It has to be the very laid-back nature of his city of residence, Oslo, that makes Prins Thomas so modest. Alongside peers like Hans-Peter Lindstrøm (Feedelity Records) and Todd Terje, who he works and records with, the three represent the flowering of Norwegian dance music. Thomas’s own label Full Pupp offers some of the best house-not-house, neo-disco or call-it-what-you-want tunes from any country, and relatively new venture Internasjonal joins the global dots with producers from all corners of the known-world – where he currently turns up every weekend with a crate of vinyl, his record grips and an immaculate way to ‘play with it’. We met up with Prins at Electrosanne Festival in Lausanne in advance of his new album Prins Thomas II.
Welcome to Switzerland. How are things?
I’m fantastically well, thank you. Happy to be in Switzerland. I had bad luck with my last DJ gigs in Switzerland. Once I was at Zukunft in Zurich, and right when they wanted to open the doors the bouncer got shot. And the last time they booked me, I got stranded in Madrid. The last plane had already left and they couldn’t fly me in. Bad luck really, because I really like playing in Switzerland and I have a lot of friends here.
You travel a lot. Does it happen often that you get stranded and you have to change your plans?
Actually it doesn’t happen that often. I see myself as a travel professional. I never miss my flights.
You don’t oversleep from time to time?
No, I don’t. I might look like I do, but I don’t. I’m quite allergic to putting myself in stressful situations. So, I just don’t sleep and go straight to the airport – even if I’m five hours early.
DJing gives me a different kind of energy. You can try out new stuff, get a direct response from the audience.
So what do you do then? Produce music?
No. Not when I travel. Maybe imaginary music, or making plans for world domination or something like that. I might even write down some really abstract ideas on paper. Or I might hum a melody into my cellphone. But I never make music when I’m travelling. I’m charging my batteries. I spend three to four days per week in my studio in Oslo. The rest of the time I’m on the road. DJing gives me a different kind of energy. You can try out new stuff, get a direct response from the audience. You see new places, get inspired to do new stuff. You go home with all this baggage and unload it in the studio.
Sounds a bit like a scientific approach. Collecting a lot of impressions and then dissecting them and putting them together.
Not at all. I’m like a six year-old boy drawing pictures for his mother. You draw really fast and then it’s done. And then you do another one. That’s how I work most of the time. For me, it’s mostly about the process of making music. Only a part of the music that I make finds its way to the public. I’m not that bothered about what the result is.
If you’re not bothered about the result, are you bothered about how people received and name it? You know, ‘space disco’ and all of that...
Of course! I mean if I was the only person on the planet, I would probably never record anything. I’m doing it so that people can hear it. On the other hand, I’m not the kind of producer that can predict whether people will like it or not. I just sit there and try to capture a moment. Hopefully it’s a moment of magic. As far as the name, I think music journalists use these tags to try to pin down what somebody is doing. I don’t function that way myself – if I was to recommend a book to a person, I would try to describe it as concrete and direct as possible, the easy way. But I don’t really care what people call it. The problem I have is when somebody would copy from somebody else out of laziness or put everything I do under the same term. Like,I might do a straight up house track, and they will still call it space disco.
If you don't like using these terms, how do you and Lindstrøm or Todd Terje talk about music?
We don’t actually talk about music. It’s not like we’re sitting down and talking about what we’re gonna do. We’re friends, we have our studios in the same building, on the same floor. But most of the time, we just play each other what we are working on. I usually take it as a break from what I’m working on when Terje knocks on my door. As he is a technical wizard, so I m use him to solve sonic problems.
What are you a wizard in?
[grins] I’m a jack of all trades, a master of none. If you compare us, I’d say my quality is that I’m a fast worker, whereas Hans-Peter and Terje are working on the same track for months. They fine-tune it, make minimal changes and all. By that time, I’ve knocked out six new remixes and co-produced another album, and I’m halfway through another album. Seriously.
The tracks on your last album Prins Thomas from 2010 were all very different from each other. For example: “Nattonsket” sounded very different than “Slangemusikk”. Let’s talk about “Slangemusikk” first. It probably means ‘snake music’, right?
It means ‘snake music’, spot on! Actually, this track is coming out again on a new record that I’m working on with my live band which is called The Prins Thomas Orchestra. We’ve taken three of the tracks from the last album and recorded them live in the studio – with a full band, strings and everything. It’s gonna have the name “Snake Music” just to make it different from the other version. The title actually came up when my son, who was six at the time, said to me, “This sounds like snake music, dad.” A lot of them are working titles that stuck; some associations that I had. “Nattosket” means ‘night wish’, if you translate it directly.
It’s also the name of a really bad band.
That too, but it’s also an after-midnight radio program in Norway where they play ballads. People call in or send text messages and e-mails, requesting cheesy songs – the song that was on when they met their partner or whatever. Well, anyway, I named it that way because I used the melodica on it. And they also have one in the intro of that show. So, there are no really deep thoughts behind it.
People always associate you with disco. But there are a lot of other elements in your music. What are your biggest influences?
I always listened to all kinds of music. I played the clarinet and the cello for years, for instance. At the same time – in 1984/’85 – I was a really bad hip hop DJ. Later, I played in punk bands and started spinning in early house clubs. There was always this balance between different things in my life. I never did just one thing. The reason was probably not to tire myself of something. There’s so much good music out there, and for me it all has the same value. I dig in the past for old music that I haven’t heard, and I keep looking for new stuff. Most of the time, though, I find really good new records that sound like they were recorded 20, 30, 40 years ago. [laughs]
Essentially, and to help you not to put me in a tiny little subgenre, disco for me is music played in discos.
What is your first association when you hear the word ‘disco’?
Disco is music played in nightclubs. It’s discotheque music. You could narrow it down and say: disco is the music of the 70s, with the 4/4 beat, the forefather to house music. But at the same time, this music reinvents itself all the time. And a lot of the dance stuff coming out today has been there before. Even a lot of techno stuff. You had disco records that sounded like it. You had a lot of different flavours back then. It’s not only the ‘wakawaka’ guitar, the tambourine and the hand claps. Essentially, and to help you not to put me in a tiny little subgenre, disco for me is music played in discos. [laughs]
But what is it with the slower pace? Why is it that you like to slow things down?
I think we generally might keep a slower pace in Norway. I’m not sure. But the main reason might be the DJ scene in Norway. It’s always been quite eclectic. Even the straightest DJ in Norway plays different bits from different genres. So, if you mix up old hip hop records with funk, disco and house records, like I did when I was young, you’ll have to pitch up the slow ones and pitch down the fast ones to try to find a middle ground in between. But I also think that at a 130 beats per minute 4/4 sounds pretty ridiculous. There’s not much room for groove or anything. It’s all about energy.
So, what’s the perfect tempo?
It depends. Every once in a while, I’ll have a track that needs to be played at 130 for it to maintain its energy. Or sometimes you have to start at 122, because that’s the pulse of the crowd. But if I’m gonna play for ten hours, I’m not gonna spend everyone’s energy by starting with a bang. You start slowly and bring it up and down again at the end. That’s something all proper DJs should do after a long set: you should wind things down to the end as well.
Let me guess: The tracks on your new album won’t all be at the same pace.
I’ve got two new albums ready. One is with the Prins Thomas Orchestra. It’s an EP. Only four tracks, but it’s still a double vinyl release. That’s gonna come out soon. Probably a couple of weeks from now. On the 29th of October, I’ve got my Prins Thomas II album coming out. And it’s actually a bit more rigid than my last album. I kind of tried to make something that DJs can play, It’s kind of my idea of a techno album. But it’s still definitely not techno. [laughs] I just try to keep it exciting for myself.
Your close friend and collaborator Hans-Peter Lindstrøm does his typical nod when DJing. What’s your special move?
It’s either my butt wiggle or my toe dance – I don’t know. It’s not as visible.
Maybe you should DJ barefooted!
Well, that’s Todd Terje’s thing. He always takes off his shoes when he DJs. I wouldn’t wanna steal his party trick.