few remixes coming out this and next year, one for Norwegian/Icelandic Ultraflex where I threw away the original vocals and sang a bit myself, and there are four remixes for the Milano record shop Serendeepity, these are really ruff and ready. Also a long-in-the-making double 12” with remixes of Stano – ew Wave and avant-garde material from the mid-'80s in a new suit put out by All City next year.

One of the next albums is 'Jimi Tenor & Kabukabu meets DJ Sotofett', a mix of dub, jazz and afro, I got loads of material from various sessions by them and also recorded a few myself. I should probably also tickle a full version of the Kambo Super Sound 12” that was pre-released as a limited release for their Mossa Mossa club night 10 year anniversary (in 2019). These will both be out on Sex Tags Amfibia next year.

Just out is a repress of one of my favourite remix projects of the last few years, the 'DJ Sotofett's Dub Ash Mixes' of Mystica Tribe released by Solar Phenomena. This is a true merge of what I'm standing for, a perfect symbiotic mix of dub and club. I met Mystica Tribe in Tokyo some years ago and he was very happy about the project while I was incredibly eager to compliment him on his drumming. There are live drums that sound incredible on his material and while asking how long he played the drums, how he records them etc. He told me his drum tracks are usually programmed when he travels for work... I think my eyes and testicles swapped place for a moment when I heard it.

And there's a mixtape for Tresor, LNS is also part of it, it will have a bit of a retrospective touch, and is a follow up to the 'Sputters' album. But usually, when I talk about upcoming material it's cursed and it'll be delayed for years so I've spilled enough beans for now.

Oh, and gigs, loads of hours to play music. Lovely stuff!

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Tell us a bit about your In Session mix?

It's a live mix, recorded the first weekend in Berlin when they allowed dancing again, June 19, 2000. The party was at an outdoor club called [ÆDEN] and they were repeating that they had a three turntable set up, which is cool, but they only had two needles! Bringing my own needles saved me and I could enjoy playing on three decks with a solid bag of very direct club music, much more straightforward than my reputation says I'm playing. My heart does heavily lie in house and techno, and this was a mix of both, but played like techno – fast and with lots of pressure (which you can't always hear on the recording). It's all about tension and pressure – and figuring out a combination of those on the fly while feeding back the audience.

My general attitude has always been very upfront with music, and obviously mixing better and more interesting than the DJ both before and after me is important. It leaves more to it for those of us who are really into DJ'ing and music, not just the posers. Throughout the years it's been a true inspiration looking at the crafty mixing of say Derrick May, DJ Rolando, DJ Bone and Egyptian Lover to pick some quality household names, even though one of the best DJ sets I've ever seen was by Jah Shaka.

LNS & DJ Sotofett 'Sputters' is out now, get it here

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow her on Twitter

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