The idea of infinite exploration makes for a pretty decent artistic starting point. “Whenever I’m sat at my laptop, I feel like I can do anything,” says Catharina Stoltenberg, speaking over Skype from what looks like her bedroom in Denmark. “I probably can’t.”
What Catharina certainly can do, though, is craft the kind of winningly lovelorn and minimal pop that speaks to a generation of bedroom-bound outsiders, looking for a little romance to brighten up those grey days and nights spent online. Originally from Norway but now living in Copenhagen, she and her friend Henriette Motzfeldt have been making music as Smerz for the past few years,
“We aren’t super-crazy, and we’re not super-calm, not super-happy and not super-sad,” Henriette claims, by way of explaining the peculiarly pleasurable sense of ennui that rumbles through tracks such as ‘Thrill’ or ‘Blessed’ – songs that trip and stumble, like Arthur Russell meeting unjustly forgotten Scandi-pop star Annie in the same haunted dancehalls that Jessy Lanza and Junior Boys have been slinking around in.
There’s a stillness to the duo’s output – a touch of Nordic frost which may seem odd given Catharina and Henriette’s background in musical theatre – although that’s not to say their music is lacking in propulsion. The bulk of 2016’s superlative ‘Okey’ and 2017’s great run of trippy, breathy singles revolved around avant-r’n’b and isolation-tank footwork. It’s a sound that bubbles and undulates in a way that brings Actress, of all people, to mind: in their songs, things move and shift in the most mysterious and melancholic ways.
The very idea of mystery, in fact, is central to the DIY duo, who are both classically trained musicians. “In a dream world,” Catharina reveals, “we’d just release the records and the videos.” It’s a hint that she’d quite like to negate the whole ‘being public figures’ thing, and Henriette agrees: “When I’m really into an artist, it can get a bit ruined by suddenly knowing loads about them.” One of music’s fundamental joys, she says, is that it lets you “imagine a whole world behind the music, or the person behind it, without knowing anything for sure”.
All of which is unfortunate for them: if they keep producing the kind of pristine and eerie, intimate pop that’s got them where they are today, we’ll all be wanting to know a lot more about the two Norwegian girls who decided to drop their violins in order to pick up a laptop. Josh Baines
The ‘Have Fun’ EP by Smerz is released on XL in February
This feature is from the February issue of Mixmag
Josh Baines is a freelance journalist, follow him on Twitter