NORTHERN WINTER READ:
Meet Sturle and Sjur Dagsland. Starting out as a solo project, the music of Sturle Dagsland has evolved into a collaborative journey on which Sturle and his brother Sjur both bring their creative forces into play. On January 29, they’ll bring their mind-bending musical outfit to Northern Winter Beat 2022.
by Mikkel Brandt
“We’re sort of both an artist, and a band, and a duo. So it’s a little bit of everything, I think,” Sturle Dagsland explains.
The two brothers, who are living in the city of Stavanger (Norway), are with me on a Zoom connection from their studio for a chat about their musical universe prior to their gig at NWB 2022.
“It’s not something we think about, but I think it just started with me making the music, so we just started to use my name. But then, after a while, it got more and more intertwined, so it became sort of a collaborative project altogether.”
Warp Magazine has categorized Sturle Dagsland as “one of the most interesting artists in the experimental music industry. A dream explorer who balance between avant-garde pop, psychedelia and electronic landscapes.”
Earlier this year, they released their self-titled debut album, and except for the fact that Sturle is doing all the singing (we’ll return to that later) and Sjur is doing the final mix, both of them are taking on very flexible creative roles in the making of their music.
“The process of what we do, and how we do it, can be quite fluid. And it’s different for each song, I think,” Sturle says and continues: “Sometimes there can be an overarching idea, of what you want to do, and how you want to do it, but at the same time, we’re always open to see where the idea goes, and if it goes in a different direction, then you have to follow that, and you have to see, where it takes you.”
Link to music.
The brothers describe how they see their creative process as a kind of adventure, where they’re constantly exploring different sounds and instruments:
“We’re always on the hunt for new sounds, both electric sounds and beats, but also acoustic instruments, that we find on flea markets and eBay. We’re constantly looking for new ways to explore to keep it fresh for ourselves and for the music,”Sturle tells me.
They show me a few examples from their instrument bank – including cow and goat horns (used as wind instruments), as well as different kinds of flutes, and a kora (a string instrument, which has its origin in West Africa). And for every listen, there should also be a good chance for your ears to catch something new, as their productions are often jam-packed with all sorts of sonic layers and textures, all frankensteined into soundscapes, which to me are both haunting, fascinating, and extremely beautiful.
“We try to have a lot of different feelings and emotions in the music. So it can go from a really emotional, sad affair into something funny, and then on to something else, maybe aggressive or frustrating. Just like life, you know. Or at least how I experience it,” Sturle says and describes how they put all sorts of different sounds into the mix:
“We listen to the song and ask, ‘ok, what’s good here?’ Maybe we need a lion, or maybe we need the sound of a whip, or a gun, or something. So, you know, whatever we find.”
Sjur: “Yeah, I think the lion was from the Berlin Zoo…”
When it comes to Sturle’s vocals, it’s, just like the rest of their musical language, not just a one-sided affair:
“I’m mostly just self-taught. So it’s mainly about always exploring the voice and its different capabilities and always trying to go forward and learn new things.”
Sturle exemplifies how he uses numerous different vocal techniques:
“I use throat singing. It’s not my main thing, but I use it in the sound. I also go into metal and hardcore territory, as well as singing a lot of high-pitched vocals and melodies that are more traditionally beautiful in a way. I also use some stuff that sounds like rapping. I just try to explore the voice, and find what’s real to me and explore that in new ways.”
He demonstrates the different sounds and tells me how he also uses joiking, which originates from the Sámi tradition, and even techniques from opera:
“Every time I went home from school, I used to sing opera, and everybody would close their windows.”
Imagination – life is your creation
When talking about performing, Sturle describes it as “the place I feel the freest.” And even from a young age, he has entered the stage in a quite spectacular manner:
“One of the first performances I ever did, was when I was 9 years old. It was in a talent competition, where I was dancing and singing to Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ while simulating sex with a hand doll I had made. I was supposed to perform with a friend playing Ken, but he cancelled the day before,” Sturle recalls.
“I was wearing a mini skirt and my mom’s bra filled with candy, and at the end of the performance, I threw all my candy out to the audience and told them that I was my silicone. But yeah, I won the competition and was booked to do the same thing in a church.”
In fact, Aqua’s “Aquarium” was the first album, Sturle ever got.
Sjur: “I think it’s the album you have listened to the most.”
Sturle: “Yeah, and I remember at one point you tore the album in two because you were so tired of it.”
Sjur: “Yeah… I was more into René’s solos stuff,” he laughs.
Follow that cat!
When one has listened to the music of Sturle Dagsland, it’s not surprising to hear that Sturle and Sjur draw on a wide range of influences and inspirations, which they channel into their music.
Sturle: “Inspiration for me is so fluid. It can come from anywhere, I think. It’s not just music. We also love different kinds of music from all over the world, and I think our music reflects that as well. That we like a lot of different things from a lot of different cultures, both modern, more like pop music, but also folk music, rap, experimental music, sprechgesang. Whatever crosses our paths.”
For him, inspiration can come from anywhere – from music, films, experiences, nature, or places – or just meeting a cat on the street and following it around, which actually was the inspirational starting point for the song “Hulter Smulter”.
A choir of huskies
Since they started touring together about eight years ago, they have used their travels as an opportunity to record in all kinds of different places: They have found sounds on an old Soviet oceanographic ship, made field recordings of birds, and they have used the reverb from an old water reservoir in Berlin, as well as singing with dogs in Greenland:
“In Greenland, we recorded with a pack of husky-dogs. So Sjur set up a lot of different microphones in the middle of this sledge dog village, and I was singing with the dogs, and after a while, they started to respond to me. So, when I stopped singing, suddenly they stopped singing. The complete silence of 150 husky dogs. And I started again, doing more like throat singing, and more like really high-pitched vocals, and then they started to respond to that, and I sort of became the alpha in the pack, in a way.”
A snippet from that session can be found on their track “Noaidi”, but they say that it might also end up playing a more dominant role on one of the songs on the next album, which they hope to finish next year and release in 2023.
Sjur: “My own dog responded well to the song.”
Like a bird
When touring, they have received a very wide range of reactions to their live performances.
“People can have really strong reactions to the music. In both positive and negative ways, you know. Some can get really provoked and angry from our performances. I’ve been spit in the face after a show as well… But yeah, he had a swastika on his forehead, so I guess he had lots of problems in general. But usually, we get positive reactions of people getting really emotional during the show,” Sturle says and describes how there are elements in the music that seems to resonate deeply with audiences from different cultures:
“In Greenland, they also have traditions with throat singing, so we have got some strong reactions there, and also when we are in China and Japan, people who are in touch with older folk music there seem to feel the music a bit more primal in their bodies in a way,” Sturle says and continues:
“We have Sámi ancestry in our family as well, and I use joiking in the music, which comes from that tradition. When we perform for Sámi people, they sometimes come up to me afterwards, and even though I don’t have the same connection with the culture, as they do, some say, ‘I know you are a Sámi,’ because they can feel it in the music.”
Sturle remembers another episode in which an older shamanic woman came up to him after a show in Russia and started making sounds like a bird because she was so much into the music and perceived him as a kind of shaman as well:
“So I started to communicate with her in my own way, and we had like a good conversation and sort of connection there.”
But the spiritual effects can come in many ways.
“We played at a festival in Latvia, and there was this guy who had driven from Germany to see us. And he came to us, and said, that when we played Fusion Festival in Germany, we had completely changed his life,” Sturle recalls and describes how the guy was wearing his trousers on his head, like a turban:
“But besides that, he was completely naked, and he said, ‘and look at me now! You did this! This is your doing! I’m free… At last.”
Sturle’s reply: “Oh. Good.”
Experience Sturle Dagsland at Northern Winter Beat 2022 January 29 at 1000Fryd.