Published Jul 02, 2010Band names almost never represent the actual music, but Casiokids are the anomaly in a sea of imaginations and dictionary searches gone wrong. Based in Bergen, Norway, the quartet have slowly built a name for themselves, fusing together a unique indie pop style to blends simmering electro pulses with fizzy choruses that has been adored by everyone from six-year-olds to the taste-making folks at Moshi Moshi Records in the UK. It was a recent series of seven-inch releases on the label that brought the Kids attention across the Atlantic, earning them a spot at SXSW and eventually snagging them a deal with Polyvinyl Records, which has just released their debut album (a collection of the seven-inches) titled Topp stemning på lokal bar, the very first Norwegian language album to be released domestically in North America. Casiokids' singer Ketil Kinden Endresen explains to Exclaim! why Casio keyboards always let them down, how proud he is to break the language barrier and how a cross-country tour of Norwegian kindergarten classes in an old doughnut sales van made the kids go wild.
How did Casiokids start?
It all started with me getting a demo version of the music program Cubase (which didn't work properly) on my PC in Stavanger in 1999. Fredrik [Øgreid Vogsborgand] and I made some songs with Fredrik's ex-girlfriend's Casio keyboard based on melodies that our friend Ben used to hum loudly on the streets. Then I came up with the most horrible name I could think of, which was Casiokids. Five years after this, Fredrik and I listened to the tapes we made in Stavanger and found them still to be interesting and amusing, and then we formed the band Casiokids together with Omar Johnsen and Kjetil Aabø.
Where did the idea for a tour of kindergarten classes come from? How did the children react to the music?
We often do kids shows and respect them just as much as we respect a grown-up audience. Many people believe we started out as a band playing for solely for kids, hence the band name, but that is not so. Actually it started as a coincidence after our first Norwegian release in 2006 (with the child friendly name Fuck MIDI!) when we decided to have the release concert in a kindergarten in Bergen. Apparently it seemed no one else was doing this kind of thing in kindergartens in the area and there was suddenly a rush of offers to do shows for kids. It was hilarious and so much fun! We traveled around to each kindergarten in an old doughnut sales van setting up the gear in one of the bigger rooms and the kids would just go wild, dance, sing along and have lots of fun. We combined the concerts with a sound workshop after the show where we made songs together with the kids. We have over the years done many different projects for and with kids, including dance projects, puppet theatre projects and various sound workshops. The last children's project we did was in February when we made the music and visuals for an opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Sandsli Kindergarten together with Digitalteateret.
The music seems very kid-friendly. Would you say you're kids at heart?
We never intended the music to be for kids, but as we eventually tried to play in a kindergarten the feedback was very good and we continued to include kids shows in our tours. I love it!
You're known for incorporating shadow puppets, multimedia and various animals in your performances. Where did the idea for these types of visuals come from?
Ever since we started playing live in 2004 we've challenged ourselves to experiment with the presentation and the visual expression of our music. The first three years we did most of our shows together with the digital animators and theatre troupe Digitalteateret. We've also done many workshops and sound installations and on the 26th of June we did the children's theatre performance "Gomurskogen" together with Digitalteateret at the mini-Øya festival in Oslo Norway. Since last year most of our concerts we have a focus on the music though.
The band's name came from using crappy keyboards at the start. What kind of equipment are you using now? Is it still the same used Casios?
Unfortunately yes. They break all the time!
Datarock, Kings of Convenience and Annie are also from Bergen. Is the music scene as vibrant as the three of you suggest?
The music scene in Bergen is small and including, and many Norwegian bands from smaller cities move here to be a part of it. Datarock, Kings of Convenience and Røyksopp have all inspired us. Bjørn Torske, the New Wine and Velferd are other Bergen favorites of mine.
Topp stemning på lokal bar doesn't flow like it's a singles compilation. Which came first: the idea to release the singles on Moshi Moshi or the idea of Topp stemning på lokal bar as an album?
The album is kind of a "best of Casiokids 2009" compilation, with our favourite remixes, remakes, the singles that we released on Moshi and a couple of new tracks. The singles came first, but luckily it worked pretty well as an album!
According to the label, Topp stemning på lokal bar is the "first Norwegian-language pop music ever to be released in the U.S." Why is that?
I am very proud to be a part of it, and hope that our experiment will inspire musicians from non-English/Spanish/French speaking countries to expose their own work to this market.
What's funny is that your music is very accessible even though the lyrics are in Norwegian. What made you decide not to sing in English? Was that ever considered?
In the beginning we actually decided not to sing, and only used human voices sampled from audio books and interviews we did ourselves. As we experimented more with vocal harmonies in the studio be decided to follow the idea of making something as true to our everyday lives and personal experiences as possible, hence using the Norwegian language. I truly believe one of our main goals as artists and musicians has to be to create something unique and original, and the Norwegian language was for us a natural part to achieve just that.
My Norwegian is terrible. Can you give me some translations and examples of what certain songs are about?
In general there is a lot of humour. I'm very much inspired by authors such as Daniil Kharms, Ivor Cutler and Amos Tutuola, and I think to a lesser or greater extent that has been influential in my writing. If one is to try and see some reoccurring themes and styles in my lyrics I think surrealism, a little bombastic simplicity and some existential thoughts are thrown in there quite often. At least that is often my intention. Take the lyrics for "En vill hest" for instance. In short it's about taking control of your own destiny, being all that one can be, which can sometimes be very hard. I like to think that I live my life like I was on the back of a wild horse, keep holding on to it no matter how hard and sudden it twists and turns, making my own decisions and look my challenges straight into the eye. Those were the main ideas when I wrote the lyrics at least, and its up to others to decide if I managed to achieve what I set out to do. I think Kristoffer Borgli (the director of the "En vill hest" music video) has interpreted the lyrics really nicely with the main character battling this mysterious spell that has fallen upon him and taking control of it. I've posted some of the lyrics in English on our webpage and intend to publish more soon.
I do know the album title translates as "Great atmosphere in the local pub." Is the pub a place where the band spends a lot of time? What is the story behind the title?
When France won against Portugal in the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup in soccer my mom was in France in a bar that showed the game and sent me an SMS saying "Topp stemning på lokal bar." Not that I, or my mother for that matter are soccer fans in any way, but that sentence just stuck with me, and it appealed to me so much that I knew I had to use it one day. When we had to name our album I thought that this sentence would finally come in handy as it kind of sums up some of our characteristics as a band and our music as such. If you ever visit Bergen I would suggest you come visit us at our local bar Vamoose.
What was the response like at SXSW this year?
SXSW is always magical, and many of our most legendary concert memories are from shows there. This year was no exception, though I wish the weather could have been better!
I saw you play on a wee dock at the Øya Festival in Oslo two years ago. What are the differences between playing at home in Norway compared to the UK and U.S.?
Oh! That was our first ever five-minute gig! We were scheduled to play on a dock between two larger stages during the daytime program to promote our show later same evening, and one of the bands ran late, which obviously made us look silly. I think we possibly speeded up one of the two songs to fit it in. In Scandinavia the audience sing along, but dancing has no cultural boundaries.
Speaking of that, your music is very danceable. Do you feel like you're part of the club scene in Norway?
Prins Thomas, Lindstrøm, Tangoterje, Rune Lindbæk and Bjørn Torske are dance legends to me! I love them. Whether we are part of the same scene or not I couldn't tell.
You guys use samples in your music. What is the origin of these samples? What do you look for in a good sample?
We've sampled audio books, interviews we've done ourselves (namely on the song "Last dance of the Bolsjeviks"), and a couple of snare drums and such. Anything that excites us or will add to our idea.