Digital technology and music are inseparable now and together they are the future. Yet some artists are cautious about leaving the past behind. Skott and Mr. Tophat are two musicians who in their own ways are making sure the analogue is at the heart of their work.
The music of Skott and Mr. Tophat has each been crafted against two very different backgrounds. Yet they have similar stories to tell when it comes to how the making of their music relates to technology, as both have reached a particular point of interplay between the new and the old.
Right from the start, Mr. Tophat has shown a fondness for using technology in art and believes these areas to be intrinsically linked. Similarly, Skott has also embraced the realm of digital electronic pop music. However, her analogue past has deep roots in traditional folk music.
They both share an appreciation of older ways, while still pushing the envelope of their respective styles. To be forward facing, there’s a power to be released by looking into the past for knowledge and inspiration.
Mr. Tophat is a source of genre-bending inspiration, as a club music DJ and as a pioneer in music production. On the one hand, his recent collaboration with Swedish pop icon Robyn showcases a deep love for 90s house music and a taste for glistening percussiveness. On the other, he paints ethereal soundscapes, simultaneously organic and electronic, bordering on ambient and cinematic music, such as in his album trilogy Dusk to Dawn. And of course, there are his rave- and disco-oriented productions made together with fellow Swedish house profiles like Art Alfie and Axel Boman.
“Change does not always equal development,” Rudolf Nordström, Mr. Tophat’s real name, says, showing an appreciation, respect even, of older technological tools. He wants to remind us to look back into the past as much as look toward the future. “Overall, I think that it’s important to keep both old and new technology in mind. It’s easy to forget that older technology is more bug-free and simpler than modern one.”
And perhaps this is what he prefers, the analogue mixer tables on which he began his journey into DJ mixes and music production, rather than the in-the-box turntables and mixers that have lowered the threshold so significantly for curious new DJs. He says that “I myself believe that new technology is both interesting and can be of great benefit, but it is important to not forget the technology or the steps that may have taken you there.” An even better understanding of his view on his artistic craft comes when he underlines that staying on top of new technology is not a prerequisite for a better music creation process on his part. He also mentions that this is true for artistic expression as well. “For me, technology is in part about pushing artistry.”
There’s a path between art and computerisation that perhaps should be trodden carefully, as there are certain implications involved. “I like the computer’s ability to count and analyse, it saves a lot of time. At the same time, it risks killing the poetry.”
The future holds many possibilities for musical expression, and what styles of music we will be listening then is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure though, technology will help shape that expression, in one way or the other, and house music and other electronic genres are receptive to this development, just as they have been historically. Nordström brings up artificial voice generation and AI as digital forces that will dominate the music area of tomorrow. “Primarily AI that can compose and make selections and performances as composers and songwriters do.”
Finally, he adds an optimistic note: “New technology can give rise to new ways of thinking.” In the light of how his own relation to music creation has been over his artistic career, this can perhaps be said to sum up the music of Mr. Tophat: it is constantly developing, constantly curious.
Diving into the music and background of Pauline Skött, aka Skott, reveals a constant play between the analogue and the electronic, between the traditional and the modern. Her story and artistic expression is a technological tale of two worlds. With songs that recall the ethereal vocal qualities of Lana Del Rey, the earthy qualities of AURORA and the electronic melodies of fellow Swedish pop artists. Pauline Skött’s music intertwines strands of melancholy and hope in her a unique combination of playfulness and grandeur.
She hails from the Swedish county of Dalarna, home to a folk music culture that’s thriving there more than anywhere else in the country. The traditional violin melodies that are integral to this culture symbolise where Skott is from musically. “There’s something really straightforward about folk music. The feelings are so accessible, they kinda go straight into your heart, at least with me,” she tells me. She talks about how Swedish folk music melodies have a deep-seated bittersweet, melancholic feel in which “Deep happiness and sadness strangely become the same sort of feeling”.
The path of traditional music that she has followed has developed, perhaps surprisingly, into an enthusiasm for video-game music. “When it comes to folk music and video-game music, the step isn’t as big as you might think.” Her knowledge of what musical scales can do is put to great use here. She says that this helps accommodate the different cultural or environmental contexts that might be needed in the in-game world.
Skott debuted on the renowned indie label Chess Club, then became part of the pop-artist stable of one of the largest record companies in the world when the label joined up with RCA. However, in September 2019, she went fully independent, releasing her single ‘Bloodhound’ on her newly founded label Dollar Menu.
She says it was all about creative control. “If I don’t write music that I truly lose myself in, I don’t dare to be on stage. So either I release music that I connect with deeply and love, or I’m done as an artist. That’s kind of how I feel.” Even though distributing music yourself is easier now in the current digital landscape, she also says that it’s not necessarily to her advantage as an indie artist. “There’s still so much that can be done today with the deep pockets of a major label, especially in terms of marketing and PR.”
Often photographed in soft, sweeping fabrics, where earthy colours lend her image a tinge of warmth, Skott looks as if she could melt right into her consistently art nouveau-style cover artwork. “I get inspired by colours, shapes and textures, and love how they can set a tone.” Nonetheless, she reveals that fashion isn’t a particularly big interest of hers, despite wearing Michalsky for one of his shows. We might even see a change in that interest as she also admits to “actually having a lot of fun being my own stylist, and this is just the start of a long and wondrous journey.”
Throughout her musical development, new technology has been an aid in paving her own way in music. “You don’t have to teach yourself every instrument in the world to create an epic production yourself,” she says, something which is true both for her video-game music production and the pop music she creates as Skott.
Whether it is her background or just a general preference, she says that acoustic music breathes in a certain way. “I feel recording real instruments give more life to the sound, which nowadays is almost completely lost within pop music.” In a way, retaining this quality of sound is why Skott brings together both the new and the old, a practice that is at the core of who she is as an artist.
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