Olof Dreijer and Mount. Sims present a collaborative release entitled Souvenir, due out on Rabid Records on June 9. The five-track record centres around the rich harmonics of the steel drum. A first track, the emotional, flute-filled ‘Hybrid Fruit,’ is available to stream now.
The start of the Souvenir project dates back to when Dreijer (alongside his sister Karin as The Knife) and Sims were collaborating with Planningtorock on the Tomorrow, In A Year album. They were contacted by the organization SFOTE from Trinidad/New York, who asked them to work on a project using an original steel drum made by the father of the modern steel drum, Trinidad-based legend Ellie Mannette.
Conscious of the drum’s colonial history and the way the instrument has often been stereotypically depicted by Western artists like themselves, Dreijer and Sims thought it was important to comment on that. It took them 10 years to develop a personal language for the steel drum, and they slowly and surely formed the five tracks that make up Souvenir.
“We tried to find our own thing,” explains Dreijer. “That’s usually our way around using an instrument that has been heavily exoticised and appropriated.” So with no experience or training, the duo played the instrument using non-traditional methods like ball bearings, and water to bring out softer, lesser-heard timbres and textures.
They also wanted to highlight Scandinavia’s role in the colonial project of the Caribbean. While researching the steel drum’s history, they discovered it had long been a sound of protest as well as celebration. Aiming to intervene on the image of national purity that has been associated with Swedish folk music, the duo reinterpreted the medieval Swedish folk song “Liten Karin” and gave it a new musical setting with new melodies and phrasing.
Dreijer and Sims’ intentions and expressions with Souvenir reached beyond the music they recorded, as they invited the writers Anna-Maria Sörberg, Nathan Hamelberg and Tomas Hemstad to co-author an interpretive text which can be read further down. To this, the Tunisian artist Aïcha Snoussi has contributed original visual artwork inspired by the themes of the music and text.
The record’s first single, ‘Hybrid Fruit’ starts steadily and builds over its eight-minute duration into a flurry of rubbery rhythm and complex harmonics that Sims and Dreijer augment with subtle echoes and reverberations.
News of Souvenir follows Dreijer’s recent co-production work on the critically acclaimed new Fever Ray record Radical Romantics. He was also recently added to the bill for this year’s edition of Dekmantel Festival on the newly-formed Radar stage and announced two UK DJ shows next month – Kiss Me Again at The White Hotel in Manchester and Pumping Velvet at London’s Dalston Superstore. In addition to the release of Souvenir and his increased DJing activities, Olof has been working on some new solo material which should start surfacing later this year.
Mount Sims, originally from the US, became known for his catchy electronic pop in the early 2000’s with his albums Ultra-sex and Wild light and later a more dark-wave direction with the album Happily Ever After.
Souvenir by Olof Dreijer & Mount. Sims will be released on Rabid Records on June 9th.
A1. Liten Karin
A2 Hybrid Fruit
B1. A Vessel Of Clay
B2. Breaths Of Clay
B3 Across This Mud
Stream ‘Hybrid Fruit’
Souvenir Interpretative Text
The writers Anna-Maria Sörberg, Nathan Hamelberg and Tomas Hemstad were invited by Olof Dreijer and Mount Sims to co-author the below interpretative text for the project.
“The images of Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America that flooded me from the news, from TV, in children’s magazines and so forth, were always images of difference, the poor, the underdeveloped, the primitive.”
[(Hollow clangs scan the horizon, crashes against the hull splitting the ocean. A wind blowing through a vessel of clay, a breathy reassurance of ground, of earth, somewhere (not here)]
“He must have been there a while. When we noticed his presence he was right next to us. One step at the time he had been moving towards us. There was four of us – dressed up, and visibly queer – getting hangover food, after a long party night. Gossiping, laughing, arguing, hungry at the kiosk.”
“Color, Africa was the reason I was The Other Kid. Every well-meaning curious question, from “what do they eat in your country?” to “what language do they speak in your homeland?” just made me want to vanish. They all reminded me of how I wasn’t seen as a part of the very country I was born in.”
[An adventure, an enterprise. Economies of misery and triumph. Always an opportunity, a souvenir. A gong to signal this intrusion. Who can we be to the steelpan drum? What language does the whirle speak through us?]
“His gaze, dead, cold, mouth closed, not a word. We asked him to leave. We moved. He moved after. We went towards him. Told him to leave us alone. He pushed me. It wasn’t a hard push. But the implication was clear. It took him no effort to make me lose control, I almost fell.”
“I remember going to an anti-imperialist charity shop with my aunt. It was a painful reminder of Africa as the primitive. “Buy toys made of garbage, support the third world by purchasing jewelry made out of scraps, cans and wire, show solidarity with starving kids in Africa!” Seeing something made out of nothing imbued me with a sense of shame where I should have been marveling over the ingenuity. The first time I heard steelpan drums I felt something similar – “why don’t they play real instruments?”
[A field of distortion, a rainstorm, and now the vibrations of the mallets hitting metal seem to be calling out a warning. To us, or of us? The rain subsides but the air remains electrical, sounds bouncing off of unseen walls.]
“For three seconds she lay completely still. An eternity passed. The moment as a pure distillation of violence, the treat of it, the experience, the fear, the power that comes from deciding who falls and who does not. The crowd around us growing, quietly. Not a word. A silent show of violence. We scream in vain. Empty faces glaring back. They make us perpetrators in the moment. I will not forget the silence.”
“Like in Eddie Murphy’s stand-up routine Raw, I was the kid who preferred McDonalds to mama’s meatballs, because of how eating it made me feel, rather than how it tasted. Even though I lacked the words to describe it, steelpan drums signaled primitivity in a world of affluence, they told me of my otherness. I guess it speaks volumes of how identity operates; signifiers that are trivial to some, create maps of huge meaning to others.”
[Tentative arpeggios like bright red fractal flowers. The lush and fertile penetrates a soul forged in snow, infects it, transform it. Is the exchange mutual? Postcards go in one direction. A message in a bottle follows the current of the ocean. Can we walk over these roots, across this mud, this sand, without leaving petrified footsteps behind us?]
“All these experiences, buried and then rediscovered, through history and presence. Details, shorter, longer structural, individual, built into blood, system, bodies. In Liten Karin it makes me shiver. The feeling in that moment when she realizes – it’s happening now, it’s bad, there is no exit this time.”
“I went to stay with my uncle and aunt in London and come August, we went to the Notting Hill Carnival. At the age of thirteen, hip hop – and to a lesser extent reggae – had started a negotiation within me that kind of fast forwarded me past a lot of self-doubt and “who am I?”-type ponderings in favor of a much more acute question; “where do I want to be?”, a question that had an obvious affirmative reply in the form of all that which I saw as black culture.”
[Suddenly: A voice. It floats here, disembodied. Words, taken from the takers, falling against flesh, tearing up tiny holes that quickly fills up with teeth]
“Liten Karin. She is here and now. She always has been, will she always? Is there hope to find in that? The golden horse and the golden saddle are offered by the young king and she tries to duck. It´s that moment. “Leave me with the honor / HONOR? Go”
“Steelpan drumming was catapulted from being something verging on an embarrassment to a display of cultural wealth, might and unity. I grinned with an almost ridiculous smile just looking out over a huge crowd moving like an organism, before seizing on the opportunity to join it – seeing in the midst of the music as where I wanted to be.”
[The air has shifted. The words are familiar but different. A recognizable color, an alien shape. Phonemes hover above breaths of clay, thunderous drums. Within them: An off brand memory, a hybrid fruit]
“Caribbean music beyond reggae is so much more relevant on mainstream dancefloors worldwide today than some thirty years ago, and yet, knowledge of its roots is far from mainstream. From that moment when I fell in love with steel pans, calypso and soca on a late August day, music from not only Trinidad and Tobago as well as Jamaica, but also, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas and Barbados and the other island kept calling for my attention.”
“”I am going to headbutt you” the man at the bar told me a late night after I stepped between him and a girl he had been harassing for hours. I remember his breath. His eyes. The emptiness of them, even in while enraged. The right seems to be his. I close my eyes, prepared for the pain. It doesn’t come. The experience remains. In my hometown, the sound of her head kicked towards the window, outside the pub. By her boyfriend. They were regulars. I held her until police arrived. The next day I saw them together on the street, both heading towards another night.”
[A different frame, a blurred image comes into focus. A history of violence, of ownership. The games of telephone that built us, now in glass cases, behind velvet ropes. Tropical rain turns to hail. Under layers of bright white paint and serious wallpaper – rotting wood. We built a house on feet of clay, and now flutes of clay are retelling that story to us, possessing it.]
“It took me a long time to realize how so many musical styles have been repressed, historically, and once I grasped that it I couldn’t help wondering: Was my own distancing from some black cultures as a kid a result of that?”
“It’s the violence and what it brings. It stays in our bodies, in history, the people around us: The mistrust of the (white) majority. Mistrust of men. Mistrust of authorities. Mistrust of people. The body you carry, expected to meet violence or carry it out. To prepare for violence, to live close to violence, to negotiate it. Is there a way out? The millennial history of patriarchal violence. Sexual violence, sexual violence.”
[Sophistication built from waste. A civilization built on bones. A story we tell, or a story told about us.]
“All of a sudden: Caribbean music plundering Swedish folklore, as if it was a buffet on an all-inclusive hotel. It’s somewhat fitting that a Swedish murder ballad Liten Karin – at first listen as enigmatic as anything by Lord Kitchener or Sparrow – is given a Caribbean treatment.”
“The kings house, the oil barrels, the waterposts, the streets, the bars. History passes and the present is here, always. The eternal threat of violence. Hatred the hate that goes to bisexual women, trans, straight women, faggots, masculine women, feminine men Still counting.”
[And for a moment, everything exists simultaneously: Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. A space within the contradiction, both inside and outside of history. Nothing has been undone, but something has been created. Something to be defined and analyzed, something that exists outside of now, outside of our control.]
“And then someone sings, and it’s like history’s sweet revenge. The sense of shame from my childhood dissipates, my curiosity returns.”
“The voice, a beautiful and fragile reminder of all of this; histories, languages.
The present. The future. Will it end, will they change, will they obey? The ravens, Is hell patriarchy? Is hell eternal? Liten Karin follows the white pigeons. We are not victims, We are not innocent. We are not to be blamed. We will be here as witnesses, as survivors, as fighters, as reminders, as investigators. And still counting.”
[Lastly: Silence (perhaps louder than the rainstorms, the hail). It stretches past the horizon. It looks empty and barren. But look closer. Always look closer.]