Rumours have been circulating for some time that Prins Thomas is either a Viking or a member of the Mafia. Regardless of whether either of these are true, he is certainly one of the key figures in the emergence of a recogniseably Norwegian sound. As a producer and a DJ, he has travelled the globe, playing to thousands at festivals as well as to a single man clad head-to-toe in leather. His productions both as a solo artist and alongside long time collaborator Hans-Peter Lindstrom have garnered support from the world's biggest DJs and most influential tastemakers.
What’s your favourite Fjord?
(laughs) Well I am going to cheat and say a lake. It’s called Mjøsa and it’s the lake next to where I grew up. It’s a very small lake and there is this old steam ship that brings all the tourists for a boat ride.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a town called Hamar, which is a little bit further north than Oslo. For those that have been to Norway, it’s like an hour the other way from Oslo airport. I moved to Oslo to make it big. It's like moving to Norway’s version of the big apple. Also my wife went to nursing studies there, so I guess I also sort of had to go with her (laughs).
Are you actually a Viking?
YES! (laughs) No, unfortunately I am not. Actually I just read in the papers today that somewhere in England they just found all these skulls and bones and it seemed to be Vikings who had come to take the British and they actually got slaughtered there. So I would have lost.
What was the first record you bought?
The first record I ever bought with my own money was probably some children’s record. I had already started buying stuff when I was six or seven years old, children’s records and early hip hop stuff and pop records too, a real mixture. I remember buying the Blue Album from The Beatles with my own money after getting the Red one for my sixth birthday. That is the first one I can remember.
Most of the records that I have a relationship with, the ones that I really remember from that period, were mostly my stepfather’s records. He played everything from the Cramps and punk, through to classical music, his taste in music had a big influence on me, he played a lot of music to me at home. Music that I wouldn’t have ever heard if it wasn’t for him.
Who taught you how to DJ?
I had this long period where I came up with this idea of playing two records at once. I kind of invented DJing on my own by playing two records at the same time without really knowing how to do it or if anybody did it but I was just a lousy bedroom DJ at first. I’d listen to tapes where people mixed together two records but never really thought, this is how I could do it or that kind of thing. I remember reading David Toop’s Rap Attack, which is a book about hip hop culture and watching Beat Street and Wild Style and kind of getting into it that way, but for me, I was still very young, still playing with Lego, so I didn’t really choose there and then that I was going to be a DJ. Pretty early on though I knew I was going to keep on doing something with music but it wasn’t I guess until later like ’93, ’94 that friends of mine convinced me that I was actually doing something special and something different to what other people where doing.
Then my first gig outside my bedroom was playing at the Wednesday night youth club. It was formerly like a girls school because directly translated it was 'The Girls School Youth Club'. That was probably around 85 or 86. I had only been playing with belt-driven turntables without pitch controls, so even later when I started playing at places that had Technics players I didn’t use the pitch controls. I still kept on pushing the records and it wasn’t until I started playing out as an adult in clubs, like ’93 or ’94 that I actually started trying out the pitches and realised how easy this was.
How did that lead onto producing?
I guess my first baby steps of getting into producing dance music were round the mid-’90s. I was trying to make stuff with a friend of mine who had some samplers and tape machines, trying out different ideas but we didn’t really work it out until I got my first computer and that was 2002 or 2003. I had never had a computer before and I quickly learned the basic stuff which opened all the doors for me. I had previously been playing in bands though and going to a proper studio, so I kind of knew some of the processes – well the analogue process and recording but I had no idea about the digital side.
How did you meet Lindstrom?
As far as I can remember we met a year or two before I started making music on my own, so I think it was around the end of the '90s beginning of 2000. We were both doing stuff at a place called the Jacid club which was also a record label that put out Hans Peter’s first record. He was already getting booking offers to come to Japan and wherever and wanted me to come along. So we put together this group; I was like the mad professor of the group with a mixing board and echo effects and everything, tapping into the drums and the keyboards. So we did a couple of live shows that way and then Hans Peter asked me to try and do a remix for him which was one of the first things I did.
What is your favourite remix you've done?
I have done quite a few (laughs), and the ones I’m happy with are spread right over from the first stuff I did to some of the recent stuff I have done. Sometimes the best stuff is when you go somewhere you had no idea you were going with it. I did one for this Irish guy called Jape, a track called Floating. That really just took on a life of its own and I am very happy with that and loads of people say that is one of my best, but I think it is probably due to the pop feel, or the sing-along feel to it. It isn’t at all dubby or disco, space or anything. Though… perhaps it is a lot spacier than some of the so called 'space disco' stuff (laughs).
Does space disco actually have any meaning?
No. I would be really happy if people didn’t have any categories or at least had very open categories. But if you have to have one, I think I am happier with 'the universal boogie'. If you ask what is that, it can be anything, any kind of music. It’s just what makes you dance! When it comes to tags, people say it so many times and put up all these walls and say these things now fit into this box. It becomes harder to relate to. I mean I could do a track, try to do like a more techno track and people will still call it space disco. I’ll do my best Krautrock impression together with Lindstrom and people will just be like, yeah, space disco.
How do you choose what you want to remix?
It’s probably not a very charming answer but I consider myself like a factory worker. I do the task at hand. But still I am picky and for me there is no point in doing a remix of tracks that sound exactly like the sort of stuff I do on my own. It also has to be something that I can already, by the first listen, hear something I want to do with the song. I don’t really have a need to do the same thing over and over, at least I am not trying to. I’m not trying to perfect a formula or anything. I try to be open-minded and it’s always exciting getting all very different kinds of stuff, remixing jazz tracks or rock bands. But obviously money also has to come into the picture as well. Even if this is my well paid hobby and is one of the things that I really cherish in life. It is still a job and I still have to support my family
Why did the Norwegian scene suddenly become so well known a few years ago?
If you look back through Norwegian musical history there’s been a lot stuff from Ole Bull, who used to be a world famous violin player, to Edvard Grieg who was a classical musician and composer. There is stuff that has very much its own identity and flavour and a sound that is Norwegian, it sounds like it does because it comes from Norway. The Norwegian jazz stuff from the ‘60s and ’70s, for example.
The stuff that is coming out now is probably the least Norwegian, the least special in a way because it’s so universal. For example, I can only speak for the people I know and the people who are my contemporaries, but what has been good in say Oslo, well actually over the whole of Norway is a lack of say the business. There were no record companies; there is still now really no industry at all, just a few record stores. It means that you don’t have the same input as you might in say London or Tokyo or wherever. So there are less rules, less ideas being pushed into your head. It means there are almost no ideas about what you are supposed to do. Without that outside influence you end up a lot of the times with people just getting it slightly wrong, but maybe that’s what makes it special.
Does Scandinavia’s geographical location have an impact?
It's a major factor, we're stuck there at the end of the line you know? There is no reason to pass through. When the whole Bergin scene was really big and booming, nightlife in Oslo was really good and all the people who now basically focus on making music, then they where too busy being DJs. The whole Bergin thing got hyped and then everything got picked up really quickly and a lot of people really jumped on the wagon there and then. In Oslo though, things have been able to grow a lot more naturally for a long time now and it has only ever been friendly competition.
Everybody pushes each other and is trying to help each other out and obviously a big factor is setting up our own labels. I thought it was sad to see so many people sending their tracks off to so many foreign labels and it not benefiting Norway, apart from just getting some sales and a few gigs in other countries. Essentially in most cases it’s the label that benefits from the release. So I talked a lot with Lindstrom about it and we said it would be much better to put it out from Norway with a strong Norwegian identity.
There is though starting to be some young, new talent coming through. For the first time I am releasing stuff on the label from people who are barely 20 years old and that is a really big thing – that we have been able to influence some young people and save them from trance music.
What is the scene in Oslo like now?
It’s very, very small. It’s basically based around a couple of clubs and the same old people. But you know, though it’s quite sad to say, I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of Oslo. I guess it’s quite random, whatever stuff I get. Sometimes it’s people who like wait to build up the courage to come and give me the CD and they say, 'We’ve been coming to your night for two years and we’ve been making music and now that we actually know you a little bit here’s our demo,' but in general there are loads of great bands doing loads of different styles. There is this new, very Scandinavian thing called Skwee. It is like, actually I wouldn’t know how to describe it. I guess it is a bit like hip hop and electro clash, like video game music. It’s actually quite cool; it’s like a Norwegian version of grime or something like that, but still sounds quite different. I don’t though have the full overview anymore, sadly.
Are the so called, Norwegian Disco Mafia actually all friends?
No we are actually the Mafia... (laughs) We are actually all friends, I probably only see Hans Peter when we are in the studio together or working in studios next door to each other. We both have busy lives with wives and kids and all that. I am not really a social person at home. The one time I go out and get to see all my friends is when I do my monthly night in Oslo. That’s when we go and have a big dinner and get really, really drunk and play music. It’s just a big gang of people and we all know each other well. I mean we have probably been the more productive. We were the people that were there at the right spot at the right time.
Do you still go out to parties then?
I don’t really have the time to. I do whenever I’m abroad, when I’m in Japan or Australia or wherever and I’m stuck there for a week I go out and try to check out local talent on the nights I have. I would also, if I was still young and single, but I’m not. Well I am still relatively young (laughs) when you consider that I am speaking with a journalist from Bill Brewster’s website! (laughs even more). Though for each kid you have you add 5 years to your age so I am 45 now. I think that must mean that Bill is about 90?
What’s your favourite club?
There are so many, the Redrum in Helsinki is really, really amazing. it’s like one of the best Japanese clubs but in Scandinavia. Robert Johnson in Frankfurt is really good. They are both quite small, intimate clubs, only like two or three hundred capacity and really good sound and you are close to the crowd. There are so many good clubs; I could give a totally different answer if something else popped into my mind first. I can barely remember where I was last week, it’s not usual for me to be that way but at the moment I have a manager to manage my bookings but then I also have my wife who manages my own schedule, my life. 'No you can’t play this weekend.'
Now though she is so busy with here studies and I have booked way too many gigs and have been playing every week for ages now, and am going to have to keep on doing it for two more weeks and then have a long break. Actually one really amazing, really good gig was in the Buddha bar of all places, the Buddha bar in Jakarta, in Indonesia, that was really, really good. Same with Zouk in Singapore. I played a really fun festival in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago.
What about Japan
I didn’t say Japan because most of the clubs in Japan are on another level. It's always the best club you have ever been to, because they always take the sound system seriously and the crowds are always totally up for it; they are not waiting around for you to do something. If they’re there, then they are there to party. They’re there to listen to you, you don’t just fulfil a function, as a DJ they come to hear you. This atmosphere, this buzz, it usually brings out the best in you. I am going there in about a week now and I am really excited.
What is the strangest thing you have ever seen in a club?
You will have to check this story with Phil Mison. But it is actually Phil Mison playing to a guy dressed up in like full leather, dancing with his daughter and nobody else in Oslo. It was at the first, no actually at the second Full Pupp party ever.
What is the most superstar DJ thing that has ever happened to you?
Getting recognised as Prins Thomas by two Japanese tourists at the airport in Oslo when coming home from somewhere. They were really freaked out, they had come travelling with one their mothers or something, and she was like 80 years old! The pulled her into the conversation and were shaking here saying, 'This is Prins Thomas, its Prins Thomas!' bowing and everything, and unpacking a big bag they had with them, and giving me some of their noodles they had brought along. That was very, very strange, but really funny too. It was when I was landing and I was kind of getting in to the mood of being Dad again, not Super Thomas.
Tell me about your parties in London
It’s actually so I can spend some time with my friends, hanging out drinking beer and having fun. The hidden plan though of course is world domination. I mean I enjoy going and playing for two hours or so at somebody else’s night, also though once in a while it’s fun and it’s important to do something different, that hopefully you can put your mark on.
Do you prefer it when you can play for longer?
I like both; it’s good to have a healthy mixture of both. Short sets are fine, and then once in a while I need to play a longer set. It’s the same with clubs. I love playing those really small, really intimate clubs. At the same time though, it’s always nice to play at a big festival and play your big records, or playing your strange records to a big a crowd.
Do you still find yourself getting excited over new music?
Yes totally, in fact more than ever. Yet at the same time it has been a while since I heard something that I think I haven’t heard before, but then again I have never really been that way. Maybe the only time that I ever thought here is something I really have never heard before was the first time I heard Holger Czukay, the bass player from Can. He made very strange, kind of very abstract pop music. But for me it’s usually like, I am excited about the stuff I got in the mail yesterday, I’m excited about the last CD that I bought from the record store or the new Black Keys track or the (laughs) five new DFA things I got in the post. I mean there is just great stuff coming from all different places.
Do you still go record shopping?
Yeah, I do… I mean I try to go to record shops wherever I go but obviously time is a factor, I can’t always go to record stores when I have to travel, but I still trawl second hand shops all over and actively buy records, I’m not just playing the promos I get sent for instance.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my wife and kids actually. My wife’s studying economics, taking her masters degree, which I think is quite tough with having me travelling all the time and especially considering she has been a nurse most of her life and then deciding to this and my two beautiful kids, one who is soon an adult and one who is six years old.
What do you do when you’re not making music or DJing?
I cook, I play with my youngest son, building Lego or playing Nintendo. I watch loads of HBO series with my wife. We have watched all the series; Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, we have watched that two times! The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development… Oh I have seen The Mighty Boosh, she hates it! I sound like a shallow person, but I am not (laughs). I have very many sides to me. I make sweet, sweet love (laughs a lot). That’s about it!
What is it that inspires you to go back into the studio?
It’s the actual process of making music, the process of creating something. It’s a pain the ass to wrap up and finish a track but I always love pressing a record or just sitting down behind a drum kit or whatever and seeing something fall into shape. I really never sit around and wait for inspiration or plan my projects ahead, it’s always, you stamp your card at the door and you go into the factory from nine till whenever and you just make music!
Outside of music what inspires you?
All this other stuff that I do. Definitely, it sounds like a really stupid, clichéd answer but travelling, reading books, going to new places and eating new foods, all this is really inspiring. I would say going skiing with my extended family in the Norwegian mountains, without music for three days, that is also really inspiring, because… I sound really boring... skiing is quite boring and cold (shows me a picture on his phone of him with ice in his moustache).
Also, I went out to a restaurant in Indonesia and met some amazing, lovely people there. They were basically doing the same thing as me but on the other side of the world. We had like a two-hour meal and it was a big, big pleasure except eating a green chilli and stupidly thinking it was a pickle. But it was this super-strong green Indonesian, local chilli that almost killed me. We decided that next time I am over we will do something together. So I guess meeting other people and doing things with them. I would say it is the stuff that I don’t normally get to do, except I am really lucky because this is the stuff that I normally do get to do.
Interviewed by Mark Treadwell in London, March 12, 2010