The 80s were a perplexing time, man. The 70s really screwed us up with its indifference, key parties, and Hal Ashby films that by the time we hit 1980 we wanted to somehow get to the future as quickly as we could. We plastered fake smiles on our faces, wore neon colors, sweetened our sitcoms with mountains of saccharine, and we began the process of taming electronic music. Those heady synths that were being used to melt minds and transcend how we view the world in albums by Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh were being used to create more mainstream sounds.
Electronic music became a little more light-hearted and welcoming. It could be grating when laid on too thick, but when there was just the right amount of romantic sway and minor key melancholy the music was quite amazing. The synthwave scene is a musical planet where the synth is using its powers for good, not evil. These aren’t horror soundtrack nods, but a tip of the shiny hat to Mad Max b-movie rip offs and exploitation space flicks. Bright and colorful Saturday morning cartoons and video games.
Danish band Laserblast are giving props to the decade of Reagan and Thatcher by honing their own sequenced 80s soundtrack with lots of hardware and space age vibes. Their music puts me in mind of Le Matos and Com Truise, but with more of a softer edge. Not so heavy on the deep bass and more concentrating on the whimsical aspect of 80s synth. There’s a sci-fi vibe that is more along the lines of adventure and thrill seeking than those darker tones a lot of synth music as of late wants to capture.
I spoke to band members Kristoffer Ovesen and Mie Jakobsen about how the Danish band got started, their influences, and what direction they want to take the band.
J. Hubner: So who is in the band?
Kristoffer Ovesen: We started out as Mie Jakobsen, Emile–Louise Nielsen and myself, but after finishing the tape Emilie unfortunately had to leave us, due to lack of time. Emilie and I have been playing together in various projects for more than ten years, and she has taught me almost anything I know about sound synthesis. I first saw Mie play at an art gallery where she and Jannik Juhl, (who produces under the name Giedo Primo, as well as runs the record-label Hamarplazt) were doing a couple of impro live shows.
J. Hubner: What other band s and projects are you two involved in? How did you get started in music?
Mie Jakobsen: For me everything started when I joined musician Ras Bolding on stage. Through him I met great friends including Kristoffer and Emilie. Emilie wrote me and asked if I wanted to be a part of an Italo Disco/synthwave/80’s music project, and since I’m a big fan of these genres, I couldn’t resist.
Kristoffer Ovesen: Besides Videodrones and Laserblast I’ve done two tapes of quite repetitive techno under the moniker Metis, as well as worked with Danish performance artist Tine Louise Kortermand on several projects and done chaotic industrial-acid-techno as a part of the duo Selvmordsskolen (The name being another movie reference, it’s the title of a weird Danish comedy from the 60’s and translates School of Suicide.)
J. Hubner: Being quite familiar with Videodrones, Laserblast seems on a completely different music spectrum. Very 80s vibe. Has a synthwave feel, as opposed to the darker tones of your other work. Who are some of the influences on the new cassette release? At times I’m reminded a bit of contemporary artists like Com Truise, Nightsatan, and even Le Matos.
Kristoffer Ovesen: Yes, we definitely strived for a more romantic and uplifting feel, than what I’ve done earlier. For us to find some sort of common ground, I had to move into a (to me) new territory, a handful of early sketches I did for the project was actually turned down by Mie, as “sounding to much like a horror soundtrack” Ha! For me Tangerine Dreams 80’s soundtracks was a big influence while working on the tracks. Risky Business, Near Dark, Miracle Mile etc.
I really like a lot of new synthwave, the combination of modern software and production techniques together with the 80’s synth sound is very inspiring. When we got together for this project 6 months ago my initial plan was to tap into the more clubby sound of Kavinsky and Lifelike, inspired also by the italo-disco of Claudio Simonetti and likes (especially a lot of the soundtracks for Italian post-apocalypse and Mad max rip-offs. Great stuff!) Quite early the projected drifted into a dreamier territory, though. Probably due to the way I produce, more hardware, less software, a lot of the techniques to achieve the more modern aspect of the harder, pumping sound of Kavinsky for example acquires a lot of software use. Listening to the completed tape, French act College might be our closest reference on the contemporary synthwave scene.
Most importantly I think the artist mentioned helped pave the way for both Videodrones and Laserblast, in the sense, that had it not been for them (and Stranger Things and Refns Drive, of course), I’m not sure many would care about what we do. Right now, it seems like people have been “conditioned” to this sound, but I’ve got a chilling feeling, that 5-10 years from now, people will want some sort of glitched out digitally shit or uk-garagy chip-munk hell again. I’m just gonna jump the wagon while it lasts and exploit the fact that 20+ years of collecting and watching 70′ and 80’s exploitation/sci-fi/horror movies, finally has some sort of relevance outside of geeky collector circles and xeroxed fanzines (even though I love both!)
Mie Jakobsen: I’m probably the one who’s been dragging Kristoffer in a more funky direction. Besides the earlier mentioned bands an important influence for me is music I would enjoy listening to in an airplane, looking down at the clouds, or the great tunes that makes my bike ride just that more awesome.
J. Hubner: What’s the songwriting process like in Laserblast?
Kristoffer Ovesen: Most tracks started out as a very minimal sketch bye me. A beat, bass-line and maybe and arp or some chords. Mie and Emile would either make alterations or just play on top of that.
J. Hubner: Let’s talk gear. What hardware are you using in Laserblast?
Kristoffer Ovesen: We sequenced the synths from my PC in Reaper and recorded back and mixed in Reaper. All beats are sequenced and played from a Korg Electribe sampler. It’s kind of outdated, but it has been with me for a long time, and I sequence beats relatively fast using it. Most drum sounds were samples from the Akai XR10. Everything else is either the Roland HS-60 or my modular. I’m not into soft-synths, really. I dig the concept and the sounds, but the work process bores me. I like knobs, cables and sliders. Both Mie and Emilie used soft-synths while composing some of their parts, but those tracks were all re-recorded later using the before mentioned gear. I mixed the EP using a minimal of plugins. Just EQ, reverb and some delay. We were running a tight deadline, as Mie left for Australia in October, there was only 6 months between our first meeting and the finished tape, so things has been moving quite smoothly.
The guitar part on the last track of the tape, Videovold, was played and recorded by Jens Hollesen, guitarist of Danish heavy metal band Death Rides a Horse (yet another film reference) and was also the final track added to the mix. Jens knows his film history and is well into Jan Hammer and 80’s Tangerine Dream as well.
J. Hubner: I really dig the artwork on your new album. Was there a concept behind it? Who created it?
Mie Jakobsen: While Emilie and Kristoffer are the masterminds behind most of the sweet bass-lines and spacey leads, I’m the one who made the cover art. Using 80’s sci-fi cartoons, Blade Runner and of course the music vibe as inspiration, Kristoffer thought a robot/laser girl would do well on the cover. The original idea was to match the color of the tape and the cover, but since we couldn’t find a pink paper good enough, we tried out a few different other colors – which is also the reason why the tape comes with two covers (the lucky owner gets to choose for himself whatever is preferred.)
Kristoffer Ovesen: I’ve been into comics since I was a kid, especially what you would call “graphic novels”. Will Eisner, Richard Corben, Moebius, Milo Manara etc. Especially the more psychedelic, weird ones caught my attention from a very young age. We were well into recording the first tracks, when I first saw Mies drawings, but from that moment it was pretty clear to me, that she had to work out some sort of visual concept for the band. The girl on the cover, I imagine as some sort of intergalactic agent. She started out as a sketch, and since the completion of the tape Mie has been sending me more drawings of her, so we might end up developing some sort of concept/story around the character. It’s a great inspiration and I like to work with some sort of concept when producing, whether it be aesthetically, thematic or technical to give you some sort of direction or framework.
J. Hubner: Can you tell me about Interzone Tapes, the label you released the cassette on?
Kristoffer Ovesen: Interzone tapes is my own label. I started it in 2013, mainly as a vehicle for my techno stuff, but since then I’ve released a handful of other artists as well. It’s very DIY, I enjoy making everything myself, including xeroxing covers late at night at my girlfriend’s workplace or recording all the tapes myself on a Tascam double-deck. I do very limited runs (20-50 tapes) and have no professional distribution, as this was never intended to grow into a bigger label. I’d rather keep it small, and release whatever I want, whenever I want. I’m definitely not “label-boss material”, but running Interzone Tapes gives me a perpetual motivation for moving forward creatively.
J. Hubner: So do you record your albums to tape? Or do you record digitally then transfer to tape?
Kristoffer Ovesen: We record digitally. Working with a hardware only set-up for the sounds, the further addition of an analog stage didn’t seem necessary. I do drive the tape recorder into the red to add a bit of tape saturation/compression during the recording of the tapes on some releases. Mainly techno and harder material. The Laserblast tapes was recorded quite conservatively to preserve the dreamy qualities. I’m no tape expert, so all of this is also a bit of a trial and error process and might not all be according to the books….
J. Hubner: I think the cassette is great. Much like listening to the darker synth stuff puts me back to watching late night horror as a kid, the Laserblast cassette is another nostalgic trip, albeit a much different one. More like Saturday morning cartoons and getting lost in the local arcade for hours. What is it about the neon 80s and synthwave that attracts you? Were either of you an 80s kids?
Mie Jakobsen: Actually, I wasn’t even born in the 80’s. To be honest I don’t know where my fascination of everything made before 2000 came from. Sometimes I believe I was born in the wrong time.
Kristoffer Ovesen: I was born in 78′, so I grew up on Robocop, Burton’s Batman, Terminator, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Beverly Hills Cop etc. To me the music of Laserblast is very much about the future I was promised through eighties pop-culture. A very escapist trip, to be honest. My childhood in the 80’s were filled with fear of environmental disaster and nuclear war on one side, while there was also a very optimistic, futuristic vibe in pop-culture on the other side. I remember the eighties as a time were looking like an android were something to strive for, a time were Grace Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen were perceived as aesthetic role models for looking like machines. Things were cool in the eighties. It was cool to be cool. I was not a cool kid, though, I just liked cool stuff….
J. Hubner: How do you think the age difference helps the working relationship between you two?
Kristoffer Ovesen: I think the big age difference between Mie and I has been very important for the outcome of the project. Not having experienced 80’s pop-culture in the same way as I, gives her a different, fresh perspective. Emilie is a bit younger than me and is very much inspired by videogame music and the fact that she was a part of the Danish demo-scene, when she was younger, but we also share a love for 80’s synth-pop and EBM.
J. Hubner: Do you two want to take Laserblast on the road?
Kristoffer Ovesen: No, live shows yet, but when Mie returns from down under we’ll get right on it. Playing live was on our minds from the beginning.
J. Hubner: You’ve put out a great debut cassette which is also available digitally. Any plans for a full-length LP?
Kristoffer Ovesen: Most definitely. We aimed for an album length, but at some point, we realized, that if we were to release anything before Mie left for Australia, it had to be EP length. That also means, that we had to leave a handful of tracks unfinished, tracks that should hopefully be the foundation of a full-length vinyl, but probably not on Interzone Tapes, I want to keep that as a tape-only label, as vinyl would require bigger runs and thereby the need for professional distribution, and I’m afraid the extra amount of work going into running a vinyl-label would have a negative impact on the amount of time I spend producing music. I admire people like Jonas Munk (of El Paraiso/Causa Sui) who can keep it all together, while remaining chill as fuck…..
Mie Jakobsen: The plan is to get some lyrics and vocals recorded as well. I will be more musically active on our future releases. Our badass little front-cover character has just made her debut. Great adventure is awaiting her..
J. Hubner: What’s lined up for the rest of 2017?
Kristoffer Ovesen: Videodrones are getting ready for our first live show in December and I’ve got a release with Danish synth/space/kraut collective Mentat coming out on Interzone tapes. Otherwise I’ll be working on some of our leftovers and unfinished tracks from the tape, and see what might fit a coming full-length Laserblast release.
Head over to Laserblast’s Bandcamp page and pick this one up right away. I’ve been filling my head with it all week and it gets better each time. You should also check out Kristoffer’s Interzone Tapes. He’s putting out some really great music, and in a very DIY way. Go see what he’s got for you over at their Discogs page and take a listen at the heady tones right here.