Smooth as Chrome – An Interview with Sweden’s Mitch Murder
A quick trip to Sweden’s official website will reveal that there’s so much more to Sweden than death metal and IKEA. For example, did you know that it’s slightly larger than the state of California and that for almost two whole centuries, Sweden has not officially participated in any war or conflict? Maybe it’s because the Swedish people are so focused on other, more worthwhile pursuits other than violence that make them a peaceful and industrious people. I found the quote below concerning Swedish design to be particularly interesting:
Diversity is the keyword of the Swedish design scene. Emotional values are now reckoned to be as important as function in Swedish craftsmanship and design in general. Everything is tested and retested, both aesthetic norms and traditional ways of working.
“Emotional values are now reckoned to be as important as function…” I can’t help but feel that this idea carries over into more than just design for Sweden. Take, for example, the music of Sweden. There’s a succinct, emotional cord that Swedish musicians know how to tug on. You have the oft-karaoke’d “Dancing Queen” from Swedish darlings, ABBA, the fluffy cloudiness of Air France, and the tropical, Carribbean-inspired sounds of Korralleven. Just listen to the music, there’s this undeniable “happiness,” a certain elements that “pops” in their music.
The music of Swedish electro-powerhouse producer Johan Bengtsson, otherwise known as Mitch Murder, is no different. Don’t let the name fool you – Bengtsson’s music is some of the most upbeat stuff you’ll hear online these days. Not only does Bengtsson inject that poppy ingredient into his music, but a few seconds into any Mitch Murder track reveals that he is a student of perfecting that principle mentioned above—emotional value as important as function. In that capacity, Mitch Murder is balls-to-the-walls delivering that in full force.
Mitch Murder’s music stands so far apart from other artists out there who are giving the 80s sound a go in a way that you would swear you were listening to a track actually written, recorded, and mastered during the 8’s. Aerobics videos, VHS tapes, Deloreans… Mitch Murder bottles all of this into one big time capsule and leaves it for his listeners to uncover and revel in.
If you’re reading this article, you’re either familiar with his work or by now already know that here at Synconation, we’re A.O.K. with giving a nod towards all things 80s-influenced. That being so, it was only a matter of time before we uncovered the gems that Mitch Murder has to offer. I was able to talk a bit with Johan Bengtsson about his recent Burning Chrome full-length album, his upcoming Current Events album, and yes, even his home country of Sweden. Do yourself a favor and listen to “Remember When” from his This Is Now EP while reading this piece. It’ll help set the mood.
Synco: I have to ask about the name. It’s so aggressive! I wouldn’t expect a sound such as yours to come from an artist with that name. Is there a story behind it?
JB: Well, to be honest with you I’m not a big fan of my artist name. It actually started out as a hip-hop/G-Funk instrumentals project about 4 years ago, and when I started making 80’s music “full time” I kept the name for some reason. You’re right though, it doesn’t really fit at all, but I feel it’s too late to change now.
Synco: It seems fairly obvious that you have some 80s electro influences. I also read that you generally don’t listen to modern music and instead prefer revisiting music from the 80s from artists such as Jan Hammer, David Frank, and the like. Why is music from that era important to you and in what way do you think that it influences your music?
JB: I listen to a lot of music these days, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen to any modern music, there are a bunch of awesome current artists out there for sure, but I tend to prefer older music, be it 1930’s jazz, cheesy 50’s bossa nova, 70’s motown or 80’s pop, most of what I listen to tend to belong to past decades. I’m not sure why that is.
There’s something special about music from the 80’s though that is hard for me to put into words, but I guess a lot of it is just pure nostalgia, it’s when I grew up after all, and I have loads of random childhood memories that for some reason all include music.
As for influences, if it wasn’t for Paul Hardcastle and his self titled 1985 album, I probably wouldn’t even be doing what I’m doing right now. I bought it sometime back in ’97 or something and remember listening to it for weeks straight, I really couldn’t get enough of it, and after a while I began trying to replicate the sound of it using old PC-tracker software, like Scream Tracker and later Impulse Tracker. So if I had to pick one 80’s artist that truely influenced and inspired me, it’d have to be Hardcastle. David Frank, Jan Hammer and Vince DiCola etc. are all huge influences of mine as well, only I discovered them much later.
Synco: Tell me about your relationship with Rosso Corsa Records. How did you end up working with them and what role do they play in your career at this point in time?
JB: Well, right after I had self-released my first Mitch Murder EP on iTunes back in 2009 I started looking for a fitting label for my upcoming stuff, first I got in touch with Karakasa Music (very cool net label) through a friend and released my “Television” EP, then one day I just randomly found Rosso’s profile on MySpace and thought it looked like the perfect place for me to release my music, so I mailed them, not really expecting a reply, but then one or two days later I was on their roster and it’s been my favourite 80’s label ever since. There’s just so much talent there, Multipac, Miami Nights 1984, Lazerhawk, etc. All pure 80’s bliss.
There are so many indie artists and labels out there these days that release 80’s influenced music, but Rosso Corsa is still one of the few i know of that puts out music that sounds as if it were actually made in the 80’s and not just inspired by it, which is extremely inspiring to me.
Synco: Recently you seem to have been doing more collaborations with vocalists like Kristine. What aspects of working with other artists do you enjoy? Does it change how you approach writing a song or is your approach pretty much the same?
JB: I had zero experience working with vocalists up until about a year ago, but I really love it so far, it tends to bring a whole other dimension to my music that I never even considered before, and it’s really fun. I’ve only made a couple of tracks that was specifically written with vocals in mind so far, but it’s a challenge I really enjoy, since I’m not used to structuring tracks in a “vocal-friendly” way.
Synco: More and more people seem to be paying attention to artists coming out of Sweden these days. Airy, upbeat music from bands like Air France and Korallreven come to mind. Could you describe the atmosphere and mood that exists in the Swedish community and how it’s affected you and your music?
JB: I suppose Sweden has been known for its overly melodic upbeat music ever since ABBA, and those you mentioned are no exception. I’m not sure why this is, but I guess one theory as good as any would be how we need upbeat and fun music to persevere through the long, cold and dark winters we have here.
As for me I’ve just always enjoyed melodic music for as long as I can remember, and when working on tracks I often have to stop myself from going too crazy with the melodic parts, if that even makes any sense.
On one hand I often feel like making improvised melodies that goes on for minutes straight, but in the end I usually prefer shorter, well thought out melody sections that gives the track its own identity. It’s an endless struggle though!
Synco: With so many artists (France’s Valerie Collective comes to mind, i.e. College, Anoraak, Minitel Rose, etc.) donning the 80s/electro flag, do you think that an over-saturation might be happening? How do you see Mitch Murder’s sound fit into this revival that’s been happening for a while now?
JB: There are many half-assed attempts at 80’s music out there for sure, and a lot of it is starting to sound the same, but I don’t really mind since once in a while you’ll come across something that stands out from the generic majority, if you’re willing to look for it. It’s just sad that a lot of these artists go virtually unnoticed, people like Jupiter Gang for example, dude’s got so much talent but hardly any followers on his SoundCloud / YouTube.
As for the whole 80’s revival going on right now I don’t really see myself as part of it, even though I obviously am whether I like it or not, but I’ve been making 80’s tracks on and off for the past 10 years (though only seriously and putting out releases for the past 3 or so), and this throwback revival thing really doesn’t have anything to do with me making this kind of music. Of course it doesn’t really hurt either, but I’m sure I’ll still keep doing it even after it goes out of style.
Synco: Let’s talk about the new album you just wrapped up. You posted a teaser on your Soundcloud page and it certainly has some similarities to Burning Chrome. What were you hoping to accomplish with the new record?
JB: Well, it’s just more Mitch Murder. People who heard my last album seemed to enjoy it so I figured I’d put out another one since i can’t seem to stop making tracks anyway. It’s as simple as that really. The two albums are similar in style, sure, but I try to stick to some sort of theme when making releases like these. Even if I’m the only one who has any idea what they’re about.
Burning Chrome was just one big homage to 80’s movies. My upcoming album, Current Events, is all about everyday life during the 1980’s in general to major events that defined the decade. Most of the time it’s pretty subtle though. I just enjoy working around a set theme.
Synco: Do you have any plans to perform live or tour in support of the new record?
JB: Not at the moment, no. I’ve thought about doing live gigs for years but i just never got around to it. I’ve had some requests lately though so maybe I’ll finally work up the courage one of these days, hah!
Synco: I understand you have some other projects aside from the new record in the works. Could you talk a little bit about what we can look forward to in terms of upcoming projects?
JB: I’ve got almost too many projects going on right now, that’s what it feels like anyway since I seem unable to say no to anything. Aside from working on my album for the past 10 months or so and doing several remixes, I’m also doing music for a 20 episode web series, a documentary about arcade game culture (The Video Craze, check it out!) and a movie. Just recently I’ve also gotten the chance to work on some stuff for a video game, though nothing’s settled yet. There’s also a couple of vocalists waiting for me to send them new material, and this isn’t even my day job!