Distress Signals

Alarm bells are ringing. It’s time to wake up.

The shifting weather climate is troubling, especially when crash landing in the heart of the capital of Norway and discovering the major rail network is under duress because of torrential rain. It comes as a surprise because there should be snow cascading from the heavens this time of year and yet FLW is greeted by a continuous downpour, the kind of which can be witnessed during David Fincher’s masterpiece, Seven, which has more than a ring of truth to it right now.

Contrarian by name, contrarian by nature.

If this truly is the beginning of the end, then latest creation ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’ from its creator, Gøran Karlsvik, would not be a bad choice in terms of a soundtrack to ride out on.

With both artist and album delightfully going against the grain of the populace on numerous levels, the contents of ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’ reveal a different direction for Gøran Karlsvik  as the album steps away from the bile and angst of normal duties serving as the front mouthpiece of hardcore and post-punks This Sect. However, any suggestion of ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’ showing no signs of anguish or emotions that simmer would be concealing a truth, more that such feelings are channelled in a different manner and therefore electronically where cold harsh conditions exist as do feelings of suffering and pain reflected by angsty, agitated beats.

To dissect more closely, choice cuts that reflect such feelings can be identified from the likes of ‘Descend To Ascend’ with its layers of thick, chunky beats spread wide with a butter knife and then greeted by scattergun sounds picking off the constant barrage of what feels like Tetris blocks falling or, alternatively, an antiquated version of Space Invaders for the mind. It’s a constant wave of attack, reaching back only to repeat. You see, you must fall sometimes before you can get back up, and this seems to be the implied message here as this song is not about to surrender.

The following ‘Hex On The Beach’ is a close relative, playing out in similar scattergun fashion yet swelled by a deep electronic brass beat that soaks up the brunt of the pressure and channels this into next in line, ‘To Ignore The Beast’, which is sonically brighter and senses optimism and seems to be going on a different exploration.

It’s a journey, ‘Hit Singles 2018-19,’ and one that offers many different shades of colour and tones as well as hinting at links to film scores and a fascination with science fiction as Gøran alludes to during our interview. There are bumps along this ride, but it’s free of the raw aggression of previously mentioned genre of post-punk, or at least breaking away from, but the mood is never static and the album never forgets its origins where, clearly, dark places have been visited and continue to do so. Such examples can be identified by the waves of electronic noise swamping ‘Canvas Paints An Exit’ that is claustrophobic and gives a rare glimpse of vocals, whereas ‘Damoclean Pursuits’ provides light, but is never far from dark patches of sounds that echo, rattle and hiss.

As said, ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’ is a journey and one of different and conflicting emotions that struggle as they do find moments of light. Its course runs for a lengthy duration and best served in stages rather than one whole sitting, and therefore probably best for the professor of this creation, Gøran Karlsvik, to give his interpretation of events of the entire recording process and the ideas that led to this fascinating solo album.

“I’ve been in bands since the age of fourteen, and throughout the years I’ve amassed a collection of synthesizers and beatboxes. During the This Sect years when we started to use keyboards in the band, I had lots of hardware that I wanted to use and sometimes I was alone in the rehearsal space or studio and I just started recording my own jams. So, in the beginning, I started to experience pure electronic music because I listen to a lot of electronic ambient music and synthpop, but eventually those jams started to become a more song-based melodic structure I guess, and I started editing stuff, and it came together rather quickly.”

It sounds like Contrarian came into being organically.

“It was kind of by accident, but I felt that I needed to do something on my own because I’ve always been in a band situation,” explains Gøran. “So, I’m not thinking about a pure solo album as I do have some friends on the album such as Are (Bøhm) from This Sect and Frederik from Endtimers [Gøran’s other band], in addition to friends of mine with remixes. So, if it feels right, I’m going to do collaborations or have guests, but it [Contrarian] was mainly to evolve a bit, I guess.”

There is much to consume with ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’ and it’s certainly different from anything you have worked on before and therefore your mood, when making this album, must have been everchanging considering the variation in sounds on offer?

“There’s a lot of stuff that went into it, but a lot of it was experimenting and by accident. For example, I’m very much into film and movie scores and always have been. To listen to soundtracks is a big relaxation for me. Also, by not using words or lyrics or my voice in terms of ‘Hit Singles’ was another way to challenge myself, because I’ve always been the vocalist, and always evolved into the vocalist for bands due to being quite mediocre with instruments. So, it was a fun experiment that grew on me, and suddenly I had lots of material and I found the means to edit the tracks and mix it myself with my DIY, shitty gear and yeah, started liking it. So, I decided to continue, and suddenly I had twenty tracks!”

Were you thinking in terms of film scores for the final end product that is ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’?

“Yeah, I was thinking in terms of films, but I was thinking about old science fiction movies such as Alien for example. I’ve always been drawn to the solitary experience in some of the basic science fiction genre. Having said that, I forgot to mention that during the lead up to recording ‘Hit Singles’, I also started working with TV and ZAP, the comedy show I’m working on with a friend, and because of all the gear I have, I started making sounds and soundscapes for the show. That was also a good trigger to properly flesh out tracks and not just doing soundbites, as there are lots of soundbites for the show between 15 – 30 seconds. Therefore, some things could evolve into more cinematic or more song-based structures, in addition to being very interested in beats and composing beats. It’s kind of like a mad scientist thing I guess, making the pieces fit together. For example, I had lots of fun tinkering with synthesisers and beat machines and the whole thing of putting all of this together. Whenever I listen to electronic music, I like the stuff that feels analogue or lived in. It needs to be slightly deconstructed or glitchy or damaged in a way like transmissions from a distant future or something.”

With the album fully completed and released digitally for general consumption, do you feel that CONTRARIAN is now a full-time project, or does it feel like a side project until your more usual occupation as main spokesperson resumes?

“This is what I do whenever I don’t do band stuff,” replies Gøran. “The songs I’ve put out now are the first twenty tracks I ever did [Contrarian], and they were recorded in 2018-19. I tried to release one track a month and combine them into a compilation, but after that I recorded tons of stuff, so I’m still mixing and editing things and I’m probably going to release two more full-length records this year because I’ve recorded so much! I’m very serious about it [Contrarian]. I’m not looking at it as a one-time project. I’m looking at it as a thing I can do for my own sake, and sanity, when I don’t have the bands to play around with. I just like to be around the studio or rehearsal space tinkering with my toys. Sometimes I compose stuff that’s more fitting for This Sect or Endtimers, but sometimes it’s too weird or too electronic and that goes into Contrarian. So, I’m not quitting yet!”

(Contrarian – Irregularity video produced by Kenneth Olaf Hjellum)

How does it compare with fronting a band to producing an instrumental album?

“It’s actually quite relaxing, purifying in a way, and I find it very rewarding. I do it at my own tempo and I don’t have to prove myself to anyone or rehearse certain parts. It’s like my own little universe that I get to do what I want and without asking for anyone’s permission or having to wait for anyone. I think some of it started with the forthcoming This Sect album because I composed lots of it on my beat boxes and synthesisers and I put vocals on top, but Contrarian, in a way, developed from that because some of the moods are in common with the new This Sect album.”

Do you ever feel the urge to put some words to some of these instrumental tracks?

“I have done it for a few tracks, and if it feels right, then I’ll do it. If I feel that some of the tracks go into more of traditional structure, then I can put my synthpop inspiration into it and try and make a proper pop song out of it. I’m not adverse to the idea as I’ll probably do more vocals, but I might compile it differently with a purely instrumental album and maybe an album with vocal-based song structures. So that goes by chance, I guess, whenever it feels right, then it feels right.”

How do you think listeners of Contrarian will interpret your songs considering there are no words to provide some form of meaning?

“Well, the song titles are not entirely by accident as they do have some meaning that I want to put into a song. For example, the track ‘Moon Hoax’ gave me an Apollo Lunar vibe, so I tried to think of a way to describe that, and sometimes there are some bad puns or jokes in the song titles, so there’s some funny bits in there as well as sincere stuff. As a lyricist and writer, I wouldn’t put anything by chance as it needs to mean something to me, at least, or otherwise it will feel like a wasted opportunity or pointless exercise. I need to have some internal logic, my internal logic, whether that comes across or not I don’t know.”

Do you feel that this process always happens first?

“Sometimes,” admits Gøran. “Sometimes I feel like I want to create a mood and veer a song towards that mood. Other times I have a sentence that sounds meaningful and the song will maybe go in that direction. Some of the Contrarian material is composed with super focus, and some of it is also long jams that I edit together. So, there’s a mix there, but to me it makes sense.”

It’s good to have some mystery when it comes to song writing would you agree?

“Yeah, as a listener that’s always how I’ve found my favourite bands shrouded in certain mystery such as Fugazi, for example, and how they’ve always been averse to the corporate thing. DEVO is another example with their whole concept. I’ve always been drawn to bands who have their own statement that’s “Take it as you want”, which is how I want to be perceived. There’s a lot of references and internal logic in what I do, but I don’t feel the need to explain all of it. I can do that like an author and explain my stuff that way. Music to me needs to be somewhat enigmatic to keep my interest.”

What influences did you take with you when approaching the recordings for Contrarian?

“Boards of Canada and their album ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’, which is one of my favourite albums, and a lot of late 70s and mid-80s synthpop such as Human League and Heaven 17, very poppy stuff. DEVO of course. I used to listen to lots of Depeche Mode and A-Ha when I was a kid; recently covered an A-Ha [track] for another of my bands. I like the whole Warp Records thing and Aphex Twin obviously, but the thing with electronic music is that it’s not really my scene; I never went to raves or got into trance or house or any of those things. I was always drawn to the other – synthpop with song structures or the more esoteric sounds that go into ambient music as those composed by Brian Eno and his album ‘Music For Airports’, which I heard in a film first. To me, electronic music is kind of playful; when I make it myself it feels like I’m tinkering with Lego or something because they’re physical objects and weird and hard to understand and sometimes deliver unexpected results and sounds that you couldn’t imagine or make any other way.”

CONTRARIAN’s ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’ offers much in the way of ambient synthpop, in addition to containing echoes of Bristol’s triphop scene and elements of the likes of early 90s trailblazers The Sabres of Paradise. But, as mentioned earlier, there’s much to keep the listener on the edge of their seat as the multitude of rhythms on offer contain plenty of edgy moments and often shrouded in dark tones. It makes for a compelling listen and one that slowly crept up on FLW quite unexpectedly and now remains a firm favourite in the office; something of which Gøran Karlsvik is keen to address when naming a favourite track from his current album.

“Favourite track is the one at the beginning of the album, ‘Livets Høst Redux’ because that was the first one I put together and, when I had put it together, it felt like a complete track to me. It was a bit too long, but I was composing it around the time I was doing a lot of photography for my own sake, like an urban exploration style – a lot of my pictures are from my visitations in abandoned houses, and the picture on that very track is from an abandoned house I went to. It was an old print factory in Kjelsås, but it was torn down to make way for an apartment complex. When I discovered that they were going to tear it down, I felt that I needed to visit the building before it changed for good.”

What are your hopes for Contrarian?

“I hope to perform live more because it’s only me and my stuff and therefore easy for me to travel and perform. I’d love to do that because I love travel and I love to play live. For example, some of my bands are not able to play that much live, but I really enjoy the live experience with gigs and I like to perform and set up like a weird experience for people, so that’s one of the ambitions.

“Other ambitions include releasing as much material as possible because I have so much stored up that I haven’t finished yet. Also, I’m looking at doing some collaborations. I have some quite strange things setup for a collaboration like a power-violence-grindcore noise band called Monochrome Nausea, who are friends of mine, and they’re super extreme. We’re going to set up our gear and record and see where it goes. I’m probably going to do some remixes of other people’s stuff. Part of the thing with Contrarian is to experiment with sounds because it’s fun. Also, being alone and totally in control of what I’m doing has its advantages because I’m a bit of a control freak.”

So, overall, writing and recording the album ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’ was therapeutic for you?

“Yeah,” answers Gøran with a single worded reply.

(Photography courtesy of Øystein Horgmo)

The album ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’ is out now and available via Bandcamp

FLW - From the Tapes

On the making of ‘Hit Singles 2018-19’


“One of the main soundtrack people I was drawn to is Clint Mansell from Pop Will Eat Itself, which I discovered later on, but he’s done some brilliant soundtracks for films I didn’t even particularly like, but the score he did for the film MOON, for example, is absolutely fabulous and one of my favourite soundtracks ever. I think it’s beautiful! For it [Contrarian] to be a full-time project, I want it to be slightly cinematic and I guess that’s where the soundtrack aspect comes into it.”

Personal level…

“I’m not particularly drawn to very harsh noisy electronic music. I don’t like the whole industrial thing. I like the otherworldly beauty because I sometimes have a hard time mellowing down. I’m always quite busy. Sometimes I’m experimenting in trying to find new ways to relax, and when I started making it myself [ambient music], I found that I mellowed out quite a bit. I have been to a lot of electronic gigs and found them quite boring with some dude twiddling knobs and staying completely still, not that I’m moving around a lot, but when I’m doing a gig I always put together video visuals that I project on to the walls.”

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