"I Don’t Feel Like My Taste Is That Important": Todd Terje Breaks Down His New Covers EP
The Norwegian producer reflects on his recent release 'The Big Cover-Up.'
Photo by Christian Belgaux
Every musician has that one thing they need in the studio to get the creative juices flowing and for Terje Olsen, the Norwegian poly-genre dance producer who works as Todd Terje, it's a good cup of coffee. "We have the world's best coffee in Norway—did you know that?" Terje tells me over the phone with a cheeky, knowing tone from an office space-cum-studio in Oslo. "It wakes me up whenever I need to take a little break."
Olsen hasn't been slacking much lately, though. He's hard at work on the follow-up to 2014's mind-expanding fantasia It's Album Time, and tonight, he and his live band the Olsens bring his indelible fusion of spacey disco, slithery lounge, and tropical jazz to Brooklyn warehouse space 1260 Atlantic Avenue as part of No Bad Days, the first in a forthcoming series of curated concerts; for this one, they'll appear alongside like-minded producer Lindstrøm and experimental jazz outfit Jaga Jazzist. Olsen claims the show's optimistic show title is a maxim emblazoned on apparel worn by "surfers and old people going to beach resorts"—fitting imagery for the freewheeling, dizzyingly colorful music he makes.
In the midst of all this activity is The Big Cover-Up, a full-band EP released late last month under the moniker of Todd Terje & the Olsens. Featuring covers of disco and electronic cuts by well-known luminaries like Vangelis, Boney M, and Yellow Magic Orchestra, The Big Cover-Up finds Olsen and his band perfectly translating the intricacies of his solo material to precise-sounding live instrumentation, a full-bodied and warm-blooded approach that recontextualizes early dance and electronic music artifacts in Olsen's loopy, crate-digging sonic visage.
In anticipation of this evening's No Bad Days show, we asked Olsen to talk about the reasons for choosing some of the covers featured on The Big Cover-Up, which you can read below.
Martin Denny/Yellow Magic Orchestra, "Firecracker"
Todd Terje: I read about "Firecracker" in Bill Brewster's Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: the History of the Disc Jockey. In the back of that book was a list featuring a best-of mix for a lot of the clubs from the 80s—the Loft, Shoom in the UK. When I [was] 20 years old, I didn't know that much about disco and house music, and I didn't know that "Firecracker" was an influence on early electro DJs.
When I first heard "Firecracker," my first impression was, "Huh? This sounds a bit soft." It doesn't sound as hard-hitting as house tracks today sound. It took me a few listens— actually, a few months—before I really started appreciating what these old tracks had to offer. I was just getting used to the taste, and it took me some time to appreciate the cheesiness of the older stuff.
Boney M, "Baby Do You Wanna Bump"
All these songs [we covered] come from my experiences DJing. The band doesn't have the same roots in disco as me—our percussionist Martin Windstad knows most of the tracks, but he isn't a scholar. Our version of "Baby Do You Wanna Bump" is more tribal-sounding than the original. The original was featured in a nature documentary about Africa, and I made it even more Lion King-ish and cheesy. I love when something that's really hard and percussive meets really cheesy sounds. That's the approach that I've taken in my disco stuff as well—you can take a really cheesy song and space it out, make it more monotonous and clubby in a way that's interesting.
THUMP: The critical appraisal of exotica used to be pretty negative.
I love exotica. I like weird music of the world. It's something that I've learned to like during my years as a DJ, and I've found myself looking more in the lounge and exotica sections of the record store than the disco section. The clichés of exotica can sound better than the real things they're trying to imitate. I don't see what's wrong about music that paints a picture and tries to do something else other than just be music for its own sake. I'm always excited about how music relates to non-musical things. You always listen best to music if you're doing something—like jogging around or working. Very often, the music turns into something else.
Vangelis, "La Fête Sauvage"
The first time I heard Vangelis was with my ex-girlfriend's uncle. She was ashamed of her family, and she said, "Don't talk to that uncle, he's gonna talk to you about Vangelis." I said, "What's bad about Vangelis?" and she said, "It's this new age crap that people like." I didn't learn that Vangelis was cool until 5 years later when I was open to more weird, improvisational music in the club. I immediately understood that this was something really great. I was annoyed that my ex-girlfriend shrugged him off so early, and that I didn't check him out until that much later. It took a while before I started enjoying his more synthy stuff, but now I quite like it. Now it's cool to love Phil Collins and Vangelis.
What do you think about the concept of taste as a music listener?
I can't really say that taste is a constant thing. In a way, it's irrelevant, because if your taste evolves, it's likely at some point in your life you're going to like everything. I didn't like country as a kid, now I like some songs. I didn't like rap. I know now not to shut out anything, because I'll probably like anything if it's presented to me in the right way. Watching DJ Harvey play stuff that I didn't know that I liked—the way he presents it, he makes me like it, regardless of my taste. Everybody in the room likes Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now" if it's played in the right moment. Your taste loses, and Chicago wins. DJ Harvey wins. I don't feel like my taste is that important.