From Tromsø to Total Freedom: An interview with Boska

Boska_2017

Boska started producing sparse, UK-influenced house in Norway’s infamous techno capital Tromsø. His style has progressed through a number of releases on Love OD Communications, Studio Barnhus and Permanent Vacation, and recently into its most bare bones iteration on the Shesick EP for Trax Couture. The music balances intuition and inventiveness, channelling ghetto house, ballroom, grime through the time scope of techno. 

I was talking to Charlotte Bendiks about Tromso and how small the city is and how many musicians actually come from there.

Different people I’ve met presented me with different theories about it. I lived there for a while when I was studying, and that’s how I got into electronic dance music. A lot of people feel that the scene started with one or two ignition points and it grew from there through friends. It was a sort of a carefree satellite culture – disconnected, but still following what’s happening in the world.

Musically it was also quite diverse – did the people work together?

I think there was a lot of collaboration going on, but I also think the narrower definitions of micro-scenes as we know them now were not so much on people’s minds when they were making music back then. And it’s the same in my case. When I started making music, I wasn’t very concerned whether or not it should be defined as house or dubstep. You have to be quite genre-aware to define those as separate styles. To outsiders, it’s just a danceable beat with some melodies and electronic production. When I was living there and working with Per Martinsen who runs the Love OD label (whose moniker is Mental Overdrive) and Charlotte Bendiks – all three of us made completely different styles of music, but in the very fundamental sense, it’s the same – electronic dance music.

Maybe being away from these cultural hubs gives you more freedom because you are not attached to certain scenes.

You certainly don’t have the pressure to be a purist because you want to get gigs. In a small place, it’s going to be a disco night on one day and a hip hop night the next, and people are going to dance to both. In Berlin it might be a bit more divided, where you have some places playing a bit more progressive music, and other places playing more traditional house. But the freedom that you mentioned, you have that anyway. That freedom to just let go of genre dogmas and use the various stylistic traits in whatever song you’re making, you have that anyway.

You sort of gravitated towards UK-centric genres though.

Dubstep was hugely important to me because it was so basic in the way it was made. The legend goes it was created on Fruity Loops and Play Station. It was easy to separate the sounds and understand what was happening. Part of what made me start to do this music was the fact that I believed I could make it, because it seemed simple enough. It was motivating. There was a lot of creativity that was inspiring. Finding out that this thing was geographical – happening in London or Bristol – was secondary, but I did find other artists through that approach. I never went there to explore the scene myself, so I explored it through searching for artists in shops and online. While I was producing my first EPs, I was also listening to any kind of depressing pop or rock. I’ve always listened to a lot of different music. What I eventually made was about what I was able to do myself, and also a continuum of things that I was inspired to try to do.

What about dubstep and its importance for your work?

I found it a particularly creative time. Many producers who started out doing dubstep splintered off to several genres afterwards and everybody found their own thing. Some of those producers, like Pearson Sound and Untold, are still super inspiring. For example, Hessle Audio released Lena Willikens last year. That just goes to show that it’s not about sticking to your roots and staying within one corner of a genre, it’s more about being into forward-thinking music and certain atmospheres on the dance floor. I identify with anything that I find inspiring and subversive.

What is forward-thinking and innovative in music to you?

That’s forever changing, obviously. Whenever you hear a new sound, it’s naturally subversive to you because it opens horizons. Right now, there is a scene that a lot of people consider as global, which is pretty abrasive and noisy with references to hip hop as well as black metal. A lot of people would see Total Freedom as a setting off point for that music. But that just happens to be one of the most forward-thinking music scenes right now, and at the same time there are always individual artists that come out with stuff that opens your mind because it’s off the map. Anything that opens your mind, even if it’s just an aesthetic or conceptual idea, has ramifications in your life afterwards.

You also play percussion, don’t you?

I started playing in bands and later studied percussion. I work with a band where I do that live a lot, even though it’s not a part of the composing process. I can’t quite let go of it, it still means a lot to me personally. But there’s not so much music these days with drums and other actual instruments that I find interesting.

But it can also abstract to rhythms and other ways.

If you think of an artist like Drippin who’s also from Norway making melodies with three or four tones, you’re reducing the whole thing to rhythm. I think of melodies in a very rhythmic sense, and often treat every instrument as a rhythm instrument. I really like singers who do the same. I’m increasingly losing the borders of where drumming starts and ends. I’ve transitioned to playing electronic pads and then next I’m drumming on a keyboard. It filters into everything I guess.

You’re going to play drums with Charlotte Bendiks at CTM.

I play whatever she needs me to. With her music, it’s totally feasible to incorporate electronic drums and percussion. I can do a lot of Latin percussion or electronic drumming and improvisation. We are lined up after each other so we will see what happens – but either way it’s going to be two sides of the same thing like it always is with me and her.

Your videos have quite a specific aesthetic. Are visuals important to your work?

I think a lot of artists have an aesthetic vision based on what they do musically, so they already know what they want visually. With me it’s more that I take inspiration from the visual side. I’m working with Czech artist Petra Hermanová and Slovak photographer Jan Durina. Whenever I work with them, they come up with a way to portray me or my music that I find inspiring. So I turn that around, and I almost make music to their imagery or aesthetic. Whenever someone else puts something into the Boska project, it just gives me energy and drives me forward.

Do you find it easy to translate your ideas to other people and vice versa?

Not always. I’ve almost never worked with anyone on my productions. I’ve worked on other people’s music a lot, as well as with bands. But with my own stuff, it’s very rare that I make a sketch and show it to someone and expect to get any kind of reaction. It’s mostly just in my own head until it’s done.

What do you think about the wider, sociopolitical impact of bass music as of recent?

I’m extremely grateful for that. And I can’t take a shrivel of credit for it. It’s wonderful to see issues that I’ve cared about come into light, and to see artists not to be scared to voice their opinions and try to put music and words to what they’re feeling about other things than just themselves. Also, I honestly believe that music is naturally subversive, and if that gains some kind of direction, that’s just a good thing. It’s hard to somehow connect the dots, to take something that’s instrumental and to say that it’s political, and to expect listeners to learn anything from it, but that’s only when you’re talking on a very concrete level. On a more subconscious level, look at an act like Nguzunguzu – a few years ago, the aesthetics they represented was completely underground and now you hear those samples and ideas all over the landscape, even in pop music. Those subversive ideas filtered into other styles of music. It’s just a question of time until artists like Shalt, Kablam or Lotic will be copied by the mainstream, it happens faster than you think. A lot of art right now deals with the experience of being in this conglomerated, controlled existence that society allows you. I do the same to some extent. And yet, that’s still just a subjective experience. Hence, a lot of music deals with anxiety and desperation. But that’s one place to start. The night we are doing at CTM is called “Remedy”, and the artists that are booked largely play very uplifting music. Let’s hope the name of the night will rub off on all of us there.

Boska will be playing alongside SHAPE alumnae Charlotte Bendiks on 27/01/2017 at CTM Festival