Through unconventional methods and in less than a year, Swedish production duo Mr. Top Hat & Art Alfie have made a meteoric rise from relative obscurity, and a quantum leap in setting up their own label ‘Karlovak‘ early last year, pumping out a strong selection of quality white-label vinyl releases. With a penchant for rolling Disco-infused House, a prolific output and no-signs of the pace slackening any time soon, Rudolf Nordström & Oscar Wedren have firmly established themselves as respected musicians in their own right and shaken of that ‘newcomer’ status. Hyponik’s Conor McTernan met up with them on a recent visit to London to chat over a pot of tea about their relationship as musicians, the electronic music scene in Stockholm and doing “regular” guy things such as surfing and picking mushrooms…
Upon meeting Rudolph & Oscar, it is evident that they are two normal guys who share a deep interest in music. Hailing from the hinterlands of Stockholm, there was little known about them until very recently. An interesting pairing, despite a large age-gap, they have an undeniable natural chemistry – they know what they want and they work far better when they’re together. You can see how similar their thought frames are as they constantly finish each others sentences and their production methods mirror this mannerism. Oscar (32) is almost 10 years Rudolph’s senior (23), yet they share such a profound connection through musical understanding, that this is rendered irrelevant. Although they do admit to reacting to certain things differently based on their experiences, Oscar explains that sometimes they may have different reference points to music from different eras and things of that nature. “For example I might relate to some piece of music differently than Rudolph would as I may have heard it played on the radio years back, he obviously didn’t live through that experience in time the same way as myself being a decade younger, but in general we don’t care about things like that.”
Growing up with both parents as artists, creativity runs deep in Rudolph’s blood, (wearing a safety pin for an earring and an army surplus sweater) he explains with a grin why he picked the name ‘Mr. Tophat’ – “I picked it simply because, I often wear a tophat… I’m obsessed with the olden world so it was the natural choice.” Oscar doesn’t have a particular reason as to how or why he picked his moniker but because it simply sounded right to him…”Basically I needed an alias, and thought to myself, yeah this music I’m making sounds like something somebody named Art Alfie would do!”
Both hailing from outside Stockholm, Oscar was reared in Northern Sweden, he moved to the capital when he was 19, Between the and now he has lived on and off in Stockholm with periods lived in Switzerland, London, San Diego and Oslo. Rudolph has lived with his parents in Stockholm’s suburb of Högdalen all his life. After a couple of years of learning how to dj and produce on both ends, they made each others acquaintance at a club called Riche, where they quickly bonded and began swapping techniques, educating and learning from each other. For a couple of years Nordström had to leave Stockholm to study at art school to become an architect, dedicating his daylight hours to his studies he could only find time to produce music at night. They kept in touch via e-mail but it wasn’t until Nordström’s return to the city that they began producing together. Today they share a studio together where they always work side-by-side on their productions, they never sent material to each other while they were living in different cities. Oscar informs “Comments that have been made before weren’t 100% accurate, when we work together we always work together.” Rudolph expains further, “Sometimes one of us may have an idea and work on it alone for a while but the other always jumps in. In most cases we start from scratch, we make the magic together!”
Setting Up A Record Label
The name ‘Karlovak’ is the result of everyday semantics according to Oscar, “We were just playing around with words one day and that’s what came out. It’s the name of a small town in Croatia, but that’s not where we got it from.” One of the main reasons they set up the imprint last year was because the duo had been sitting on at a handful of releases which weren’t going anywhere. It felt natural and the time was right so they decided to take the DIY approach and put the records out themselves. KVK100 was released in January 2013 and there has been a hefty output on Karlovak since with 7 EP’s and a remix pack of the aforementioned, an off shoot series and releases on Bass Culture and No Fit State, it easily could have been overkill for the pair, but despite the odds, it has worked to their complete advantage. Rudolph begins: “It’s not good to release music just for the sake of it… it was really natural for us, because we have been quite productive,”- Oscar finishes “When we started the label, we already had four of the releases completed and ready to go, all we had to do was put them out and that’s exactly what we did.” They had been sitting on the recent release ‘The Best Sense Is Nonsense/Liberance’s Fever’ for a number of months in various different forms before it reached it’s final product, which was put out last month.
With the label going good and things looking up they are considering releasing music from new artists besides themselves in the near future. Oscar starts “We’ve released other artists on remixes but yeah maybe this year we would like to do solo releases from others. We’re sitting on some material from friends and other artists at the moment but we’re not going to push it just yet. There’s no rush, when it feels right it will happen.” They’ve also started a low-key vinyl off-shoot series ‘Karlovak Chrome‘ for their darker productions. They’re anonymous records in a way, one side silver, one side black – Rudolph explains, “Some tracks we do feel like the typical Karlovak sound, but we don’t just make prime time House bangers all the time,” Oscar picks up where he left off, “We needed another output for our darker material so Chrome is a bit murkier and twisted. We wanted to have it as a vinyl only series and keep it under the radar. We’re not really promoting it, just putting it out there and seeing what happens.”
The pair talk together about having different work modes as producers, a creative side and then a more structured work ethic, Rudolph begins “So it’s like, ok, are we gonna drink ten beers and make two new tracks or are we gonna sit down and do some pre-masters? We are very focused when we are together in the studio, we have fun of course, but we don’t do anything else. If I’m sitting alone I can’t focus like that.” Oscar agrees, “You can’t scroll through Facebook or Discogs for an hour when you’re working with somebody else!” Today the guys share a studio with another respected Swedish producer named Abdulla Rashim – a purveyor of fine Techno, he has his debut LP due on Northern Electronics this May. Rudolph describes his vibe, “He’s a very interesting guy from Stockholm, who makes really dope hypnotic Techno. He is more or less a complete artist, he’s so accurate in what he’s doing.” Rashim has recently collaborated with the pair, remixing their track ‘12 Minutes Of History’ for the Karlovak Chrome Series.
Insight to the Stockholm Clubbing Scene
Compared to London, Berlin, New York or wherever, Stockholm is quite a mysterious place for a lot of people. The electronic music landscape in the Swedish capital is controlled fiercely by a strict regime of government policies, where every little factor is regulated and enforced. Oscar shines some light on the situation for perspective, “If you go to Berlin it’s kind of like anything goes, Stockholm is not like that, it’s really regulated, you can’t have long parties and if you’re going to be open late you need to have almost one bouncer per visitor. It’s hard to find a nice club feel in a regular venue, you can get a better vibe at the ‘Off Licence’ underground parties.” For Oscar and Rudolph there are two standout clubs in Stockholm which they praise equally. They play regularly at ‘Under Bron’ which is renowned one of the best spaces in the capital. Then there’s another frequent favourite in ‘Gallery 2.35:1‘ which is part of a complex called ‘Berns’ that has been known as an avant-garde stronghold with a long heritage in clubbing and nightlife since the 19th century.
Of the artists they’ve worked with and played alongside they hold Berghain resident Ryan Elliot in highest regard along with a fellow Swede Axel Boman, “Axel plays really modern deep stuff. When we’re doing our more twisted stuff, he is the person who fits in best with that sound”, says Rudolph. One of the most striking things about the pair is how deep their love for Disco runs. When asked who they would most like to work with, it would have be something that is far away from the modern club scene. They came to agreement on Bebu Silivetti, a now deceased Argentinian pianist/composer famous for his hedonistic disco instrumentals produced in the 70s. “His music is super illustrative. When you see pictures of him, it’s all silver suits…real love boat, arm dance stuff…” chirps Rudolph.
They’ve been making the most of their time and enjoying themselves whilst touring. Record shopping, trying new foods, going to gigs, the duo have made visits to Berlin and London for work and leisure, but besides that they haven’t ventured too far from their home as of yet, but not for long… They have dates lined up in Britain, France and Spain throughout the Summer. Outside of music, they are regular guys, doing regular guy things. Wedren likes surfing but cannot go as often as he would like to because the conditions as one would expect are too harsh in Sweden. He plans on visiting the West Coast of Ireland for a surfing trip sometime soon. Rudolph being the architect and artist likes to check out exhibitions when he visits cities. “I also really appreciate going out into nature, my Mother is from the deep North of Sweden, it’s no-man’s land. It’s nice to go out in the forests picking mushrooms & lingonberries!”
Things are going from strength to strength for this blossoming duo. We’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Mr. Tophat & Art Alfie…
Words : Conor McTernan