In the remote northern parts of Norway, in a city called Tromsö with merely 75000 inhabitants, one would hardly start the search for distinguished DJs. But this is actually the home base for Charlotte Bendiks, and to be correct she actually comes for an even smaller village outside of Tromsö. Being more remote in Europe is hard to imagine, right up there in Saami country. Stereoklang had the opportunity to meet up with Charlotte when she visited the Swedish experimental and electronic music festival, Intonal, that took place in Malmö end of April. Charlotte who was due on stage at 5AM had just arrived from gigs in Asia, and would head straight of to Berlin the following day.
She started DJing in her early twenties, developing into a highly respected and sought-out artist over the years. Although her main genre is classic house, her sets are inspired and influenced by music ranging from disco to African groove and Latin beats. She is widely known for creating euphoric, hot and sweaty dance floors. Doing live vocals and percussion as well as integrating other musicians has become somewhat of a trademark for Charlotte – transforming the whole performance more into a happening instead of just a simple DJ set. So we can easily conclude that Intonal was happy to add her to their line up. Intonal has over the years grown significantly in importance and all in all it is safe to say that Berlin’s Atonal has gotten a serious challenger in driving the underground scene of tomorrow.
In 2017 Charlotte released the highly appreciated EP, Hidden Tracks, that to us clearly mixes all the good stuff that she has learnt touring the world DJing, and at the same time exploring the musical heritage of those destinations. So the most northerly contributor to the Cómeme label, Charlotte Bendiks adds a fine set scaling from the mellow soul shuffle of Hjemme to the pinched snare hustle of Kaia, playfully skittish and bendy electro in Tellstainnj and the dry, stepping weirdo raver Noir. A parallel world of gothic ukuleles, isolated villages and their myths, juvenile silliness and arctic deepness.
Backstage at Intonal we find Charlotte in the sofa ready to let us know more of her background, music production process, and Saami heritage.
In what way would you say that your Norwegian roots have influenced your music?
I think never said that, but it is something I’ve been hearing a lot. I am actually not sure if and how it potentially has influenced my music, but of course everything that you’ve experienced and your background will have an effect on you. Growing up in a small Norwegian village by the sea, and fairly isolated, has most likely had an effect on my music.
The drums are key ingredient in Saami music – have you incorporated their sense of rhythm and beats in your own music, if so in what way?
I did learn and played the drums when I was a kid, but of course drums and rhythms are key part to my music. In general I do enjoy acoustic percussions and happy to integrate that into my compositions. When it comes to the Saami part, that is actually something that has for long been somewhat of a family secret. I have been able to discover my roots more and more over the years. My family had it as very well kept secret due to the way the Norwegian state have been treating the Saami people over the years. But in any case I have always been very interested in the repetitive rhythms that emanates from traditional cultures and folk music, be it Saami, Manele, Cumbia, Kuduru, Kwaito or others. With all the music I have encountered over the years – when it comes to rhythms people do not differ that much between countries, cultures and languages.
You sometimes talk of delivering “Body music” – how would you define this in a world overloaded with beat orientated music; techno, house, EDM etc.?
For me in general I am not so interested in genres. So when I have been asked on what sort of music I play I tend to mention “body music”, since then it doesn’t center so much on genres, tempo, beats, instrumentation, electronic etc – it is all about the feeling. And for me it is a physical feeling or emotion, a feeling that you can get regardless if it is ambient, techno, or what have we. The feeling you for example get when you actually feel the beat and rhythms vibrating in the air around you. So in general I am not in to categorizing what I do and that is why “body music” is the best representation of this. Especially when you are represented as a Norwegian artist, you often get clamped together with everything Norwegian whether it is true or not. As an example the music scene in Oslo is vastly different from the scene we have in Tromsö.
Do you also enjoy the synth version EBM? Yes, and this is something I discovered much later. And I enjoy it a lot, but again it is a genre among others out there.
You have been using vocals, is this something you would like to explore more? Do you think it will be more commonplace in the underground scene going forward?
Yes, absolutely. However, unfortunately I am not very good at writing lyrics. So far I have primarily focused on quite simplistic texts, but I have also written a song in Saami which we are currently doing in our live sets. Ideally it would be nice to get in contact with a Saami text writer to continue on this path. So, definitely I would like to work more with vocals, but I need to find someone to work with on the lyrics side of things.
And how does that fit with scene you’re in which is quite often instrumental?
For me it basically started as a way of exploring new ways to perform live. So, in this process I started to explore adding various things into my live DJ sets, such as live percussions and even guitarists, with varying success. And in this context I also started to add my own vocals to the production sets. But in general I do try to separate the two, although it may happen that I pick up the mic also when DJ-ing. This often evolve quite naturally – if I am booked for a live set or DJ-gig the use of vocals and other stuff it kind of defines what the organizers and the audience are expecting to hear.
How do you go about creating your sets and what makes them stand out?
The most important thing for me when I started basically came out of the fact that I am big fan of music and big record collector, so I bought lots of CD record back then – which aren’t worth a shit today. In the beginning I was very eager and sometimes moved on a bit too quickly without sensing what the audience were craving for. But after several years in the industry I have been very accustomed to communicate with the audience, and are able to sense what they want to hear and get the crowd going. For example being able to read body language. Today I have completely stopped travelling with physical records, whether vinyl or CDs, and thus only using an USB, since I am travelling to so many places around the world. But I am still a big fan of purchasing vinyls and being inside a record store gives me great inspirations. I am constantly surrounded by music and if I find something I like I will add it to a specific folder on my USB, which I in principal use for preparing my next set. And ones I am on stage I will start from one of the folders and really tries many different things initially to see how the audience responds to the music. Shoulders, head and hips are the most important signs to watch for in the crowd, as it clearly shows their mood. The different instruments in the tracks will actually have different parts of the body to respond, be it the hi-hat, bass or kicks. Being a DJ is all about communication.
How much do you improvise on stage, and if yes what triggers that?
I improvise everything in my sets. You can easily read peoples energy in their faces. So initially I would try out a numerous of different directions, genres and tracks to check out what the crowd responds to. Be it percussive, house, dark, deep, techno or whatever. It is impossible to think that you can sit at home and fully prepare a DJ-set and then just go with it on stage – it will never work. It’s all about communication.
Can you let us know a bit on your production process – how a new track is born and the inspirations behind it?
I am actually a person who pretty much work wherever there is an opportunity; be it in my own studio back home in Tromsö, borrowing a friend’s studio when I am abroad, or even on an airplane. I don’t really have any specific process for how I work with my music. I am actually very much driven by inspiration, and when that happens I just need get started regardless of where I am. It often centers around an idea for percussion, synth or just a sound that I start to play around with. I prefer to use hardware, which I complement with some acoustic instruments, and sometimes I would also use some plug-ins from Ableton’s list of instruments. But main would be hardware; analog synthesizers and drum machines. A favorite of mine is the KORG MS-20 and currently I am very keen to get my hands on the Roland TR-8S, and a friend of mine has a Juno-6 which I enjoy a lot. But although being lucky to have access to lots of expensive equipment it is sometimes equally fun to use stuff that I’ve acquired abroad, like my Djembe or my Ukulele. But my new favorite gadget is an effect pedal that I use when I have two dj gigs in one weekend. The pedal is called One Day Delay. I do the first set using my One Day Delay pedal and then I don’t even have to show up for the second gig. The next one on my wish list is called Lay Lady Lay/Lay Lay Delay… (Note playing with words)
How has your time with Moist and Insomnia influenced your musical career and as an artist?
Moist was something I did with two friends of mine, and they still are today. Sometimes when I perform in Oslo I still do gigs with Maximo, since he lives there. Maximo was a real super-DJ back then, but has since then decided to work more in the background. So he still releases things, but the touring is no longer such a big part of what he is doing. We met when I was around 20 or so in Tromsö and he really enjoyed what I was doing, and we started to collaborate. Unfortunately the club climate in Norway was a bit restricted back then, the clubs closed at 3AM, not something that he was used to when performing in Germany so we decided to start our own events. We really worked hard in the beginning to create interesting events and we spent loads of time to decorate the clubs with lightning and other cool stuff to make it really eventful. We were in full control of everything; how much it should cost, who to invite, when to have them, music to play etc, but in many cases we lost money on it as well. It was all about exploring and experimenting on new things and do what was not possible in standard commercial places at the time. And naturally this time in my life (2006-2010) has influenced me a lot, in comparison to have continued performing as I did before.
Why did you leave the underground capitol of Berlin for Cologne?
There is somewhat of a misconception around this. I do spend a lot of time in Berlin, especially in recent years, but the fact is that I have never lived there. Moist was the primary reason for me to move to Cologne. So having worked with Maximo and Kåre for some time, and Insomnia, I started to get some taste for it and the experience needed. I traveled more and more and attended various festivals and finally when invited to an event in Cologne, where also Maximo had many friends and colleagues, it became natural for me to stay.
Do you have any unrealized dreams within music that you still would like to accomplish and if so what would they be? To do’s on your bucket list?
I would really wish for to be less chaotic in the studio – to have a bit more of routines when working, but on the other hand it may affect the creative process. So although frustrating it has almost been that it is within chaos that I discover new things. But actually I would really like to learn more around mixing and mastering – today I cannot do this by myself. I have tried to do it myself on one of my EPs. I did most of the mixing and mastering and then the guy who runs the label it was released on aided me with some fine tuning at the end. It is always hard when you have two basses and three kick drums and you want all of them to sound great and loud, but they cannot all be in the center all the time. And then of course to work more with vocals.
I do actually work one more thing, which I hope to be announced around summer time. It is a project centered on radio. This will be something completely different, perhaps not so much played music, but definitely something that music nerds would like to listen to. It will take somewhat the shape of a pod cast and currently we are looking at the Nuits Sonores festival in France as a starting point. You will need to find out when it is time.
Finally, so what happens next in your busy calendar?
Well apart from the radio project I am also involved in setting up an art project. A public outdoor art project, as well as interactive that will take place back home in Tromsö. We are six artists who together will create this installation that will be kind of a “sound line” where you can walk and experience various soundscapes. The installation will be Bluetooth and beacon triggered, and via an app you will be able to trigger the art work. This will be something completely new to me, and although I am not at all interested in new technologies like these, I still saw this a very interesting challenge to make something different and step outside my comfort zone.