Seven years after it all started, Northern Electronics has become firmly established in the underground music world. Aptly titled Atlas of Visions, the Scandinavian label presents its biggest compilation to date on May 29, a vast spectrum of techno, ambient, club and experimental music featuring the likes of E-Saggila, Puce Mary or Thoom, to name just a few. The two committed founders – both utterly productive artists themselves – give us an insight into the mindsets behind their work and show us some gems from their artwork vault.
»Scandinavian Swords IIII: Atlas of Visions« marks the fourth release of the Scandinavian Swords series and with 41 tracks by over 30 artists it is by far the most extensive one yet. You often emphasize the family character of Northern Electronics, it seems like a label run by and for friends, a group of like-minded people. Did you at any point since its founding in 2013 anticipate that this family would grow so immensely and successfully?
We never anticipated anything. We completely lack social dynamics. There is no community, there is no scene. From the outside, many people look into what they think is an exclusive clubhouse as if we were sitting in a basement and inventing a new music genre. But Northern Electronics is not a shadow club you have to join, not a group of elites meeting every Wednesday night. If we meet each other, it is only because we’re friends, and we also meet outside of the music world. Most of the artists on the label are people we’ve come to know through graffiti, different generations of graffiti painters we knew since long before this music thing. We’re not Silence Studio, this is not a In kommer Gösta moment (ed.: the first song of the mysterious Swedish pop duo Philomen Arthur and the Dung’s first record at the label Silence Studio).
The tracklist reads pretty impressive and promises a vast cluster of different musical approaches. What made you want to make such a voluminous record? I guess it can be read both as a collective statement and as kind of your own digital showcase festival?
We have managed many self-curated label nights where we have had the opportunity to present new acts mixed with bigger, more well-known acts and completely made-up acts. For example, Ecco2k was involved in the presentation of Jonas’ Nordic Flora Series showcase at Berlin Atonal 2017, and now we’re putting out a track by him. Or Jin Mustafa, who has been DJing at many of our label nights from the very beginning and is now finally released on the label.
There are a lot of these artists around us who have been acting on the fringe of the label or who have been indirectly involved because we have been friends and, they contributed to the idea of Northern Electronics more by being an inspiration. Now when we present something this broad, the rules have loosened up and we want to share our common space with them. This compilation has helped us to outline these relationships and put them on paper. It’s like we’ve gone from a shitty rental van full of synths and spray cans to burning our entire budget on a nightliner that everyone fits into. In many ways it could resemble a festival lineup.
You mention spray cans and the shared interest in graffiti: Are you visually inspired by graffiti and street art?
Not as »art«, but as an act. There are aspects to this implementation of graffiti (fuck street art): fast and uncompromising, like the musical outputs equivalent to quicksilver letters all over the city. Not some legal mural work where you cut lines for days, yuck.
You are fast and productive, not only as solo artists, but also together. How does your working routine as »label heads« differ from the practice you both established in your musical collaboration, especially with Ulwhednar? Are you the perfect duo, the »Odd Couple« of electronic music?
We are an odd couple, but we have also been very close friends for more than ten years, even before Northern Electronics existed. We have a lot of common interests outside of music. Ulwhednar is a project we came up with to release the music we make when we hang out together and try out a new synth etc. None of us ever put much effort or prestige into this project, it’s more a product of our friendship than anything like »Hey, let’s start a band«. We’re friends and run a label together, and sometimes there’re synths involved…
Is Northern Electronics a project that comes to an end, when it becomes too hard to maintain, or has it become so much an essential part of yourself that, although it will change over the years, you definitely want to continue?
There’s a challenge in being your own quality control, and running your own label is like acting like an adult, like having your own toy kitchen. The label works as our playground. We both have always had issues with authorities and with functioning according to other people’s rules. You’re always learning, and that’s one way for us to keep things interesting. As long as we make music, and it feels relevant for us to have this outlet, we will mainly want to release through our own channels. You’re your own security and uncertainty.
Jonas, since you communicate your political views very openly in social media, I would like to ask you what do you think about the social and political potential of underground (club) music? I remember you once said that you are not that interested in techno music anyway. Anthony, you once called the internet a scary place and have so far kept your name and private life secret. Your music seems to be the only direct output. To what extent can this be read as a political statement itself?
Jonas: I’m stressed and sad to see the world falling to pieces. I’m tired of seeing people hurt and in tears of sadness. How can I even put this… One: Fuck the system. Two: Be your own system. Three: Anti-fascism is always self-defense. Four: Take care of nature. Five: Nurture people whose intentions are good. Six: Remember the real enemy. Seven: Don’t throw plastic in the water. Eight: Don’t be afraid, take buildings, barricade them and make them your home. Nine: Remember love, but also remember the face of hate when they creep closer. Ten: We won’t get a second chance, stand up against oppression.
I’m grateful for everyone who puts their own physical being at risk to save others that may not have the power to help themselves. Fuck the psychiatric hospitals, fuck the detention centers. Get organized, love one another. Fuck, I wish us all luck. Remember, no one is free until everyone is.
Anthony: For me, trying to maintain my integrity has been a way of coping with the mental challenges in of exposing myself the way you do as an artist. It’s been the only way for me to function like that. I’ve never been able to separate my private self and my artistry, not even when I was releasing music and performing under a different alias. It’s a way to make this lifestyle work, in a constant effort to not lose too much of yourself on the road.