Soft-spoken and seldom detached from any avenue of his craft, melancholic house maestro René Kristensen (aka Noir) boasts industry stripes of epic proportions. After all, a man whose love for music blossomed at age six to forge a passion that continuously breaks the comfort zones of his calling is unlikely to go unnoticed in such saturated times.
Drawing as much inspiration from the robotic vocals of early hip-hop and electro as he did the mournful melodies of Depeche Mode, Noir’s ceaseless adoration for music from every walk of life has resonated throughout his scattered works, leading him to carefully carve out his niche in the Danish club scene. While keeping the more open-minded cohorts of his craft pleasantly gorged via his Noir Music and NM2 imprints, 2011’s “Around” (for Defected Records) would find him at an audacious peak in his eclectic output at a time when a remotely mainstream topline could as easily signal success as it could the ranks of “sell-out.”
This belief, however, has proven a substantial element of Noir’s persuasive overhaul. He was given the reins of disc one of Defected’s annual Miami compilation last year, and 2013 sees the Danish heavyweight step up to the plate for a well-earned inauguration to the label’s legendary In the House compilation series—a two-disc journey through the diverse underground and upfront offerings that he believes never made it into the deserved limelight. Taking a breather from his increasingly sparing studio time, Noir touched base with Beatport News to discuss his new compilation, the makings of Noir Music, and why house remains a genre of nostalgic yet positive cycles.
2012 proved a very prolific year for you as an artist and label head. How are you feeling about the general scheme of things as we see in the new year?
Last year felt like the year that all the hard work and trial and errors really paid off. The mental waves between Noir as an artist, label, and radio show all started correlating back in 2011, but it definitely felt like a more comfortable process and journey throughout last year. That isn’t to say it was any less hectic or testing, but that creative flow was just right, and as a result I still find myself enjoying it to the max.
A man offering such dark, deep, and melancholic sounds for global house music must draw from a considerably long list of influences. How has your appreciation of electronic music developed over the years and where did you first come across this music?
I remember recording early hip-hop vinyl records onto tape at a very young age with my brother and his friends, but one of the first artists to really blow my mind was Kraftwerk. Robotic vocals really intrigued me. It felt so futuristic and forward-thinking for a child of my age. I was 12 years old in 1987 and that was the period where I discovered the house and acid scene that exploded in the UK. It absolutely fascinated me. You couldn’t find these tracks in Denmark, so my only path to them was a handheld radio which I would use to tune in to radio stations in the UK, who had all jumped on to that sound at the time. You could say that I have always loved underground music, but that has been matched by my love for quality pop. I find the ability to be able to make incredible music for the mass audience completely captivating, and people such as Inner City did that really well in my book. Likewise, Depeche Mode really inspired me because of the way they made such melancholic tracks with big moods and melodies, yet they always inspired good club mixes. I got more into techno from the age of 17 onwards, around the time I started attending raves in my hometown, but I think all those elements were essential in influencing me to make the music I make today. It has been quite a musical journey!
Despite your somewhat solitary ascent, hailing from Denmark doesn’t seem to have done you many disadvantages. Was the experience of cutting your teeth on the Danish underground circuit an inherently positive one?
Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but that isn’t to say it wasn’t a hard place to come from as an artist. I was born and raised in the northern part of the country, which is miles away from any clubs, full stop. But at the time there was very little to talk about in terms of a club scene anyway. We had a couple of pioneers, most notably Kenneth Baker, who held some of the country’s earliest raves and was responsible for bringing house and techno. A small scene was built out of his work and we made the best of it. This is where I found my feet, and as the enthusiasm grew, so did my profile. We suddenly had a great community of clubbers emerge and even notoriety from the likes of DJ Mag. It took a lot of years and that was mainly down to people educating themselves—it takes work and knowledge to make yourself relevant in an emerging market, but the good thing about that approach is you master the whole process required. It got to the stage where people were so well educated that playing the obvious tracks just didn’t work anymore. Modern Denmark can be very narrow-minded. It doesn’t take a lot to clear the floor, so you really have to bring that varied and diverse approach to the clubs here.
It seems fair to see that you developed considerably far outside of the comfort zones of European house music. Do you see originality a hallmark that is potentially lacking within the wider context of the industry, or are we simply becoming an industry of genre coffin diggers?
House music is all circles. The way we produce and listen to music is constantly changing, but it is rare to find something that sounds totally new these days. Old sounds emerge after a brief hiatus from the spotlight and sometimes they carry a new element that wasn’t there before, but otherwise it is just a case of people jumping back to what was already established. The last new sound to my mind was Deadmau5. I thought it was great how he successfully united deep- and tech-house elements with the uplifting influence of trance while keeping it all so slow and warm. It surprises people when I say it, but I think he is one of the last people to bring something truly new to the table. Right now we have a lot of people producing this ’80s-inspired stuff, and I believe that techno will be the next emerging genre to hit the table, but with a more soulful and warmer side to it. I am fortunate in that I get a lot of demos, so it is easy to see the trends and shifts in sound ahead of time. Last year London was bubbling with the ’90s sound, which I found really interesting and quite exciting to watch unfold because people really added something to it that wasn’t there before.
The outset of 2013 sees you step up to the compilation platform for Defected Records once again, this time for your own dedicated In the House installment. What changed for round two with the label?
In 2012, I mixed the first disc of their annual Miami compilation, for which they wanted me to introduce people to the slower side of house music. It was very specific and mainly driven by the sound that was popular at the time. My own In the House compilation was very different. For a start, it was quite a short deadline, but there was also less pressure to make it sound like the sound of “now”; it could be a representation of what I play and support in my sets and radio shows. There are some old and new numbers in there, as well as a few personal edits and remixes, but essentially it was a collection of my favorite tracks at that particular time. The whole thing is quite a journey and I wanted it to flow perfectly. It starts at 120 BPM and ends at around 126 BPM, so to that extent it builds just like a club night would. For disc one, I got to head towards the prime-time set stuff, and then for disc two I was able to make the transitional journey from slower stuff through to much groovier house music. I also saw it as a great excuse to showcase those overlooked tracks that deserved more attention than they ever received, so what better place than such a respected series of compilations.
A lot of your own work has been pushed through the dual outputs of your Noir Music imprint. What drove you extend your sights to this avenue within the industry?
It came to the stage where I was ready to buy the domain name “Noir,” and I started thinking about the future. As a result, I ended up buying Noir.music, purely off the back of my dream to be more than just an artist one day. It seemed to offer the opportunity to expand once the time was right. In 2007 that time came to make headway on a big dream of mine, plus I had come to realize that labels didn’t always do the right thing by their artists, let alone do what they were supposed to do.
In that sense, has the label been an attempt on your behalf of ironing out the creases you personally experienced within your earlier career?
To an extent, yes. I believed I could fill that void given the exposure and experience I had gained over the years. Today, labels can essentially get music for free, the least you can do as a label head is do what is right for those artists and support them properly. This role and imprint allows me to ensure that good tracks find their way past the business table and end up in the right hands. I get to control the destiny of music that is worth shouting about. It is very much a personal imprint—I still write the press releases and do all the negotiations for artwork and remixes myself, and I think that is just a labor of passion on my part, as I want to be in control of the master plan and the legacy.
Rumors of your forthcoming full-length album were making the rounds considerably throughout 2012. Are we likely to see this emerge in 2013, and can we expect a more song-based format in the same vein as Around?
I am sure some people wish I would get a ghostwriter to finish this album. For 2012 there was so much time on the road as well as a lot of unplanned months during the summer. Trying to control the label and studio work on top of the touring schedule has been testing, and for that reason plans for the album were staggered. I have taken the entirety of January off to focus on getting a good head start, and my plan is to take one weekend a month off just for studio work from here onwards. My process takes time, but I am confident this will help considerably. The album is definitely more song-led than club tracks. There are a lot of vocalists involved in the album, so the process of recording in itself takes considerable time. Even Around took months to produce due to the ping-pong process between artists and producers. It is a long process but people enjoy the finished product, so I am never afraid to take my time. The album so far is exactly where I want to be musically, and despite being a little more radio-friendly than the club tracks that people might expect from me usually, I am confident it will go down well.
What are your overarching aspirations for 2013 given last year’s incredible leg work for both your music and artistic profile alike?
I am definitely one of those guys who takes it one day at a time. There will definitely be an effort to have more structured weeks to allow me to do everything I need to do. Both Noir Music and Noir Music 2 will be receiving a lot of attention this year, and I am really confident about the output we have had to date and the road forward. There will be a lot more originals for 2013 and we are balancing a lot of deep and uplifting releases rather than dark tracks for this year. Other than that, I am booked out on the road until June, so it looks to be busy, but with the aforementioned structure it should unfold nicely. 2012 was a real surprise for me in terms of the tour schedule; there were times when I would pick up the schedule, absolutely shattered, see all those dates, and think, “Holy shit.” It gets a little overwhelming sometimes but that is just a labor of love as far as I am concerned.
Having emerged from the Danish underground and made positive waves at a time of mass saturation and dispute across the spectrum of electronic music, do you still find this a positive industry to create and operate within?
This side of the industry is such a good place. It can become very commercial at times and that isn’t always a particularly good look for artists, but then again the vast majority have kept their music at such a good threshold of quality that you can still appreciate it in one way or another. There was stuff like Sensation Brazil that really opened my eyes to the huge opportunity and attention that is now available across the globe, but I am still a small-club kind of guy. Those smaller shows still hold the better memories for me, as the crowd love and mentality just feels more intense and organic. It is still an intense feeling when you look where we have come from, both as an industry and personally, so long may it continue to grow. The most positive aspect remains that I can do this on a daily basis and work hard at what I love for something that has been built from scratch and developed on my own terms. Being able to call it your own makes it all feel that much more enjoyable.