“I’ve always been into music but I felt so vulnerable or even shy when I was playing concerts and performing my own tracks, while when I play records I feel like I am in my safe zone where everything is allowed as long as you go with the flow.”
For the second episode in the record collector series, we spoke with Thorgerdur Johanna, born in Reykjavik, raised in Dalvik, Iceland and currently residing in Oslo, Norway. In addition to the strong musical background in classical piano and song-writing, Thorgerdur is a resident DJ at Oslo’s most respected underground club The Villa, and travels the world with a fully-stocked record bag. Her music selection spans over the mix of high quality underground house, techno, electro and acid to more abstract rave music, yet always demonstrating musical depth and creativity. We asked Thorgerdur to name the 5 best sounding, the 5 best graphically designed records in her personal collection and tell us her story.
To start with, would you please briefly explain what music means to you?
Music is a large part of my identity and means to me fun, friends, form of expression and a reason why I connect with a lot of people. Also after I started DJing I felt like I had found “my thing”. That is a really good feeling. Music is this thing that allows me to share so many beautiful moments with so many different people, and has also lifted my own spirit. It has even inspired me to become a vegetarian and just care more about the environment. Music is also undoubtedly one of my favorite flow activities and I often experience this beautiful unification feeling when I am playing. This warms my heart and basically makes me feel a lot of love.
How long have you been collecting music on vinyl? What’s in your collection?
I bought my first records in Phonica in London in March 2015 and have been buying records ever since. I think I have roughly 1000 records today and it is a good mix of bleep, house, techno, electro, breaks, acid, minimal, progressive house, some trance, trip hop, IDM and ambient. I have a system that is partially based on genre but mostly on feeling as I don’t really like defining tracks into particular genres, but rather navigate based on the feeling that the record gives me.
Why vinyl records?
My husband A:G is the one who taught me the basics when it comes to mixing records. He was playing vinyl and his passion for the format really inspired me. So before I could afford buying my own records I was learning mixing techniques using Serato and digital files. When I started to afford buying my own records, I kind of went all-in because I got very fascinated by the format and the softness of the vinyl sound, as opposed to the digital sharpness.
“It’s not that I never play digital files. I do that sometimes in between, but vinyl is always my preferred medium because it just feels so authentic and the sound to me is more warm and somehow kinder to the ears.”
How often do you shop for records and what are your shopping preferences?
That depends. During Covid-19 I’ve been going slightly wild on Discogs, going through various sellers’ collections and just digging as deep as I feel capable of. But it’s kind of “once you start, you can’t stop” thing to me because I’m quite stubborn and persistent. That means that once I start browsing through records from a particular seller on Discogs, it may be a while until I finish that particular digging session. I also dig through entire label catalogs, but sometimes I don’t have the patience or time to finish labels with endless releases. I dig on Juno as well. I take sessions there like I do on Discogs at least once or twice a month, but sometimes more. When I travel a lot, I prefer going to physical record stores because I love digging in the crates, but during the pandemic I haven’t been good at going to physical record stores for natural reasons. Consequently, my internet digging may have gone up like a rocket. As much as I miss gigs, I have to say I really do enjoy having time to dig deep and make new discoveries.
What are your favorite record stores, online or offline?
I buy most of my music online through Discogs, Deejay and Juno but recently I’ve been buying more and more directly from labels and artists through Bandcamp. Especially when Bandcamp has been waiving their fees and everything goes either straight to the label/artist or to a good cause such as NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Of physical record stores, Marla Records is my favourite one in Berlin, Filter Musikk is my favourite in Oslo and Lucky Records is my favourite record store in Iceland.
Who is your inspiration as a DJ ?
dj masda is my number one inspiration and has been ever since I discovered him at Hoppetosse in 2016. The set he played there was one of the most heartwarming sets I’ve ever witnessed. The sun was rising and he played so many bomb tracks that I was endlessly amazed. There’s something about his energy and the way he plays that just gets me every time. He has this graceful dynamic, tight mixing and this fantastic flow that’s just so inspiring. I also really like Vera, Jane Fitz, Laurine, Z@p, Evan Baggs and Onur Ozer . Each of them has inspired me very much over the last few years. They’re all incredibly gifted DJs , each with their own unique energy.
How well are clubs prepared for vinyl nowadays?
I would say that the majority of the clubs where I played are quite well equipped for vinyl with few minor exceptions. I think as a main rule, the highest risk is that the needles may be sticky or old, so I often bring my own, just in case. One of the things that really breaks my heart is when the sound from vinyl is disrupted because turntables are not in a good shape. I also pitch ride a lot when I mix, so sometimes I notice that the pitch is not entirely smooth or partially uneven. This can be slightly distracting.
“I feel that sometimes it doesn’t even matter how good you are because if you’re a female and the booker or organizer is male you might need some respected ally to help open the booker’s eyes for how good you are, because otherwise they simply might not realize.”
What challenges do you face as a female vinyl DJ, if any?
I know I am female and a vinyl DJ but I simply consider myself a DJ that plays records just as any other male or female fellow DJ. I’ve sometimes experienced that some people are surprised when I say that I play records. I feel though that this old presumption that women can’t play has luckily become seriously outdated. On the contrary, I experience a lot of support and respect rather than anything else really. However, I feel that sometimes it doesn’t even matter how good you are because if you’re a female and the booker or organizer is male you might need some respected ally to help open the booker’s eyes for how good you are, because otherwise they simply might not realize. Why that is – I don’t know, whether it’s old norms or just because they haven’t heard you play, but I feel that even this aspect is improving and that bookers everywhere are opening their eyes to the incredible talent of female vinyl DJs. I personally love mixed line-ups and I wish I would see even more of that. This makes the events so much more dynamic and interesting. Without the feminine energy the events are missing that female touch and I am glad that more and more bookers and organizers are realizing this.
Would you agree that in a perfect scenario DJ is an educator in music? What does “professional DJ” mean to you?
I guess in some ways, DJs are educators in music because they might introduce you to music that you haven’t heard before, help you discover new sound that you really love and get thirsty for exploring. The term “professional DJ” means to me a DJ that acts professionally, with respect for the art, the organisers and the event, is reliable and trustworthy, someone you can count on and knows exactly what he or she is doing. When I think about professional DJs, I think about someone who thinks beyond ego and rather plays the right set at the right time.
My ethos is “go with the flow and always trust your gut, show respect and love and spread good energies“
What message are you trying to convey to the audience during your DJ performances?
That depends a bit on when and where I’m playing, but I love playing tracks with sexy breaks and flirty melodies. I like to play with the crowd and even have some kind of arousing effect; make the crowd feel attractive and forget about insecurities. I also really love to surprise, tease and please, create anticipation, before turning the heat back on. The message I’m trying to convey is just love, positivity and mutual respect. I really love DJing and this might shine through when I play because I get totally excited about it and can’t really help it. This authentic playfulness, while having a good time together, is also something I want to bring forth.
What is your music digging technique?
When I am in a record store I look through the crates and select the ones I find interesting and then select the records that I want to listen to. Depending on where I am digging, I may have a look at the genre they are marked with. I am a total sucker for electro and breaks and acid, so that often captures my eye. If I see records from labels I know I like I often select those to check out, perhaps together with some old house or techno records that look interesting. Sometimes you get really lucky. I also really like going through second hand stuff, especially at Marla. Then all the online digging comes on top of that.
What are your interests in music at the moment?
At the moment I am trying to spend more time in the studio and to come closer in the process of making my own tracks. I just got back to Oslo and look forward to continue playing with my toys, especially the Roland SH-01a and the Behringer TD-3.
Please name the 5 best sounding records from your personal collection?
Amazingly produced tracks by Icelandic electro wizard Kuldaboli, pressed in an outstanding way on vinyl. Pure audio quality. This is the first record that comes to my mind when asked about the 5 best sounding records in my collection.
Breaks that I can’t really get enough of and it is pressed so well. Another pure quality release.
Pure fire! I will never forget when I first heard this record. That was when I first saw dj masda at Hoppetosse. I got really inspired by his set and bought this record soon after. There’s just something about the power in the tracks that basically sets dance floors on fire still to this day.
Another record that I discovered through dj masda in 2019 from one of the Cabaret nights at Hoppetosse. Really nicely pressed and great sounding record.
I find this second release from Youandewan’s label Small Hours to be so well sounding that it definitely needs to be on this list. Love this record and play it a lot.
What is your advice for a beginner record collector and vinyl DJ?
Stay true to yourself, allow yourself to constantly evolve and do it because you love it. It may be hard in the beginning when you’re learning to mix, but I would say just keep at it if you love doing it, it’s so worth it. And make sure you buy records that you love and give yourself time to dig for those records, otherwise it’s less likely you’ll wanna play them.