In-depth interview : Scandinavian Star
Words by Jonathan Holst Bruus
In 2015, Malthe Fischer released his first cassette under the Scandinavian Star moniker. The tape was released through the American label, Ascetic House and became a widely loved release in the underground music community.
A kind of mystery, however, surrounded the release. All of the tracks were untitled and only a limited run of 50 copies was released. Nevertheless, the tape achieved Internet fame and became a sought after item among collectors.
When asking Malthe about how it all came to life and why there was such a silence surrounding its release, he explained that the project was born out of a school assignment at his former education and apparently, that was supposed to be it. The end of Scandinavian Star. His intentions weren't to play live or record anything new under the alias, but a regained interest in contemporary electronic music and a fascination for ferries resurrected the project.
He began research into the Scandinavian Star disaster, that took place in 1990 and after a two years working process, SOLAS (short for Safety of Life At Sea) was released in late 2018 on Posh Isolation.
I met Malthe for dinner at a Copenhagen café and had a long and interesting conversation about the Scandinavian Star disaster, concepts, the creative process and why you should limit yourself.
KnifeYou named your solo project after a ferry that was set on fire back in 1990. 159 people died and it remains a mystery who caused the deadly fire. Even to this day. Why did you decide to name your solo-project Scandinavian Star?
MaltheThe Scandinavian Star disaster occurred when I was a child and it made a huge impact on me. It happened between Oslo and Frederikshavn, which is located in the north of Denmark, not far from where I grew up. It was all over the media for years. Even today it’s a controversial subject and the case remains unsolved, although the evidence strongly suggests that it was a case of insurance fraud. No one has ever been held responsible for the fire – and just four years later, Scandinavia experienced another maritime disaster with the sinking of the ferry Estonia, which was sailing between Tallinn and Stockholm.
From my point of view, as a child at the time, it seemed frighteningly often that something so horrible would happen on a ferry. Also, in those days all of my family vacations would go to Norway or Sweden, sailing from Frederikshavn with ferries similar to the Scandinavian Star. So my relationship with ferries is sort of strange since I connect it with fear and tragedy, but also with summer vacations and that kind of childhood nostalgia.
I also have this memory of me being on a ferry playing around in those typical playgrounds, you know the ones with the coloured plastic balls all over the floor? While tumbling around, I would simultaneously fear that something terrifying could happen any minute. So I have these mixed feelings about ferries, which you can say has turned into some sort of dark fascination, as well as a deep empathy with the victims, families and survivors.
KnifeDid you think about naming the project something else than Scandinavian Star?
Malthe In the very beginning of what became SOLAS, I considered naming it something else, since it’s quite a departure from the tape I did on Ascetic House. But then I started to dig deeper into the story of Scandinavian Star, and it offered so much of a narrative that I had to somehow incorporate. I came across different reports on the Internet, and I discovered so many interesting and disturbing facts about the ferry. All of the titles on SOLAS are for example related to the story of Scandinavian Star in one way or another. Candi, which is the first track on the album, was the name the ferry got right after the fire. They just erased some of the letters, which is pretty morbid when you think about it. The final name the ferry had before being scrapped was Regal V, which is the last track on SOLAS.
In 2004, the ferry ended its days at the ship-breaking yard in Alang, India, which is a tragedy of its own. Humanitarian as well as environmental. Imagine this endless beach with hundreds of old enormous ships beached like great whales on the shore. These ferries, oil tankers etc. are literally taken apart by hand. The workers cut the steel with these gas cutters and have no proper protection. There is supposedly an average one death per day just at the ship-breaking yard in Alang.
Seeing videos from there made me think of this famous painting by William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire (1838). It really fascinated me that all of these old rusty and majestic ferries ends up on polluted beaches after years of service. It's an extremely tragic yet beautiful picture.
All of a sudden, I could tie these ends together by following the lifespan of this particular ferry, that for a short time was called Scandinavian Star. If you're not familiar with the background, you might think the name is just me being a very pretentious Scandinavian.
Knife A Scandinavian pop-star.
Malthe Exactly, but if you research a little, you ́ll figure out that it means something completely different. I like that.
Knife Did it affect your creative process to work more conceptual as you did on SOLAS?
Malthe I think working conceptually can make the process more tangible. Music is an abstract thing that can be interpreted very differently depending on the listener.
Working with these images of rusty old ferries, for instance, made it easier for me to navigate. I've always seen music very visually. I imagine these landscapes or sculptures. You splash something up on the wall, then you chop it with a chisel, stare at it for a minute and think, “hmm, this looks kinda cool”, then you try a new technique and see what's left. It was kind of like amputating an imaginary structure. Do you remember the game called, Jenga? In that game, you see how many bricks you can remove before the tower falls. Anyone can build the tower or create a wall of sound. The challenge is to see how much you can remove.
Knife Are you good at finishing stuff? Or developed a way to do so over the years?
Malthe Yes I’d say so. I work with quite a lot of different artists and it is predominantly related to finishing their works, like mixing or arranging. But then again, it’s a very different thing to finish your own work or someone else’s.
Knife Do you always complete what you started? Or do you have a lot of sketches lying around?
Malthe No, I always have loads of stuff lying around, but when I realize that an idea has the potential to be a proper track I will definitely finish it.
A couple of the new Lust For Youth songs have elements we made during the previous record, but there might have been something missing for us to understand where it was supposed to go. Sometimes a song is like a puzzle where you have to wait for each piece to arrive by itself. Other times the whole thing just unfolds in front of you.
Joining Lust For Youth back in 2013 had a huge influence on the way I work today. Hannes and Loke were way more restless individuals than me. We would make a track in an hour, quickly arrange it and then they would be like, “done”. And I would be “like wait a minute, I know we can do better”. During our first sessions together, I learned to prioritize what really mattered and let less important issues be.
To me, it's important to have collaborators or at least sharing your ideas with people who get what you’re doing. When you're by yourself, you're the one making all the decisions and that can be very challenging.
Scandinavian Star is the first project I've done exclusively by myself and that's how I wanted to do it. I’ve had some unforgettable moments doing music alone, but I’ve still used friends along the way to reflect on how well it’s coming across. Even just playing a track to a friend who's in the same room can be enough to tell you what needs to be done.
Knife Where do you find inspiration?
Malthe I don’t go searching for inspiration, but I guess it ́s more likely to come from other art forms. I’d say that music, which is clearly inspired by other music, is rarely very interesting. Unless you fail tremendously or somehow approach it in a fresh way.
When I play around with a sampler or Ableton something usually occurs. Something that will catch my attention or surprise me, and then that’s what I'll go with. When I’m working on an album and have a deadline I will work constantly. It can be a little unhealthy at times, but I’m slowly learning to take breaks and I never work late hours like I used to do. The most productive hours for me are in the morning when my mind is sharp.
Knife You're kind of battling with yourself until you're finished
Malthe Yes, it can feel like a battle at times, especially to complete a major project when you’re both writing, producing and mixing at the same time.
The most pleasurable moment is when you get the first idea. You ́re just playing around and suddenly something emerges, and it feels like it’s always been there. It’s kind of familiar and new at the same time. It’s a very special thing, like a birth.
Knife How does the future look like for Scandinavian Star?
Malthe I’d like to do something with a more ambient feel and something more aggressive and perhaps dancy too.
Knife Will the project always be about the disaster? Will you go further into the story?
Malthe I won’t say it has ever strictly been about it. That would be a little tedious, but it has served as an inspiration and might do it again, but it is not what is on my mind at the moment.
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