Slowly, surely and charismatically, Charlotte Bendiks has become one of dance music’s most exciting and offbeat new figures. The Norwegian DJ and producer has already released on Comeme and Hivern Discs, and garnered a reputation for her unpredictable sets that explore the more unexpected ends of house and electronic music in general. As such, she makes the perfect candidate for the latest edition of the #PHANTASYMIX.
Bendiks is also a keen conversationalist, as demonstrated in this transcribed semi-regular catch up with our own John Thorp, in which Charlotte lets us in on the somewhat depressing secrets of Norwegian drinking culture, the pressure of curating the music for her Aunt’s wedding and exclusively reveals that she has been living as a ghost. Yeah, that’s right, you heard.
You’ve had a very busy year in general, but especially with mixes and recordings. You’ve done Dekmantel, Oscillate, Deep House Amsterdam… But we’re happy to have you here at Phantasy, too. How’s this mix different from what has come before?
When I do mixes, I listen to my favourite tracks from my last three or four gigs and go from there. So I will put them in the centre and build something around that. So they're very different and lately I've been playing more festival events over the summer. So high-intensity, high-energy. And I think that's probably why it has a higher intensity and a concentrated energy, as it was just after festival season.
You've had to shift from being not only a club DJ, but become a festival DJ, which is a different ballpark. Have you found that to be a challenging transition or a relatively simple shift?
Well, I do prefer to play longer sets, because you can take more time to build the tension and release. So the 'bigger' moments in your mix will be more powerful, because you've got time. But I do also really understand the business of festivals and events. I've been in the position of producing festivals myself and I think, for me, it's maybe not too difficult to do these short, high-intensity sets, because I'm from Norway.
Where short times are quite short?
Not always, not really. I mean, they can be. I had a friend who just yesterday played a forty-five minute set at a festival. But it's from a showcasing perspective. But in Norway, when you're learning to DJ, you have a maximum of two hours of crowd. The curfew is at three, and people don't start going out until eleven or twelve despite that. So it will be empty for the first few hours. The dancing will happen after people have had five shots in the park, because of Norwegian drinking culture. So I'm very used to taking my time and waiting to create something very fast or intense that stops on top before everyone gets thrown out into the streets. And I know how to do that, because that's how I learned how to DJ, but when I moved abroad or started playing I discovered the beauty and the detail of going deeper and playing more varied sets, these wild-pitch energies.
What's Norwegian club culture to you? I suppose when most people think of dance music in Norway, they immediately arrive at space disco.
I actually got a weird request to play a space disco DJ set! I mean, some tracks I play are space disco, but in general, no. They only wanted to book me to play space disco! I saw a photo of the night, and in the end it was Bjorn Torske, Skatebard, Prins Thomas...
They are the guys, they are space disco.
Yeah, ask them, don't ask me! If I said yes to that, I could say yes to playing, I don't know, swing music at my aunt's wedding.
That neatly brings me on to my next question; Would you play swing music at your aunt's wedding?
No... Yes... No? I have a funny story about this, though. When my aunt did get married a few years ago, she did ask me to help her create a playlist of music for the wedding party, of her favourite tracks. And I did that, with my Aunt from a small village of twenty-five people, somewhere in Norway. Obviously it's not really credible music. It was cheesy pop from the sixties, seventies and eighties. It's not music I want to listen to, but I wanted to help. What I didn't know and what I the discovered maybe a year later, is that was out under my name on Spotify under my artist account!
That's fantastic. I'd love to see the 'real' Spotify playlists of lots of artists... Everyone has such perfectly cultivated, flawless taste! What lies behind the curtain?
Well, people talk a lot about guilty pleasures, but I think I'm too confident to feel guilty. I like some cheesy, nineties house music, but I'm not ashamed. I might not play it when I DJ at Mutek festival but if I want to listen to at home, I'm not going to hide.
I talk about this quite a lot. I think most people get into dance music, and then if they're really into it, their tastes evolve. But I think it's very difficult to shake off the energy of something that introduced you to a world. I'm not exactly into mashups these days, but whenever I listen back to a recording of myself in a club at peak time, it always sounds at least a little bit like 'As Heard on Radio Soulwax', even if only in spirit. And yes, no shame!
I discovered electronic and dance music when I was twenty. I was into rock or punk music before that. There was no scene in my home city of Tromsø. I mean, you had that history of Norwegian dance artists like Bjorn Torske, but they weren't there.
So what was the 'in' for you?
I started taking drum lessons when I was sixteen or seventeen, and I was already volunteering at events. I played some bad Ramones and Queens of The Stone Age covers at local jam sessions After a few years, I had gotten quite a lot of experience working in festival production, and I started working with Insomnia, the festival in Tromsø. We also produced a small, non-alcoholic festival for teenagers when I was eighteen or nineteen. My friend and I won a prize, and one of the larger Norwegian festivals asked me to come and work for them as an exchange programme, to be an assistant.
What is Norwegian drinking culture like?
It's horrible. Basically, the state treats everyone like kids and you can't be responsible for your own time. They actively tell you when you can consume alcohol, so people feel like, “Oh, we have to hurry up and party, we only have two hours! Let's squeeze as much alcohol as we can into that time.” And then, people all end up out on the street at the same time, there's a lot of violence and raging, drunk people in the streets. And the police think, “Well, maybe it will be better if we close at two?”
I've observed a debate happening in the UK at the moment, in which people engaged with music are beginning to see that when councils elect 'night mayors' and stress the importance of the 'night time economy', they probably mean wine bars and burlesque performances, not clubs or raves, which even more so in the age of Netflix, gym and chill, suddenly seem inherently counter-cultural again. Is it a similar situation?
Yes, and they're very strict about when you can buy alcohol, and where. For example, there's only really one shop where you can buy wine and liquor. Beer, you can buy in supermarkets, but the beer sales end earlier than the supermarket closes. After that, you can only buy beer at certain places that have a license, and after that, you can't buy it anywhere alcohol until the next morning.
When you think back to your youth, do you think that encourages a rebellious spirit that's aligned with alcohol, rather than casual drinking simply being a part of a lifestyle?
Yes, absolutely. It's also very expensive. Norwegian income is generally higher than in other places, though, so maybe it's not the prices that's the problem. But I think the controlled environment is very dangerous. I notice, when I'm at a bar in Norway, I look at the time and think, “Should I buy something more before they close? Do I want it, do I have time? This time pressure makes me consume more alcohol in Norway, more than when I'm anywhere else, where I don't drink much at all!”
Jaeger, in Norway – the club, not the drink – does have a very strong reputation among DJs on an international scale, not least for it's infamous 'flippable' DJ booth, armed with both a rotary, and a Xone! Which side do you prefer for your residency night there?
It depends more so on the guest I invite, as they get to choose. But if I have to advise, then I always go for the rotary. It's really good, but the first time I used it, I was a bit afraid.
How has the residency, Ironi, been going? What's different about your residency?
They call it a residency, but I was never really a resident. I started doing club nights and playing there, but I never lived in Oslo and I probably never will. But I've known the owners and the people behind the club for many years, before they even opened it, and I think they're very professional. It's the best sound and the best apparatus you can find in DJ culture, logistically. I feel very well taken care of there. In Norway, it's smaller. There's not a huge crowd for dance music. You're either into it, or you're not. So it's as good as it gets, in Norway.
I do four nights a year with guests, depending on calendar. I had two new kids from my hometown play, who I've been mentoring via a programme through Insomnia festival. I had Matias Aguayo, from Comeme, and Ana Helder, Violet, WhoDat and Boriusade once, although before I was officially a resident. It's always friends and family in my home country, people I want to hang out with.
There's also the 'live' side of your work...
As opposed to the dead one? We always talk about death, whenever we see each other.
Well, I suppose I do like talking about death, but in this instance, to be honest, I just want people to listen to the mix. The sheer number of mixes out there that I'll never get through sometimes makes me think of death...
I'm just a dead DJ. I'm actually a ghost.
Well, to be honest, an interview with a ghost will be good for traffic. I’m a very experienced journalist and can definitely adapt my questions for this. So, er, what's it like, being a ghost DJ?
Well, when I'm in tiny DJ booths that are very close to the dancefloor, it's easier. Because the crowd, they can't touch me, their arms just go right through me.
Or if you need to get to the bar quickly, or go for a piss?
I don't need to pee! Didn't you know that? It just evaporates, we don't have inner-organs. We don't have matter, I mean, like, physical matter. The energy that is here is just shifting the shape of the liquid around me.
Does it have an effect?
Yeah, but that's just placebo. When I was alive, I did drink a lot. And that's the thing about being dead, you can just remember things you've experienced and tap back into it.
Let’s see… How do we improve the visibility of ghosts on festival lineups?
I think we first have to work within pop culture. We need to break down these myths. For example, people might be too scared, to go to a festival with a 50/50 dead/alive festival lineup. Because most ghosts are perceived as scary. But it's just not true.
Yeah, I suppose Casper was a big advocate for this stuff, but we haven't heard from him in years. That’s Casper the Friendly Ghost that I’m referring to, not the bloke who did Fabriclive 37.
Well, I just hope this interview starts a debate, which would be very good for me as well as for my friends on the other side.
Anyway, leaving aside ghosts, there are lots of female artists featured in the mix! Do you think that, while there is always work to be done in the push for both ghost and gender equality, we are hopefully approaching a point where, at least in the case of the latter, it’s easy to put together a mix with a more equal balance of gender?
Well, I don’t actually know the gender of every artist in my mix, but I think it’s pretty much close to 50/50. Some of them, I just know the track and the name, not whether their male or female. Sometimes, it’s neither. And it’s important to remember that as well.
And I think that yes, maybe in our very local corner, we are approaching somewhere where it’s normal.
Yes, but there’s a lot of dialogue in our little corner, but sometimes, when you step out, you can be surprised at how bad things look….
I regularly step out of my corner. As a DJ, and as a ghost. I’ve haunted all kinds of cultures…
John Thorp, October 2018.