Podcast 608: Thor
Slick dub techno from an Icelandic pioneer.
Podcast 608: Thor
Slick dub techno from an Icelandic pioneer.
For a country with a population less than most major cities, Iceland has long punched above its weight in music circles. In the ’90s when the first wave of techno was taking hold worldwide, the sound had reached all of Europe’s outposts and Iceland was proving a fertile ground for new ideas in the genre. Working prolifically under a dizzying amount of aliases, with the most widely known being Sanasol, Oz Artists, and Thor, Thorhallur Skulason was dubbed the “Godfather” of Icelandic techno.
As a young producer, he scored his first release, Awakening the Gods, during the golden era of Sven Väth’s Harthouse Records in 1995, and he followed this up with Live In Reykjavik on the German imprint. Later that year, Skulason launched Thule Records where he was quick to welcome fellow Icelandic luminaries Exos, Ozy, and Yagya (with Thor as Sanasol). A purple patch of production in the late ’90s saw Skulason welcomed to Electrolux, Yoshitoshi, and Planet Vision. Eschewing promotion through the traditional channels, Skulason remained a mystery to many; still today, he is an enigma to which those in Icelandic circles still look up to. (You only have to look at our Discogs Gems, Iceland Special HERE to see just why he’s held in such high regard.)
Like many of his generation, techno’s evolution to harder and loopier forms drove him away from music in the early ’00s, but his tracks remained staples for the likes of Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos, from his tougher releases to the tight, grooving, and sexy sound that still sounds fresh today.
At the turn of the decade, the temptation to return to music became too much for Skulason. He made a much-anticipated reappearance with Icelandic Lost Tracks Volumes 1 & 2 on German label Connoisseur in 2010, at which point musical cycles were beginning to realign so that his slick, dubby take on house and techno was again at the forefront of techno’s relentless march. A reissue set from Berlin’s Sushitech followed, compiling Skulason’s most celebrated monikers for the first time. Consequences brought together stark techno tracks such as “Aliens Don’t Boogie” and the fluid, house leanings of Oz Artists’ “As If The Living Were Moving” for a new generation of clued up techno lovers. Simultaneously in Iceland, Skulason was readying his own Thule label for a run of retrospective releases.
All this has made Skulason a must-check artist for the finest DJs and label owners around, even more so given the flourishing state of Icelandic techno. He’s recently relocated to Germany, and he’s now touring regularly, with shows at Berghain/Panorama Bar, FUSE and Paris’ REX plus visits to Canada and the United States, with regular stops at New York’s notorious Resolute. With his best work now available and being heard on dancefloors each weekend, Skulason is also now focusing on bringing over 20 years of studio experience to bear with new material, which is to come soon.
Skulason’s podcast has been months in the incubator, in part due to travel commitments but mainly because he wished to compile a tracklisting that blended contemporary music and rarities from Iceland; the stuff that’s not sitting in producers’ inboxes. Sonically, it sits firmly within the realms of slick dub techno, with some tracks you’ll know and some you certainly won’t, on top of which you’ll hear are various effects and atmospheres, sampled specially for this mix.
What have you been up to lately?
This past years has been a little rollercoaster ride. I moved to Germany with my family, so I’ve had to pack all my stuff up and put it back up here in Germany again. But so far Germany has had a good impact on my life as an artist. I have been touring in North America quite a lot and I also had some nice gigs in France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, and of course here in Hildesheim, where I live now. I have a small studio here now and work on various projects—like with my dear friend OHM from Iceland, Roger Gerressen, and Matt Thibideau, to name a few. My last release that came out is this Various Artist EP on my record label Æ Recordings.
How do you reflect on those ‘90s years making music?
I’m happily not the same person I was back in the ’90s. A lot has changed since I was producing techno in my grandmother’s garage, but I’m still in a way trying to capture the spirit of that time period with the music I do today, and especially the way I make music. I am more and more trying to leave my computer turned off these days and focus more on producing music on old hardware sequencers, like I did back in the days. Having the computer closed can be very hard as those modern computer DAWs like Ableton and Logic Pro make music making so much easier, and the process is also very fast. The main problem I have with the modern DAW setup is that I feel it is has no soul.
What made you want to take a step away from music?
Well, I actually never totally said goodbye to making music. I did get super tired of the music business around 2004 so I decided to leave the record label business and concentrate on other important things in my life, like my family. At this time, I also started making music for TV-advertising, documentaries, and occasionally I did produce some house, techno, or even some electro pop tracks.
How does it feel to be back in music after some time away?
It feels great to be making music and running my labels again. I feel like I have a much wider recognition for my music today than I did in the ’90s. I’m very happy about that as I’m able to travel the world and meet so many interesting people. I also find it very positive that techno and house are still popular after all these years. This can’t be said about many other music genres like punk, disco, and reggae, for example.
There’s a lot written about Icelandic techno. What do you think makes it so different?
This question has been answered many times. Usually, we Icelandic artists answer with the phrase: we are inspired by the unique Icelandic nature. But actually we all sit in our garages, trying to make music because we hate to go out into the rain and the darkness. We are bored, so what else is there to do than make great music?
What’s the state of the Icelandic techno scene right now?
Most Icelandic artists do what they do in a pure and simple way without thinking of fame and money. That’s why you see all these great artists and bands coming from Iceland. There is a vivid music scene there today and a lot of great new artists are releasing great music. My favoured techno and house artists these days are OHM, Octal Industries, NonniMal, Waage, Yagya, Agzilla, intr0beatz, Oculus, President Bongo, Bjarki, Hidden People, and Kuldaboli. We also have a lot of cool new labels, including Lagaffe Tales and bbbbbb.
Where and when was this mix recorded?
I recorded this set in my new studio in Germany. I used many different pieces of equipment. This time it was two Technics SL1200 turntables, a Pioneer DJ mixer, a Pioneer DJJ-XP1 with Rekordbox software, and then I added my new effect unit Benidub Digital in the mix. I also synced Ableton Live for those extra layers of rhythms and atmospheric sounds. This setup is very creative and when I start I never know what the end result is going to sound like.
How did you choose the tracks that you included?
I had a listen to some of my latest promos and demos I have been working on and also some material from me and my friends. Its usually takes about one or two weeks to organize a podcast like this. The process can take some time as I’m adding all those extra clips/samples into Rekordbox and Ableton Live to go with it. There are a lot of new and old Icelandic tracks in there and this is usually my secret recipe when I play. People usually react quite well to the Icelandic material I play.
Is there a wider concept or vision to the mix?
I always play music from my heart and I usually leave my head out of the equations, and I feel that those tracks and that mood describe my thoughts and feelings in that moment.
How does it compare to what you’d play in a club?
This sound describes very well what I play at the clubs, but I usually never decide what I’m going to play in a club before I arrive there. Sometimes I play a deep dub techno three- or four-hour set, and sometimes I play deep house and or even hard techno from time to time. It all depends on the club, the sound system, and the people I’m playing for.
You can download the podcast here.
01. Craven Faults “Eller Ghyll” (President Bongo Rework) (The Leaf Label)
02. Newworldaquarium “Shine Eyed” (APE)
03. Thor “Black” (Æ Recordings)
04. Luigi Tozzi “Black Market” (Non Series)
05. Thor “Who Stole My Yacht” (Æ Recordings)
06. Merv “Meticule” (Kontakt Records)
07. Octal Industries “When it rains it pours” (Mike Huckaby Remix) (Kontakt Records)
08. Ohm & Kvadrant “Kattegat” (Ben Buitendijk remix) (Kontakt Records)
09. Son.sine “Three Linear Decay” (Echo Echo)
10. Haze “Majula Sunset” (Rhythm Büro)
11. Tasoko “Obtain” (DRED Records)
12. Artefakt “Wanderings” (BNJMN Remix) (Jaunt)
13. DJ Lily & Sandra Mosh “040” (Lilies)
14. Toma Kami “E-ache” (Livity Sound)
15. BNJMN “Intercellular” (Bright Sounds)
16. Ryan Elliott “Get To You” (Faith Beat)
17. Thor “Go or Stay, or just go” ( Unreleased )
18. Oculus “AE Locked loop 1” (Æ Recordings)
19. Waage “W7” (X/OZ)
20. Reformed Society “Insomnia” (OUT-ER)
21. Bas Amro “Seabed” (ÆX)
22. NonniMal “Oprah” (Æ Recordings)
23. DJ Deep “Head Up” (Deeply Rooted)