Hja! interview: José González

Over a decade ago, a song called Heartbeats was enjoying huge exposure worldwide. The artist in question was The Knife, a sibling duo from Gothenburg, Sweden, whose synth-pop hit from their Deep Cuts album was etched into indie-electronic history.

Another Gothenburg musician covered Heartbeats soon after the original release in the early two-thousands and enjoyed relative success with his acoustic version. José González was part of an explosion of artists from the Swedish city, releasing his debut album, Veneer, in 2003. The cover (the only cover on Veneer) was complimentary of the original, offering a softer alternative to its electronic sister. It has since been played on Spotify more than 80 million times, overshadowing its predecessor.

Today, Heartbeats is probably González’s most recognised track among his beautiful, folk-inspired work from his later albums, In Our Nature (2007) and Vestiges and Claws (2015). The Knife disbanded only last year, but González, whose family fled from Argentina in the ‘70s, continues to tour around the world with his band Junip.

Richard Ashton & Tom Lenartowicz from Hja! met him after his set at last month’s Piknik i Parken in Oslo, and asked about his up-bringing, studying bio-chemistry and why he plays covers…

 

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José González / Photo: Richard Ashton

José González / Photo: Richard Ashton


Beta in Norwegian: how Duolingo is developing free learning

The internet: what a place. The amount of information we have available through the magic of our glass screens is astonishing, helped by the development of crowd-sourced projects that have moved the level of shareable knowledge to new standards throughout the world. Increasingly, the internet – along with today’s offering of worldwide travel options – creates closer communities, a vibrancy of cultures and backgrounds, and our exposure to other languages.

You may have been taught a language at high school or learnt the local lingo while travelling or working abroad, through the use of books, in a class or with the help of acquaintances. The internet is a relatively recent addition to that list, with many online courses, tutorials and communities available, in as many languages you can shake a map at. There is currently huge competition within the market from the likes of Babbel, Livemocha and Busuu, who each have a good selection of languages to choose from. There is also Duolingo, a crowd-sourced language-learning platform and app, who believe that “everyone should have access to education of the highest quality – for free.” And it is.

Duolingo offers a host of courses for different speakers and continues to add more. English speakers are catered for the best, with languages as you might expect such as Spanish, French, German and Italian; but even Klingon (the language spoken by the fictional extraterrestrial Klingon species in Star Trek) is currently in development.

The course of another lesser known language from a far away Viking universe is also in development and now available to start using: Norwegian! Yes, Bokmål is in beta mode, under the supervision of a group of passionate contributors; one of whom is luke51991, otherwise known as Andrew Feinberg from the United States.

I spoke with Andrew about developing the course, learning languages and his connection to Norway…

 

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Oslo to Beirut: Sébastian Dahl's hitchhiking journey across Europe

In the media-saturated world we live in today the “caps-lock headlines with bright colour are only creating fear and skepticism,” according to Oslo-based French photographer Sébastian Dahl. This in part was inspiration for an epic hitchhiking journey that took him from Oslo to Beirut, Lebanon back in 2012. Over 3 months, Sébastian documented his time on the road with not much other than a camera and some travel essentials, hitching in a total of 112 vehicles and “improcouching” in kind strangers’ homes along the way. He hopes that by sharing his experience that he can cast a positive light on this sometimes-skeptical mode of travel.

So in timing with his exhibition at Cyan gallery this month, I spoke to the 27-year-old about his journey...
 

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Photo: Sébastian Dahl

Photo: Sébastian Dahl


Gin delight: the tale of Chair one year on

It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and I’m at Chair with Richard, the Hja! photographer. Erkan Yelkenci, the young Turkish owner of the bar, has just opened up for us and changed into a smart shirt and tie.

As the culture in Norway goes, it’s a bit early on a Monday to be drinking. However, given the sophistication and politeness of our host, we’re asked if we’d at least like a snitt“No, I’m going swimming after this,” says Richard. “You won’t drown, y’know…” replies Erkan, as we all laugh.

Having assumed his barman role, Erkan hands us our mini beers and continues: “In Turkey, the best part of swimming is actually the drinking part before… We get mad drunk and jump off the pier into the cold water!”

Is that where he got the inspiration to start his bar? Erkan laughs, “No no, the cocktail culture over there is yet to sink in.”
 

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Erkan Yelkenci | Photo: Richard Ashton

Erkan Yelkenci | Photo: Richard Ashton


Digesting Oslo’s new vegan app with Sally Renshaw

Finishing your dinner when you were a kid was probably one hell of a task for your parents. That last bit of cabbage was just not going down, whatever sort of imaginary train or plane your mum would be flying towards your face. For me, I can handle a bit of cabbage quite alright now I’m older. Though as I sit down in Kulturhuset with Sally Renshaw, the creator of the new Vegan Oslo app, I think of those distant memories. Should I be worried that she’ll force feed me some vegan propaganda?

I know Sally as a friend, us both having moved to Oslo around about the same time a few years ago, so while she’s not at the point of flying her own imaginary choo-choo train, I know her well enough to know she’ll go easy on me. So I ordered a fat juicy steak and we got talking about why she wouldn’t be ordering the same…
 

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Sally chilling with a soy milk coffee, probably. Photo: Nick Hagger

Sally chilling with a soy milk coffee, probably. Photo: Nick Hagger


Fresh copywriting: Fresh off the Hill

As co-creator of the animation series Fresh off the Hill, one of my jobs is to write the brand copy, the copy for each episode and any accompanying press copy. It is intended to set an exciting and witty tone for the fun content we release.

We concluded the first season of the show earlier this year and are currently making plans for the next season and the launch of the Fresh off the Hill podcast.


FRESHOFFTHEHILL.COM

Logo design: Thrilly | Illustration: Shallowtree

Logo design: Thrilly | Illustration: Shallowtree


Reflections on skipping: Huun-Huur-Tu & Gilles Peterson at Oslo World

A couple of weeks ago, I was with my girlfriend and two of our friends, chatting. As you do. My girlfriend and I had skipped, not as you do, to the bar at which we were to meet.

Our chat naturally evolved into how we had just joyfully bound our way along the Oslo streets, hand in hand, laughter abound.

But as our friends pointed out, it was dark and we should have been wearing reflectors. “Skip at your peril,” they may have said, as one friend slapped his bright yellow snapband around his wrist.


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Photo: Lars Opstad/OWMF

Photo: Lars Opstad/OWMF


The Aussie effect: Norway's growing surf culture

A child of Australia’s rich surf culture, Seamus Fox was brought up in Wollongong, on the east coast of the country, an hour south of Sydney. He first rode horses and subsequently asked his dad for a motorbike for his eleventh birthday, but instead received a surfboard. This was the turning point for a kid who was to work throughout his teenage years at his local surf shop, Skipp Surf, run by one of the founders of surfing on the east coast.

Growing up in a surf shop laid the foundations and values he believes in today, now running Surfshop.no in Oslo. With a trusty team of passionate Norwegian surfers, including his shop assistant and friend Espen Odén Evertsen, he has brought his Australian influences to a country far away both in geographic and cultural terms.

Norway, and especially around the coastal regions of Oslo, is still relatively new to surfing on a grand level like Australia, but it is gradually building a scene of its own, such as in the cold waters of Saltstein where Seamus and his crew frequent.

Tom Lenartowicz sat down for Hja! with Seamus and Espen to chat about what’s happening within the scene and industry, why Seamus made the leap to the Nordics… and what does Espen think about having an Aussie boss?
 

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Photo: Jostein Nilsen

Photo: Jostein Nilsen


A poor writer’s report of Oslo at Easter time told through the visit of his mum meeting his girlfriend for the first time

It’s a quiet and wet Thursday evening in Grünerløkka, and I’m relaxing in the living room with my girlfriend having spent the last few hours attending to various cleaning chores around our apartment. My mum is arriving soon.

She has visited from England, along with her husband, on a couple of other occasions during the time I’ve lived in Norway. But this time is a bit different because it will be the first time she and my girlfriend have met: probably the part of the visit that I’m looking forward to the most. Except I know that my girlfriend, while excited, is feeling a slight case of the in-law nerves.


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Photo: Tom Lenartowicz/Hja!

Photo: Tom Lenartowicz/Hja!


Making the grade: Norway’s insane graduation celebrations

Throughout the year, there are countless birthdays, anniversaries, a religious event or some weird national day. Apparently, on the day of writing this article, it’s Odometer Day — a day to appreciate “all those journeys you’ve taken [in your car] for leisure, for pleasure, alone or with friends.”

School graduations are another, more common, ceremonial occasion. A time to celebrate with your fellow classmates the conclusion of all the years you’ve spent studying. The moment of realisation you are now free from the largest chapter of your life thus far. One may agree that it is even the pinnacle of all life’s congregations: the first and most carefree of occasions where the responsibility of adulthood, and the need to behave reasonably proper (according to society’s rules), is yet to fully cast its unforgiving spell.


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Photo: Tom Lenartowicz/Hja!

Photo: Tom Lenartowicz/Hja!


Life of a snowboarder: an interview with Danny Larsen

To have an understanding of what makes up the qualities of a stereotypical snowboarder is to understand there are no set qualities that makes a stereotypical snowboarder. Snowboarding’s eccentric, creative and historically punk culture is testament to this: the ideals are so open that it would be antithetical to begin devising a list of traits.

Danny Larsen sits perfectly, somewhere, within this set of non-ideals. As a professional snowboarder revered within the core of the international snowboard scene, his loosely-termed job description allows him to represent himself and his sponsors in the way he sees fit. From the outside, that fit – or more so his “brand image” – is of a dark metal-inspired, Viking-like man; staring deathly into the camera after stomping some crazy manoeuvre off an Oslo city wall.

Beyond the lens, Danny shows a genuine love for the influences he portrays. But furthermore, his views and stories, alongside a showcase of his artwork, undoubtedly dispel any box-ticking theory, as revealed in this in-depth interview.


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Photo: Darrell Mathes

Photo: Darrell Mathes


World Music Festival: Dino Saluzzi Trio

A classy concert requires an elegant entrance, and thus I hastily arrived for my first time at Cosmopolite with beads of bicycle sweat dripping from underneath my beanie. As I tripped over a man’s foot upon entering the concert hall – already full with a neatly dressed audience – I picked up a beer from the bar before escorting myself out of view to the overlooking gallery.

The spotlights shone brightly as the three Argentinians walked onto the stage and I perched onto a platform at the back, behind a row of concert-goers whom I considered different to me. I wouldn’t usually attend concerts such as this. The classical trio, lead by Timoteo “Dino” Saluzzi, I assumed would offer a sound pertinent of the seemingly upper-class venue itself. But I was looking forward to being taken out of my musical comfort zone, if only for an hour. This feeling became immediate soon into their first piece, though I already began to sense a warm comfort from the music and the band itself.

Sitting jovially in the middle of the stage with his bandoneon (a large type of accordion), Dino was joined by his younger brother and saxophonist Felix to his right, and cellist Anja Lechner to his left. Their soft and intriguing melodies had the audience entranced as the trio ventured through their set. Polite applause would fill the gaps between each piece, allowing the chance for a quick cough or readjustment of one’s seating position.

It was the easy-going and friendly demeanour of Dino that brought people (at least it helped me) further into the experience of what could have otherwise been quite a conservative show. He would occasionally speak to the audience in a way that reminded me of a grandpa telling his grandchildren a funny story, while uncle Felix and auntie Anja looked on with knowing smiles. “This is good fun, eh!” he proudly exclaimed.

As my attention drew closer to the music, I could hear the tapping of the keys on Dino’s bandoneon below the intended sound. I liked the idea that I could hear theaction of it, as it were. Then a peculiar grunting or whooping sound would jump from the Argentine’s throat on the odd occasion, adding a quirky spice to a beautiful but modest musical composition. It was enjoyable.

The end was drawing to a close, so I left my position in the gallery and applauded while the trio bowed to the crowd and I headed toward the exit to avoid the orderly rush, appreciative of the music but aware that my comfort zone was still waiting for me elsewhere.

 

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Dino Saluzzi Trio / Photo: Christer Nemark

Dino Saluzzi Trio / Photo: Christer Nemark


My Silvretta Diary: a satirical account of ski mountaineering

My dad is a keen ski mountaineer. I grew up skiing from a young age, and switched to snowboarding in my teens. Though I had only ever ridden resorts with my dad and not experienced backcountry ski mountaineering/touring. I finally got my chance in March-April 2013, when we took a trip to the Silvretta Alps which cross between Austria and Switzerland. Joining us was my dad's friend and knowledgable climber, John Nuttall, and my Norwegian friend, Espen Øverdahl.

I hadn't done much skiing for a few years, but I quickly got back into the swing of it. Overall, we spent 10 days traveling and touring, while I documented the trip with some writing, scribbles and photos. It was a fantastic experience, and I'm keen to do more in the future – perhaps next on a snowboard or split-board.

I included my diary entries and photos from the trip into a basic HTML website I designed called My Silvretta Diary. For some reason I thought it would be funny to put it together in a satirical way, as though it was designed by an out-of-touch outdoor-oriented company, based somewhere in Europe, called Mountainnieergin design eleganse and write the text in very badly broken English.


VIEW WEBSITE


The Oakley Arctic Challenge 2010

Most event reports start with a bit of a plan. A plan of knowing where to be and at what time, and some sort of idea of the angle or theme to base the report on. In contrast, this report has ended up to be a mash of unplanned and ill-timed events with a few too many over-priced beers thrown in.

I traveled down with my girlfriend from further north in Norway to Oslo on the Friday, which meant I was already to miss the qualifiers of The Oakley Arctic Challenge and a chance to check out which riders were looking good for the weekend ahead. So with that fact quietly brushed aside, we caught a taxi to the riders' hotel that evening in downtown Oslo to meet up with the Method boys and head to a "brown pub", as they so inelegantly call them in Norway (basically, just like any old pub you get in England), for a few drinks which inevitably turned into more drinks... y'know the story.

 

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Method Magazine: 5x5 photo exhibition article

I worked at Method Snowboard Magazine in Biarritz, France back in 2009 as a designer and writer. I had a great time, based in more of a surf-focused town than a snowboard mecca, but that didn't matter. We still had a lot of the industry around us, so we put on events such as the 5x5 photography exhibition next to our office, which celebrated 5 legendary snowboard photographers' work.

I wrote an article for the exhibition, in the vein of a young "know-it-all", which was published in issue 10.1 of the magazine. (Click the image to enlarge)