Röyksopp Talks Ultra Music Festival and Miami Memories

Röyksopp albums, like all good things in life, come to those who wait. The duo of Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland first began experimenting with synthesizers together around the age of 12 in their small, sub-Arctic hometown of Tromsø, Norway. (Thank cool older siblings who were into Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk.) 

But it wasn't until the late '90s when the friends decamped to a bigger city, Bergen, that they got serious. And even then, it wasn't until 2001 that their first proper studio album, Melody A.M., was released in the United States.

That album won hordes of fans worldwide for its spacey, ambient take on downtempo and lo-fi disco, warmed up with more analog instrumentation than digital. Eschewing the latest studio tricks, and focusing on melody and texture, has allowed Melody A.M., and its 2005 follow-up The Understanding, to age particularly well. 

Then, after an average four-year interval between albums, Röyksopp released not just another album, Junior, in 2009, but yet another, Senior, in 2010. Conceived as companion pieces,they differed widely in mood and composition. Where Junior was often relentlessly upbeat, heavy on chirping female vocals and danceable tempos, Senior was the polar opposite -- moody, dubby, almost minimal. 

So which side of Röyksopp will come out this spring, when the band arrives to play Ultra Music Festival, its first Miami gig in about seven years? Well, probably both -- and some other side, too, probably, considering the band's famous costumed onstage antics and its knack for surprise. 

Crossfade reached Svein Berge at home yesterday in snowy Norway to find out. We'll give you the full scoop in Miami New Times' upcoming guide to the Ultra Music Festival. But in the meantime, here are some outtakes of the Q&A in which he shared past Miami memories and looked forward to Ultra.

Crossfade: You have so many different guest vocalists on the Junior album, how do you handle that live on tour? Who does all the singing?

Svein Berge: Well, we've done it in different ways. We have had every single one of them tagging along. Now, that's not so easy any more, because obviously, they all have careers on their own. We tend to move around a bit. We have been joining Robyn on some of her shows, so she has been tagging along on a few of ours. 

Anneli [Drecker, of seminal Norwegian dream-pop band Bel Canto] is the member who is most likely to come with us to Miami. Again, we try to mix it up a bit to keep it fun for ourselves and those involved. 

You all are known for being into analog synths, which obviously are kind of bulky. So what do you bring for a festival performance?

It differs from time to time. I guess it depends where we're playing. I remember we were playing in Miami years ago, and we were playing on this beach. I think we broke at least three, if not four keyboards, because they got so filled with sand, which was bit of a pain. I remember even smashing a keyboard on the stage because it stopped working due to all the sand. It was a moment of rock and roll for me!

But we try to bring some of the key analog things, but bringing it all to Miami is basically too expensive, and also too hard on the equipment. I wish there was a way to bring more, because that is the most fun bit for us, is to stand there in this huge fortress of old keyboards. It looks a big shitkicker, if I might say. It's a bit camp, in many ways, to stand there and have a lot of keyboards. It's not really cool, and that's why it becomes kind of cool, we think. 

Do you remember the last time you played in Miami at all? It's been some years.

I do remember that I broke a keyboard, and I also remember the police. This is very rock, the police came and told us to turn down the volume. So we had to play at like 45 dBs, so that people could actually talk louder than the music we played. It was extremely low.

This was during the spring break, or the Winter Music Conference or whatever. And we were standing there at the beach, and there was some guy who had probably had 20 ounces of weed and was playing the bongo drums somewhere in the distance. I could hear that all the way on the stage, and he was playing just in a completely different bpm. We were playing like 120, and he was playing about 280 -- frenetic bongos, all the way in the back!

I felt sorry for the people standing there trying to move their feet to 45 dBs and that retard on the bongo banging in the background.

Do you remember what party that was?

I can't remember because my memory is too shot, basically. But I do remember that we left an extremely big bill in the hotel bar that night after that concert!

Are there any other acts you're looking forward to seeing at Ultra?

Well I hope to see ZZ Top. Are they playing? No, I'm kidding. Well, Boys Noize obviously. I've never seen him live. He's great, and he's done a remix for us, and I love his stuff. So if he's doing anything live, I would love to see that. 

When you're playing a shortened festival set, how do you devise your set list? Do you just pick the big hits, as it were, or do you still try to surprise the audience?

Svein: I think, if anything, we try to surprise, but not surprise in a way like, "Let's really give them a shock!" Because nobody really wants a high-tempo tune, and then all of a sudden, crash, something slow in 88 bpm. We try to keep it interesting. 

Traditionally, the biggest problem with electronic music live is that it gets kind of repetitive. When you stand there on the third day and you're looking at the stage, it's the same thing: two guys on a laptop, and something on a screen and a few lights. That can be kind of dull on the third day, I find.

So we just try to do a bit more if we can. And musically, we'll definitely try to keep it up in a festival context, rather than down. It's the way we have to go, I think, in a festival. It's hard for us to keep that calm when we're standing on a stage and people are ready to party. 

You can't say to people, "No, no, no, pretend you're under a quilt with your girlfriend, and you've drunken a bottle of wine, and it's only you here." You have to play a bit more party-related stuff.

So I guess for Miami, it'll be on the more uptempo side. People should not be afraid of us doing a full Senior thing, which is probably of some concern.

Besides playing the festival, are you going to have any time to spend in Miami, and are you planning to check out any of the other parties that week?

I hope that we can spend some time. I haven't seen the full schedule of what we're doing, because we are playing so many dates in the states and Canada and Mexico at that time. But I think we have time to linger in Miami. 

I don't know, I might just try to stalk that guy with the bongo drum and see what he's up to. Perhaps I can ruin his set -- maybe I can come in and play the saxophone while he's playing his bongo!

Röyksopp at Ultra Music Festival. Friday, March 25, through Sunday, March 27. Bicentennial Park, 1075 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Ticket currently cost $219.95 for general admission and $499.95 for VIP via But expect those prices to go up as the date nears.

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Arielle Castillo
Contact: Arielle Castillo