Famous for his wide-ranging collection of remixes and his unique take on dance music, Danish DJ Kasper Bjørke returns with a beautiful, complementary double-EP, released a few weeks apart. Named after the legendary Robert Frost poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay is a manifold experience of an EP, both downtempo and clubby, catering to two separate ambiances or a multi-dimensional one.
The healing powers of music and protecting the environment are two themes which lie at the epicentre of Kasper’s work, whether it be through the beautiful artwork for his album, his choice to cut touring dates to lower his carbon footprint or his exploration of the powers of ambient music to reduce anxiety. Together, we sit down and try to dismantle the inspiration behind his latest release, how he switched planes for trains and the urgency to take action to protect the powerful, beautiful forces nature provides us with.
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To start things off, could you tell me where you’re speaking from and why you’re there?
I’m just at home in Copenhagen, which also happens to be my office and my studio. Oh! And if you hear screams in the background, that would be my youngest daughter, who’s just a few months old.
Congrats on the release of your double EP, Nothing Gold Can Stay (Part A), which was released at the end of October. Part B was released last week, on November 22. Can you explain the name and the choice of releasing it in two parts? Can they be viewed as separate entities?
I released an ambient record last year under The Kasper Bjorke Quartet, and to be honest, had felt rather alienated from dance music since. But then, this summer, I decided to sit down and try out some ideas and came up with some more downtempo songs. The idea was to combine two different moods, a compilation of dance tracks and more electronic songs, and I thought it would be an interesting idea to release them in two different EPs in order to properly separate both vibes and experiences. I wanted the freedom to make bangers but had also started exploring more downtempo songs on my previous albums. Ideally, Part A is catered for home listening, whilst Part B is a lot more clubby. It also felt weird to combine these songs with club remixes, so a remix album will be out next.
The third track on the album is a pulsing cover of the Alessi Brothers’ gorgeous 1976 classic Seabird. Can you tell me why you chose to cover this particular song and what extra layer you wanted to give it?
To start with, it is the perfect, most beautiful song to end a club set with at 5 am and I can’t recall the number of times I’ve done this, especially at Jolene in Copenhagen in front of a crowd of two hundred people. My friend and collaborator on the record, Christian d’Or, always used it as a closing track as well. Also, it had been ten years since I covered Heaven by The Rolling Stones, which was so much fun to produce and came out so easily. I thought it would be the appropriate time to release a new cover, like a kind of anniversary.
However, this one turned out to be so much harder work because I had to adapt it to modern production and it was difficult to catch the nerve – it has such a lo-fi feel and most layers I was adding didn’t fit or sound right. It took me ages to figure out which instruments I wanted to use – should I add drums and getting the bass and keyboard to fit it was a huge challenge. I love what I did with the two vocals though: my friend Toby has a very high-pitched voice, whereas Christian has a very deep one, and I think that contrast works really well on our version. It has a totally different vibe from the original. It sure took a lot of time to finalize but I think it was worth it in the end.
The album features a lot of collaborations, notably vocals by Toby Ernest, Tomas Høffding and the voice of Justin Strauss. Could you develop a bit on this?
Toby has a beautiful falsetto voice and it might be because I listened to too much Prince growing up, but I have a thing for falsettos, I think they’re so powerful and stunning. I’d already worked with him in 2014 when we released Rush, on which he was featured, and this new collaboration is like a part two of our 2014 track. His voice always adds this slow, sensual vibe, which works so well.
As for Justin Strauss, he is a legendary DJ from New York and frontman of a post-disco punk band called Milk & Cookies. He used to be friends with Andy Warhol and all of that NYC art scene – he’s one of my idols. He has this fragile voice that I couldn’t get out of my head and I needed him to speak Robert Frost’s words on the track called Nothing Gold Can Stay.
Let’s deepen more into the album’s title and its relationship with Robert Frost.
Indeed, both the track and the album are named after the legendary poem by Robert Frost, which was written in 1923. It’s about the changing of seasons and the cycles of life: nothing can stay the same and things are in a constant and perpetual state of movement, which really speaks to me. I invited a bunch of friends, including the absolute best bassist in the entire world and singer from Who Made Who, to play bass on all of the tracks – he also sings the only Danish vocals I use on Du Du Du.
The track Nothing Gold Can Stay has ambient elements, the only vocals on it being Frost’s words, which are interpreted by Justin Strauss. Would you say this new project folds into your last release or are they two very separate entities?
Yes, those ambient notes would definitely be a nod back to my last project, The Fifty Eleven Project, and can also be interpreted as a moodsetter for the poem because that’s what it’s about: “Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold, Her early leaf’s a flower, But only so an hour”. I wanted the first part of the EP to sound as diverse as possible but couldn’t help but add some ambient tones. I will eventually go back to ambient music because I am obsessed with it, but I also needed to take a step back from what I was doing and release an entirely different body of work this time.
“I will eventually go back to ambient music because I am obsessed with it, but I also needed to take a step back from what I was doing and release an entirely different body of work this time.”
You’ve spoken of the power of ambient music before, can you tell me how you think it heals?
A lot of studies have shown the benefits music can have on our mental health and how it can act as an antidote to anxiety. I got diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and although I had flirted with ambient music before on a couple of tracks, I needed a proper purpose to delve deeper into it. Without purpose, it becomes superfluous, it is a genre that needs to hold more depth than the sole intent of relaxing you and this challenging life event gave me a purpose to do so. The result of this was my 2018 release, The Fifty Eleven Project. I was hugely inspired by Brian Eno’s Music for Airports and I believe the trick with ambient music is how you go about adding that significant layer.
I know that the harsh reality of climate change hugely affects you, and as a consequence, you’ve decided to tone down your international dates because of the amount of travelling it requires and to reduce your carbon footprint. What made you take this decision? What consequences has it had on your career and your finances?
This decision was absolutely my own because it got to the stage where I felt ready to take that step. I also do a lot of music management, as well as compose music for commercials, so I have other sources of income. The climate crisis has reached such a peak recently, and touring is such a huge part of that system that I realized I couldn’t look my five-year-old son in the eye and keep on touring without feeling this immense sense of guilt. I’ve been scaling it down over the past five years – it’s not like I’ve gone from one hundred dates to two overnight; it’s been a slow process.
I’ve only been on a plane three times this year, which is absolutely nothing compared to the number of planes I used to take. A couple of weeks ago, I embarked on my first train-touring weekend: a fourteen-hour train ride to Zurich and then on to Milan to play two dates. The train back to Copenhagen took twenty-five hours, which is a long journey, but in a way, it intensifies the experience and makes it more peaceful. I don’t believe that we belong in the sky and it doesn’t make sense to fly all over the world just because you’re a DJ. And anyway, I’ve done my fair share of it for the past twenty years. In a way, it makes touring a lot more interesting because I get to choose the places I want to play in and have to be smart enough to combine gigs.
This decision reduces the touring possibilities in many countries and places though…
I haven’t been to the States for three years and have even turned down a residency there because it required flying out. It suits me perfectly well now that I have children at home; I would rather stay here with them than spend my time flying around the world. The goal is to play one or two dates per month or organize a full weekend abroad, like I did in Zurich and Milan. Everybody needs to find a way to compensate and consume less, whether be it by recycling or not eating meat, and I practice those things on a daily basis. To be honest, I’m really excited about touring this way; in a way, I feel like a pioneer DJ. It’s just so important to me, and if possible, I would love to start a movement.
Three of your song titles feature an element of water: Seabird, Water and Oceans of Time. The video for Water also features a man diving into it. Along with the gorgeous artwork for the album, is this also a homage to nature? Tell me a bit more about the cover art?
Oh, to be honest, that was purely coincidental but also very natural I suppose. As for the artwork, I actually found it myself on a free website – I usually like to use what’s out there. I picked out those two gorgeous images of a jungle for Part A and a desert to illustrate Part B, and obviously, credited the photographer. I wanted something simple and powerful, a tribute to the natural forces and elements, which also refer back to the title of the EP. The blooming plants, desert, water and poem are all a celebration of the natural world and also act as a beautiful cover for the vinyl.
To conclude, can you tell me about the visual material you used during your last live dates and what you’re planning on releasing next?
In fact, I didn’t use any visuals at all because they were plain club nights and it just felt nice to play a DJ set in the dark after fourteen hours on a train. I’m planning on releasing a remix EP next and will return to the studio in January to work on a new ambient project inspired by a different theme this time. I am ready and excited!
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