They’re back, the Scandi scamps, the mocking Norse gods of electro rock, the band who taught us to Fa Fa Fa and indulge in Computer Camp Love. Datarock frontman Fredrick Saroea lights up another and explains why Norway isn’t enough for them anymore.
He talks restaurants (his own), mistakes (his own), fashion (his own) and business plans (everyone else’s). And that’s not even mentioning the new album, Face The Brutality.
Shall we dance?
TRACKSUITS YOU SIR
Fredrick Saroea is sitting outside in Bergen smoking a cigarette in the frigid cold, accompanied by a beer. One of these things may well kill the Datarock chap. As with the band’s attitude to seriousness – I mean, that facial hair, those tracksuits, really! - he seems wholly unconcerned.
“Yeah, that’s okay,” he says, chuckling. “That’s okay man.”
Presumably, setting aside a penchant for electro rock songs that sometimes seem determined to make you smirk as much as make you dance, these are his only vices.
“Yeah, I guess.” He pauses. “Beside still having the urge to release music at the age of 41.”
Well yes, that will definitely kill you, or at least kill whatever is good inside your soul. Datarock’s new album, their first proper studio product in nine years, is called Face The Brutality, with a typical mix of tongue-in-cheek and frankness. What kind of madness induces a man – well, two men, with his longtime partner in crime Ketil Mosnes - with even a modicum of common sense to consider recording, releasing and then promoting music right now?
“I’ll tell you something really funny,” Saroea says. “It’s been a long time since we released an album last, right. Since then I took on an adult life: I opened a restaurant [Lysverket, in Bergen] it became Norway’s second most internationally talked about restaurant in history. Then I decided to make a new album and everyone was like, ‘oh, I’m not sure you should do that kind of thing’ and scared [for me].”
Which tells you something about how precarious music must be when people in the restaurant trade, an industry where the majority of new restaurants go under and even the profitable ones seem one bad month away from closure, see being a musician is foolhardy.
“We’ve been jumping around in tracksuits, being funny for a long time and that was totally fine in your 20s, maybe even your mid 30s” he admits. “But then when you have an 11-year-old daughter it’s adult to worry how it’s going to turn out. I’ve been attending, for some reason, music conferences over the last couple of years and an it’s been so goddamn sad to see how the rhetoric and the focal point, everything revolves around numbers and the most commercial parts of the music industry.”
However, as foolhardy as owning a restaurant and making music are, there’s something intoxicating in both ventures that clearly appeals to Saroea whose wilful nature and cockeyed perspective are probably his defining traits. And it only takes small shoots of green to have him call the end of (creative) winter.
“The last couple of days we had four of the major Norwegian publications give us our best reviews ever and everyone saying it’s the best thing we ever did,” he says, unable to hide the excitement, and pride, in his voice. “That’s why you gradually move toward something a little more adult – at least changing the colour of the tracksuit.”
Those music conferences Saroea was attending were also dispiriting for him because it seemed even at the most indie of indie levels the emphasis was on being “business savvy and no one was talking about creativity, or having fun, or a music culture”.
That might work for the restaurant trade, but it’s fair to say that Datarock’s return is not coming with a business plan - “we don’t even have management”. Okay, at least that can be said from band’s end; the record companies leasing the record from Datarock’s own label are less sanguine about such matters. Which is fair enough. They don’t wear tracksuits after all.
“That’s one of the reasons why I did the stupid musical,” Saroea says of the aptly named Datarock The Musical, which featured nearly 90 participants, including an orchestra, included old and new songs, was commissioned for a Norwegian music festival and featured the story of a man dreaming of forming his own band, who leaves Norway for the USA only to find there’s no place like home.
“Goddammit, in the world of music you need someone who does something just for the fuck of it. And even though it was a joke project, it proved that we could still make music I guess.”
Going into the making of this new album, Saroea says, he and Mosnes “just wanted music to be like music was for us as kids”. What does that mean?
No obvious singles (though Ruffle Shuffle and its Beck-gets-a-21st century-update is built for indie radio fame), nothing short, no attempts to be savvy, just fun. But not stupid fun – they’re not those kids anymore. No one is going to confuse Datarock with high processed, high concept pop, but neither are they going to pretend they haven’t grown up a bit.
“It was natural to write songs that are a little less about party – this isn’t party album number one,” he says. “Becoming an adult doesn’t have to mean that you are a crusty fart or you have to write classical music or jazz.”
I think the rule is in your 40s you start playing country music, I tell him. He seems sceptical - “I’ve never been into country” - but polite.
“We are working on a new EP and there is a little bit of a country rock vibe in one of the songs, if that helps,” he says jovially.
I suspect Mr Saroea is taking the piss. But then the influences in Datarock are quite wide: they are not just children of the club generation. The music they grew up hearing from their parents was Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen and Kiss, then there came Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Black Sabbath and the Beatles.
To that mix was soon added “the weird stuff”, Talking Heads, Devo, Pere Ubu, and a teenage Saroea had a “complete nerd-off” radio program called Digital Underground where every program focused on a genre, going back to 1930s jazz or ragas, or they might play Fuzazi and Bad Brains, or De La Soul and Happy Mondays.
That’s pretty heady. Or nutty. This may go a long way to explaining Datarock’s warped thinking as much as their music.
“Even at the age of 12 we were as fucked up as we are now,” Saroea laughs. “It had to go wrong.”
Face The Brutality is out now