Many moons ago, atop one of seven mountains surrounding a picturesque Norwegian countryside, two scruffy-faced individuals-Fredrik Saroea and the man known simply as Ket-Ill-made a pact to alter the face of contemporary music as we know it by single-handedly transforming themselves into what they called the peak of pop evolution.
A big undertaking, but somebody had to do it.
Already home to indie-pop luminaries like the Kings of Convenience, Röyksopp, Annie, Ralph Myerz, and Even Johansen of Magnet, Bergen's southwest coast would be a fertile proving ground for their exploits, but far be it from Fredrik and Ket-Ill to sit back and let the buzz come to them.* DIY punk rockers by nature, but heavily influenced by the distinctive style and stage presence of groups like Talking Heads and Devo, the boys decided to ditch the thrash guitars in favor of the simple yet versatile Casio MT-64 keyboard and a Roland Groovebox. Toss in matching red track suits, a penchant for Transformers and John Hughes flicks, and two pairs of vintage Porsche wraparound sunglasses and you've got a little something called DATAROCK.
"In Norwegian, you would call a computer a 'data machine,'" Saroea explains. "So in the beginning, Datarock was making fun of all the rock people that thought electronic music was simply computer-generated music. But in English, 'data' means information, which is even more appropriate because Datarock is essentially the product of 30 years of the information society. But for some reason, we're constantly going back to the years between 1977 and 1982."
In December of 2000, Fredrik and Ket-Ill made their debut performance at Annie's monthly club night, "Pop Till You Drop," setting off a high-energy disco inferno fuelled by sparse electro-rock rhythms and infectious pop guitar hooks. Their low-fi live shows soon became the stuff of legend, attracting guest performers from all corners of the Bergen scene, from Amulet drummer Jonas Thire and avant-jazz saxophonist Kjetil Møster to members of Purified in Blood and Norwegian Black Metal band Enslaved. Sophisticated multimedia shows soon followed, along with regular accompaniment by a traditional men's choir.** Then there was the gig with a modern theatre group that performed aerobics on stage. Not to be confused with the show that featured a full high school marching band. That one was different.
After releasing a split 10-inch on local label Tellé Records, Fredrik and Ket-Ill decided it was time to up the ante. In 2002, the pair recorded a handful of new songs, burned them onto 400 hand-painted, three-inch CD's, and distributed them through ten different countries. In 2003, they found themselves playing the main stage at Barcelona's Sónar Festival.
With the release of the "Computer Camp Love" EP later that year, Fredrick and Ket-Ill finally hit their stride. A stomping call-and-response, the track pays homage to Revenge of the Nerds, Grease's famous "Summer Nights," and the archetypal Commodore 64, all in the span of 180 seconds.*** It's this hyper jubilant, rapid fire reminiscing of 80's entertainment culture that would come to define Datarock's sound and vision.
"Someone once said that Datarock is taking the piss at everyone," says Saroea, whose videos are equally in tune with the band's retro aesthetic. "But I don't think he meant it as negative. I think Datarock is having fun with a lot of different concepts of humankind."†
In a brilliant show of foresight-and possibly a bit of obsessive compulsivity-Fredrik and Ket-Ill did what any young aspiring professionals would do upon recognizing the rapid growth of their empire-they formed a label on which to release their material. This label, in yet another display of innovation, was dubbed Young Aspiring Professionals. Datarock has since played over 300 shows in 16 different countries, including 15,000+ at the Good Vibrations Festival in Sydney and 10,000+ screaming maniacs at the Meredith Music Festival near Melbourne.
Their first full-length CD, Datarock Datarock (Nettwerk Music Group; June 12, 2007), takes the feel-good vibe of "Computer Camp Love," turns it up to 11, and blasts a power chord of throwback nostalgia that'll knock you straight out of your Reebok Pumps. Love letters to Laurie Anderson ("Laurie") and references to Close Encounters of the Third Kind ("Princess") are just the tip of the iceberg. The album's infectious first single, "Fa Fa Fa," pairs up dance-rock drums with funk-strummed guitars and a chorus that'll have you jonesing for the nearest copy of Talking Heads' 77. "Ugly Primadonna," meanwhile, is pure four/four Groovebox robotics and space age Casiotone melodies.†† On "I Will Always Remember You" (featuring Annie), Fredrik does his best Wayne Newton, verbally undressing you with his velvety pipes over a bed of freeze-dried strings before formally "sexing you down" on "Sex Me Up." But more so than any other track on the album, the opening "Bulldozer" perhaps best encapsulates the band's true modus operandi. Whereas Kraftwerk glorified the Trans-Europe Express and the Tour de France, Datarock prefer to sing the praises of a more proletarian method of transportation: the BMX. Which, according to the Fredrik and Ket-Ill, "is better than sex."
By the time you read this, Datarock will have put the finishing touches on their newest song; a little ditty entitled "Molly.††† Which begs the question: Can one become the peak of pop evolution by cleverly and respectfully mining the vaults of our most beloved generation? If you happen to be two scruffy-faced, young aspiring professionals from the seaside town of Bergen, then the answer is yes.