(By our Norwegian correspondent Jan Ronald Stange. Interview photos by Sigrid E. Ø. Reinertsen)
Apoptygma Berzerk, the first leading exporter of electronic music in the synth/EBM genre from Norway, are still celebrating their 25th anniversary for their debut album ‘Soli Deo Gloria’.
This time by releasing a reworked edition named ‘SDGXXV’ – already out on CD and Bandcamp, and also released on several double vinyl versions and streaming platforms April 18th. We’ve gotten some hints about the process the last year, understanding it’s been a hectic year with a lot of collaborators involved, so an interview about this was overdue. As the Apop guys lives on the opposite side of the Oslo fjord than me, we decided to meet in the middle in the ferry town Horten, where we occupied my mothers dining room for a few hours (thanks Mum!).
The release comes out in various versions which can be ordered here: CD Digipak / Tape / Cassette / MC / Two different DOUBLE-VINYL editions.
Side-Line: Was there a plan behind this rework album, and how did you end up with all these tracks and collaborators?
Stephan Groth: The short version was that the 25th anniversary for the ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ (SDG) album last year triggered it. But there’s no short versions anyway for this story, so…. First we wanted to release a 12″ maxi single with two tracks from SDG involving new, relevant musicians we like, to mark the event. This caught momentum, the list of people we wanted to work with grew and now it would be a four track EP. Everyone we asked in this process said yes and was eagerly exited.
Per Aksel Lundgreen: And when we reached 7 or 8 positive answers we decided to do the whole album – all tracks from SDG! And we still had an abundance of collaborators!
Stp: Some tracks are repeated several times on the CD version, and this led to the somewhat thematically splitting of the album, Part I, II and III, in order to distribute the songs a bit and make each part a sub-album/EP that could be listened to by itself. We also ended up in a curious situation regarding our cover of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ – how to make a remix or rework of someone else’s song…?
PA: The funny thing when that situation arose was that we asked Naked Lunch to work on this song – luckily this was a favourite of theirs and the exact song they would have asked for themselves!
Stp: … and it somehow seemed destined to happen. First, we found out a Naked Lunch producer and live member also had a past in the band Sudeten Crèche, which once supported Nico on tour, and she did the vocals in The Velvet Underground’s original version of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’. Then we found an old flyer stating Naked Lunch also played with Nico. So there’s a connection there, making this full circle for several involved.
Someone else we must mention is Erik Wøllo, who was a very important part of making SDG in 1992-93. He released several electronic albums in the 80s and 90s before we met him.
PA: The ones on Cicada Records triggered our interest as they were on a sub-label of what was to become Tatra Records, so when we found out he had a synth studio in Fredrikstad we were quick to get in contact with him via mutual connections.
Stp: We ended up in the studio, having him helping us with technical issues and teaching us a lot, also lending us synths, drum machines and other equipment. Having access to three times more synths than we started out with helped shape SDG towards the final result, so having Erik back doing a SDGXXV track was great – and he wasn’t hard to ask either!
Erik, like Beranek and Bal Pare, hadn’t done many (or any) remixes/reworks before, so part of the collaboration became sharing my knowledge of that part of making music with them, as I’ve been doing remixes half my life.
Basically, I told them to think about how you would do this track yourself, in your style or fashion, and still keep the gist of the original.
I’d met Beranek on a few occasions, that excellent Geek Night (#1: SYNTH) at Popsenteret and a NOTAM synth meet-up, and we started thinking about doing something together.
PA: As a lead up to Stephans first meeting with Beranek it’s also worth mentioning that when Beranek curated the Norwegian Spotify list ’20+5′, where artists picks 20 favourite Norwegian tracks and 5 of their own, Beranek chose TWO Apoptygma Berzerk tracks. So, we knew already then he was a fan, and he later confirmed that at a record signing session, stating “it was to emphasize the seriousness of the situation – this is some of the best music made in Norway!”.
[Check out the list here!]
Stp: I grew up in Denmark and never got the initial buzz of Beraneks breakthrough single ‘Dra til hælvete’, which cause a lot of fuss and were banished from Norwegian radio in the 80s. Hearing it years later, I was yearning to do a remix for it, but Todd Terje beat me to it. As I considered Beraneks debut album as the first Norwegian synth album, and I’m a fan, it made sense to invite him to collaborate on SDGXXV.
‘Arp’ was one of the tracks not picked yet when Beranek was to be invited, and after I’ve listened to Beraneks album ‘Sound of danger’ on vinyl I accidentally had the record player set to 45 RPM, not 33 RPM, when I wanted to hear ‘Can’t go to sleep’. That gave me some ideas which I pitched to Beranek, and a week later I got his beautiful version in return.
The whole album was made this way, not just as another remix album, but more like reworking the tracks with others, me contributing more than in usual remix settings, so we have deliberately avoided using the work “remix” at all for this project.
PA: And “rework” is definitely fitting, because about 50% of the old tapes and discs were unusable, some even found moldy after being stored in lofts and cellars for years, so a lot had to be re-created.
Stp: The earliest work was made on Atari floppies and cassette tapes, maybe a DAT for the final masters, media not so easy to access in this digital age. Combined with several relocations and storing this in various environments we found a lot had to be made from scratch again, borrowing samplers, trying to read old diskettes and so on. And even the vocals had to be redone, and as I wasn’t an English professor 25 years ago, I also had to recreate grammatical errors, making it as true to the original as possible.
PA: There was lots of feedback going back and forth to the collaborators, something that became a fun part of the project, seeing the music making evolve like this.
Stp: … and that’s also why it took so long to finish! Adding to the process itself, much of the people involved aren’t exactly your average people , so it was sometimes demanding to incorporate everyone’s working methods, available hours etc.
Stp: I know exactly when: It started in January 2018, when Ole-Espen had booked Ancient Methods to play at The Villa in Oslo. I remembered seeing them streamed live from a Boiler Room event in Berlin, mixing hard techno with old EBM, something that made a lot of sense to me. I wanted to have an Ancient Methods remix, and during an Indian dinner I explained my ideas, something Michael Wollenhaupt really turned on to. That was the first confirmed collaborator for SDGXXV.
PA: Then we thought about asking The Invincible Spirit, I sent an e-mail to Thomas Lüdke, got a positive reply, and from that point on the ball really got rolling.
Stp: After that it’s been a lot of work – music, the cover, everything – more or less a year.
PA: Another special thing for us regarding the 25th anniversary is how some parts around us haven’t changed; Tatra Records are involved again, both with the SDG re-issue and SDGXXV, just as they were with the original 25 years ago. Halvor Bodin, the designer of the original cover, worked with us on the new cover too. Morten Lund from Masterhuset did the mastering yet again, Erik Wællo got involved again, and of course Stephan and I are still here. A reunion bringing us all together again!
Stp: Yes, that really brought forward a kind of trueness that made the whole project feel even more “right” for all of us. As SDG was the first Norwegian EBM record, which opened a lot of doors for other Norwegian bands, doing this now felt important. But it’s also been a tiresome process that I don’t see myself repeating anytime soon, so don’t expect a the same treatment for ‘7’ 😉
PA: We paved way for others with SDG, making Norwegian bands eligible for records companies, distributors, concert promotors and so on, in a time where electronic music wasn’t very appreciated. We had some backing from people in the Norwegian music industry. Worth mentioning among these are Helge Gaarder, a musician who also distributed money from Rikskonsertene, which made it possible for us to have our first concerts.
Stp: Someone else we hold in high regards is Arvid Skancke-Knutsen, a music journalist who’s been writing about us from the very start – and even had an extensive review of our first maxi single!
Stp: … that’s a hard one -– there are favorites all over the place! The Beranek version of ‘Arp’ is just so beautiful, Ancient Methods’ ‘Burning Heretic’ is outstanding, and Bal Pare’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’ is insane – so far from the original in the minimal wave soundscape. But really, I’m so happy with all the tracks, couldn’t ask for anything better.
PA: What I found exiting is that Alex Dahl from Atropine, when asked which track he’d like to work in, answered ‘Borrowed Time’, which isn’t even on the album, but as the B-side of the ‘Bitch’ single. His version really blew me away!
Stp: Alex is a genius – amazingly good at what he does, and I think he’s not getting the credit he deserves in Norway.
S-L: How has the interest for SDGXXV been so far?
PA: SDG have had several reissues, but always on CD, so having it on vinyl now is long overdue. Pre-sales have been OK, but can’t really tell before after the release April 18th. Check the links below to get your copy!
Stp: Next up is my very delayed “normal” studio album, which has been put on hold for years now. Partly due to personal reasons, but also some musical reasons, which led to the “Exit Popularity Contest” album, something I needed to do to get back to my roots. And finally, this project, which really grew beyond expectations – from a couple of tracks to an four track EP, and finally an extensive album. The songs for the next album are written, some new inputs need to be digested into what kind of music I want to play. Both of my latest releases give hints of my future direction, going back to the more analogue roots of the music I like, using many of the same instruments as my heroes from the 70s. I’m very thankful now that I’ve hoarded synths for the past 30 years!
After hearing Stephans and Per Aksels stories about the making of SDGXXV, inputs from some of the collaborators felt natural to include here.
Say what you want about Facebook, but undeniable a great place to get in touch with people. I sent some messages asking about their relationship or history with Apop, also about the process and collaboration with Stephan on this project, and got great responses in return!
Espen Beranek: ARP (No Sleep Mix by Beranek)
I’ve been a longtime fan of Apop, and was very flattered to be asked for a contribution on SGDXXV.
I got both audio and MIDI stems from Stephan, and he told me I was free to change both pitch and tempo if I wanted to. I (and Stephan too I think) wanted to tint this version with some tonal colours from my early works. I therefore started to experiment with the MIDI stems together with my old non-midi equipment like the Korg KR55 rhythm box and my old trusty PE-1000. It became obvious to me that I needed to slow down the pace in the song in order to make space for my tonal intentions. After hearing my first edit Stephan got inspired and he sent me some fresh vocal tracks with some spacey effects. They fitted in perfectly and from there on it was kind of a simple edit/mix job.
Tony Mayo, Naked Lunch: All Tomorrow`s Parties (Evolve Or Die Mix by Naked Lunch)
We have been FB friends with Stephan for several years and not only have we known Per, (an original Apop member) for years, we have met him in person, and he was our tour manager when we toured with Covenant in 2015. Per is a personal and professional friend.
Per got in touch and asked if we would do a remix for the album and gave us a choice of which track to do. We are massive Velvet Underground fans, loved the Apop cover, and reworking ‘All Tomorrows Parties’ was a work of love for us. Funnily enough, back in the 80’s, within a few days of Naked Lunch headlining the Venue in Victoria, both Nico and John Cale headlined on separate nights too.
Håvard Ellefsen, Mortiis: Walk With Me (FRXTA Skyline Mix by Mortiis)
I´ve had some collaborations with Stephan from time to time since 2003 or so, and it´s always been a pleasure. He´s got this high energy approach to music that I really like.
Of course, since we live on the same street, he knew I´d burn his house down if he didn´t include me on this album. Haha!
Jarle Hansen, Substaat: Bitch (Weil Mix by Substaat)
I didn’t discover Apop until I heard ‘Kathy’s Song’ on Norwegian radio, even though I lived only 30 km away or so. It was a great experience to discover that “this sound” had survived through the harsh conditions of the 90s, when a lot of my favorite bands turned industrial, rock or techno. Apop has been a great influence both for the sound and for the strong melodies since.
I was told that we were asked to do this collaboration with Apop because Stephan liked our version of ‘Circling Overland’. He liked that old school sound in a modern production. We had a close communication and ideas were sent back and forth. Besides vocal, Stephan contributed with the cold industrial choir and the vocoded voice rumbling in the background – and, of course, general “guidance”. Anyone knowing Stephan, knows that nothing is left to chance.
alx, Atropine: Borrowed Time (Sublime Mix by Atropine)
The story behind the remix of ‘Borrowed time’ goes back to 1991 when I was working on various projects and we listened to Stephan’s 1st release ‘Ashes to ashes’. We played that record to dust. Later came the single ‘Bitch’. ‘Borrowed Time’ was my favorite on that release, I was thrilled to be able to remix that particular song since I think it’s one of the best songs from that period, and it only exists on that single. Stephan was for a period having a studio next door in Oslo, and that’s how I got to know him.
When I received the file it was only as a mp3. I wasn’t able to work with that, so in order to make the remix I had to recreate the song again from scratch. I recorded the exact song, and Stephan had to sing on it again and record the vocals. Once the song was recreated in its original form I could finally start to take it apart again and add my personal musical view to it. While Stephan gave some musical input during the process I often decided to do the opposite – and he even liked it much better! We had good communication during the process, and I ended up sending 2 different versions.
Steven R. Sellick: Like Blood From The Beloved (Part 1) (Interpreted by Steven R. Sellick)
I moved to the synth capital of Norway, Fredrikstad, in ’92. Stephan worked at a record store 3 minutes from my flat, and we soon bonded over our mutual love for shoegaze and synth music.
We also shared a fondness for beer and dancing to 2 Unlimited in crappy discos. I remember him working on Soli Deo Gloria, I loved listening to the tracks as they evolved.
Stephan approached me and told about his idea for SDGXXV. I was honored to be asked, and I especially liked the fact that he wasn’t looking for a remix. He gave me a bunch of old midi files and I re-recorded and re-arranged the track using old synths and drum machines. He wanted a certain German vibe and I think we nailed it.
Ole-Espen Kristiansen: Stitch (Patched & Processed by O/E)
I met STP around 12 years ago, we have become very close friends and work partners. We have the exactly same taste and understanding of electronic music and music in general so we work very good together creatively. The story in a whole is way too long…
I chose ‘Stitch’ to remix since I love the bassline and vibe in the original track. I wanted to do a more modern club friendly version, but still keep some of the “old school” Apop vibe to it. A lot of the noisy atmos and effect loops in the track are heavy processed parts from an 128k MP3 file of the original track.
Besides that STP and I had close talks through the whole process with compiling the album, adjusting some mixes, some mastering details etc.
As music journalist Arvid Skancke-Knutsen also was mentioned as being there from the very start, his input would be a perfect closing to this story.
I was working at the Norwegian music monthly Puls Magazine at the time. I was probably the first mainstream writer to pay them any attention, in connection with the release of the ‘Ashes To Ashes’ twelve inch. I liked their attitude and their enthusiasm, and also truly enjoyed the music itself, which was very original and energetic compared to the music scene in Norway. Since then I have been following them pretty closely, enjoying many records and concerts along the way.
Apop is also very present on the net and digital platforms – choose your poison! 🙂
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