Datarock is Norway’s currently most successful international live act, with sold-out tours and an ever-increasing fan base: adherents of this sexy/funky collective’s teen-romantic and very playful music, which conjures up the times that Datarock deem the most interesting in popular culture: the late seventies and early eighties. We had a talk to Datarock singer Fredrik Saroea, who constitutes the core of the collective along with Ketil Mosnes, about the band’s undying fascination for this period and their new, highly anticipated record Red
-I think that a young person exposed to the great cultural changes that took place in the late seventies and early eighties had large parts of the brain affected, more so than later generations reacting to more recent events. I discover new genres and new periods of music and popular culture all the time, but I always come back to this particular moment in history, says Fredrik. In my view the years between 1976 and 1983 the apex of popular culture. This period is an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
Asked for an explanation or theory about why this is, he presents an analysis that delves deeper than one would perhaps expect from a man and a band that have made campy and playful music their trademark.
-So many processes and motions came to fruition and full bloom around that time; things that were conceived in the sixties but took a decade to achieve momentum and start to make a general impact. These are things we take for granted today, but I believe that at the time this happened there was a tremendous amount of energy in circulation. Something had been torn down, and in the process of building a new cultural paradigm, there was obviously a lot of audacity and progressive thinking going around. Cultural relativism, the fusion of art and criticism, the general onslaught of postmodernism, feminism etc, are things that do not perhaps trigger people today. But at the time when these concepts made their full impact I think that they were the cause of tremendous turmoil and a lot of productive rethinking. All these things are of course processes that started a long time before, and which are still working their path towards the future as we speak, but I think the period in question was an especially condensed time in this manner. Not least due to the coinciding spread of personal computers and the birth of the information society, which opened totally new horizons.
Red is the name of Datarock’s upcoming album. Their press release juggles with the various meanings of the term. We asked Fredrik Saroea whether Datarock has gone political, for surely the colour of the late seventies and early eighties is not red but beige..
-We wear red tracksuits, that’s all. But it was tempting to put in the ambiguity of referring to the army of Datarockers as not the red army. We are not political; we are more like cultural researchers I think, with a shared fascination for events and phenomena that have changed popular culture and music.
Is it really true that the red army of Datarock affiliates amounts to fifty people? How does this collective function in praxis?
-Sure it’s true. In fact the number is higher, but fifty is pretty accurate if we’re talking about people we work with on a regular basis. In the Datarock collective the different roles and tasks merge and interchange all the time. Some people work with video, design and our visual appearance, which is of course a very important part of Datarock. And we have five regular co-producers who also play with us, in the studio and live. There is many of everyone.
So is there anything like a regular Datarock line-up?
Normally we are only four people on stage. But we expand this as much and as often as we can. Since many of the people we work with are based at different places around the world, it is all a matter of assembling whoever in the vicinity, so to speak, and create a live show accordingly. Once we were over a hundred people on stage, all in red track suits (that was at the Norwegian Grammy Awards that just took place), but normally our maximum is about twenty people.
It sounds like a very costly enterprise to bring in all these different people and to always try to maximise your live appearance?
-Ah yes, very expensive and a lot of logistics. But it has been our policy so far to reinvest everything we earn in expanding our operation, both in terms of the size of the shows and in terms of keeping up the momentum and expanding to new territories. Instead of doing a tour and then withdrawing to the studio we have simply kept going, moving systematically to new countries. We have been very patient, expanding our scope by bringing with us what works in one place to the next without changing the formula.
You are now a truly international band, one of the few Norwegian acts to have a solid base in all major territories. Still, some markets are more important than others. How do you go about it when you are now embarking on Datarock part two with the new record?
-We always start with Europe with a focus on the UK. For an indie band like Datarock that is the recipe. Pending how things work in Europe we then move on to the US and the rest of the world. And perhaps we make a few alterations based on the first experiences. It is an important thing for us to learn as we go along, instead of insisting on a specific approach. This is certainly true live. We have customized our set in order to give the audience the best possible experience. In fact there are many songs from our first album that we almost never play live because they would kind of breech the playful and energized ambience.
So how is Red different from the eponymous debut?
We have focused on the live energy and tried to make a record where all the songs will work live in just the right way. The record was written mostly last fall, after three years of touring, and the biggest change is simply the massive live experience that we have accumulated. You know since the release of our first album we have played more than 500 concerts; eleven tours in the US alone!
In the press release for Red you state that you wanted to supplant the former trinity of inspiration, which included DEVO, Happy Mondays and Talking heads, with a new one, consisting of Fela Kuti, Afrika Bambaataa and Kraftwerk, but then it appears that the old trinity came right back into the picture?
-Yes, that was an attempt at a conceptual move I guess. But the truth is that we realized that these different influences are actually much interwoven and already there in our music. E.g. there is already a lot of Fela Kuti in a song like Fa Fa Fa. (The biggest hit from Datarock’s first album) I think that the new record is a great amalgam of all these different influences and styles; brought together in the Datarock way.
So what kind of expectations do you have to the new record? And what do your collaborators and fans have awaiting them?
-Well, it is an energized album, like I said. So for the live aspect it will certainly be dynamite. At Nettwerk, our label in North America, they are crazy about it. And that’s an understatement! We will start in Europe, releasing it this spring and then the US is up in the fall. Again, we move from one place to the next, maximising things as we go along.
But will you be able to keep up the same pace as so far? Is it really possible to go on like you have done for the past years? And apropos reinvesting, shouldn’t you do like Fela Kuti, buy a mansion and set up the whole collective there?
-Good Idea! (Laughter) Nothing quite so drastic, but it is time to wind down a few notches I think. -Which has been the plan all along. Our intensive touring over the past few years means that this time around we start on a different level, with fewer and bigger shows and a bit more comfort. Since we have played so much, people don’t expect us to do the same again. We have paid our dues, so to speak, and now we will be in a more comfortable zone, still keeping up the momentum though.
In conjunction with by:Larm, which is unfolding in Oslo this week, Datarock will be presenting samples from the new album and co-host a club night with Saroea behind the turntables. He insist that we include a remark in the interview that Datarock’s own label YAP, has a lot of exciting projects going on, for the benefit of new Norwegian music. And as has been positively proven, being part of the Datarock sphere, if not the collective itself, is a ticket to a ride you might want to join.
Check out datarock here