African rhythms, Amazonian adventurers, and a large dose of lo-fi keyboard wizardry are just a few of the things that go into creating Norwegian band Casiokids infectious electro-pop sound. Having first caught the attention of critics and fans alike with the indie-dance floor fillers ‘En Vill Hest’ and ‘Fot I Hose’, the group are back and look set to steal the Casio bleeping synth-pop crown from Metronomy with their new long player Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen.
Formed in 2005, this multi-instrumental four-piece, consisting of Fredrik Øgreid Vogsborg, Omar Johnsen, Kjetil Bjøreid Aabø and Ketil Kinden Endresen, made their name in Bergen’s thriving music scene before exporting their sound across Europe. In 2008 the group released the first Norwegian language pop single in the U.K. ‘Grønt lys i alle ledd’ on Moshi Moshi records and have since continued to foster a cult fan base despite the language barrier. “On our early releases there were no vocals, as we never intended Casiokids to sing. Then as we started experimenting we found that by singing in Norwegian it would be more interesting, original, and personal. I think really it’s the mix of the rhythmic and melodic elements that make it possible for the music to travel, literally to different countries and nationalities.”
Touring relentlessly across Europe, the U.S., and Japan, Casiokids continue to pack out venues, with each gig an energetic affair in which the members of the group bounce across the stage swapping instruments and dancing along to drum machine beats. “The tour has been really good! It was the first time we had ever been to Japan and all the shows were sold out, which we really did not expect. Our album has just come out and it’s the first thing we have released there, so to me it was touching to see people singing along to our songs in Norwegian. Doing all these gigs is also good as we get to road test material and create new things to use later on. In fact, some of the tracks on the latest album were recorded on tour. I came up with the keyboard part for ‘London Zoo’ while I was locked in a room backstage at a club called Moles in Bath.”
The tour, as well as the bands upcoming LP, owes a debt to Norwegian pop legends A-ha who, in an act of musical altruism, donated one million Kroner (roughly £100,000) to the group. “The grant was about investing back into international campaigns and publicising new Norweigan music across the world, so it is really amazing as it has enabled us to do this mini world tour. We have also used the money to build our own studio in Bergen next to Royksopp, so we are in good company.”
The studio is certainly a step-up from the bands other facilities, which include band member Fredrik Vogsborg’s father’s office, as well as an old canteen. This space as well as a short break from touring gave the band time to focus on recording their first proper album, Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen, a brooding piece of work that, at least by Casiokids standards, is rich in production.
“With ‘Aabenbaringen’, we have tried to make a completely unified album by recording it in a short space of time. We wrote all of the songs with the album in mind so the ideas have kind of spread over different sounds. In that sense it was made as an album and not a collection of singles like Topp Stemning På Lokal Bar.”
This sense of cohesion is also apparent in the albums bizarre subject matter as Ketil explains. “The album was inspired by a story we wrote with a theatre group called Digitalt Teater, about Dr. Tarzan Monsoon and his adventures through the rainforest. It became the backdrop for the album and an inspiration for the moods and themes of the lyrics. Parts of the album have also come out of other workshops we have done. We created the opening ceremony for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver together with that same kindergarten group in Bergen, using elements of shadow puppetry alongside the music for the games. So, in a strange way it has given our music new ideas and impulses.”
Yet despite all this talk of grants and concept albums at the core of the group remains their lo-fi, DIY ethos prevalent in previous releases.
“We have always done everything ourselves so we have just learnt as we have gone along. Parts of our stuff are recorded shabbily as it is more important for us to get the right take on a track rather than it being very clean and clear. We are conscious when recording of keeping sounds and moods in the music that are associated with the ideas we had in the beginning, so we try and steal from ourselves as much as we can. We still want it to sound like Casiokids but want to stretch the possibilities of the production.”
So we are unlikely to see the band give up their Casio keyboards anytime soon? On this point Ketil muses in typical understated fashion. “I think if that were the case it would not be Casiokids. We just try to create our own sonic universe, and if people like it that is great!”
Words: Dale Marshall
Photo: Sjur Pollen