Copenhagen, Denmark’s Kasper Bjørke may not be much of a household name here in America, but he’s most definitely far closer to being one in his home country. Back in the late-90s, the ambitious, self-taught DJ and producer decided to pick up a few pieces of studio equipment with his friend Tomas Barfod―now of WhoMadeWho fame―and make a band of the disco-house persuasion. While the original Filur tunes were definitely a product of the times―they’re high-energy, light fare, perfect for the radio―the endeavor secured Bjørke and Barfod a big record deal and all the perks that come with: a paid-for studio, an office space, endless touring options…
In around 2006, the two decided to pursue their other, more personal musical interests and put Filur on the back-burner. Barfod went on to work on his WhoMadeWho project while Bjørke began releasing solo material in addition to doing A&R for a fledgling label his friends made―Fake Diamond―as well as managing for his close friend and Danish house and techno mainstay Trentemøller.
Bjørke recently made his way back to the States to spin a few parties in anticipation of his recently release third long-player, Fool. We checked out his set at Let’s Play House in Brooklyn and, a few days later, caught up with him in a more official capacity via Skype. Read on for the full, rather definitive Q&A we enjoyed with the man.
Fool is out now on hfn Music.
Tell me about how you started off in music. You made Filur in the late 90s… let’s talk a little about how that came about and what you were doing before.
I was pretty young then. It was in ‘97 that I started working at an advertising agency because I wanted to be an art director. I was into music, but I wasn’t doing it. Then I met this guy, Thomas Barfod, who’s now the drummer in WhoMadeWho. Neither of us had been doing music, but he bought an Atari computer and mono sampler, and we started making beats, basically. We had a weekly music night, as we called it… and we started making small tracks and demos, mostly inspired by the whole Masters At Work, jazzy, disco-y house, which was big at the time, I guess. We were really into [the scene], but we didn’t know how to go forward. [Eventually,] we met this singer and she added some vocals to the tracks and things worked out. We got a big record deal really fast and a lot of money was put into the Filur project!
As an American, I don’t really know much about Filur. What was that like for you?
We weren’t really in touch with a lot of the stuff that was going on―we were just doing what we were told, really. Make more hits! Make something for the radio! So we were constantly doing that and trying to follow-up with the next single, the next album. So, after three albums―I believe this was something like 2006―we just decided to take a break from the project and each other. We were just fed up with being Filur and being together; it was a full-time job. We had an office and a studio that was paid for by the record label―the ”good old major record label days ”
So how big were you guys?
We never really made it in America. We were there for some meetings and Winter Music Conference, but we never really released there. It was mostly Europe and Asia. We were breaking in Japan… and central Europe. Mostly Italy, France, Germany, Japan, and Denmark, of course. We had a few chart hits in the UK as well. We were some of the first ones from Denmark to do electronic music, which is part of why I think it became a big deal here. And we won some music awards and stuff. We kind of started off doing pop, just two guys in a bedroom… and we didn’t really know, at the time, what that meant and where it was leading us. So, since 2006, we’ve gone in a completely different direction. Thomas was moving into WhoMadeWho and I started DJ’ing a lot more than before. I guess I haven’t really stopped since. And then I started doing solo albums. We still work together sometimes, as Filur. Last year, we did an album project―but we’re just doing it for Denmark now. Basically, people remember us here, so we just do it for fun… we team up with the most recognizable Danish singers and do one-off tracks with them.
I listened to that―Faces.
Yeah, it’s basically ten different singers to ten different songs, all of which were made as singles that we could see on the radio. So it’s very calculated in that sense. I can say that without blinking. It’s for Denmark… we’re a very small country and I don’t believe it affects my career as a solo artist or producer. It’s more of a fun project―we do it because it’s fun and it’s easy in the sense that Tomas and I know each other so well after all these years that its quite natural for us to sit down and make tracks that works out as we want them to.
So what’s the difference between your solo work and that of Filur?
Well, it’s different first because it’s just me. I don’t have to argue with another producer about it. And then, also, because all my emotion now goes somehow deeper into [my own stuff]. And that’s what’s changed over the years: Filur going from the main project to this being the main project. I’m always working on something new in my own name, and that’s where the action is right now, where my focus is. Tomas feels the same about WhoMadeWho and has done so since he started working with them, so its a neutral feeling.
It almost sounds like Filur was more of a day job.
Yeah, at the time, when it was really running, with the singles and the hits and the travelling―yeah, it was a lot of fun. But it had its time and its place and I think we’re past that now. Filur is now more a playground that we go back to whenever we feel like it and thats a really good position to be in.
That leads me to the next thing: What’s the scene like in Denmark? I don’t know that many Danes. Like… when I lived in L.A., I knew Filip [Nikolic of Ima Robot, Guns ‘N’ Bombs, and, most recently, Poolside], but that’s sort of it. Him and you. So, what’s the scene like over there? And how attached do you feel to the Scandinavian world?
I mean, it’s a very small country… there’s one million people living in Copenhagen and five or six million people living in the whole country. So it’s smaller than just New York in that sense. The scene is super small and everyone knows everyone. There’s a lot of collaborations going on and also a lot of cool acts. Like, Trentemøller, whom I manage, is from Copenhagen as well. There’s WhoMadeWho, as I was telling you about. When Saints Go Machine. Kenton Slash Demon, Taragana Pyarana… DJ Noir… and they’re all from different scenes. From techno to electronica, indie and to the more house-y side of things.
It’s unfortunate but sort of true, I think, that the scene is overshadowed by Sweden and Norway. Why do you think that is?
Through the years, ever since Abba, Sweden has been very strong on the pop producer side, then with Max Martin working with Britney Spears to Backstreet Boys. They’re very good at fostering musicians as well. I don’t know why that is. I think they have a very good system there, with good music schools. And they seem to take care of their musicians in a different way, which is maybe why [the country] is spawning more talent.
Wasn’t Aqua from Denmark?
Yeah. Two of the guys are actually my friends. I co-wrote a track, [“Dirty Little Pop Song,”] for the new album with them, [Megalomania]. They just asked me to come into the studio. It was alot of fun to work with them. Very different from what Im used to by. But a fun challenge for me.
Cool! I understand that you used to do A&R work?
Yeah. Like, four years ago, I discovered Oh Land, who now lives in New York. I found her through MySpace, through a couple of demos, and decided to help her make her first album here, in 2007. Some friends of mine were starting up this label called Fake Diamond and they needed an A&R so I brought in Oh Land when I started. Then I built up the artist roster for the label until the end of last year when we parted ways for different reasons. I feel like I did what I had to do there, though… I created the label’s profile in a sense by signing a lot of cool artists, lots of whom are good friends of mine.
Being on that side of the table is maybe not for me. I’m an artist myself and I know how artists feel and what they like and what they don’t like and what a good contract should look like. So, sitting on the other side of the table…. it was not right for me, in a way. I’m quite happy [to not be doing that anymore]. Now, beside Trentemøller, whom I’ve managed for four or five years, I’ve started to manage a band called Reptile Youth, which is great. I’m always on the artists side, which is where I want to be.
How did you meet the Poker Flat guys?
Because I started managing Trentemøller, who was signed there. I had to meet them as I was taking over everything that had to do with his business. That’s what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. That’s why we’re very close; It’s a proper job, [the managing stuff]. That alone fills my day.
How did you start managing for Trentemøller?
We were old friends. Tomas and I, we used to have our own label, [Peach], and one of the first artists we signed was Trentemøller. This was back in 2002 or 2003. We signed, like, four tracks from him. We knew it was great, but we didn’t know we were holding gold in our hands. We didn’t get around to releasing it on vinyl because along came Naked Music, which ripped the record out of our hands and paid us out. It was fine because it was what Trentemøller wanted. Over the years, we started touring the same places and DJ’ing the same places and, all of a sudden, it just made sense that I [become his manager]. He was having a lot of success, but wasn’t really on top of the whole accounting thing… and didn’t have control over what was happening. So I said I’d help him out because we were friends.
Well, we should talk about Fool. It’s your third one… and I was wondering how you met Dominique [Keegan from Plant Music, the label that put out your first record in the U.S.]
Yes, In Gumbo. I met him in New York. I was there with Tomas… we DJ’d at a loft party, somewhere in Manhattan. Holmar Filipsson was throwing it.
Oh, nice―from Thugfucker.
Yeah! We met Dom there and I realized he was the dude from Plant Music… and I was really into The Sound of Young New York then―that compilation changed my perspective of music. We came from this disco-house, cheesy sort of vibe, and then all of a sudden, this cool indie dance music was coming out of New York. It made me open my eyes completely. We kind of became friends when I was there and met up the year after at the Winter Music Conference. We kept in touch, and I had [Dom’s band] the Glass over to play in Copenhagen, and I would play in New York sometimes. It all started back then. When I did my first solo album, I sent it to Dom, and he said he’d put it out.
Why did you call the new album Fool?
I should’ve never done that because now everyone’s going to ask me. First of all, it’s because it’s good to be a fool sometimes. It’s good to fool around… there’s many ways in which you can interpret the word “fool.” It’s also a self-ironic view on being a DJ and travelling around and being part of this “scene,” whatever it is… and growing older, and looking at yourself, and all of a sudden asking yourself what it all really means. So it’s a self-ironic look at myself as well as a playful way of making music.
When you get into [DJ’ing] you’re a part of the party… you’re single and you’re ready to mingle, you know? [Laughs] You have all these benefits of being a DJ and drinking a lot, having a lot of fun. But then your body starts to be affected by that and it doesn’t make as much anymore. I mean, I still love to DJ and I love the music. And I love having friends in the scene, like Dominique, for example. Still, though, at the end of the day, I want to go home to my girlfriend and my cat.
It’s not that I’m complaining or anything―I enjoy it all still―but I’m starting to pick my battles. I choose clubs where I know everything is working or where I know the promoter well. For example, when I played at Le Bain [at the Standard, New York]… and when I played with you [at Let’s Play House] because I’ve known James for years. It’s becoming more and more about being selective about my gigs, and being selective about the cities I go to, and selective about the clubs I play at because they have a good soundsystem or a cool crowd or whatever. That’s much more important to me than being in a big room and playing peak hour. It’s all about what I feel like doing, which I guess is sort of a spoiled spot to be in, but I deserve it since I’ve been in it for more than a decade, right? [Laughs]
Back to the album, who is Jacob Bellens, the guy who sings on a few of the tracks? I really like those songs.
He’s on four on the vinyl and five on the digital [version]. He’s in bands called Murder and I Got You On Tape as well. From my perspective, he’s the best Danish singer there is around―and he’s a great songwriter as well. I just asked him if he wanted to work together. We became friends [while working on the second album, Standing On Top of Utopia], which is why we continued our collaboration on Fool. It’s somewhat different than what I play out as a DJ; it’s not so much for the club―it’s more for the radio.
I like that about the record. It’s difficult―even for a house or disco fan like myself―to enjoy that sort of music when you’re, like, working or at home or whatever. It’s not really the default.
Exactly. That’s why it’s much more interesting to actually make songs. Also, that way, you can make a footprint―most people won’t remember some 12” on some label, but they might remember this one song that had a lyric they could relate to or a voice… But still, I like to do the other side as well, with arrangements that go further than the usual three-, four-minute radio style. That’s why I divided it into two different sides this time.
Also, who’s Emma Acs? She sings on one of the songs with Jacob and I love her voice.
She’s also from Denmark. She’s a young new artist from Denmark… she’s 19 and has her own band Emma Acs & the Inbred Family. I kind of spotted her just before her first album came out―this was during the time I was A&R’ing at Fake Diamond. Another label beat me to [her]! Later, I contacted her and asked her if she wanted to do a duet with Jacob and she did.
When you write songs, do you do the instrumentals and Jacob does the lyrics or what?
Normally, when I work with singers, I do full production with chords and /or a bass line, and then they sing on it. But, with Jacob, it’s different: I get demos from him that he’s recorded at home at his piano or with his acoustic guitar. Then I get a demo a capella version and build the production around that in the direction that I feel it should go. In that sense, it’s different from how I normally work, and it’s great.
Curiously, what sort of studio do you have?
I just got a new space that I havent moved into yet. I’ve been recording at home for the last couple of years but its going to be nice to get out of the house. Me and Thomas had this studio when we were in Filur, but we gave it up in 2007 or something. It’s also been great, working at home, but, [starting this] summer, I’m going to go to the new studio. I’m at home all the time and that kind of bums me out. I try to go out for meetings every day, but, sometimes―and especially during the winter―I’ll… not leave the apartment for three days [at a time]! It’s really pathetic. [Laughs]
What’s your plan for this year?
There’s a single coming out mid May… that has remixes from Permanent Vacation, PillowTalk, Hannulelauri, and Martin Brodin… I’m really excited about that remix package. There is also going to be a music video for that song and we already started planning the third single for after summer.
And then I will play some more DJ gigs, of course! I decided last year that I didn’t want to do [a live performance] because it’s too time-consuming to put a proper band together and Jacob is too busy with his other bands. I couldn’t make it happen, really, and that’s okay―I kind of like keeping it simple and just DJ’ing. I’m going to play quite a lot all over the place, like Hamburg, Munich, Istanbul, Bucharest, Paris, and maybe New York again in July.