Mungolian Jet Set has become the main musical vehicle of Norwegian DJ legend Pål ”Strangefruit” Nyhus. Along with partner Knut Sævik he is out to find the philosophers stone of dance music, leaving behind all normative concepts and delving audaciously into music’s inexplicable essence. Mungolian Jet Set is duo on a quest, perhaps a little like the mystic Gurdjieff who roamed in the vicinity of Mongolia and joined in competitions to make the mountains sing.
-We want to take our music into uncharted territory, says Nyhus.
I know it is a bit of cliché to talk about music as a journey, but it is true in the way that we don’t really know where we’re going. But we know that we are after something that cannot be reached by guidelines, genres and just multiplying established concepts. When I was a kid the two records that I never tired of was St. Pepper and Dark Side of the Moon. I really want to be able to create something that unfolds in the same way, I’m not talking about repeating the quality or impact of those two albums, but the way they are structured: You never tire of them because they are layered and complex, they are confusing yet tell a story.
We are interviewing Pål Nyhus in conjunction with the soon-to-be released Mungolian Jet Set album «We gave it all away, now we’re taking it back». But chance has it that at the time of our conversation Nyhus and Sævik are in the studio working zealously on the next album, which will be completely different from the one to be released shortly. Thus we must keep the two records apart: The images drawn up above, of musical exploration and layered obscurity, refer to the album which is only in the making. Yet the same general attitude has been a characteristic of Mungolian Jet Set from the start. So let us first retrace:
Mungolian started out as a constellation consisting of Knut Sævik, Reidar Skår and yourself, and the basic motif of the first album, from 2006, was the intersection of club culture and jazz. «Beauty came to us in stone» featured a premium line up of contemporary Norwegian jazz musicians. How did the project come about?
-It was actually a commissioned project that we were supposed to do with Atomic (a jazz outfit). But underway the whole project changed dramatically. It became something none of us had envisioned. I have sometimes described it as somewhat akin to fantasy literature, with utopian elements and many aspects that cater to the imagination. It was actually during work on that record that the name Mungolian came up. No, actually it was a name I had had with me since childhood, but the way the project developed I finally had found a place, or an entity rather, for the name. The process was an amalgam of people and ideas. -A lot of thinking and quite a bit of deliberate musical puzzlement.
So how is the new (finished) album different? Does it feature the same people? And is the disco-meets-jazz theme still a part of the Mungolian way on this release?
-I think the albums are like day and night. This one is a lot more pop-oriented and geared towards the danceable. There is an overall disco aesthetic running through it. It is a lot more intuitive than the last one. Simpler of mind perhaps, because we had already done all the thinking. And saying that means of course that there is also a lot of continuity. Musically there is continuity in the form of arrangements and sound, but also conceptually we are building further on the some of imaginary and utopian themes from the first album. However, there is of course a major difference in the fact that this album is actually a collection of remixes and projects we have done with others over the past three years. That is what the title alludes to; what we gave away we are now taking back. The jazz connection is mostly gone because that had to do with consciously merging expressions. This album is a lot more open; it is a bewildering melange of remixes and different collaborations, including remixes of people like Nils Petter Molvær, Mari Boine, Lindstrøm, and a lot of others. The music is distinct but it is not homogenous. And even if it is open, it was our plan all along to collect all our work during this period and release an album, a double one as it were.
On the new record you have changed label from Jazzland to Smalltown Supersound?
-Yes, with the jazz aspect gone it just didn’t feel like something that belonged on Jazzland. Being a collection of remixes with an incongruous disco aesthetic Smalltown Supersound was the right label this record. The whole idea of keeping things a little obscure and not feeding people with information all the time is a common denominator here. We like keeping things a little unclear and that is something Smalltown is in on.
So the apparent confusion –with different names, spellings, concepts and a maze of interconnections between lots of people and projects– it isn’t just laziness?
-Well it is a little bit of both. Of course you save a lot of work not updating and informing about everything. But it would also be the wrong thing to do because it is largely the case that during the music making we don not really know where we are going ourselves and what the result will be, and that means it would be pretty misplaced to try to update others.
Not knowing where you are going, that refers to the record you are currently working on I suppose?
-Yes, I mean we have established something that is uniquely Mungolian I think, so it will be recognizable. But the point is that we work intuitively, and we work a lot; just taking our time and exploring with absolutely open minds. So things change underway. What is important for us now is to make music that is grounded in ourselves exclusively, i.e. not adhering to external parameters like zeitgeist, style or genre, or the merger of styles and genres. We want to mix everything, without making that a point in itself. That is why we try avoiding obvious references and allusions and try keeping everything a little ambiguous.
No more remixes or collaborations then, just the two of you working long days in the studio to travel further the Mungolian way?
-No more remixes and no more jazz, for now anyway. Like I said, what I really want is to make a record that is layered and big in way, so that new things appear each time you hear it. It is a matter of an intuitive recognition of the right direction. I find it most interesting when I can’t pin down what it is that feels right; that it just does. We want to marry things that really don’t belong together, and do it in new ways; we want to be the Bee Gees and contemporary classical at the same time. And we want the grandeur of prog and disco and the seventies. That is where the utopian, imaginary aspects come in, the journeying and the uncharted territory. In short Mungolian is a vehicle that can take us anywhere. We don’t know exactly where, but it will take us far.
Well, though urbanely bred these Mungolians are apparently not too far from mystics anyway. Like Nyhus suggested on the first album: how can one not be (a mystic), when music is the language? Mungolian Jet Set is an organism making its habitat as it goes along, finding new layers and perhaps new realms in a landscape that transcends category and conceptual language. -An organism touching its essence perhaps; the essence of this untranslatable, incomprehensible thing that is simply music.
«We gave it all away, now we’re taking it back» will be out in May in Norway and reach the rest of the world in August, probably. As for the new record now being cooked up in the Mungolian studio, Nyhus hopes it will be out next year sometime.