Since the early 90s, leading Swedish DJ and artist Jesper Dahlback has secured his productions at the deep heart of clubland - his strong and relentless beats some of the most exciting and innovative sounds around. Recently collaborating with Alexi Delano, Adam Beyer and Tiga, his work means as much today as it did in the beginning hours of Swedish techno.
Pulse: Do you think Sweden’s sound is still having as big an impact as it did? Jesper Dahlback: It’s hard to say, I suppose everything comes and goes in waves. At the moment I think there’s more electronic music than ever coming from Sweden in the form of artists like Swedish House Mafia. They kind of put Sweden on the map with their stuff and I think it’s pretty impressive, they’ve done stuff not even Abba managed to do, so I suppose it’s bigger than ever.
Is there anyone from there we should watch out for? Yeah of course, there’s plenty of artists. I can only mention the new guys on my own label that I’m releasing. There’s one guy called Nima Khak and he’s done some stuff for Drumcode and H Productions, there’s another guy called Kimono to watch too.
Do you ever get tired of being grouped, tied to the Swedish movement that you started from? I’ve never really considered myself part of it. What I’ve experienced and what I did in the early years, or anyone else I guess of my friends like Adam (Beyer) or Cari (Lekebusch), I think of it as more of a global phenomenon, the whole DJ culture. We all connected in Sweden, like the rebellious punk movement everyone was networking and trying to stick together but now the music is like pop music, there’s nothing particularly Scandinavian about what I do.
I’ve read you’re from a family of musicians, did that influence your career path? I think I probably have inherited some genetical things. As much as it’s probably the musical gene it’s also stuff like stubbornness. I mean the whole home studio thing back in the 90s was like trying to land a rocket on the moon; you needed so much equipment, cables and different buttons - it was really complicated to create music compared to today where you just have to download a program, you had to stick with it.
What made you go after techno rather than guitars? The whole electronic sound appealed to me. I like the the exactness of the drum machines. I also like acoustic music and listening to other genres but there’s always been something special about electronic music. In my youth, techno music was kind of like punk, it was a rebellious music form.
Did you include any punk ideals in your own music? Yeah, actually techno music was the counterpart to using lyrics. It was more about expressing yourself and what you were about by just attending different rave parties, dressing in rave clothes.
Did you sport any crazy outfits? Yeah I mean there were some of course. It was about trying to dress up as someone who looked like a spaceman or something, just to piss off the other people off.
Because the movement is so widespread, do you feel there’s been any saturation in the quality of nights? It’s both good and bad, I mean, but it’s up to you, it’s up to yourself in the end. If you just want to go out somewhere you can find something easy but if you want to experience something special that’s going to cost you a little bit extra in terms of traveling further away or buying more expensive tickets. I don’t think anyone wishes to go back in time when there were hardly any clubs though.
Are there any good promoters or clubs that you’re particularly enjoying at the moment, have the right ethos? Obviously one of the best clubs at the moment would be the Berghain in Berlin but that doesn’t need much more explanation. Promoters? I was just in Spain in a club called Metro and they have these little traditions of trying to create a special experience for you as a club-goer. It’s just little things, like it was Valentines Day and after my set they turned off the music and put on this track by Shakira or something, called something like I want to Kiss You and these drag guys, transvestites came out.. It’s always going to be stuff like that that’s great. The main problem today is the economy in Europe - it’s pretty bad, people don’t have that much money to spend. It puts a lot of things in perspective: there’s lots of creative things you can do if you want it’s just if you’re a promoter you’re not going to make money or you risk losing money to do something more special. What I miss from the older days is the risk: sometimes you win something and sometimes you lose whereas today because of the professionalism nobody wants to lose anything and that takes out the will to experiment.
Have you seen yourself change as a DJ/producer over the years? I mean for me it’s always a challenge to do a new good track and I guess my motto is that the day it doesn’t feel like a challenge to do something new then I should be looking for a new job. I guess that’s one side of my personality, I always want to do something new or something I’ve never done before and if it’s not a challenge then I usually don’t finish the track or the project.
What are you pushing then at the moment? What are you experimenting with? At the moment I really enjoy working with the old hardware that I’ve kept over the years. About 10 years ago I shoved all the old analogue hardware away in the storage room and just used a computer a lot but now these last few years I’ve found new ways to combine the old and new technology. Also I’ve been making the classic techno that I always wanted to make, back in the old days it was always too complicated or took too much time to finish it.
Have you been integrating your own tracks into your sets? A few years ago I just started playing my own tracks for a laugh then after a while I kind of made it into a thing because I decided I’m actually not a DJ but I see myself as a producer, an artist who writes music. When I DJ I play the music I do myself or stuff I do with other people or remixes I do just because it makes sense, it’s like a little showcase or something.
You’ve worked under a lot of alisases, don’t you think music is versatile enough to produce under one name? Actually to tell you the truth nowadays I’m using less pseudonyms than ever. I used to use a lot of pseudonyms in the past because it was more important to tie a certain sound to a certain artist name - nowadays I don’t really give a shit. Sometimes when I do stuff with Alexi Delano we call ourselves ADJD but that’s the only pseudonym I’m using at the moment. There’s these two-man bands like ADJD and also with my other friend of mine Louis Huhta, Bromache Dove.
Are you working on them at the moment? I’ve just recorded some stuff with Alexi just before Christmas and there’s also some new stuff with the Bromache Dove project coming out shortly through a distribution company in Detroit I think.
When collaborating does your work process change? Do you have to make sacrifices to your own style for someone else’s? No I don’t think so. I fall into a role, the guys that I work with successfully, for some reason, you just fall into this role of doing certain parts. Maybe I will be concentrating more on bringing out certain sounds on a synthesiser, doing a bit of mixing and putting in effects and maybe Alexi will do the arrangements and programming, it works out.
What’s your plans for the rest of the year? There’s going to be a lot of really good releases on the label, I’m getting good remixes through and you know making different plans for touring America and Asia. I’m really looking forward to this year, I can’t really mention anything in particular, just a general good feeling.
For more on Jesper, head here