The Norwegian rock hit “Sultana” filled the dance floors when disco was conceived at New York’s nightclubs in the early 1970s. 50 years later, the hit by the group Titanic is still a model for a new wave of Norwegian disco. Learn more about Norwegian disco hits.
From crossover stars like Røyksopp and Annie to progressive disco acts like Prins Thomas and Lindstrøm, Norway seems like a hub of exeptional DJs and idiosyncratic dance producers. The documentary Northern Disco Lights: The Rise and Rise of Norwegian Dance Music attempts to explain why and sheds light on the important dance music movement, birthed in the icy landscapes of the Arctic Circle, which came to influence the world’s electronic scene.
The story of Titanic’s “Sultana” is the story of Norway’s first international rock hit. It makes the Norwegian band a regular guest among the rock society in St. Tropez. But at the same time as the Norwegian band is partying with the Rolling Stones, Steve McQueen, Brigitte Bardot and Rod Stewart, their percussive instrumental plays an important role when disco is born in New York’s underground clubs in the early 1970s.
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Another hit from 1977 is “I gotta feel something” by Polish-born Alex. Alex is one of those who came closest to a genuinely American-inspired soul / funk expression in Norway. This song is a long and deep romantic disco hit from her second album.
In 1979 came Frank Aleksandersen’s sleazy and ubercool disco rock “Kong Vinter”, not far from the sound image “Fashion” by David Bowie.
In the 1980s, the Norwegian oil boom led to a cultural advancement, a musical “catching up” with the rest of Europe. Kjetil Stokkan’s pop group Zoo did several songs that flirted with soul and disco, but never as bizarre and futuristic as in the song “Jeg robot” (1980). It was rediscovered via Rune Lindbæk’s “Roboterotikk”, and later edited by Dimitri From Paris.
The group “The Aller Værste” had an anti-disco image, but their “Dans til musikken” (1980) is the ultimate punk disco song in Norwegian history, not far from the later expression of LCD Soundsystem.
Beranek’s “Dra til helvet” (1981) was banned on radio, but a giga-hit. Beranek mixes punk’s snarling and sarcastic expressions with a comp that is pure disco-minimalism.
The obscure Norwegian single release “Fotspor” by Frode Holm (1981) contains lyrics with references to both Los Angeles and San Francisco. The comp is easily funky in late 1970s Crusaders / Quincy Jones style.
It was in the early 1990s that the first wave of acts like Biosphere and Mental Overdrive started getting international recognition, putting a stake in the ground for Norway’s musical relevance.
Plann’s “Cherokee” (1982) is a whimsical synth pop project, a kind of synthetic jungle disco reminiscent of a cross between Yello and Native American music.
Ken-Dang, a band from Bergen, with roots in post-punk and vocal by Kjersti Bergersen, released “Born in Borneo” in 1983. This has become a collector’s item on the cosmic disco scene, with its percussive, ethnic and slightly mysterious character. Typical of Euro-African music from the early 1980s, atypical of a Norwegian band.
Per Kristian “Muffe” Indrehus and Geir Olav “Gækki” Bøkestad with their band Creation were the snot-nosed teenagers’ pop music’s greatest in the 1980s. “I’m Going Up” (1985) was a small detour, released only as a single, a fairly successful Italo-disco boogie song.
Later in the decade, a young, excitable DJ named Bjørn Torske emerged and began performing in the UK, returning home each time with exotic records. His music remains influential, favoring off-kilter, cosmic, noodling passages over the tight pop constructions of his Swedish neighbors. It bends like his gangly frame, long and spindly, with shades of wonky house, kosmiche-leaning disco, and Afro-cosmic flourishes.
“We were trying to escape the dull reality of living in Norway,” says Bjørn Torske, who was at the helm of sculpting the Scandinavian country’s sound in his hometown of Tromsø, one of the most northerly cities in the world. A country famed for its Northern Lights phenomenon and reindeer, it’s also the home of renowned artists like Torske, Martinsen, Strangefruit, Annie, Lindstrom, Prins Thomas, Todd Terje and more – who all feature in the documentary Northern Disco Lights: The Rise and Rise of Norwegian Dance Music.
The outsider on the list in Norway was Dr. Erik’s “Det eneste jeg vil, er å ha det fett”. It became a Norwegian underground hit in 1997. The good doctor came up with a hedonic tribute to life in full falsetto and bravura.
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In 1999, Annie released her evergreen “The Greatest Hit”. This Madonna-sampled song is the biggest Norwegian disco hit in recent times.
The same year, the late Tore “Erot” Kroknes’ “Song for Annie” was released. He was not just the man behind Annie’s first release. He was also the mainstay of the new Norwegian disco. He had an unusually deep, almost psychedelic, expression.
One of the first 1990s songs to hit the international club scene was Bjørn Torske’s “Jeg vil være søppelmann” (1999). This is tribal-disco at its most minimalist and best functioning.
«Please stay” (Røyksopp remix) by Mekon (2000) was one of the songs that made the world open its eyes to Røyksopp. It stood out as pure metronomic machine disco in the best Patrick Cowley / Giorgio Moroder style.
The song that put Mjøndalen on the map was Todd Terje’s “Eurodans” from 2004, an ultra-catchy and modern piece of Ital-boogie, and just one of Terje Olsen’s many travels into discoland.
Rune Lindbæk & Lindstøm: “Alien in my Pocket (Prins Thomas remix) (2004) represents three of the strongest in Norwegian disco overall. They have a sea of material to choose from, but this one stands out as a piece of solid modern disco.
In 2005, Lindstrøm became the country’s first artist to break through internationally with “I Feel Space,” his throbbing, off-kilter take on Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Prins Thomas, one of the best disco DJs in Europe, also came to prominence at this time and remains one of the seminal voices in Norway, as he runs many of the area’s small labels. And Todd Terje emerged from this wave as a global house star, with an ear for perfect pop hooks and sets at Coachella and other festivals.
Lindstrøm & Christabelle: Lovesick / Baby Can’t Stop (2010) contains songs from an album that was released a year earlier. Hans Petter Lindström’s escapades to the disco universe are innumerable, but these songs with a successful ripoff by Michael Jackson, without sounding like it, are extremely successful. Lovesick sounds like a lovesick Donna Summer.
The circle ends via Todd Terje’s imaginative remix of Bjørn Torske’s “Langt fra Afrika” (2011), an unofficial cover version of the Titanic’s “Sultana” with batucada rhythms and winds.
The hit “Sultana”, which will never die, reappears when clubs like HeadOn teach Oslo people to dance again in the 1990s. And now in the 2000s, this timeless groove becomes a source of inspiration for a new disco generation in Norway.
A rising star in Norway’s disco scene was Tore “Erot” Kroknes. Unfortunately, he died tragically in 2001 at age 23. He was known for his production work for his partner, Annie, in addition to his solo 12”s, which were significant to the country’s musical evolution; he is credited with filtering disco and boogie back into Norway’s dance equation. His work still feels eerily prescient and fresh; producers continue to chase his sound.
Per Martinsen, who DJs under the moniker Mental Overdrive, recalls using a radio high in the mountains: “We could just sit up here and monitor what the humans were doing in the rest of the world.” Then teenagers, the purveyors of a high-energy, arpeggiated wave of “cosmic disco” toiled in their rooms and tiny back-bars shrouded in 24-hour darkness to kickstart the movement.
In the book “Turn the Beat Around”, Peter Shapiro writes that “Sultana” became the blue paper for Euro-disco. “Quasi-Latin percussion evokes summers on an Ibiza beach, while the monotonous groove is taken from a strange world between rock and funk, where rigid librarians shake their hips unconvincingly.”
Norwegian Disco Hits, compiled by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): YouTube