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Herb Sundays 96: Olof Dreijer [+ Ulyssa]
Olof Dreijer is a Swedish DJ and producer, and one half of the defunct electronic music duo The Knife, formed with his sibling Karin Dreijer (Fever Ray).
+ Herb Premiere: Ulyssa’s Out House playlist.
Art by Michael Cina.
“Here are some tracks I like listening to on Sundays. Hopefully good to relax to and maybe do whatever you do on your Sundays, cleaning, do dishes or cooking.. Very melodic, old and new, some calmer and some more groovy, and with some fun surprises:) Enjoy!” - Olof Dreijer
Olof Dreijer, a Swedish DJ and producer, was one half of the electronic music duo The Knife, formed with his sibling Karin Dreijer (Fever Ray). Apart from his revered gender-bending techno project Oni Ayhun, Dreijer has acted as a co-producer and mentor to many including work with Tunisian multi-instrumentalist and composer Houeida Hedfi, Swedish-Kurdish pop sensation Zhala, and remxing artists like Mehdi Bahmad, Emmanuel Jal, Nyaruach, and Robyn's collaboration project with Röyksopp.
2023 has been fruitful for Dreijer, releasing not just the debut EP under his own name Rosa Rugosa (Hessle Audio) but a collaborative album with longtime friend Mt. Sims, a steel drum record called Souvenir. He’s also credited as a co-producer and performer on all of Side A of the recent Fever Ray album Radical Romantics and has had a lineup of DJ sets including C2C London, Unsound, Dekmantel, and Panoramabar.
This was a perfect time for OD to return as it’s been seen as the year that melody and color came back into vogue for serious dance music. From pop edits (asexplores here) to underground acts like Pangaea finding new sounds, Four Tet cavorting with Fred Again and Skrillex, the global chart triumph of Peggy Gou, the excitement of Doss and Y2K aesthetics, and even the return of Trance, it's a space where simpler pleasures are welcome again (mostly).
There’s a strong sense of intentionality and mystique in everything Dreijer does which has been maintained. As a DJ, Olof plays “a mix of West African pop music, Kuduro, Acid, Hip Hop, R&B, and melodic Techno and House.” His mix for The Knife's 20th-anniversary live stream, "Bring Your Spoon — The Knife Serves Birthday Cake" is a great primer for his sound.
It’s easy to forget that The Knife almost always had a techno heart. For those who weren't fully sentient when they emerged, it was a big damn deal when they arrived stateside. I heard “Heartbeats” for the first time in the apartment as mentioned earlier in Herb 95. It’s one of those tunes where you remember where you were.
When Silent Shout dropped, it was less electro-pop and more in line with the techno of the time, as the duo were clearly tuned into club music. The opening to the title track is pure Villalobosian mystical dread. That same summer of 2006 was bookended by Carl Craig's (Herb 13) undulating “Relevee” remix and Audion's “Mouth To Mouth” (which just got covered by Radio Slave last week). While minimal was the variant of techno that was in vogue, the music itself was actually indeed maximal, full of big foreboding minor key tunes that rose and fell, almost a preamble to the “drop” culture of EDM. The era lent a more elegant Autobahn-esque approach to big club theatrics.
The signs of a Dreijer production have remained staple. Big reverb-y claps, depth charge bass hits, tectonic percussion with intricate elements, and creepy crawly synth leads or assays of the new material in a Pitchfork track review:
“to anyone halfway paying attention, it’s immediately recognizable as Dreijer’s work. The pitch-bent synth lead is painted in bright, bold colors; it twirls playfully, channeling the spirit of European folk dances and wooden flutes. The loping beat, meanwhile, takes inspiration from Angolan kuduro—evidence of his interest in African music and post-colonial history.”
Drejer adds his own words to the release bio:
"I hope these tracks show how much fun I’ve had making them. I think they capture a joyous part of my life coming back making my own music again. I wanted to make something warm, organic, emotional, and groovy in a way that excites me,"
The EP has a sense of a hand-played quality, maybe like a more pan-fried variant of Isolée’s "Beau Mot Plage” The tone isn't euphoric, just maybe more chaotic, like the soundtrack to a weather-fucked and abandoned Pee Wee's Playhouse set where Globey spins indiscriminately, face frozen in bliss, while Magic Screen plays loops of the Max Headroom Incident on repeat.
I met Olof around 2008 in Berlin, I believe in the company of Pär Grindvik who had just done an EP for Ghostly’s Spectral imprint. Olof was so understated it took me a minute to figure out who he was until after the fact. We kept in touch for a bit, and he’s as lovely as you would imagine. I went to The Knife’s last (excellent) NYC show in 2014 at Terminal 5 and at the after-party at Westway, Karin performed “Heartbeats” via karaoke, a song that was strangely missing from the concert setlist. Bill Murray was there too. True Avant-Pop leadership from the wormhole of time and space.
HERB MIX PREMIERE: ULYSSA’S OUT HOUSE
ULYSSA is an “art project and creative services company” (let’s call it a record label) based in Bloomington, IN, and San Miguel de Allende, GTO, run by John Williamson and EO Deines, both colleagues of mine in the Secretly music continuum.
In their own words, Ulyssa does as follows:
“Using proprietary trade secrets to bypass the algorithm’s demonic banality, ULYSSA is able to identify and sift through hundreds of thousands of hours of musical content, uploaded to CD Baby once upon a time and forgotten in the void. And using our own innate curious tastes, we are able to pluck diamond after diamond from the tumult. We’ve found genius in this bottomless trench. Often, we come across would-be musical communities separated by the decades and by the continents, new genres and scenes comprised of complete strangers: Toejazz, Popilepsy, Beyond Baggy, Pontoon Spiritual. Our latest vision, Out House is quite simply vernacular dance music — achieving undeniable, ass-freeing beats through peculiar, if not backasswards, methods.”
I wrote about Ulyssa in Herb 82 and have bought most of their cassette releases so it’s a distinct pleasure to debut a new playlist from them.
The Out House mix (very much Outsider music) is their version of a dance playlist, and features some of the most oddly captivating music I’ve heard this year. The Inga McDaniel track is so humid that the rhythm is practically falling off the rest of the song. The fake crowd noise of “Photo Shoot” would make this a top 10 easily on Boomkat’s annual charts. When I got to “Sloth Groove” in my car it just about finished me off for good, the chunky bells and the errant guitar blasts were all too much. Then there’s the beautifully named project NEV (Aka DJ JunglePHD) who lays down the thin vasectomystep sound in “Did You See” to maxx effect.
Heralding the “<1000” plays sound is digging at its best, a balm against rote popularity and convention. I was chuffed to see their playlist share inspiration with my Herb 51 mix, a faux Ibizian dance party. Theirs is way more wigged though.
“This mix is intended to build like a proper DJ set at 11 PM on the sands of Ibiza. Your body is a rubber bag of warm water. A couple electric eels are set loose inside of you. They zip and zap up and down your extremities. We achieve frenzied skullcap liftoff by midnight, only to lay you down gently into a bed of fluffy steaming rice. We suggest a 10 second crossfade if possible. The <1000 lifestyle groove is in the heart. This is has been a message from EOD and JLW at Certain Death Mitigation Services LLC.”
From the Field
I contributed to this thought bubble on music criticism amongst a gaggle of people I admire for the mighty Dirt media empire.
Intramural, the vintage mind of Bijan Shahvali who I mentioned in Herb 93, has a new entry into his ace mix series. Bijan was also nice enough to add some of his vintage music-related pieces to the Ghostly pop-up at Nepenthes NY which is up through Nov 7.
LNS, a producer/DJ I admire has a new IDM mix: “The 4th installment of my Braindance mix series! This time all vinyl, with some classics, some little knowns. Includes IDM, 90s ambient, and electro, but all in the spirit of Braindance. ❤”
Mix of the week! Bryon The Aquarius + Kyle Hall in vocal sample-y, deep house’y, truly wonderous form.