Todd Terje: Let’s dance

Remaster of the Universe really is an apt name for Todd Terje’s first compilation CD. The Norwegian disco don has become famous for his re-edits of everything from Chic to Jose Gonzales to America and Lindstrom. In 2009, the We Are The Beat website listed 96 of Terje’s remixes and edits, but my guess is that’s only a small portion of what he has in an edits folder on his computer.

But it’s not just his edits that have made him an in-demand DJ around the world. His own productions have created dance floor frenzy’s from first release Eurodans in 2005, to one for the biggest tunes of this year, Inspector Norse. In December, Terje is escaping the chilly European winter for Sydney’s sunny shores in December, so we got him on the phone for a pre-tour one-on-one.

I was at the Sydney Opera House recently seeing an Australian comedian, Sam Simmons, and he started playing Inspector Norse in the middle of his act.

A comedian? Really? Why? Was he making fun of it?

No, not at all. He was explaining the rules of the show and he was playing Inspector Norse.

Wow. I could not explain that.

Could you ever imagine something like that when you started making music?

Ah, well, yes. I can’t lie, I have very high thoughts of myself… No. When you make music you obviously want it to go somewhere, but I didn’t really think it would happen with that, it was just a novelty project. It has no introduction, no structure, no drums, so I couldn’t believe such a nerdy, novelty project did so well. It sounds different because it was made that way.

Besides it being an incredible song, it has a rather funny film clip to go with it. Where did you find the guy who is in that?

He’s not actually a friend of mine, he is a friend of the director, and he’s from the north of Norway. We thought there were parts of his personality in that character. When we saw him dancing, we thought he was dancing in this very, very, very particular way, that’s why we wanted to make the story. We made up a story about a guy dancing in a suburban landscape trying to justify his choice in life.

When you’re DJing, is that the main priority for you, to make people dance?

Well, I guess if you have to prioritise something, then yes. I think with DJs you’re always first an entertainer and second an artist. I think if you’re just an entertainer you won’t be unique enough to get booked, but if you’re just an artist they won’t book you because it won’t work. So you just need to know what to think about first. A little bit of artistry is good to make you sound different from the others. You shouldn’t sell out completely either.

In saying this, how much of what you play is dancefloor ready and how much is leftfield, interesting work?

I think it depends on where you play of course. Lately I have found myself playing way more types of music than ever before. I’ve had a very hectic summer. It doesn’t mean that I have stopped playing interesting music in sets, I’ve just realised that I really like playing big techno as well.

I didn’t know that I liked that before, because I’ve always been used to playing the opposite of what others were playing to keep myself interested. I’ve never been into techno. 10 years ago I only played disco. Now everybody is playing disco, so now obviously I have to find something new to play to keep myself interested.

So much of your career has been based around disco. Ten years ago, when you started playing disco, what was it about that sound that you loved?

A lot of the really percussive, stripped-down disco 12 inches that had all the breakdowns, they sounded very much like house in my ears. Of course, I started making house when I was something like 13. I listened to all this house stuff. When I realised that you could find a lot of those percussion elements in disco, obviously because a lot of it was sampled from disco in the late ‘90s, I really wanted to create that language, but a little bit different. I found it quite exciting. I still play those records, but not as much as before.

You mentioned you had a busy summer touring. Has that stopped you working on your own productions are re-edits of late?

Actually, lately I’ve been getting ready for a concert in November, the Ekko Festival, where I have to play only new music. So I have been making music like crazy for four weeks now and my mind is a little bit fucked. It’s a good thing because I get to make a lot of music. It’s a commissioned work and I have to compose 90 minutes of music.

You’re playing at Harbourlife in Sydney; any plans while you’re here?

I’m going to go to the Fish Market in Sydney every day. That’s the best thing about Sydney, going down to the Fish Market and having sashimi breakfast.

I’ve never had that before. I’ll have to try it.

Really? It takes a tourist to show you the city right.