With his debut album about to land on Awesome Soundwave, we get to know Malmö's Charlie Thorstenson
It's quite hard to believe it's been only three years since we spoke to Christopher Coe about Awesome Soundwave, the label he and Carl Cox had just set up to focus on live-oriented and conceptually driven techno projects. So influential and highly regarded a label has Awesome Soundwave become in such a short space of time, that it kinda feels like they've been around a lot longer!
But we're not here today to talk about Awesome Soundwave per se. Rather, we're here to talk about the label's latest signing, a bearded techno wizard who hails from Malmö in Sweden, and who goes by the name of Charlie Thorstenson. Due in stores this Friday is Kretsloop, which is actually his second album, but his first for Awesome Soundwave and the first under his own name. Thorstenson previously made deep house under the name Charlie Don't Surf, but Kretsloop finds him in more techno-oriented territory.
The album opens with the anxious, ambient minimalism of Sediment, but soon gets its head down and takes us on a journey deep into the heart of the 4am dancefloor. With much of it produced live, there are definite parallels with the work of fellow Awesome Soundwave signing Saytek, but while Joseph's work has the funk and groove of acid house written through it like a stick of rock, Charlie's is a more uncompromising, driving sound that's got all the pounding energy of big room techno but also comes dripping in the intense atmospherics of minimal.
With the album about to drop, we reached out across the North Sea to find out a bit more…
As you haven't featured in iDJ before, can you start by telling us a bit about your background, and how you got into making/playing electronic music in the first place?
“It feels like I've been into music-making forever. I started out playing around with Magix Music Maker on the PC and a game called Music on PlayStation, when I was about 14 years old… since then I've been making music on a daily basis. For a long period it was purely a hobby. Then I started to gravitate towards DJing, and got a pair of turntables for my birthday.
"I started off with vinyl, but as CDJs started to become popular I could suddenly DJ my own music: it was kind of mind-blowing that you could burn a CD-R and add your own tracks to the mix! Doesn’t sound very impressive nowadays, but at the time it was, and it triggered me to keep on going and evolve. I then started to release my music under different aliases, and began the real journey of finding my own sound and style. It took a looooong time, but I'm quite comfortable where I am right now, sound-wise.”
I gather a DJ competition in 2014 played a part in your rise to the top, so tell us about that…
“That's right. I have many good memories from that summer. It was a big competition, set in Ibiza, with participants from all over Europe, as well as Japan. A film crew followed everything we did during the two weeks… quite unreal! We got challenged in many ways. For me the biggest challenge was to step out of my comfort zone. I still think that’s something I have to work on.
“As one of the five winners, I got to stay the full summer in Ibiza. We went to all the iconic clubs, and got to experience both the good and bad sides of the island. I met all the big names like Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin, Pete Tong… saw P Diddy in a club and Armani’s boat in the harbour… unreal! I also made some really good friends. I didn’t think this experience would have such a big impact on me, but now when I look back on it, it really did."
Sweden's produced its fair share of techno heavy-hitters over the years – the likes of Eric Prydz, Cari Lekebusch, Alexi Delano, Jesper Dahlbäck, Joel Mull, Aril Brikha, Adam Beyer and Ida Engberg spring to mind. Are there any of those that were a particular influence or inspiration for you, or that have helped shape your career in any way?
“Yes, it must be something in the Swedish mentality that connects well with techno… or maybe it's the long dark winters! I really dig all the names you mentioned. Joel Mull's album Arrow Of Time is really nice, I’ve been listening to it a lot. I also must mention TM404 (Andreas Tilliander), Sebastian Mullaert & Marcus Henriksson (Minilogue) and my dear friends Patrick Siech and Sandra Mosh, who recently dropped their killer EP, Relicta. They are all big inspirations and I guess their sound influences mine in a way.”
You're about to release your debut Charlie Thorstenson album on Awesome Soundwave – how did you come to hook up with them?
“I met Carl Cox during my time on Ibiza. At the time he had his label Intec – a great label, but my music didn’t really fit there. Then some years later I heard from Lina, who takes care of my bookings, that Carl and Christopher Coe had just started a label focusing on live artists, Awesome Soundwave.
“I decided to give it a go and send them some tracks. To my surprise they liked what I sent them, but also encouraged me to do something more conceptual. I’ve always thought about my music as small groups of tracks that belong together, but I never got around to developing those thoughts into a real album. After some months experimenting and recording the album started to take shape, and once done I sent it to them and yeah, they liked what they heard. Very happy they did!”
You previously made a more house-oriented long-player under the name Charlie Don't Surf. What prompted the change of name and shift in musical direction?
“The main reason for the change was simply to challenge myself a bit. I felt like I was hiding behind my alias – like I was distancing myself from the music I put out. I know many say that I changed my sound, but I feel more like I just expanded my sonic universe.
“I’m still very proud of the Diamanter and Charcoal Gray EPs. I think all those tracks could be made under my real name. Now when I think about it, I kind of regret not changing alias earlier. Maybe I should revisit these EPs in a live form…”
Live performance is a big part of what you do, but how much does that carry over into the studio – to what extent were the tracks on Kretsloop jammed out, and to what extent are they painstakingly programmed?
“When I started with the album I also changed my workflow quite a bit, going from like 80% computer work to 80% hardware. I tried to merge my producing workflow with my live-setup. Limiting the number of choices I had really sparked the creativity, and the sound of Kretsloop was born.
“So all the tracks on the album started out as jams, but some are more 'produced' than others. For example, the last track Krets-loop features a lot of samples from the other tracks – half-timed, pitched down and mangled. But the foundation of all tracks are recorded live. I figured this was the best way to get arrangements I liked. There are, of course, some additional treatments to the sounds made afterwards. My Eventide H3000 plays a big role in the soundscapes you hear on the album. I’d say the combo of my Avalon Bassline (a 303 clone) and the H3000 is 90% of the sound palette on Kretsloop.”
I'm told you also use a lot of field recordings and found sounds in your productions, so tell us about that…
“Yes! I have always blended 'real' recordings into my productions. I guess it was more apparent under my Charlie Don’t Surf alias, where almost all the shakers, handclaps and percussive elements were my own recordings, but I still enjoy mixing organic, loose recordings with my machines.
“Also, Soma Laboratory has a little device called Ether: it’s a kind of microphone that picks up interferences around us that we cannot hear. You can find many interesting rhythms and noises with it! Many of the 'electric' sounds on the album were recorded with this device. The track Surface is full of Ether goodness: the noises and bleeps are recorded with Ether pointing towards my neighbours' wall. Who would have thought a wall could sound like that?”
You're clearly something of a hardware nut – what can you achieve sonically with hardware that you can't using VSTs and plug-ins, do you think? Or is it it purely about the physicality of the process itself?
“The physicality is a big part of it. The limitations that hardware bring is another part… and also the little collector in me gets his share!
"I find it much easier to be creative when you have your sonic palette already set. Also the imperfections that appear when recording hardware really adds to my sound. But even if I own a lot of hardware, I am no purist. I use software as well.
“But there are two things that I haven't managed to recreate with software: Eventide's H3000 and the Orville. Both effect boxes have a very 3D feel, for lack of a better word. They just add that special something to the sounds. It's hard to describe but they just sound beautiful."
Apart from the album, what else is going on/coming up for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“I have a remix coming out of my acid hero Josh Wink's track Resist. Josh has contributed a lot to the world of acid, so it feels really good to be a part of that release. Also I made a remix for Robin Kampschoer's track Sketch 3, which is already out. His full Sketches album is great, so make sure to check that out!
“Apart from releases, I have a new live set-up ready. Without computer this time. Let's hope things start settling down soon so we can create some music and dance together!”
And finally… that's a very impressive beard you've got there! Is that the result of careful grooming, waxing and so on, or are you more of an 'au naturel' kind of guy?
“Thank you! The reason I grew a beard in the first place was that I was too lazy to shave... so I guess I’m au naturel! I cut it myself sometimes, but only when I look in the mirror and wonder who the person looking back at me is.”
Words: Russell Deeks
Kretsloop is out on Friday 16 July on Awesome Soundwave – hear/order it here.