Body music: An interview with Charlotte Bendiks

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Charlotte Bendiks got interested in electronic music at a young age. She started DJing in her early twenties and over the years she has developed into a highly respected and sought after artist. Her DJ sets focus on sexy dance and body music. Although her main genre is classical house music, her sets are inspired and influenced by music ranging from disco to african groove and Latin beats. From 2007 to 2009 she organised numerous underground house parties called “Moist”. Her solo release Afterhours EP was released on Mental Overdrives LOVE OD Communications label in January 2013, followed by the second EP Aurora a year later. 

Apparently, Tromso is Norway’s capital of techno and dance music.

Not really. It’s something we like to promote ourselves with, especially when we work with the Insomnia Festival. It’s a really small city and there’s not really that much going on. Most of the people who were here in the beginning when it started moved away. The electronic scene in Norway didn’t start with Prins Thomas and the Oslo disco. It started here in Tromso with Geir Jenssen from Biosphere and Per Martinsen from Mental Overdrive meeting and going on mountain trip. They started listening to electronic music and Geir started making it. Geir later met Mike Banks from Underground Resistance and started to import records directly via his UR connection. And this is how the whole Norwegian electronic scene started. But calling it like that now doesn’t make sense in my opinion.

How has the music scene changed in the city since those days?

Tromsø only has 75,000 inhabitants. There’s some great talent here though: Mental Overdrive, Bjorn Torske, Royksopp, Biosphere, Doc L Junior, Aedena Cycle/Kolar Goi. On the pop side of things, you have the singer songwriter Lene Marlin, or Espen Lind who wrote “When Susannah Cries” and who did some work with artists like Beyoncé. But almost everybody moved away.

Did you grow up there?

I’m originally from a really small village of 24 people called Tennskjær outside of Tromsø. I grew up on a sheep farm in a fisherman’s family. My mum moved a lot and I grew up with her. Before I moved out of her house at 18, we had moved around 15-20 times all over the country.

Do you have a theory why Tromsø’s music scene was so rich and diverse in spite of its size?

There’s all these touristic cliches about the nature and the Northern Lights. But Norway is a very large country with few people. The small places where people live are very isolated. Tromsø has always been the capital of the North. Two hundred years ago it was because it was the gateway to the Arctic world with all the merchants, fishermen and expeditions. There’s also the third largest university in Norway there, so you have a lot of young people moving to the city. In fact, ten percent of the city’s population are students. But we are super isolated here. You have to fly for an hour to get to the next big city.

Lots of people move to Tromsø to get some sort of an idea of urban life.  It’s really easy to realise your projects whether it’s arts, music or film. Right now, we are organising the biggest film festival in Norway. We have 8 or 9 cinema rooms where we project and screen films from 9am to 1am for seven days with 100-500 people in the cinema rooms. Everybody’s very positive and helping. There’s no competitiveness because everybody needs to contribute. I work for Insomnia, I do music, I work for TIFF, I work in the cinema, I curate parties.

How did you get into music?

When I was in my early teens I was searching for a creative outlet. I was doing ballet, played tennis, did kick boxing, trying to find a connection to something. After I turned 15 I went to this youth culture house where you can get help to start projects and apply for cultural funding or find a rehearsal space. I started working with all these festivals as an organiser when I was about 15 or 16. I was really into rock and punk, so I started playing the drums. I was hanging out with all these musicians in this bar called Kaos where they had great punk, blues and rock concerts and DJ events at the weekend.  I got to know a little bit of the dance music as well.

I was listening to your EP Aurora and there are these slow percussive tracks there. Maybe it also comes from your drumming background?

Maybe, but I’m also into folk music – not talking about Irish pub folk – more like everything from South American cumbia to kwaito to ritual Sami music with the drumming and the joik. I was also visiting a friend in Romania and playing there and I got invited to some of these manele parties. Folk music – even if it’s coming from my Sami heritage or just as an interest – is ritualistic, rhythmical, repetitive. Maybe it also comes from the punk drums – rhythms have always inspired me, but I think it started way before I played in the punk band for those three months. It has to do with the spiritual idea of ritual music.

Can you talk about your Sami roots?

I have Sami roots, but it is really hard to find out how much exactly. In my grandparent’s generation it was really denied, with a lot of shame attached to it. They were taken away from their homes, and there was a lot of discrimination against the Sami people. My great uncle still denies it because he’s so ashamed of it. Now it’s a lot cooler. I actually brag about being more Sami than I really am because I want to honour my roots. I wish I was brought up more in the culture but I wasn’t.

What is your favourite element in music?

I always call it “body music” what I play and make. You should feel the frequencies in your body and move your body. Music is more than just sounds. It’s a physical experience as well. It’s very connected to your motoric, to your body and sexuality. When it’s repetitive, it also has some kind of power. The rhythms connect to the beat of your heart and pulse. Dance music such as disco or house is normally between 118 to 126 BPM and that’s your heart rate when you’re on the move. On another level, it also directly connects to your serotonin and dopamine transmitters and gives you a natural high, but that can also come from the melodies.

You also use occasionally use your voice in your music.

I can’t really sing but I try to anyway. I have a really dark voice. I’m probably very inspired by the whole Chicago scene, but it also has to do with wanting to include some acoustic – other than analogue or digital – sounds into the mix of the tracks, because it gives it a whole other spectrum. With my own voice, it feels more like my own music. I also use a lot of acoustic percussion that I play by myself. Of course, it’s a little bit off on the beats, like on this Bananas track, but somehow it all comes together in the end.

With DJing – are you more that kind of a DJ who tries to build a narrative throughout the set, or is it more about the individual tracks?

I’m not just a DJ who likes dance music, I’m also a music lover that collects music. This is about presenting tracks and rarities nobody ever heard before, especially nowadays when people don’t really own music. If I get booked for a party gig, it’s a lot about the tracks still, but the tracks are a way to create a story. You cannot really prepare for that. The only thing you can do is to find out as much as you can about who is going to be there, who plays before and after you, how the room looks like, etc. This also has to do with this body music idea of mine. When I start putting on the first one to five tracks in a DJ set, I always look at the people to see which body parts they are moving. If they are really into percussion, they move their shoulders more, with the bass lines it’s more about the hips, vocals and melodies are more for the head. Then I see what they are responding to and can bring them together by playing tracks that include all the elements. It is very much about connecting to the people who are there with me.

So there’s also some psychology involved, trying to figure out the state of the people on the dancefloor?

Yes, I want to create an euphoric moment every time I play as well, of course it doesn’t happen all the time, and then I get very disappointed. But I want to create magic and feel it myself – this super dopamine high where I get intoxicated just by the music. That only happens when I can really feel that I can communicate with the audience, where we can create something together.