When Casiokids’ frontman Ketil Kinden Endresen approaches, it feels as if David Bowie walked off the silver screen from the Man Who Fell to Earth. The musician from Bergen, Norway has the tall, slender alien features and wears a slim, pale brown suit that only makes his white skin all the more pallid. Casiokids are new to Florida, and— for now— the furthest south they have travelled is Orlando. They are indeed strangers in a strange land.
Endresen expresses his curiosity for the City of Celebration and how Disney-like it might be. But the last sort of cultural experience he needs is an exploration of suburban artifice and the banal. This is the man who, three years ago, spent a month in Lagos, Nigeria with bandmate Geir Svensson exploring the legacy of Fela Kuti in the country’s current musicians.
Fela, who is often celebrated for bringing African music to London in the early sixties and beyond, is a passion for Endresen and other members of Casiokids. Besides their work with Casio keyboards, the band employees African rhythms. “I really like Afrobeat,” says Endresen, “Fela Kuti, and Ghanaian Highlife, like E.T. Mensah. I really like King Sunny Adé, Amadou & Mariam … and some South African music like Kwela music from the sixties and seventies.”
Here’s a tune from Mensah whose rhythm would fit right into a Casiokids song:
Though African rhythms certainly serve as a foundation for Casiokids’ sound (you can download two free tracks from their latest release at the band’s website on Polyvinyl Records), a love of retro keyboards like those manufactured by Casio in the early eighties add the icing on the cake. “I’ve always said that the Casio keyboard is, in a way, the perfect instrument ever made,” Endresen says, “because you have all the different rhythms and all the different instruments there and also a lot of sound effects and colorful buttons,” he adds with a laugh.
He does clarify that the Casio in the group’s sound goes beyond mere gimmickry. “There’s a lot of noise in them, of course,” Endresen says about one of the problems of amping up Casio keyboards on stage. “But we try and use that as an effect.”
The problem with the Casio keyboard for performing artists is the fact that Casio made the bulk of their synthesizers to market for the pleasure of performance in family living rooms, with no need for amplification. With its synthesized keyboard, Casio provided the successor to the home organ. “There’s definitely some particular charm to it when you plug it into amps,” Endresen muses, “and we use a lot of different effects to it, and it’s really fun to play. Some of the songs we do have been really big, and it’s just based around some of these Casio keyboards. They were never really meant to be amped up or anything.”
Though on this night, before Casiokids’ show at the BackBooth, the stage set-up features many more percussion instruments over electronics (read a re-cap of the night’s show here), Endresen says the Casio featured more prominently in the band’s early days. “With me and Fredrik [Ogreid Vogsborg, guitars / keyboards / percussion], we started making things together, and we didn’t have any instruments really, except Casios that we borrowed from friends.”
He says the group really began almost flippantly. “In the beginning, it was just edits of things. We played on top of loops of songs. I remember the first edit we did was New Kids on the Block’s ‘the Right Stuff,’ and we played on top of it with Casios and used parts of the songs in loops and added rhythms. That was the beginning stages, I guess just playing around with it and having fun and being immediate. That’s always been the philosophy of it.”
Between the Casio keyboards and Afrobeat, there is something else at work in the sound of Casiokids. That becomes apparent when Endresen begins talking about collecting records while on his trek in the US. Endresen, who says he “used to work in a vintage vinyl shop in Bergen,” says he has come across some goodies in Austin, Texas and Birmingham, Alabama. “I usually buy jazz or more like electronic things on vinyl.”
When he mentions “electronic things,” he clarifies his passion for the early electronic rock pioneers of the Krautrock scene. “I really love Kraftwerk and Can and Faust,” he says. “These Krautrock bands I really look for because it’s the kind of bands that are really hard to find in vinyl shops.”
Likewise, vinyl is his preferred format for releasing Casiokids’ work, especially when it also accommodates for today’s current technology, like iPods. “We did a release now in the US … that is like double purple vinyl,” he says of Polyvinyl’s limited issuing (only 1,000 manufactured) of Topp stemning på lokal bar (support the Independent Ethos by buying the vinyl on Amazon through this link), whose title, according to the label’s website, loosely translates to “Great vibe at local bar.”
“I think it’s a really nice package because you get downloads for the songs as well,” Endresen continues, “so that package, I think, is the ideal combination because you get something of a very nice item that really gets the most out of the design of the pictures for the release. You also have it both on vinyl, and you can use it for your iPod or your computer.”
He does add that the format he really thinks seems to be dying is one that once sounded the death knell of the vinyl record in the mid-to-late eighties: the compact disc. “Of course, we’ve released CDs as well,” he says, “but what I find these days, whenever I buy CDs… I can’t remember the last time I did that, actually.”
Topp stemning på lokal bar is actually a compilation of songs and extras Casiokids had recorded and released piecemeal over the course of a year, mostly on Moshi Moshi Records, a UK-based record label. A contract with Champaign, IL-based Polyvinyl offered them the chance to gather their recent material into one compilation. “From like, late 2008 till late 2009, we released a lot of singles,” Endresen explains, “and we did collaborations and remixes, and we remixed a lot of people’s songs, so we did a lot of projects and collected them all in this package, this double album.”
Finally, he notes the Polyvinyl deal is much more than an avenue to allow music only released abroad to find a place on US store shelves without the inflated import prices. There are plans for a full-length album of all-new material before year’s end. “We’re working on an album now,” Endresen says, “which I hope we can finish in a month or so.”
He says the main thing that might be in the way of releasing the album any sooner is the band’s tour schedule. “It’s a lot of touring for us always, so it’s hard to find time for us,” says Endresen. “We have our own studio, so it’s flexible for our time, and we did the production ourselves, so we’re currently working towards a release in September of 2011 on Polyvinyl, so I hope that will work out,” he adds with a laugh. “If we don’t tour too much. With Casiokids it’s just an insane amount of touring. Last year we did 117 shows in 18 countries, so it’s been a very intense couple of years for us.”
During 2011’s SXSW, a music festival Endresen says Casiokids has visited three times now, the band premiered one of their new songs. Here is video footage of “Olympiske Leker”:
Endresen spoke much more about Casio keyboards, how the band writes lyrics that are even unintelligible for their countrymen and clarified much hype about some of the theatrical stage shows the blogosphere so promptly… and lazily… associates them with (no, they don’t routinely dress in fuzzy animal suits and have shadow puppet theater at their concerts). More on all that in part 2 of this exclusive feature.
For now, there are a couple dates left in their tour opening for Starfucker (however, the NYC show has sold out):
Mar 31 Philadelphia @ Johnny Brenda’s
Apr 2 New York City @ The Bowery Ballroom