2007: a disco odyssey

Pub date February 6, 2007
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

› johnny@sfbg.com

What is space disco? Well, it’s a term some people have thrown around when the music of Hans-Peter Lindstrøm is written about or discussed. What does the man from Oslo, Norway, think of the two-word catchphrase? "I guess the good thing is that some people are telling me, ‘Hey, man, you invented a genre,’ " he says, speaking from Oslo and capping the remark with a characteristic quiet, slightly jittery laugh. "If people think about it that way, it’s fine for me, because I get mentioned. But I think it’s limiting in terms of my music. In my opinion, disco with space elements, lots of laser beams — " he laughs again " — is not a wide genre."

Space disco might not be a wide genre, but Lindstrøm, who’s released 12-inch singles under his last name since 2003 for his own Feedelity label, has provided many of its highlights, recently collected on the compilation It’s a Feedelity Affair. One example is "I Feel Space," a sonic floating shuttle with a title that seemingly plays off the epically orgasmic Giorgio Moroder–produced Donna Summer classic from 1977, "I Feel Love." Another is "Gentle as a Giant," a rhythmic percolator that goes so far as to incorporate the same signature opening trinitarian chords of Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra that Stanley Kubrick utilized in the score of his 1968 cinematic astro classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. As to whether the latter is a joking response to the space disco tag, Lindstrøm pleads innocence. "I just really like [Strauss’s] theme," he says.

Space disco might not even be a genre. But assuming it exists, Lindstrøm has also stepped far outside it, as on a 2005 collaboration with a fellow Oslo musician, Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas (Eskimo Recordings). That album’s expansive leanings are pastoral rather than interstellar. Beginning with a seemingly endless hit from a bong, "Don O Van Budd" sends autumnal wordless harmonies across acoustic plains with an easygoing charm Yo La Tengo might envy.

Asked about music that has emerged from Norway in recent years, Lindstrøm divides it according to city, saying he’s met the Bergen-based Annie and her roommate Skatebard and regularly communicates with fellow Oslo residents such as Thomas and the much sought-after remixer Todd Terje. "He’s one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to contemporary music," Lindstrøm says of the latter. But it’s a mistake to view Lindstrøm’s music in strictly contemporary terms. He was raised on country and western. He shares a multi-instrumental, unconventional approach to disco with the late Arthur Russell, whose Dinosaur recordings he especially enjoys. Many tracks on It’s a Feedelity Affair lock into rock-ready and steady live drum beats and bass lines that wouldn’t be out of place on a record by Neu! or Can.

On Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas‘s "Turkish Delight," Lindstrøm unwinds a Holger Czukay–like lengthy guitar solo — one ingredient, safe to say, that qualifies as a rarity on club tracks. Around the time of the Thomas collaboration’s release, Lindstrøm wasn’t averse to name-checking folks such as Yngwie Malmsteen in an interview and was full of praise for the fuzzed-out solo in the Carpenters’ "Goodbye to Love." But he’s since entered a minimal phase. "I’ve been touring and traveling, playing my music for other people at clubs, and for many people some of the early stuff is too inaccessible," he says. "I’ve been trying to make my music more simple, hopefully without losing what’s important."

It’s around this time that I hear a child crying in the background on Lindstrøm’s end of the line. As he continues to describe his musical approach — "I really like the combination of organic sounds, such as guitar, with digital programming" — the cries grow louder and contort into shrieks.

"Just a minute — can I call you back?" he asks.

Half an hour and one call later, peace has been restored. "My son really wanted to talk to me," Lindstrøm explains, a bit of embarrassment and pride mixed up in the words. Our conversation soon wanders to the subject of his studio. "It’s not like a professional studio. I’ve just installed all my equipment — and I don’t have that much — in a room," he says. "As you know, since we had to interrupt our conversation because of my kid, sometimes I have to go somewhere else."

Like a personal space? Certainly, space is important — Lindstrøm knows this more than most musicians working today. Space disco may not be a wide genre, and it may not exist, but Lindstrøm’s best recordings engage with notions of space in a way that multiplies the word’s meanings. As he jokes, the term can conjure literal images of melodies played on laser beams, and indeed, some of his songs do exactly that. But if that’s what space disco is or can be, the form was probably invented by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Charting realms far from Star Wars kitsch, Lindstrøm uses a much more contemporary disco sound to manipulate notions of space. With — and even without — dub techniques, he expands the dimensions of a song’s sound so the melodies seem to travel into a neon and pitch-black eternity.

This approach is cinematic, really, as that 2001: A Space Odyssey link within "Gentle as a Giant" might suggest. "Hey, wait a minute," I think to myself as I hang up the phone. "Don’t the liner notes of A Feedelity Affair imagine Lindstrøm giving a track-by-track movie pitch to 2046 director Wong Kar Wai?"

It’s a link worth exploring. I’d call Lindstrøm back and ask him about it, but I don’t want to come between him and his son. *


With Carl Craig, Gamall, and ML Tronik and TK Disco

Fri/9, 10 p.m.–4 a.m., $12 advance


444 Jessie, SF