Monday, 10 June 2013

HOUSE OF WALLENBERG (Stockholm) interview

I’ve just done my second and third remixes for Sweden’s House Of Wallenberg, aka Petter Wallenberg, on the track “Be Somebody" featuring the NY ballroom legend Octavia St Laurent (star of the ballroom documentaries Paris Is Burning and How Do I Look).

I sent Petter some interview questions to find out more about how this collaboration came about, his club Mums Mums in Stockholm, the voguing/club scene in Sweden, and the upcoming House Of Wallenberg album Legends, which features vocals from Octavia, Neneh Cherry, Ari Up, Leila K and more…

The “Be Somebody" video. 

How did you get into music?

I never had any formal music training but I started making music when I was around 8.  I would take my casette recorder and go down to a tunnel near the block of flats where I grew up, and record myself shouting there because I loved the reverb and echo. I would also make my own mixtapes, but not just standard one track after another - I would mash it all up, take snippets of music, sounds, stuff off the tv, the sound of the phone ringing and all sorts of stuff, and create these elaborate megamixes. Bear in mind, this was the 80’s so all I had were basic analog cassette players. It was a case of recording a millisecond at a time and if you wanted to repeat it you had to record it again. I would press those buttons so much that they fell off. It was primitive, but a great way to be inventive. This was also the time in music when samplers were new, and you’d hear tracks where they’d just played around with a sampler. This was an inspiration to me. I still love that sampler vibe. It’s treating the vocal as an instrument. Like what Black Box did with “Ride on time"- they just took snippets of Loleatta Holloway’s vocal, and created hooks and a new chorus out of it.  I love that. You can hear that in a lot of my own music today, that influence is still there. Nothing makes me happier than chopping up a big diva vocal!

Who is in the House of Wallenberg?

House of Wallenberg is me. But it’s also a home for collaborations. I have a collective of singers, dancers, visual artists, stylists, photographers and dj’s that work with me on my club Mums Mums and my magazine Mums - and House of Wallenberg is the musical hub for all that. A creative home where the door is always open and I’m constantly cooking something up. 
Of course it’s also a nod to the ballroom culture of NYC. House being a community. A gay street gang. I like that because my life has always been like that. I have my gay “father" in London, my transsexual “mother" and of course all my “children" who come to my club in Stockholm. It’s important to create our own families and look after eachother.
And lastly the name is a nod to my surname Wallenberg, which is famous in Sweden, as it’s the name of a very rich banking dynasty. In Sweden it’s like having Kennedy as your last name. People always ask me if i’m a “real Wallenberg". I enjoy playing with that. After all, I grew up on a council estate - so I got the name but not the money, honey. But i’m rocking that name! 

How did House of Wallenberg come about?

By chance I ran into Leila K on the street. She’s a living legend in Scandinavia, having been the first Swedish rap star and a big club diva and since then notoriously homeless on the streets of Stockholm. We decided to do a track together, and I came up with the lyrics, based on a line from Paris is burning - “I’m legendary, you’re not". I felt that Leila K was perfect in that context - as the spirit of Paris Is Burning is about how you may have nothing -  but in the ballroom you are legendary. To hook up with Leila I had to go into the underworld of Stockholm. It was tough, but felt like an important mission.
After that I decided to make a whole album with all my idols. Find them all and make the tracks I always wanted to hear them sing. And seven long years later my album “Legends" is  complete. 

How is the vogue scene in Stockholm/Sweden?

Voguing has seen a real revival in Sweden lately. I’m glad i’ve been part of that. There’s an amazing vogue crew called P*fect that often perform at my club and you can see them in some of my videos. We’ve been serving vogue culture for years and now it’s in the zeitgeist. I sometimes have Aviance Milan from NYC vogue house House of Milan over at my club and I see new kids, full of excitement, voguing on the dancefloor and feel part of something special.

Tell me how the collaboration with Octavia St Laurent happened…

I was in contact with Octavia for years. She was amazing. She would sing down the phone and I was like: Girl got pipes! People didnt know it, but she had a big old gospel voice. She’d never had a proper record release though.  I think the 90’s were too messy for her. So we made an early version of “Be Somebody". Then she got ill. I would be on the phone to her at her mother’s in upstate New York. She was so determined to get through it. “By the summer the chemotherapy will have worn off and I’ll be looking gorgeous again" she said. But she never did. She died in May 2009. The track ended up on a shelf. I wasnt even gonna put it on my album. But my friend kept nagging me. So I finally mixed it and gave it my all, making a video in New York with all the legendary vogue houses. I walked around with a sign saying “Be Somebody" and during filming a homeless man came up and held a speech about being somebody. It was beatiful and sort of summed the whole thing up. The circle closed. Octavia got her real proper release after all, albeit posthumously. And I had completed my journey of working with all my idols. It’s so amazing now when people tell me “Be Somebody" is their favourite track. It’s been one hell of a journey.

Who else is on your album? How did you get these guests to collaborate?

Neneh Cherry, Ari Up from The Slits. Victoria Wilson James from Soul II Soul and many more. I just made a wish list of my all time favourite singers and contacted them all. It involved loads of detective work, determination and patience. One track with Neneh Cherry took 3 years to complete. To deal with that kind of time frame you gotta have huge balls. You can’t do it if you’re worried about sounding like the latest fad on the radio. But I knew what I wanted and stuck by it. Thank god I don’t have a record label telling me to do some naff Swedish House Mafia shite. I’m doing my own thing and releasing it in my own time on on my own label. It feels amazing! 

What’s coming up for HoW?

The next single off the album is released on the 4th of June. It features not one but two legends - as both Neneh Cherry and the late Ari Up are on it! We wrote it playing with the idea of what a “real" woman or man is. 

I can’t wait to show you the video I’ve directed for it. It’s inspired by Keith Haring, Basquiat, old school hiphop videos, kids programmes and Benetton adverts. I’ve gathered some of my fiercest gals in Stockholm and they’re all celebrating their fabulousness whether they’re a “real woman" or not. It’s one big summery postcard full of love from House of Wallenberg!


Legends is available here. The remixes of “Be Somebody" (ft Octavia St Laurent) are available for free for a limited time at the House Of Wallenberg Soundcloud page.

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