Sunday, 26 October 2008


There's a fantastic monthly (Italo) disco clubnight in Nottingham called
Exalt Exalt. Apart from having some pretty brilliant resident DJ's there's also been sets from the likes of Friend, Love Saves The Day and Listen & Learn to name but a few.

This month it was host to a set by Gothenburg's finest producer, musician and part-time animal rights accountant
Johan Agebjorn, most famous for the part he plays in modern day Italo-Disco stalwarts Sally Shapiro.

I met up with the club promoters and Johan at a restaurant before the night kicked off and we talked about Veganism, Alcoholism,
Swedish Pop Music and the joys Saturday night television, but none of that made any sense on tape.

-How was last night then ? (Johan DJed in London on the 24th)

Oh it was great! People were dancing and I enjoyed playing, it was pretty far from the city Hackney, in a pub.

-So what are you expecting from tonight exactly in Nottingham?

A better sound system than yesterday (everyone laughs).

-What do you think of Nottingham so far then, how long have you been here exactly?

Well I've only been here for a few hours (everyone laughs, again).

-So you've seen Squeek (the restaurant) basically?

Yeah and that's a really nice place. I like it (the UK), I've been here a lot of times, but my first time now as a DJ.

-So what were doing here before?

Like a tourist and meeting friends and on school trips and I've always been record shopping loads, in England.

-Any record shops that you like?

Yesterday I was in
Phonica, I like that one. But that didn't exist when I was here last time, that was about 7 years ago. So I remember Selectadisc and a lot of second hand stores, I used to be a KLF collecter...

-Didn't KLF try and destroy a lot of their back catalogue?

Yeah! So it was difficult but fun, it was a challenge. Today it is not a challenge, you can find everything on the Internet, but it wasn't like that 10 years ago, 5 years ago.

-So how did you do it,
to find out collections, was it just through record shops and zines and things like that?

I was actually quite active on the Internet. But there wasn't eBay, there was just mailing lists so you still had to search quite a lot. And it was different, you didn't listen to MP3s ten years ago, there was no iTunes and stuff like that.

-So is coming to the UK for just DJing, is that quite odd to experience?

Yeah it's very... it's a like a dream, I wanted to be a DJ when I was a kid, so I mean to be able to do this is fantastic. And that people want to come and see you, and hear you play is fantastic. Selecting the music, it's pretty much about selecting the music... it's some kind of freedom.

-So you said that you always wanted to be a DJ, what were those first tracks, in terms of strictly dance music, that took you away from the standard pop model and thought it was something you wanted to explore more

It was a class mate who recorded a tape with 'Italio Disco' as we called it, and we both thought it was a band! We didn't understand it was a genre. And there some songs, USSR etc. Yeah, those were my first electronic music experiences. And we had like discos in school, the DJs played MaxMix mixes, those were really inspiring in terms of mixes.

-So what took you onto music production and songwriting, creating music? Is it just something that you do to pass the time

It's difficult to say exactly when I started because I was probably already composing when I was 5 or 6 years old on the piano, even though it wasn't serious. So it came gradually and I think when I was 14 years old I had a keyboard and I made tracks that I sent to the local student radio.

A few years later I bought myself an Atari sampler when I was 16 years old and yeah I started sending tapes to record labels when I was 17 but I didn't get anything.

Then just 4 or 5 years ago, when I was 26/27, then I bought myself a good computer, it happened sometime around the millennium and I still think it's so fantastic that you can do such a lot with it and it's so cheap, the equipment, compared to what it cost in the 80's and the 90's.

Sally Shapiro - 'Jackie Jackie' Official Music Video

-So you do you spend a lot of sleepless nights in your studio?

I used to do it a few years ago, now I have a child, and I also make some money on it, so I have more like a part time job today. A few years ago it was more like a hobby.

-You seem to be quite prolific and industrious in your output, obviously you find less time when you have children, do you always think you'll be doing music, DJing and things like that?

I don't think I will do it all the time, because I had a break between '97 and 2003 when I didn't do anything... that might happen again. But I think I will always revert to it, in some form or another. Though I'm not sure that I will be able to make good music, I'm always very pessimistic about the future and I always think I've already done my best work.

-So you think currently, with Sally Shapiro, and your ambient work, you've hit your peak?

Yeah I would think that, but sometimes, I have been proven wrong, so I hope I will still be able to make good music.

-Is it exciting then, to be releasing your ambient work? Your album's been out in America, is there any element of competition with that and your Sally Shapiro work?

Erm, what I like about it is that it's more personal and somehow its good to release something that's more personal too. Sally Shapiro, I mean I stand for it, but its also packaged in a humorous way and I don't want all my music to be packaged in a humourous way because it doesn't reflect the way I am. I have more sides than one side, and I don't want people to think I am only about cheesy 80's disco.

-It is a good part of you, though.

Yeah yeah, it's a big part!

-With Sally Shapiro, are you disappointed that she's not here with you tonight (Sally was initially meant to be DJing with Johan, but pulled out) or is it something that you can understand?

I understand it and I'm a bit sad about the fact that she doesn't enjoy it, but I wouldn't want her to be here because she wouldn't enjoy it.
She doesn't like standing on stage and I really respect that, I mean, people are different.

-So that's obviously something that you're comfortable with, that shes not kind of person. Does that ever effect the style of recording or making music at all?

In the beginning it was difficult because she had very bad self-confidence and sometimes it took hours or days for me to convince her to sing on some track. That's easier today, for her to sing, but I'm still not allowed to be in the same room.

-Is anyone?

No, no one.

-So have what have you got actually planned with Sally Shapiro, what are you working on at the moment?

We're working on the new album, we've done more than half of it and yeah that's the main project at the moment.

Johan and Sally DJing in New York

-In terms of creating your second album, do you ever worry how it might compare, popularity wise, do you worry about things like second album syndrome? Is there more pressure on you?

Yeah. Because when we made the first album we thought maybe a few hundred would listen to it, and that's a lot of people, I think. But it's still very different, that you know that thousands of people or maybe tens or hundreds of thousands of people will listen to. I mean, you think that you can't make any mistake anywhere.

I'm happy if I can do something that I can stand for myself, I mean it's so much about trends and hypes, I mean maybe the Italo-Disco hype will be over when the record is released, And if that's true then that's the way it goes and I don't worry about it as long as I'm happy about it myself.

It took a long time before we started to record our second album and that was because of some hard pressure on yourself. But once we got started, It's been pretty good and it's been feeling better, and we made one song, which we thought was very good when I made it. Then we got to hear it and mixed something together and the next song sounded better and next song sounded better, so it's been a very good feel the last half year.

-So how long will you think it'll take (the album) to create?

I think it will be finished, at the least, next year.

-Are you looking with record labels to release it with at the moment?

Yeah, we're looking around to see. In North America we'll be released on Paper Bag Records.

-Do you expect to do more promotion with the next album as well, perhaps a few more music videos/adverts on Internet sites, is that something that you're interested in, is that's important to you or do you just think that if its out there, people will find it?

I think it's up to the record label to take those decisions, because if I did it myself I probably would not invest so much in promotion because I'm not a business man that way, but I think it's difficult to invest in promotion. I mean take
Cloetta Paris, for example, I think it's one of the best albums of this year.
But they didn't send any promos, and I think I've read only one review of that album and I think it's bad of all reviewers in the world to ignore it just because they don't get free copies of it, but that's the way it works.

-I know it's somewhat of a stereotype, but there's something about Swedish musicians, who are just exceptionally good at doing pop music, is this stereotype justified? Is there just something about the culture that creates melodic music? Because its not like most other European countries have such a proficiency with pop music.

I think one reason might be that we have state-subsidised music schools for children, so almost everyone plays some type of instrument from a young age, also it's quite easy to be unemployed in Sweden and get money from the state, so you can do that and spend most of your time making music. I started the Sally Shapiro project when i was unemployed, so that's a good example.

I think, compared to for example France or Spain, people speak quite good English in Sweden so it's quite easy to make pop music in English.

-Do you think you're adeptness with English, helps you to create songs, do you always create music in English, is it important to you? Or is preserving Swedish something that's important as well?

No, it's not important to me (laughs), most artists in Sweden sing in English. I think its because somehow it sounds... it sounds pathetic often, it's very difficult to make good lyrics in Swedish for some reason.

Sweden's a very Anglo-Americanised country, compared to Germany or France. I mean we consume more English and American culture than Continental Europe, so maybe that's a reason why we make music which often is exported to UK and USA more than it is exported to Germany etc.

-Do you feel like you have any musical peers, in Sweden or Gothenburg?

The people from Cloetta Paris and the producer of that project, Rodger, we're thinking much along the same lines. And he's been quite involved in writing songs for the new Sally Shapiro album, I have a lot of contact with him.

-So what's Gothenburg like to live in, in terms of clubnights and going to gigs, is it quite active?

There's a lot of bands in Gothenburg, but Stockholm is better, probably in terms of clubs and stuff. We have one 80's club in Gothenburg, called School Disco, which I got to, but otherwise there's mostly rock or techy clubs.

-Does it feel odd, going to clubs and staying out late at your age, when you have children?

Yeah, I am actually quite happy that, we having the same clubbing hours here as in Sweden. When I was in belgium, they expected me to play between 3 and 5, or something like that. and when i was done i was quite tired and I went home, and the other people thought I went home becuase I was bored.

Exalt Exalt itself was superb by the way, Johan played basically every Italo song that you like including not just one but two Fancy songs. Had it not been for my stomach's unanticipated attempt to try and leap up and out of me via my mouth, I would have stayed for the full duration of the night. (which, by the way, lasted till about quarter to 4 in the morning, including an extra disco hour for daylight saving).

-Johan Agebjorn's website (w/ free MP3s)
Sally Shapiro's Myspace
Johan's 'Crying on the Dancefloor' Christmas mix for Pitchfork