Photo by Tom Oxley
The fellows in Datarock use any excuse to shed their clothing. The core Norwegian duo of Fredrik Saroea (guitar, vocals) and Kjetil "Ketel Two" Moster (keys, saxophone), along with Thomas "T-Man" Larssen (bass) and Tarjei "LA Gear" Strom (drums), is identified by its red jumpsuits. But once the temperature heats up, either naturally or synthetically, eyes are best averted.
And with its latest album, Red (Nettwerk, 2009), Datarock has even more reason to drop layers, as the album sizzles with musical heat carried over from the past quarter century.
Blaming Norway's one national television station for its obsession with the '80s, Datarock (mis)spent its youth watching The Karate Kid, The Goonies, wrestling and heavy-metal videos—not to mention falling in love with Molly Ringwald, as the track "Molly" attests to. The band adulates Talking Heads in "True Stories," whose lyrics are that group's song titles. And Morrissey is given his due on "Fear of Death" with a chorus that makes a valiant attempt at suedeheadedness.
"We worked within a dogma of just applying equipment from between 1976 and 1983," says a fully clothed (at least for now) Saroea. "Everything is played live, no soft synths or samples. But we recorded and edited digitally, adding more of a metric feeling and texture by applying drum machines through Digidesign's SoundReplacer plug-in on top of the live drums."
This is a contrast to the group's eponymous first album, which relies heavily on programmed sounds. The bridge between the two records is the use of Roland TR-808 and TB-303 drum machines, as well as samples of the Oberheim DMX and the Linn Electronics LinnDrum alongside a conventional drum kit.
"It's very raw," says Strom, who is preparing to get a knuckle tattoo that reads vest kyst, or west coast in Norwegian, an homage to Datarock's hometown of Bergen, Norway. "The drums are right next to the sound engineer with two mics. That mixed with the drum machines [creates] a sound people think is well-thought-out or a new program, but it is basic recording, almost like recording in your flat. But it still has the dance-beat DIY feel, human instead of programmed."
In keeping with this aesthetic, Datarock records the guitars (primarily oarlike Steinbergers) straight into the desk. A variation on that would be a Fender Telecaster through a vintage Vox AC30 amplifier or a 1976 Gibson ES-335 through an MXR distortion pedal. The guitars might also receive digital treatment in the form of amplifier or speaker simulators, compressors, distortion and effects but not if the riffs and chords cannot stand on their own without those enhancements. Digidesign Pro Tools is not used as an instrument, but as a basic recorder.
To the consternation of venue sound folks around the world, Datarock ignores all pleas of opting for onstage plug-ins, instead persisting in noisy live renditions. "We let the songs find their form and figure live," says Saroea. "The tracks rapidly end up with higher bpms and a hell of a lot more energy onstage."
And in the process, the live show reaches a boiling point that justifies, for the most part, the stripping off of the tracksuits.