„It’s all so tense if the clock is ticking“
„Laid Back // Laid Back / Laid Back, we’ll give you: Laid Back!“ – with these lines I was greeted by a remix commission from the British pop band Hot Chip in 2005. Their perfect template gave me the extravagant idea to combine this nice, little, nervy song called “Over and Over” via quote building blocks with the bass line from “White Horse” and the harmony from “Bakerman”, my favorite songs by an enigmatic Danish pop duo. It worked almost automatically, mind you without samples, rather like color by numbers. And that might be the proof for the disarming universality of the music of Laid Back.
Hot Chip actually meant something completely different with these lines, “Over and Over” praises the repetition in the sense of a wind up toy, and “Laid Back” – as its contrary – used to mark an extremely awful style of music from J.J. Cale to Eric Clapton that in its saturated-heterosexual-stoned West-Coast-complacency had to be the nemesis of every clear mind, and still is; part of this music is respectable again nowadays as yacht rock, but let it be known that I’m not talking about Fleetwood Mac or the Alessi Brother. More on that later: Laid Back are way more laid back.
Now, in the summer of 2016, I’m conducting a visual long distance call with John Guldberg and Tim Stahl in their studio in Copenhagen in holy Kaput mission. They have only been operating under the name of Laid Back since 1980, but they have been working together since the early 70s, and they have been sharing their studio (most beautiful style, slightly worn out, a classic phat board and analogue synth gear porn galore) ever since 1975. This means that they had a whole lot of time until their sudden international breakthrough in 1984. Obviously enough time to reduce themselves to the essential:
give me, give me
give me just a little smile
That’s all I ask from you
take it easy
let the good vibes
get a lot stronger
As Middle European pop adolescent of that decade this omnipresent 1984 summer plague seemed to me like a spawn from the same hellmouth like “The Final Countdown”, “Live Is Life”, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and other chart horrors. Something that back than was tantamount to ice cream or Bacardi and that stands in the long tradition with the campaigns for ab-in-den-urlaub.de or the ZDF Fernsehgarten. But: Far from it!
The B-side of “Sunshine Reggae” – the modest greatness of which revealed itself to me decades later after all – was an masterpiece that went unnoticed by the European beach-indulging-amoebas in all of their sangria-with-a-straw-a-lot-stronger-goodvibes. Smart A&R people released it in the US as a 12” A-sid and therefore “White Horse” climbed the Billboard Disco Action Charts from nowhere in 1983 and stayed on #1 for three weeks. Later on it was also successful in the Hot Black Single Charts. Two pasty Danes! There was only one other legendary camouflage of that kind, during the same time: Scritti Politti with „Wood Beez“.
Before their MTV video they were thought to be an Afro-American R&B act rather than similarly pale British post punk post-structuralists. Also during that time: 1984, Prince was dethroning Michael Jackson when his 12” “Let’s Go Crazy” was released, which contained the brilliant B-side “Erotic City”, that is strikingly reminiscent of “White Horse”. Every DJ who ever mixed these two tracks together knows how they melt into each other, and how you can push the audience into collective insanity for the whole night with just these two 12”. There is a lot of internet noise about all of this. I was able to ask the two of them directly:
Let’s talk about “White Horse” and “Erotic City”? People say that you had collaborated with Prince?
„No, never. In 1982 we had a lot of new equipment, a Roland 808 and a Sequential Pro-One, and we played around with them and jammed, as we always do it. That’s how “White Horse” came into existence.”
Can I ask if it’s a drug allegory? The (“if you wanna ride…”) “white pony” as cocaine in contrast to (“don’t ride the…”) “white horse” as speed? That’s how someone once explained it to me. „
No. The “white pony” is heroin. We like to play with words and a friend who used to use it told us about it.“
I See. I never found out what the white horse is. And isn’t heroin mostly rather brownish? Doesn’t matter, the reason it never mad it to US radio stations, and therefore not into the Billboard Top 100, were the “parental advisory, explicit lyrics” words the song contained (“Rich? Bitch!”). Considering the immense success of “Sunshine Reggae” in the Old World John and Tim now were able to lay back even more.
Back when the Titanic magazine wasn’t so gross itself it hd my favorite column: “The list of gross expressions”. “Deeply relaxed” is surely one of those. And “deeply relaxed” isn’T even an expression for the attitude of the Danish duo. “Don‘t worry, don‘t hurry, take it easy“. Abhorrent. But: They are deadly serious, it is their message (“s that too much?“). Combined with the irresistibly-simplistic-phat and mostly analogue-electronic Grooves, that accompany their nonsense-songs, this is a message that made them a “cult band” for more and more generations – both of them are around 70 (the new 50) by now. “No, we do not worry too much and just love to jam“ – you can’t coax statements that are any more made for a feuilleton than that from them and that fact is downright pacifistically disarming.
Ever since then there is this string of hit albums, to little fanfare, with breezy titles like “Why Is Everybody in Such a Hurry” or “Cosyland”. Their pal from Copenhagen Lars von Trier, an unknown back then, catapulted them from their intermittent oblivion into the stratosphere and let them fly parachutes together with blow-up breads, real background singers and the drumhead of the “Laid Back” bass drum, in his early Dogma video for “Bakerman”, without a crash, free floating. The legend that the video were just one take, is just that: “No, we had to jump over and over again, and it was really exhausting!”
A new record is neither announced nor necessary. Laid Back rather just play a gig now and then, if they feel like it. Just like recently at the By the Lake-Festival in Berlin.
You surely were in the biggest studios of the world after your big success – but it still seems as if your biggest hits came from this small studio in Copenhagen?
„We have been everywhere, but it tense if the clock is ticking in a studio, and yes, all of our biggest hits have been recorded here, because it’s so relaxed.“
I wouldn’t mind a little dadaistic relaxation exercise from Copenhagen.
Text: Justus Köhncke
(Translation by Denise Oemcke)
Our writer just released the “An Alle EP” n the label Martin Hossbach from Berlin, it would be a mistake to miss it.