Although I might not have clocked the name until years later, my first exposure to Peder Mannerfelt would have been six or seven years ago, listening to the glacial electro-pop of fellow Swede, Fever Ray. As well as helping produce some of her most notable tracks, Mannerfelt has also worked with artists like Glasser, and even swung a credit on Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ while working as a runner for producers Bloodshy & Avant.
These days however, the Stockholm based artist is well-established in his own right. His raw, psychedelia-laced take on electronic music has seen him release everywhere from Avian to London-run We Can Elude Control. Last year Mannerfelt released The Swedish Congo Record through Yves De Mey and Peter Van Hoesen’s Archives Intérieures, recreating tracks from the Armand Denis recorded The Belgian Congo Records using only synthesisers. For his latest project, Mannerfelt sought to do the exact opposite. Controlling Body, produced alongside New York residing Glasser is constructed almost entirely from samples, moving into notably more pop-friendly territory.
He has also put significant effort into the running of his own label, Peder Mannerfelt Produktion, with help from long-standing friend Pär Grindvik. The label has championed catching artists at their breakthrough, releasing early work from the likes of Klara Lewis and Machine Woman, most recently being responsible for the debut offering from Drömfakulteten member Sissel Wincent.
With an upcoming record on Will Bankhead and Joy O’s Hinge Finger, I sat down with Mannerfelt ahead of a packed set at Cafe OTO to discuss masks, cultural appropriation and Swedish fashion trends.
I enjoyed your set at Norbergfestival the other week. How was it playing with that insane bass system? I could see dust trickling down from the roof. Did you enjoy the rest of the festival?
Nice! That’s how I like it. It’s quite punishing from what I remember. I actually played a festival in Moscow last summer which was like the Russian equivalent of that. 10,000 people in an old factory site that’s about to be torn down, it was crazy. I played in a similar room in a disused factory. The bass in there was the same but even more! When I was playing everything was jumping, actually my laptop crapped out for the first time ever. The USB ports went down because there was so much bass. Afterwards everything was covered in black soot. It was quite amazing.
I think Norberg looks bigger from the outside if you see what I mean, but they have a nice thing going there. I played there with Roll The Dice as well, I’ve been a couple of times.
It reminded me of the Berlin Atonal setting but way more stripped back. Speaking of Atonal I wanted to ask you about your visual show, I remember seeing it for the first time there last year. Who does the visuals?
I made the show for that Atonal performance. I did it with a guy called Miguel Angel Regalado who lives in Stockholm. He goes under the name VJ Gauchito. I had played in the small room at Atonal the year previous so I’d seen the template visuals going around - black and white imagery with crows flying by… I wanted it to be totally different. It was kind of taking the piss a bit but it turned out amazing.
I didn’t want to say that so I’m glad you did! I saw lots of bemused faces at Atonal. It’s like you on a really intense acid trip floating through technicolour space…
(Laughs) Yeah but it is! We were just messing around filming with a green screen. Still, it serves its purpose of being totally maxed out. I know it turned a lot of heads at Atonal, exactly how I wanted it to: me on a big screen dancing about and not being too serious.
My problem with Atonal that year was there were too many people doing the same thing. That was the nice thing about the sets from yourself and Blood Music.
Especially in that main hall, everyone is so used to chucking loads of reverb on everything. When they do that everything starts to sound the same and everything looks the same; everyone in the audience is wearing black… That’s kind of cool in a way, it’s like a uniform. But when you turn on the colours, - I knew it was going to look striking especially on that massive screen.
Let’s talk about your mask. Is it ever a struggle to play with? Does it stop you seeing what you’re doing? It made me think about Fever Ray and The Knife: it has that slightly theatrical element to it obviously.
Yeah that’s where I learnt that actually. With quite small means you can get a big impact. The mask fits easily into a small ball in my backpack but it’s something! It’s not just a bloke with a laptop and synth. I can have fun with it and it’s theatrical as you say. I like stepping into a different roll on stage: I totally got that from Fever Ray. Once we were in those costumes we were on a different level. I can hang out in the park with my kids, then I can come here and be a bit stupid and play some bleeps and stuff. It helps me with getting into the sound.
Going back to Norberg I wanted to ask if you caught Sissel Wincent’s set? You met through Anna Vtorova [Machine Woman] right?
Yeah I saw a little bit. It was really really good! It was almost better than I’d expected in a way. And yes we met through Anna. She sent Sissel’s music my way and it happened she lived in Stockholm as well. We actually met when Anna played in Stockholm, they’d found each other online before I think. I saw Sissel play in Drömfakulteten. That was one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time, the energy there was amazing…
Drömfakulteten is really good. It’s totally disjointed, just a bunch of people chucking their gear on the table and playing back to back. There was so much energy when they played which is really cool and had a kind of different approach in the scene.
I was reading your RA interview earlier and picked up on what you said about Paul Purgas encouraging you to release things which were at the time half-finished in your eyes. It struck me Sissel’s release has the same kind of raw, not too polished feel to it as well.
Still we worked on it for quite some time. We had a really good back and forth exchange with some constructive criticism going on. I really enjoy that myself, when someone steps in and says ‘ok make this bit shorter and this is the good bit’. You don’t need too much, two words can open something up in a different way. Paul helped me in the beginning and I have a similar thing with Pär Grindvik. We have daily discussions about everything; being brutally honest with each other. It’s kind of like having someone next to you telling you whether something is good or not. I find that it helps if you’re open to constructive criticism and Sissel was really open to it. She developed so much in those months we were working on the record.
I’m a strong believer that anything can be pushed a bit more, even if you want to keep it really raw. That’s what I really liked about her music and Anna’s - it’s really raw and off the cuff, but it’s still really relevant. There’s so much music that when I hear it, it just doesn’t strike me, but when you hear something that’s good it really marks a spot.
You mentioned Pär Grindvik, how did you first meet?
He used to work in a record store in Stockholm, that where we met. I was working and DJing with another guy called Henrik von Sivers and we were really young and hungry. We were coming from more of a band/indie world and wanted to get into techno. Pär had been into techno for a really long time and had owned a store and stuff… I think he could see our energy and wanted to move a bit more in our direction. He was just in the process of moving to Berlin then, so we started working together: me, Henrik and him. That was one constellation in a way. The way Henrik and I worked kind of faded out in the end. Me and Pär didn’t talk for a year or so, then slowly came back together and started talking. When I started this project under my own name up he saw where it came from and helped me. I was out in the wilderness for a little while and didn’t know what I was doing. He helped me set up everything with my label, he’s doing the label management for me. He’s also part of the booking agency I’m on.
It’s a really tight circle which is great because we can get stuff done fast. I enjoy bringing new artists into that circle because I feel like Stockholm is a really excluding place. People keep to their own in every kind of way (age wise, immigrants and Swedes) it’s really hard to get into groups. Everyone’s really nice and polite and open, but to get into a scene is quite difficult. That’s one of the biggest differences to here I would say. In London, if you go to a pub you see people of different ages and from different backgrounds, but if you go to a bar in Stockholm you’ll just have one specific group of people. If someone from another group walks in, it’s not going to cause tension but you’re not going to mix. It’s something I see as a huge problem in Sweden. Especially as we’ve had so many immigrants in Sweden over the last couple of years.
Interesting in the context of Norberg which has taken a large number of Syrian refugees…
Yeah exactly. Especially in Norberg. I think the problem in Sweden is letting people into our circles.
I had a discussion with a Danish friend about a record store in Copenhagen I really like, and he said they were really rude to him when he’d been in. He said there’s a saying there that goes something like ‘tourists: don’t leave us alone with the locals’ - I was wondering if it’s the same kind of thing in Sweden…
Stockholm is really cool but everyone is so sensitive and doesn’t want to do the wrong thing. It’s crazy. Because it’s so small it always has to be only one thing going at a given time. There can never be two things. Like last year Acne started doing these leather biker jackets. That filtered down so far that now everyone has a leather biker jacket. From upmarket posh people to cool hipsters, everyone has it.
You see it everywhere when you pick up on this idea. Suddenly everything changes and people move to a new thing, but it’s only ever one thing: in food, in fashion, in music. Here different stuff can work at the same time. I think that has to do with Stockholm being really excluding in a way.
Maybe the fact it can be so excluding generally means the people that are willing to experiment with new things go to an extra level in a way. Maybe that would explain why projects like Norberg and Drömfakulteten seem so inclusive to me.
What I really love about Drömfakulteten is that they’re claiming their own space. Normally everyone has to wait in line for their turn but they’re just bypassing that. It’s like punk you know? Walking up and claiming your space. I really like the fact they’re doing it.
I wanted to ask you about The Swedish Congo Record too. How did you come across the original album and what prompted you to start working with it?
I was buying loads of those kind of records ten years ago or so, mainly with the idea of sampling them. I think I found that record in New York. What I realised with a lot of these records from West Africa was that it was so easy to sample a loop and add a kick drum and you’d have a banger… It felt like cheating! I didn’t want to do it that way.
To give you the long story I found the score for this Steve Reich piece called Music for Pieces of Wood. Just as a stupid thing I played that on my 909 so it became Music for Pieces of 909. The idea was doing the same with the Congo record. Taking something and instead of sampling it, put my own sounds on it. It’s the opposite of sampling. I see it as doing a cover version. It’s not exactly like the originals.
It was actually a discussion I had with Paul Purgas. He pushed me to start working on it. It started as kind of an exercise as that Steve Reich thing was… I did that in an afternoon for the fun of it but the Congo thing… I imagined it would take a couple of weeks but I ended up spending the best part of a year on it. I was falling into different rabbit holes, it became a little world of its own. When I was 95 percent finished I got so sick of it I didn’t do anything with it for almost a year before I sent it to Yves [De Mey] and Peter [Van Hoesen]. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to release it.
The other thing you said in your RA interview is that you were surprised there wasn’t more discussion around the idea that it was appropriating Congolese music. Do you think there should have been more discussion? Was that something Yves and Peter thought about?
We talked about it. Archives Intérieures is a Belgian label and the original album is called The Belgian Congo Record. That’s one of the reasons I decided to go with them for that record, because it’s a Belgian label. I didn’t expect it to take off the way it did… not at all! I didn’t think anyone would really listen to it but I was expecting to get engaged in a wider debate and I was anticipating that. I think it’s an interesting debate and I’m really open to having it. I don’t have any answers either. I don’t know if I’ve done the right thing.
It was something I thought about and felt the fact you kept the original track titles and made the context clear made a big difference. It wasn’t like you were trying to disguise the origins of the project.
That was why I wanted it to be so open, to open up the debate around it. It took off way more than I expected it to. I did Controlling Body in 2012 and I actually finished it in January last year. I was expecting to put it out pretty soon after the Congo record. But it took off so much I kept on pushing Controlling Body back.
How did you end up working with Glasser? Were you producing for her?
Yeah, me and Henrik worked with her on her first album. We actually met when when we were playing with Fever Ray in New York for the first time. We clicked instantly, the three of us. We worked a bit on her first album, then Henrik moved to New York and they produced her second album together. After the Congo record I thought about how to turn that on its head, work in the opposite way. Everything on the Congo record is synthesised. I wanted to do the exact opposite, instead sampling loads of stuff, working with a lot of vocals.
I talked to her about it when I was in Stockholm and sent her a score. I just wrote vowels and arrows going up and down and squiggly bits… It was very open and I had no idea how it would turn out. She recorded it in her flat in New York straight into her laptop. I used that recording as a sample bank and sent a bunch of words to her just to talk in and a couple of tracks have that text. Then I sent her the last track on the album. I had the idea that I wanted her to sing on at least one track. I sent her that and she sent it back within 40 minutes with the lyrics and everything. Again, she recorded it on her laptop alone in a noisy New York apartment. We tried to re-record the vocals but there was something really special about that original take. I did a lot of polishing and editing out car horns and stuff but in the end that was a magical take.
I also wanted to talk about the Hinge Finger release. I was kind of surprised by that: I wasn’t expecting a Peder Mannerfelt 12” on Hinge Finger. The track that’s been previewed is great I really love it.
Cheers! Does it make sense to you that there’s going to be a Hinge Finger release?
It does make sense now I’ve thought about it but at first I was surprised, partly because I haven’t heard anything from Hinge Finger for a while. It kind of clicked with the really ravey thing that’s going on in that track…
Well they haven’t released anything for a couple of years. That’s definitely the most DJ-friendly track on the release. I see it as an extension of the album in a way. It’s just in a bit more of an ordered techno-framework. I used similar techniques in a way. To me it kind of fits but I always get excited by something new. It was a chance thing to be able to get something out on Hinge, it was kind of a dream come true.
How did you get in touch with that label?
Will [Bankhead] contacted me over Christmas, the beginning of the year. He sent me a message saying ‘hi, if you ever want to do something together hit me up’ and I didn’t do anything then but later I did those tracks and thought about it… Where would I want to release these tracks? Hinge Finger would be fucking awesome. I sent them over to Will and they responded within the hour.
Do you think a lot about where things are going to go? Like with the Congo Record you said you were keen to have it on a Belgian label.
Of course. I think about all of that. But it’s always chance in the end - how things end up. I would like to be one of those artists that only releases on one label, but then again when someone says ‘hi - do you want to do something’, I get excited. For me, those years where I was really struggling to make music and trying to make techno but it was all shit, when I let go a bit and did something really simple is when all the techno producers came back and were interested again.
Thinking about it more, when I said I was surprised by the Hinge Finger thing… When you look at a label like Archives Intérieures I associate it with this slightly intellectual style. Various places you’ve released have maybe challenged the parameters of where your music can fit, where it seems to work from a listeners perspective.
That’s good to hear. I don’t want to be too stuck in a box going back to the Atonal thing. Not dissing anyone else but I don’t feel comfortable just being another noisy techno bloke. Like with the track with Glasser, we were trying to do a pop song in a way! That’s why it’s called ‘I Love You’…
HINF8678 will be released in early September. It is currently available for pre-order via Juno.