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Not Bored with an Oslo Bør: A Conversation with Bjørn Sverre Kristensen

Oslo Børs

March 1, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.

The Oslo Børs were one of Norway’s founding punk acts, though you might not guess it from their moniker (especially if you know anything about international finance) — Oslo Børs is also the name of the capital city’s stock exchange. Sure enough, the Norwegian financial institution put the lean on this quartet and they changed to Oslo Beurs. Their debut EP, however, 1979’s crackling 3-Spor, snuck out with the credit to Oslo Børs. The drummer on that release is Bjørn Sverre Kristensen, who in the years since has carved out a lengthy career as an instrumentalist, composer, and music scholar. Kristensen recently spoke with No Recess! about those heady punk rock days in the Oslo Børs, how it all came together, and how it all fell apart.

NO RECESS!: How did you find yourself getting into punk rock?

BJØRN SVERRE KRISTENSEN: I was gradually getting tired and bored of jazz rock. I was seeking a popular music genre that was more direct in its approach towards both music and the public.

NR!: Who were the bands and artists who really turned your ear?

BSK: The Sex Pistols did two gigs in Norway in the summer of 1977. It stirred up a lot of commotion in popular music and in jazz circles. The jazz people were furious because of the more or less nihilistic approach the Pistols had to music. Also, the jazz rock and disco people were on the warpath. This attitude of anger, indignation, and intolerance made me curious. What in punk made people so mad? I thought, and still think, that “Holiday in the Sun” is the most complete punk rock song. I also heard the Clash, which had a more monumental approach to punk, and also Patti Smith Group made their influence on me. Patti Smith mainly for her lyrics. Also, the Stranglers, UK Subs, and Siouxsie and the Banshees sounded interesting to my ears, I thought.

NR!: Was Oslo Børs your first band or were you involved in bands before that?

BSK: Prior to Oslo Børs I had played percussion — congas, bongos, tambourine, etc. — in a jazz rock group called Revegården, [which means] the Fox’s Enclosure, the nearest I can come in translation. The group was made up of a keyboardist and a trombone player who also studied music; I was studying musicology at the University of Oslo at that time. Also, there was a trumpet player and an additional trombone player, plus sax, drum set, bass guitar, and electric guitar. I joined the group in 1975 and stayed with them a couple of years. During these years I became gradually bored of their musical idiom, which was… very Herbie Hancock and Weather Report. I attended a concert with Weather Report and admired the musical skills of Jaco Pastorius, who made his fretless sound like a harp, and the sax playing of Wayne Shorter, [and] Zavinul’s and Acuna’s keyboard and percussion work. But what bored me was the length of the improvisations. I’ve always had a problematical attitude towards improvisation. I felt, and still feel, that most jazz improvisations promise more than they are able to keep, and the Weather Report concert was no exception.

In Revegården the improvisations were also long, drawn out, and, alas, without the instrumental skills of Weather Report. So I guess that was the force that drew me out of jazz rock towards punk, with its… simplicity, the rawness, the anarchistic approach towards music making, and… the attitude towards using cheap instruments. In jazz rock one’s reputation as a musician seemed to grow proportionally with the height of the keyboard stack, or the amount of guitar pedals or the number of toms and cymbals. My last farewell with jazz rock was a concert with Herbie Hancock who played a stifling long version of “Chamelion” while stumbling around on the stage with a vocoder attached to his forehead making ridiculous noises!

Bjørn Sverre Kristensen

NR!: Can you tell me how you arrived at the name Oslo Børs? What was the rationale behind choosing that name?

BSK: Oslo Børs is the name, as you probably know, of the stock exchange in Oslo. So I gather the name was chosen as a social comment towards capitalism. The group had its name already when I joined it. I think it was Knut Selsjord, the rhythm guitarist, who came up with the name. Knut was an ardent Marxist, as were several of the other members, too. I for one, was a more relaxed, bourgeois, laissez faire type, which was the reason, I gather, for the rest of the group kicking me out, although I had made “the hit” — in punk circles — called “Smukke folks børn” (“Pretty people’s kids”).

NR!: You say you "made" "Smukke folks børn” — do you mean you wrote it? Like the music and the lyrics? Can you talk about the inspiration behind that, and the process of writing the song? Is that how the band worked, you'd all write individually, or was there more collaboration?

BSK: Yes, I wrote "Smukke folks børn,” both music and lyrics. The inspiration was that in Oslo, groups of youths wanted their voice[s] to be heard and a place to hang out, and started to occupy derelict municipal buildings in Skippergata (Skipper Street) and in Pilestredet (The Willow Strait) in the center of Oslo. They were kicked out of Skippergata, but the building in Pilestredet eventually became Blitz-huset (Blitz House) when the occupants managed to obtain some sort of permit from the municipality. It housed Cafe Blitz; AKKS (Aksjon Kvinnekultursenter [Action Female Culture Center], where I worked as a drum set teacher; and Radio Orakel, a feminist local radio station. But when the occupations were going on the whole climate against "alternative youth" — punks, young feminists, lesbians, gays, and transsexuals — was quite heated. And Blitz was several times [attacked] by gangs of Nazi youths. The police made also countless razzias (raids) there in search for drugs. The building was armed with crates of bricks and stones to [fight] any attacks. I night guarded the building several times together with others.

So that was the inspiration. "Smukke folks børn" is a sort of archaic, or old-fashioned Norwegian and or Danish way of speaking and means literally "fair" or "beautiful folks’ kids.” So the phrase "Vi æ'eke smukke folks børn" means "We ain't fair folks’ kids,” meaning that "We are the mean ones and we're coming to get you!" I wrote it in one chunk, so to speak, tune and lyrics and chords. It was great fun and I felt it was a valid statement of how things were right then. The tune became quite popular in punk circles. In 1996 the NRK, the Norwegian State Broadcasting Company, had a project called Rock mot år 2000 (Rock Toward The Year 2000), and they selected "Smukke folks børn" to be rerecorded, so the rock / rap group ISRAELSVIS made a new version of it. It went on the air and the NRK interviewed me for a comment and to tell the story about the tune. Great fun, and I was quite proud, I have to say, with a blush.

[As for] how the band worked… we wrote individually. Knut Selsjord, main vocal and rhythm guitar, [he] wrote most of the material, both melody and lyrics. I wrote a couple of tunes: “Smukke folks børn" and a ska tune called "Jeg vil ha meg en jobb!" — “I want a job!"; a comment on youth unemployment. We also covered Clash tunes with Norwegian lyrics, which Knut provided. Also, we covered Elvis Costello's "Watching the Detectives” and Millie's "My Boy Lollypop.” Great fun!

Blitz House

NR!: By 1981 you were working with the new wave group Broadway News, is that correct? Can you tell me how that came about? I'm very interested in the transition from Oslo Børs to Broadway News.

BSK: I joined Broadway News the year after being kicked out of Oslo Børs. I had always been interested in Latin American music, and my first year in musicology I had written an assignment on Bossa Nova music. I was also studying classical percussion and bought both a xylophone and a vibraphone. A friend of my younger brother, Kjell Trøsvik, had already joined the new version of Broadway News. He heard me playing and thought that tuned percussion would be the thing for the group. So he invited me along to an audition, and they offered me a place in the group. Broadway News was actually a rock group. It started out, in its first version, as more sympho-rock oriented. The new edition, which I played in, was more new wave oriented, with stripped down arrangements plus an affinity towards Latin rock. I have never bothered too much about musical boundaries. I have more of an anarchistic approach, and I play and sing music I find interesting and fun, that being choir music, folk music, classic, or popular. This is also reflected in the music I compose.

NR!: How do you feel your approach to music, to songwriting and composition, has evolved since being in Oslo Børs?

BSK: My approach to music has been greatly influenced by my contact with punk music. Besides being an associate professor of music and a musicologist, I also work as a composer. The concentrated form and the directness that signifies punk music I find in my own modern classical music. Also the anarchistic lack of respect combined with the element of fun and pleasure have its place in my music, too, I maintain. In 2017 I completed a series of preludes for church organ based on old Norwegian religious folk tunes, a commission from the cantor and organ scholar at Hamar Cathedral. He remarked that my music contained "much beauty within a rough framework.” "This is tough music,” as he said to the cathedral choir.

Listen to “Smukke folks børn”

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