Gundelach is repeatedly classified as a DJ turned solo artist—a characterization that is more of a credit to the impact he’s made on Oslo’s club scene rather than a fitting description of his musicianship. While he’s been behind the turntables for nearly a decade, he began singing in a children’s theater group at age nine, learned to play the guitar at age 10, and began writing songs back in 2009. For years, he kept his music to himself, and was “super, super nervous” to share it. But in 2015, he released his debut track, “Alone in the Night,” in Scandinavia, and not long after, Pharrell Williams played his second single, “Spiders,” on Beats 1.
That airtime led to a summer of shows performing music from Gundelach, his self-titled debut EP, which was released via Cosmos in May 2016. Its textured tracks are a potent combination of smoothly oscillating vocals, deep percussion, and analog synths. When we spoke to him ahead of his performance at Øya Festival in Oslo earlier this month, he explained that his sound is informed by a voracious attitude toward all music. He culls from a broad range of sources, from black metal to ’80s techno and hip-hop (the first CD he bought was Jay-Z’s The Blueprint), and in doing so expands what the genre “electronic” can mean today.
FULL NAME: Kai Gundelach
HOMETOWN: Bærum. It’s basically 10 minutes outside of Oslo. I usually say that I’m from Oslo because I’ve grown up in this area.
BASED: Oslo for six years. Before that I lived in Stockholm for a while, and before that I lived at mom’s place, which is in Bærum.
“SPIDERS”: It was cool because I had released one song before that called “Alone in the Night,” but it was only released in Scandinavia as a test release. So it was a slow release, and I’m really comfortable with a slow build, I think that’s nice and smart. But with “Spiders,” it was more of an actual release with a team pushing it. It got picked up really quickly. I was in Berlin on vacation and [got a call] that said, “You should put on Beats 1. Pharrell Williams is playing your song.” I was like, “Wow, shit.”
THE START: I listened to a lot of progressive house when I was 16, 17, and then I asked my grandmother—because I had this savings account—if I could take out money to buy decks. I did that, had it in my bedroom, and DJed a lot. I started clubbing in Oslo when I was 16 or 17. I had a fake ID and went to this club … they had a concept where all of the OG DJs in Oslo would play there, there were four of them. I really liked that. I wanted to be like them, basically. I started getting DJ gigs when I was 17 or 18 and I’ve been DJing on and off since. I really wanted to make music and not just play other people’s music. I still DJ as I did four years ago, but I also make music and play concerts. I’ve taken with me in my music some of the percussive parts of the music that I used to play, or play still, but I think they’re separate things—playing live and DJing.
FIRST LISTENERS: I sent a lot of music to my brother. I also was kind of cheesy, [laughs] sending it to girls and stuff, not to pick them up, but if I was chatting with a girl online and we had a thing I’d say, “Oh, check this out.” I did that but [sent it to] my brother first, I showed him stuff and got feedback. But mostly I just made it for myself—for a pretty long time as well, maybe 6 years.
A NORWEGIAN INFLUENCE: There’s this one lady called Radka Toneff, she’s a Norwegian jazz singer. She took her own life when she was 30, in the ’80s, and if I were to pick one Norwegian influence it would be her. Do you know a-ha? I like a lot of that stuff too.
HIS SELF-TITLED EP: One of my managers is from Canada and I had the demo of “Alone in the Night” and he sent it to some friends and one of them was Joel Ford. He really liked it so we co-produced that one [track] together; he did some stuff and sent it back, I did some stuff and sent it back. We released that one and I thought it was a really difficult process to make music over the internet with the time zones and everything. Things that would’ve taken two minutes in the studio take seven hours. He wanted me to come down [to New York] and I wanted to come down, and we just arranged it to make that EP together, to co-produce it. I went there for two weeks [in August 2015] and stayed in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. The studio was in Greenpoint.
It was a really cool studio but it was also pretty weird because the day I got to New York, I got a phone call that a friend of mine killed himself. It was so weird being on the other side of the planet when that happened. I just had to work—that was the only thing that felt right and comfortable. Other than that I just went home and watched a movie. I didn’t go out or anything while I was there because it didn’t feel… It was a pretty weird trip, I guess, for two weeks. It was sunny, I was walking with a friend up Manhattan in SoHo or something, I was really happy and then, [pauses] so sad and weird and creepy and strange—all of those things. I recorded all of the vocals and all of the lyrics, and when I sang them, lyrics that originally meant something different suddenly suited what had happened with him really well. It definitely set its mark on that EP, I think.
TURNING OFF THE MUSIC AND CREATING: I stopped because it fucks with your head to listen to a lot of music when you’re making music. It’s better to have no internet connection and make something yourself. Read a book or watch a movie—that’s better when you’re making music.
IN PROGRESS: I am working on a lot of songs basically. I don’t know if I’m going to release an album or an EP first, but I think I’m going to release two or three singles this year. I don’t know which I’m going to release so I just make a lot of new songs. I think of it as an album now, I guess. I have a lot of old demos from 2011 and 2012 that I recently found and started working on again. It’s a puzzle to write new songs that fit with the old ones and make new things with the old demos. I think some of them are really good and I don’t want them to go to waste.
FOR MORE ON GUNDELACH, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.
For more Norwegian acts to know from Øya Festival 2016, click here.