A song can have more than two parts, thats the progressive way of thinking about music. If you want people to listen to a track for ten minutes, you better have something going on.
Listening to Mungolian Jet Set's music might produce side effects similar to the kind you hear about in pharmaceutical commercials: hallucinations, palpations, sweating, dizziness. To date there are no reported cases of death attributed to Norway’s DJ Strangefruit (Pal Nyhus) and producer Knut Saevik but it's not hard to imagine their astral, free form funk inducing coronaries among weaker mortals. You are more likely to experience a psychotic freak-out wherein you find yourself at the Star Wars cantina, with Parliament Funkadelic tuning up on stage, and a mugwump slumped at the bar. Or so the conspiracy enthusiasts and mayors of Mungville would have you believe.
The truth is a bit more mundane but the music is no less fantastic for it. From 1997 to 2002, turntablist and sound sculptor Pal hosted a radio show called simply, “DJ Strangefruit.” It aired on Norway's National Broadcasting channel P3. One night, in 2001 or so, Knut was a guest. He was already an established producer, working with experimental artists like Nils Petter Molvaer. At some point during the interview, Pal played a track produced by Knut. It was called “Duell” from a 2001 self-titled album by an act called John Storm N Da Kid. Knut recalls, “It started like an ambient track, then went into a house groove and ended as a drum & bass track. That three-part thing is not in every track but it comes up a lot in our music. Intro, middle, end—changes, movements... A song can have more than two parts, that's the progressive way of thinking about music. If you want people to listen to a track for ten minutes, you better have something going on.”
Pal claims he was so taken with what Pal had going on, he knew then he wanted to collaborate and that is when Mung mania began. “It matched the style of music I was making and hearing in my head. There was something in that track that attracted me. That's how I remember it.” Knut seems not so sure about the specific moment of conception, but he agrees that shortly thereafter, around 2002, the pair started producing music and remixes for the burgeoning Scandinavian electronic scene. Around that time, Knut was also in a group called Side Brok, featuring label mate Skatebaard. According to Knut, Side Brok were “Norway's best-selling hip-hop act in 2004” and the song, “1, 2, 3, Fyre,” was the biggest hit. “It must sound far out with the Norwegian dialect, but it's about smokin´ weed and driving cars around in Norway's countryside,” he says.
In creating the Jet Set, the duo exploited Pal's DJ sensibility and Knut's engineering wizardry. The pair quickly generated buzz in underground circles. In 2006, they released their first album Beauty Came to Us In Stone on Jazzland Records. It was more downtempo nu jazz than the prog-house they've come to champion, but some grooves more than hinted at their leftfield disco leanings. Whatever pretense of jazz there was in their music vanished in a cloud of fog machines and laser rays over the next few years.
In 2009 the duo started getting serious love from music outlets around the world with their collection of 12-inch singles and remixes, We Gave It All Away, Now We Are Taking It Back on Smalltown Supersound—home to Lindstrom, Disjokke, and Annie. Packaged in surreal artwork that conjures the Tibetan Book of the Dead, We Gave It All Away is a tongue-twisting, mind-warping voyage through a supernatural boogie wonderland that invokes the sprits of everyone from Rinder & Lewis to Patrick Cowley, and according to Pal, even acts like Blue Oyster Cult. “Some people don't get our music the first time around,” Pal explains. “There's a lot going on in it. It's too much. Take someone who's really into something, say techno or electro. If you put a third kind of track in between those two kinds of tracks, somebody's going to say that doesn't make sense. People need to label things. We are against that kind of thinking.”
I always was interested in what you could call weird music…You couldnt get most of those things over here. All those fantasies that I had as a kid about New York and music fed into the Mungolian mythology. Its in our way of thinking.
Limited thinking is nowhere to be found on their new CD, Schlungs—its very title is a typically arch and puerile Mung pun on schlong. Extending the metaphor, as it were, the epic opening track, “2010 A Space Woodysey” broadcasts their love for hype shamelessly across the universe. In case you miss their super-size satire, they spell it out lyrically in the first single, “Moon Jocks and Prog Rocks” taking elitist club life to task for killing the fun. The follow up single, “We Are the Shining” is more reminiscent of the pagan poetry found on 2009's sky-gazing paean “Moon Song (The Gospel According to Mung)."
Knut and I were enemies for a long time. We were from opposing branches and we were battling and competing against each other. Then we decided to become one, join together and make something better…
Pal and Knut have gotten away with much of this creative license unquestioned, but recently caught some flack for the song “Bella Lanay” on this album. Its linear, retro-electro vibe is almost commercial to point of distraction. Knut admits, “'Bella' was hard to place, we considered putting tracks with guest artists to balance things out instead.” Defending their choice to stick with it, Pal says, “For some producers there's just one way to make music. I'm not really sure if we can do that. We try to do something different for each track.” Knut adds, “It's not always an easy process for us, it depends on the track. Some tracks take a while. ‘Moon Jocks…’ took about five years to come together. We started it back then and slowly it came together. It's not something that came together in three weeks.” Their music might feel like random jams, but they're not. Pal clarifies, “Most of our music is written down, actually. We've started doing more jamming, but we really don't do that much. We're very technical about the music when we make it. We build it out of little parts that are all written.” To avoid coming across too stodgy, Knut exclaims, “But we write them as jams!”
The decision to take time and chances with their music isn't haphazard. Pal credits the Mungs' maverick sensibility to a deep, early connection with exotic music. “Growing up in Norway, I had my dreams of how New York was, which was totally an illusion. I grew up in a little place. I was so far away from it—and everything. When I was young, I was very into music, but I didn't have a chance to hear a lot of it. I always was interested in what you could call weird music. Every kind of weird record has been made. You couldn't get most of those things over here. All those fantasies that I had as a kid about New York and music fed into the Mungolian mythology. It's in our way of thinking.” These days the Mungolian Jet Set myth includes a time-traveling cavalry of buskers that sometimes rolls 16 deep and features linguists, poets and designers—pretty much any freak who can keep a good beat. Even enemies are welcome, as Pal points out. “Knut and I were enemies for a long time. That's how we became Mungolian Jet Set. We were from opposing branches and we were battling and competing against each other. Then we decided to become one, join together and make something better. Now we just pretend that we're friends.”
Im actually not really sure whats going on. Theres a murder. There are no actors; all the people are actual bums. A lot of them are drug addicts.
The friendship, whatever its state, extends beyond their Mung personas to other projects. One of those projects is writing the music for an independent film titled 8 Lasaroner, or 8 Bums. According to Pal, “the movie's a complicated story about some street guy, I'm actually not really sure what's going on. It has something to do with someone who stole a register from the social service. There's a murder. There are no actors; all the people are actual bums. A lot of them are drug addicts. It's done like a documentary. The music has a Tom Waits kind of feeling.” Knut notes, “The director said we could not use synthesizers or electronics because he doesn't like any of that. Everything is played on acoustic instruments, guitars, accordions—it's not a Mungolian Jet Set thing at all.”
Don't be alarmed, however, they're not ditching disco just yet. Knut assures, “We also are working on a compilation, Mungolian Jet Set Presents. It's more about things we have been involved in—remixes for other people, some production work, collaborations. It's an in-between records project. It should be out sometime between Christmas and next summer. We have some ideas and sketches for the next album, but we don't know how it's going to turn out yet.”
Hip-hop, acoustic, prog rock, disco—it's all part of an interstellar conspiracy that will hopefully keep the Mungolian Jet Set flying high for light years. As Pal, concludes, “Our aim musically is to stay around for a while. We hope to be doing this when we're in our 70s. I mean… The Rolling Stones are still playing.” Maybe someday if we're lucky, alien life will pick up on a Mungolian transmission, presume humanoids are not so bad after all and think twice before turning earth into the Milky Way's latest parking lot.