Illumination consists of the Norwegian house-guru Per Martinsen and the classically-trained Briton Nicholas Sillitoe. They do music for dancing, among other things.
Martinsen and Sillitoe both call themselves DJs, but also answer to the titles producer, re-mixer, composer and even performance artist. They have been making 10 and 12-inch records since 1994. Now they have released a whole album, which may mean that they have taken the step from the hidden underground to everyman’s CD player up here in the commercial daylight.
They have certainly tasted the sweetness of success before, for instance as re-mixers for Nils Petter Molvær and Bugge Wesseltoft. Then they broke new ground with the release of the collection FBU: Recollections in Rare Altitude (+47) in 1999. FBU was the abbreviation for Norway’s former main airport at Fornebu and the music comprised Illumination’s Norwegian favourites, mainly from Martinsen’s home town of Tromsø in the far north.
Per Martinsen is something of an eminence grise in Norwegian house and electronic circles. His ways are impenetrable, but today he is a prominent standard-bearer and something of a figurehead. It all began in Tromsø in the mid-80s when he played electro-ska with Geir “Biosphere” Jenssen and others. He spent the years from 1987-89, known as the longest “Summer of Love” in history when the house culture really exploded in the British Isles, in London’s melting pot and frequented both the colourful dub/ragga scene and the more clinical and experimental circles that made music with synthesizers and machines.
When his friends from back home, the Bel Canto group, chose Brussels and the recording company Crammed Discs as their base, he followed them. After that came a flood of 12-inchers on the company’s subsidiary labels SSR and R&S from aliases and pseudonyms that all concealed the dance-loving North Norwegian. Names such as Syamese, Confusion Club, Mental Overdrive, Bleep (in a duo with Geir Jenssen) and the Gruesome Twosome (in a duo with Samy Birnbach, alias DJ Morpheus) supplied good fly-by-night dance music to the clubs, the latter with a 12-inch record The Hallucination Generation that became so big in the American and British clubs that a commercial breakthrough was only just avoided. Viva the underground!
Common to all these records were the minimalist production methods, the precise rhythms, the warmth of the themes and melodic lines and the flirting with introvert art music. In 1995 Martinsen decided that his days of travelling, one-record projects and the short-lived music of the dance floors were over. He moved to Oslo, established the companies +47 (the international dialling code for Norway) and Love OD and concentrated on his new project, Illumination, and good old Mental Overdrive.
The Plugged album (1995) is a collection of Mental Overdrive songs from 1994-95, including Disto Disco, which was originally recorded during a lunch break at the Quart festival in Kristiansand! About Jazz was released on Virgin in 1997, almost a “coming out” album in which the various types of music that have influenced Martinsen over the years are on display. It includes a tabla intermezzo, hypnotic floor-fillers and cool, floating music for sunrises after hours under laser lights. The Ad Absurdum album (1999) is another manifestation, although he has permitted himself to be more melodic and contemplative, as if seeking spiritual beauty rather than physical rhythms.
While the name Mental Overdrive has been kept warm, Illumination has risen to the surface with the album This is Illumination (Love OD/BMG 2000). It is really a presentation, because on it the club anthems Sometimes Almost Heaven, She Got Soul and Perfect Sky are combined with understatement and even the Julie London classic Cry Me A River. Welcome to daylight, Illumination! Incidentally, if you haven’t guessed after one hearing, Per Martinsen used to be a drummer.