Jesper Dahlbäck’s production history stretches back more than twenty years, but it’s his work for the seminal Swedish label Svek which piques the most interest. During the label’s history, Dahlbäck made music under his own name, plus a number of nom de plumes, such as Air Frog and Brommage dub, (with Stephan Grieder and Jean-Louis Huhta respectively). It’s his work as The Persuader, however, which he has breathed new life into by reviving the alias and recently releasing a number of EPs over the last couple of years, the last three of which came out on his own Templar label. March this year saw the release of his debut album, ‘Skargard’, again, on Templar, which sounds like a breath of fresh air, even though it reprises a sound first heard at the end of the twentieth century. I sent Jesper some questions which he was kind enough to answer frankly, even if they weren’t always that serious.
The last album as the Persuader was named 'Stockholm' after the city I live in. This was also a kind of way of proving to myself that I had truly lived and experienced the different areas of the city, both the beautiful and the ugly parts...Where are you living at the moment?
I currently live just outside the city of Stockholm, not far from my studio actually. Luckily, i can walk there every day and get some exercise.
‘Skargard’, (named after the Stockholm archipelago), like your Svek releases as both The Persuader and under your own name, seems shaped by a strong sense of place. How much do your surroundings and immediate environment influence you when making music?
I guess it has influenced me more than I realize. I've been spending my summers in this environment since I was a child, and every spring when the ice melts, I try to go there and suck in the natural atmosphere. The last album as the Persuader was named 'Stockholm' after the city I live in. This was also a kind of way of proving to myself that I had truly lived and experienced the different areas of the city, both the beautiful and the ugly parts. During that time, around my twenties, I really began to grasp the meaning of classic books and films that had portrayed my town and how it had coloured the history and its people.
The release that you are most famous for, ‘The Persuader’ EP (Svek), particularly B2, epitomises a distinctive funky, techno-slanted take on house, which could be said to have laid down a blueprint of sorts. What’s your definition of your sound, and are you surprised at how much your early releases sell for on Discogs, and the reverence in which they are held?
I guess one simple answer is that I was really more about techno than the house sound and that no matter how hard I tried, the techno sound always came through in my productions. I'm happy that I managed to make at least one record that became highly sought after, which feels like a nice accomplishment.
As much as we have inspired other people, we were also inspired by other records released around the same time. That's how music works; it's about give and take...Your, and other, releases on Svek arguably helped inspire the minimalist trend, and also enhanced the credentials of dance floor-focused dub techno. What’s your take on this?
As much as we have inspired other people, we were also inspired by other records released around the same time. That's how music works; it's about give and take. Our sources of inspiration were, for example, the early Kompakt releases, Basic Channel and dubby b-side edits on US import records. The goal was to make something to match those records and be able to play our own stuff along with them.
You’ve been active since the Svek era, but not as the Persuader. Why revive the alias?
When the label Svek closed down in 2001 it felt natural to go on to another project and find new inspiration. It was not until around 2013 when I was asked to play the Concrete Sunday event in Paris that I was asked to perform as the Persuader and also release a record on Concrete as the Persuader. First I thought the idea was weird but after a while I felt it was actually fun to go back to a certain sound and make music as the Persuader again.
How would you describe ‘Skargard’, and how happy are you with it?
I was surprised that the production of the album went really fast and it was a lot of fun. One thing that I got a chance to correct was the fact that the last album was really listening oriented and I always kind of regretted that a little, so this time I wanted to do more dance floor stuff. I think it exceeded my expectations.
Do you have a favourite piece from the album? If so, what does it evoke in you?
I really like how the track 'Dymlingharan' sounded in the end. It's like a perfect blend of many of my sources of inspiration: dubby techno bass sounds, synth sounds, rhodes sounds, jazzy drums etc.
You said “When I DJ, I just play my own productions blending old classics with new unreleased demos.” I read that you had tinnitus and had stopped DJing. Is this still the case and, if you have started again, do you still just play your own stuff?
Actually, I never really quit DJing but I had to take a little break and get some special earplugs made for me. They turned out to be the best investment I've ever made in my life. Without those perhaps I would have had to quit. In the nineties, the sound systems weren't really built for dance music and they were sometimes too sharp and harsh. I don't even dare to think of how many DJs have had the same problems as me.
I started out in the early nineties playing records but later on I felt it made more sense to play my own music, co-productions and remixes since I defined myself more of a producer than a DJ. Nowadays it makes even more sense to be able to play music from a bigger catalogue and be able to play a sound that really defines me as an artist. I can even take requests for golden oldies!
How much of what you do is artistic challenge, and how much business?
I run a studio complex renting out different rooms to different artists and I also sometimes do jobs for other people as a sound engineer. However, I would never be able to make music in a calculated way to make money. I don't even know how to do that but of course every decision in the making of a song will affect how the song gets received. I've sometimes tried to ease down on my ego in favour of what is expected to go down well on a dance floor, but I’ve found that to be less rewarding than resorting to a hit and miss philosophy of just throwing out experiments and let people judge what works and what is rubbish.
I think the EU is a good idea, and perhaps we need to overlook its problems and work harder to build something that will provide a better place for future generations... Scandinavian and Swedish Noir, eg: The books of Stieg Larsson, Wallander, etc.; has been very popular over the last decade, showing to many a side of Scandinavia which people might not have thought existed. How has your country changed between your first record as The Persuader, and ‘Skargard’?
That is a big topic. Obviously, Europe has gone through a lot of rough times since the more optimistic 90s. We in Sweden have been very lucky to have had a stable economy but we are not immune to the effects of globalization. I think the EU is a good idea, and perhaps we need to overlook its problems and work harder to build something that will provide a better place for future generations. Right now the world seems to be going in the wrong direction, but I hope Sweden and Europe can play a part in making things better. As funny as it seems, I think things like the Eurovision Song Contest have brought people a little closer together.
According to the urban dictionary, “Volvo drivers are people who value quality and safety over ostentation. They are often liberal, well educated, and upper middle class.” I’ve just bought one, but I’m none of those things so, any advice on how to make it go a little bit faster?
I'm afraid I have to admit I'm also a Volvo owner but I guess here in Sweden it's kind of like the 'three pillars” on which a typical Swedish family rests: kids, a house and a Volvo. I just hope they start developing cars that don't pollute the air instead of putting all the money on cars that can drive themselves.
What is it about Roger Moore that you find so appealing?
I was modelling for a shoe company in the nineties and part of the payment was a picture of myself which we then used for the 'The Persuader EP' on Svek. On the picture I looked like a character from the TV show ‘The Persuaders’ and that's where the name comes from. The center label also had the caption “What is the time, Mr Templar”, which again was a nod to Roger Moore’s character Simon Templar from the show 'The Saint'. That's also where the name of my label comes from.
Which five pieces of music do you feel have influenced you more than any other?