While the work of FARAO and SPECIAL-K can be more artful, considered and melancholic to most ears, the two ladies respectfully behind those projects, Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir, provide a bit of sunshine in these stranger times by having some cheeky fun as ULTRAFLEX.
Originally commissioned as a live concept, Jahnsen and Andrésdóttir have combined Olympic Nordic skiing, Soviet fitness videos and electronic disco to come up with a pop group that fashionista Lotta Volkova would surely have manufactured had she wanted to become a music Svengali.
Perhaps unusually for a band, the pair met when Andrésdóttir’s father dated Jahnsen’s mother. ULTRAFLEX have described their debut album as “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions”. It is fair to say that the duo have an appetite for seduction.
It all begins with an electro-sexy declaration to ‘Get Fit’, but the girls state that “the message is for you to interpret, is it a critique on the societal pressure to be fit – or a motivational anthem, or perhaps both?”
Asking listeners to “1-2-3-BREATHE!”, ‘Work Out Tonight’ plays with some funky energetic synthbass and disco machine rhythms with lashings of cowbell before climaxing with a saucy dialogue between a man Jae Tyler and a woman as he accidental wanders into her dressing room…
Pitch shifting their vocals for effect and adding slinky sax from Tumi Árnason, the primarily instrumental ‘Papaya’ possesses a sun-kissed groove.
Meanwhile ‘Never Forget My Baby’ is more laid back, sitting on a hypnotic off-beat with a gorgeous dual vocal expressing desire as a vintage digital slapped bass solo occupies the middle eight. The digital slapped bass returns on ‘Man U Sheets’ which then get switched to a squelchier variant as the girls get all breathy and sweaty like a Nordic MARSHEAUX gone electro jazz funk with all the vibey trimmings.
Inspired by TV sports montages, ‘Olympic Sweat’ was ULTRAFLEX’s calling card and remains as exquisite as when it premiered in the summer, a dreamy instrumental blend of PET SHOP BOYS, NEW ORDER and SIN COS TAN.
Coming over like Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN’s ‘Try Your Luck’, the self-explanatory ‘Full of Lust’ is all girly come-ons and amorous panting, playfully raising temperatures while Jahnsen and Andrésdóttir go all LISA LISA & CULT JAM in the catchy chorus. The very Japanese Citypop soundscape betrays the song’s origins which ULTRAFLEX told The Electricity Club “started when we made an electro version of our favourite Norwegian children’s song ‘Sure Sivert’ by Maj Britt Andersen. With her permission, we were allowed to use the melody from the original song as a synth solo that now comes in at the end”.
Closing with ‘Secret Lover’ by spinning off percussively into another funky synthbass backdrop recalling MANTRONIX, ULTRAFLEX said to The Electricity Club of their creative dynamic: “We are both workaholics who appreciate a good laugh and a lot of sarcasm. Kari is the beatmaker and synth master while Katrin delivers the poetic sass and visual excellence. Together we make the synthiverse and melodic framework. With our common goal being to have as much fun as possible, we’ve succeeded from day one. Yes, we both felt the need to stop being miserable and do something fun for a change.”
The debut ULTRAFLEX album is a wonderfully joyous listening experience which proves a lot of amusement can be had while still maintaining an artistic integrity.
Deliciously coy with naughty exercise double entendres, the partnership of Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir cannot help but draw smiles. It is just the tonic needed right now as a very strange and tense 2020 draws to a conclusion.
ULTRAFLEX are the lush musical union of Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir.
Two artists living in Berlin who developed mutual artistic crushes on each other, they set on the road to produce a brand of optimistic electronic pop inspired by Soviet fitness videos and other eclectic interests.
Norwegian Kari Jahnsen usually works under the moniker of FARAO with two albums ‘Till It’s All Forgotten’ and ‘Pure-O’ to her name while she has also produced ‘Ardent Spring’, the recently released debut album by the Danish-based German songstress GRETA.
Meanwhile Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir was a member of the all-female Icelandic hip-hop band REYKJAVÍKURDÆTUR and dreampop trio KRIKI before evolving into the art pop alien known as SPECIAL K.
Occasionally self-referencing their name in their music, the duo’s debut album is called ‘Visions of ULTRAFLEX’. Their opportunity to collaborate came when they were commissioned to perform a live set of newly composed original material for the Scandinavian electronic music festivals ‘Insomnia’ and ‘Extreme Chill’ in 2019.
After writing sessions in the remote Westfjords of Iceland, the arctic cultural hub of in Tromsø and their beloved Berlin, Jahnsen and Andrésdóttir conceived a sound and an image, one that was beat laden and funky, sexy and mischievous but above all, light-hearted and fun. ULTRAFLEX chatted to The Electricity Club about their various visions.
Creatively as a duo, what are your similarities and contrasts, how do they work within ULTRAFLEX?
We are both workaholics who appreciate a good laugh and a lot of sarcasm. Kari is the beatmaker and synth master while Katrin delivers the poetic sass and visual excellence. Together we make the synthiverse and melodic framework. With our common goal being to have as much fun as possible, we’ve succeeded from day one.
ULTRAFLEX is joyous and optimistic, proof that you can have fun and show it while being artistic. Did you feel the need to do something a bit lighter after your most recent works as SPECIAL-K and FARAO?
Yes, we both felt the need to stop being miserable and do something fun for a change.
Was it important that ULTRAFLEX was conceived to be visual as well as musical?
Branding is everything. We felt like the music wasn’t complete without a visual universe surrounding it.
The ‘Olympic Sweat’ video did look like a Valentina Tereshkova exercise video if she had made one…
While you have mentioned a significant Soviet disco influence on the album, the sound of vintage US electro is very prominent as well, so it really is East Meets West?
Our mood board was quite varied, it stretched from legendary Norwegian teenage stars like STIFFI and FITTS FOR FIGHT, through a lot of US electro like MASTER C&J, INTERNATIONAL MUSIC SYSTEM and Larry Heard-related projects, we had a dip into Italo for example Antonio Arena and UK new age artist Clifford White for a bit of dreamy inspiration, all the way to power ballads by Celine Dion and Cher and much much more.
The first track on the album is called ‘Get Fit’, is that the message? What are your own favourite sports and exercises?
We like cross country skiing the most, it’s a sexy and triumphant sport – and the inspiration behind Olympic Sweat. The message is for you to interpret, is it a critique on the societal pressure to be fit – or a motivational anthem, or perhaps both?
On the ‘Never Forget My Baby’ video, you are pretty in pink but is it safe to balance your new Moog Grandmother synth on your bed while you are bouncing around? 😆
‘Work Out Tonight’ is more song based with a funky groove, but the video concept was quite suggestive, do you enjoy being mischievous?
Of course, we are in our element when we know something you don’t, when we have a secret that we aren’t telling you. That way, laughter always bubbles underneath the surface and it keeps things exciting.
Were you both “hairbrushes as microphones” girls when you were younger? Who did you pretend to be?
Kari liked JANNICKE, FLAVA TO DA BONE, ADDIS BLACK WIDOW, SALT’N’PEPA, TLC, GINA G, you name it, she has been singing it all in front of her mirror.
Katrín used to imagine going on talk shows all the time. Still does actually. Whenever someone greatly influences her, she fantasises about what she would say about them in a thank you speech for an award or something. She’s done that as long as she can remember.
You throw in the surprise of a prominent saxophone in amongst the synths on ‘Papaya’ and ‘Man U Sheets’, where did the idea to include some jazzier flavours come from?
The question is, why didn’t we put MORE saxophone on there?
‘Full of Lust’ is like a cross between CONFIDENCE MAN and early MADONNA? How did this song come together?
We don’t know CONFIDENCE MAN but if it sounds like ‘Full of Lust’, it’s probably good. This song had the longest and most laborious birth. We changed the chorus melody and lyrics numerous times, and the attitude of the vocals went from punk to rap to overly seductive. The idea for this song actually started when we made an electro version of our favourite Norwegian children’s song ‘Sure Sivert’ by Maj Britt Andersen. With her permission, we were allowed to use the melody from the original song as a synth solo that now comes in at the end.
Do you each have a ‘Secret Lover’?
Only each other.
ULTRAFLEX began as a live project, so once things have become safe again, will it be your intention to take your vision out on the road again?
We came up with the idea to do synchronised aerobics on stage along with our visuals, to force exercise into our lives. With Covid, we’ve grown lazy and out of shape, so we can’t wait to get back on the road.
What is next for you, will ULTRAFLEX return for a second album?
Oh yes. We are actually making a new commissioned piece for a festival in Norway in February 2021 which will be the foundation for our second album. We are also going to Japan on a City Pop research trip, so expect some new flavours coming soon.
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to ULTRAFLEX
Special thanks to Frankie Davison at Stereo Sanctity
If Soviet Chic inspired fashionista Lotta Volkova had designed a pop group, then she surely would have come up with ULTRAFLEX.
The Norwegian Icelandic duo of Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir, better known by their solo monikers of FARAO and SPECIAL-K respectively, released their fabulous debut single ‘Olympic Sweat’ with a video that acted as visual tour guide of their adopted home of Berlin.
Now ULTRAFLEX unleash the suggestively saucy ‘Work Out Tonight’ with an ambiguously alluring visual presentation directed by American artist Okay Kaya which sees our two heroines sensually bathing, sunbathing and eating choc ice in a local park before the girls indulge in a cheeky face-to-face windmill routine… a strangely comparable reference from the past is THE STYLE COUNCIL’s homo-erotic ‘Long Hot Summer’ video.
With a funky energetic synthbass and those trusty electro-disco rhythms with lashings of cowbell, ‘Work Out Tonight’ climaxes with a provocative dialogue between a man who wanders into the women’s dressing room and the person he encounters there.
Lyrically playful, some naughty exercise double entendres and breathy exclamations that “I’m gonna make you work it tonight, gonna make you work out tonight” only go on to raise temperatures off the scale. Of their creative chemistry, the pair have stated that this has been down to having “mutual artistic crushes on each other”.
ULTRAFLEX have described their debut album ‘Visions Of’ as “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions”; it is due out on 30th October 2020.
‘Work Out Tonight’ is released by Street Pulse Records and available on the usual online platforms
ULTRAFLEX are a new Norwegian Icelandic duo based in Berlin who describe themselves as “The new teen sensation” with an interest in Soviet disco, athleisure and weirdo boogie.
However, Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir are perhaps better known by their solo monikers FARAO and SPECIAL-K respectively.
Perhaps unusually for a band, the pair met when Andrésdóttir’s father dated Jahnsen’s mother.
Unexpectedly given their known songwriting prowess, the debut offering from ULTRAFLEX is ‘Olympic Sweat’, an uptempo synth instrumental imagined as music to be used on TV sports montages of Olympic coverage at the end of each games.
For her muse, Jahnsen had the Norwegian cross-country skier Bjørn Dæhlie in mind as he crossed the finish line to win gold at Lillehammer in 1994. ‘Olympic Sweat’ is uplifting disco lento with an organic heart, a pretty tune with an expansive sweeping resonance courtesy of its range of digital and vintage sound design. The exquisite atmospheres recall ‘Moonstruck’ by Finnish duo SIN COS TAN which in itself took its lead from PET SHOP BOYS.
The fabulously playful video filmed in Berlin is perhaps what a Valentina Tereshkova fitness video would have looked like had there been a merchandise tie-in for her historical mission on Vostok 6 as the first woman in space. From Treptow to Museeumsinsel to Treptow and back with Volkspark Friedrichshain and the Altes Museum along the way, it acts as a wonderful visual tour of the former divided city.
ULTRAFLEX’s debut album pencilled in for the Autumn of 2020 explores Cold War chic via the electronic disco soundtracks of pre-Glasnost Soviet aerobic videos. The Communist authorities did not want their citizens exercising to Western music, so commissioned domestic jazz musicians to play their own compositions on synthesizers instead.
However, the collaboration actually began as a live commission for Norway’s Insomnia Festival in 2019 to write material specifically to be premiered at the event. The combination of music, visuals and fitness choreography went down so well that Jahnsen and Andrésdóttir decided to release the material as an album.
Recording inside a remote haunted house in Iceland, the pair used a lot of software for practical reasons.
But the Soviet-built vintage analogues like the Formanta Polivoks duophonic and EMI Kvintet that Jahnsen had acquired for FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ made it into their makeshift studio, along with a Roland Juno 60, Yamaha CS15 and a Sequential DrumTraks MIDI compatable drum machine.
The duo have alluringly described their work as “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” and confirmed that “Things are about to get real steamy….”
‘Olympic Sweat’ is released by Street Pulse Records and available on the usual online platforms
German songstress Greta Louise Schenk found wider fame in her adopted home of Copenhagen as a member of IDA RED, but always had an inherent desire to do something on her own.
The first GRETA release ‘Ardent Spring – Part I’ was an impressive collection of six airily melancholic songs that were simultaneously kitsch, cool, weird and filmic.
Working with the Berlin-based Norwegian producer Kari Jahnsen, better known to the wider music world as FARAO, the collaboration allowed Schenk’s angelic vocal tones to shimmer and shine within a gorgeously dreamy synthpop universe, as on the gently Motorik ‘Baby’ and the forlorn moods of ‘Spin’.
Greta Louise Schenk kindly found some time to talk to The Electricity Club about seasonal changes, vintage Soviet synths and the understated magnetic allure of GRETA.
So why is spring the best season for you?
Spring for me is not necessarily the best or easiest season, but it definitely is the time of year that inspires me the most. I get very moved by nature blossoming and everything getting reborn in a way, which makes me think about life’s cycles. That often results in a strong need to create, redefine myself and “live” a little more again after a long and dark winter.
What inspired the move to Scandinavia to pursue your dream of a music career?
Because I grew up in northern Germany, Denmark has never been far away. Right before finishing high school, I visited a friend who was a part of the music scene in Denmark. It seemed so much more open and inspiring and made me decide to apply to a music school in DK and drop my plans of studying classical music in Germany. I got accepted, moved to DK and here I am.
Who were the artists you loved which influenced you the most?
I think it’s difficult to say who influenced me the most, because I listen to a lot of music and often first find artists that could have been my influences after someone named them as a reference to my music. I think I get inspired mostly by the people I work with and who are a close part of my process.
While making ‘Part I’, I listened a lot to: COCTEAU TWINS, KATE BUSH, ABBA, TAME IMPALA, BEACH HOUSE and the intro song to the movie ‘Never Ending Story’.
You are a member of the girl group IDA RED, but how did the idea for a solo work come about?
Since a very young age I have performed my songs solo on piano. So GRETA as a solo artist has been existing for a long time.
After I stopped playing with my first solo project WHO IS LOUIS, I felt like something new needed to happen. IDA RED was at its early stages at that time and it was very refreshing and inspiring to create everything together as a group. But I soon recognised that I also needed my own space as a solo artist.
I felt a need to go back to my roots and write songs on the piano again. With WHO IS LOUIS, my interest for synthesizers and arranging my songs started and I developed that with my new songs. I slowly created this solo alias, a new project with my own name, where I could go after all my artistic visions and express myself musically and visually. Of course going to Berlin and recording with FARAO has been an essential part of this.
What fascinated you about FARAO’s music to ask her to collaborate with you?
I was blown away by the whole sound. The super interesting rhythms, the detailed arrangements with so much to experience and yet as clear as glass, the catchy and moving melodies, the organic and electronic sound textures. I felt like FARAO would understand my music and would be able to add a little more structure and edge. She did more than that and working with hear really opened my ears and my mind.
How would you describe the differences in the process of making music between IDA RED and solo?
While IDA RED is a combination of three different backgrounds, three women and three voices where we create everything together and always compromise from start to end, GRETA is 100% me. This is my safe space and place where I can outlive all my ideas, it is also a lifelong searching and finding.
Although I love to work together with a lot of different people and also do that a lot later on in the process, I mostly like to work on my own when it comes to songwriting. This is a very vulnerable space where I want to be in control and be able to first create a foundation and then invite other people into my process.
What is the creative dynamic between you and FARAO, how much takes place together in the same room and how much remotely?
Our process is actually very compact and intense. Like one or two weeks in a row, several times a year. I think ‘Part I’ was recorded over 4 weeks in total. I bring my songs as demo recordings and then we sort out, record new stuff, replace and layer on top.
We rarely write extra stuff, our process is all about the sound and production, structure and dynamic. We are very focused when we work but also have a great time playing around with sounds, eating Berlin’s great Asian food and dancing to disco tunes in the breaks and weekends 😃
The mix process is remote, so is everything that follows the recording, like music videos and stuff like that.
FARAO has a nice collection of vintage synths including some from the former Soviet Union, how did you find these to use, did you have a favourite one you kept going back to?
We used all of them all the time and I was in synth heaven. They add so much texture, warmth and edge to every production. I absolutely fell in love with them! My favourites are the Polivoks, Yamaha CS-15 and Korg Delta.
Both ‘Spin’ and the ‘Ardent Spring’ title song have this beautiful melancholic quality, is it more natural for you to produce something sad but dress it up with melody?
It definitely has been that way for a long time, maybe because I started writing therapeutic ballads on my piano when I was a child.
Right now, I am more fascinated by rhythm and bass lines and then create melodies on top of that. But I guess what really fascinates me is the combination of contrasts, creating layers, also with feelings and emotions, and giving my listener the opportunity to read into my music.
I would say that all my new songs are “happier” or definitely groovier but they always have a hint of melancholy in them.
So is ‘Bad Lovers’ autobiographical?
‘White’ is perhaps the most unusual song on the EP, with its rhythmic structure and chromatic overtones, it could almost be an art rock number?
True, I often wonder how this song came out of me. I actually wrote it on my Irish bouzouki, which may explain the chords. I was listening a lot to LANA DEL REY and it was quite a dark time in my life. This song is one of my favourites to play live. With that and ‘Baby’, it is so easy for me to go into that feeling again and I love to fully live it out on stage.
Which are your own favourite songs on the EP?
I can’t choose. Some of those songs have been with me for a long time. Developing, changing and moving along with me. Maybe ‘Bad Lovers’, this one is my instant Berlin-feeling in a song for me.
Will there be an ‘Ardent Spring – Part II’?
Yes definitely! And I am already slowly and secretly working on something that right now is called ‘Part III’…
What is next for you?
A lot, I have some very special concerts coming up for the rest of autumn and December. One of them is an audio-visual concert with visuals especially created / designed to my music. In November I will go to Berlin to write new music and then I am slowly getting ready for a crazy exciting 2020…
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to GRETA
Special thanks to Nicki Bladt at Celebration Records