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Hekt - Lens


A talk with the Danish producer behind a bonkers new EP of club music.

By John Chiaverina


Lens is the debut release from the Danish multimedia artist Jesper Nørbæk’s new project Hekt. It’s six tracks of bouncy, somewhat deranged club music, made by a producer with serious sound design chops. Nørbæk has mixed records for the Norwegian duo Smerz (who appear on the EP) and was a part of the electronic duo Code Walk. On Lens, though, his own tweaked dance music vision shines through. “Sync,” which features ballroom legend Kevin Jz Prodigy, is one standout: It manages to point to multiple styles of electronic music without committing to any of them. Along with Prodigy’s iconic vocals, the song is driven by a dizzy production aesthetic, one that is at once clean and mangled. 

We had an in-depth chat with the producer. Give it a read, and give Lens, which is out now on Numbers, a listen below.

Hekt - Lens
Hekt - LensNumbers

  • 1Lean
  • 2ID feat. Smerz
  • 3Main Tab
  • 4Setup
  • 5Sync feat. Kevin JZ Prodigy
  • 6Rip

What is the ideal context for the music on your newest EP? Is there an ideal context?

I just make the music the way that I want it, and focus on having fun in the process. I try to make it so it is immediately entertaining but also interesting enough to last more than a moment. So when I feel like sharing it, it is often at a point where I feel like it works both on headphones and in a live setting like a club or a concert.

When writing music, I sometimes get a mental image of a place while writing it. These can be real or imaginary places, but there were a few club situations that showed up during the writing of the EP. It’s usually not straight party or fun vibes—there can also be a tinge of derangement or dread. It is all written on headphones, so I feel like I am always looking into a situation from a distance, or a memory of a situation. It’s all just starting points but somehow I think that it keeps me anchored in a vibe. 

I also thought about pretense a lot, as I started to notice a streamlining of rave aesthetics when techno became a bit more mainstream here that made some of the parties I was going to feel like a kind of heightened theater. It could sound like a critique, but I really like when things turn in on themselves in an aesthetic sense and it becomes this really layered thing, where I start to get confused. I find confusion and ambiguity to be very interesting places to work from. Basically I start getting interested whenever I don’t understand what vibe a track has. To me ambiguity shows up in my music where pure emotion—e.g. happiness—starts to tip over and feel a bit unhinged. Like when there’s some sort of underpinning that makes you not really sure if you’re having fun for the right reasons or if you’re really in on the situation.

Do you have any specific examples of these mental images that arise when you are working on a track? 

It’s not something that happens every time, but if I get in a very particular mood it just shows up, kind of like an open tab. It’s like when you go from a crowded space to suddenly being alone and the sense of people being around you persists. The feeling is just hanging there … It’s like that but with spaces. Often the sense of space in the track ends up matching the properties of the mental space, so I’m interested in how those processes of translation color the work—going from hearing a sound to seeing an image and then letting that image influence the sound. But when the music is done, I am not evaluating it based on how well I have translated that image into sound, I just try to focus on following whatever seems most interesting at the moment.

Have you seen your music develop and change over the past decade? 

The first music I made alone was jumpstyle and hardstyle in Fruity Loops. I was a teenager at the time and all of my friends were into scooters and cars, and that was the music that was playing in the cars and the parties we went to. I remember feeling really curious about how it was all done, but I didn’t manage to figure out much on my own at the time and I didn’t know anyone who did either. After spending a few years in music school playing bass I became bored with playing songs from The Real Book and becoming increasingly frustrated with the compromises that are necessary in band settings. I was so relieved when I realized I could do it all myself on a computer. Like with most artmaking, it takes practice to close the gap between taste and technique, so in the beginning I just spent a lot of time imitating the music I liked. I had a teacher in music school who always used to say that the instrument was an obstacle to overcome, something to master to gain the full ability to express yourself. I completely disagree with that sentiment now, but at the time it was a powerful feeling to be good at something, so I spent a lot of time trying to learn all the features of the Ableton Live and the VSTs I was using. That eventually led me to explore Max for Live as I wanted features like probabilistic MIDI and certain styles of sequencing. For a long time I found the MSP side of Max a bit scary, but when I just started hacking synths together by taking a filter from one synth, an oscillator from another synth and then building from there I could at least use listening to guide my choices.


Researching how people make digital sounds and spending a lot of time on the Max forum, I started to learn about computer music and got into making that kind of stuff for a while. By that time, I was in art school, and I had spent most of my time there working with generative video, but decided that for my final I wanted to use the techniques I learned making generative video to make a sound performance purely in Max—mostly just to learn. At the same time, I was also making music as part of Code Walk and that felt like two separate worlds. Writing my own music has been a process of merging my interest in sound art with my early influences from hardstyle and dance music.

I still like to do performances that are meant for more of a gallery setting where I can go deeper into texture and not worry so much about structure. That’s often where I create the basis for the sounds that I use to write more functional music later on. When coming up with sounds, a good starting point for me is to think about where EDM and computer music overlap.

Lens is the first release I finished as a solo artist, so the process was mostly about not collaborating. After working very closely with my musical partner in the duo Code Walk for years I had kind of internalized the musical boundaries that were our common taste. I learned so much from that process about what I like and why because when you have to explain it to someone else, you have to understand it first. A few years ago, Code Walk ended and I still wanted to make music, so I started to try to find out what it would sound like to make my own stuff. It was really hard at first, because I would get to a point where a track would be half done, and that would be the point where I would usually send it off to get some kind of confirmation if it was worth finishing, or what parts of it needed work.

I realized that I didn’t really know how to evaluate the music that I was making and I basically decided to stop focusing on that and just focus on whether I was having fun in the process of making it. That made me completely get rid of all of my outboard gear, because I found the process of recording tedious. I also dropped my studio because I didn’t like being there. It felt too much like work. 

As you can hear, in the beginning it was just a process of not doing what I didn’t like, as I was doing a lot of stuff for reasons that didn’t really make sense anymore. Like running some drums through analog processing gives it a certain sound, but if I am not enjoying the process, why make that kind of music? So I ended up reducing my setup to a laptop and bought some expensive headphones after selling my gear. I have never really tried having a setup with speakers in a well calibrated room, so music listening and making have almost purely happened on headphones for me. There’s something intimate about that kind of listening that just makes it easier for me to concentrate. My friends usually complain about tired ears when working on headphones, but I have just placed my volume control out of reach, so I don’t turn it up, and that way my ears don’t get tired too quickly. It also works out well when I want to go somewhere else to work as the setup is pretty portable.

It's interesting that you started making jumpstyle, which is such a full-on rave kind of music. 

I never heard that kind of music at a rave except for a few one-of parties in assembly halls that were usually used for bingo, and I remember it was the same 50 songs on repeat because no one really knew how to dig for tracks. Let’s just say it wasn’t the hotbed for underground electronic music. The main place my friends and I found those tracks were on an online forum for modded scooters and then we would listen to them on those gamer Logitech speakers or in cars with huge subwoofers. In the beginning it was mainly old school Italian hardstyle, but later on when I got into FL Studio it was jumpstyle. Thinking about it now I still gravitate towards simple repetitive melodies and I like to keep my sounds as dry as possible. I usually amplify rather than hide the digital artifacts that arise in production, which might be because I have a fairly nostalgic relationship to the spectral artifacts that come from mp3 compression as the max youtube quality at the time was 480p. I still have a soft spot for what we in Danish call “Brian” in relation to music. An art school student might translate it to performative hypermasculinity. Growing up and seeing those Brian guys around me never articulate any feelings and then get deeply into a track was both powerful and sad. I’m not sure if it is a thing in other countries, but in Denmark at big festivals it’s common practice for groups of guys waiting to watch a concert to break into a hooligan choir version of “Seven Nation Army.” It doesn’t matter if they’re waiting to see Yung Lean or Chase and Status. There’s something about those kinds of melodies that I find interesting. They’re simplistic to the brink of stupid, they have a tinge of children’s song, they stick in my brain, and, as with most other products of group thinking, I find them a little bit creepy. 

You work a lot with generative composition and digital synthesis. How do you incorporate those methodologies when making a more club-focused track?

I felt really curious about what it would mean for my music to completely embrace digital synthesis and not rely on any samples or outboard gear. It has made my process a lot more fluid as there is zero setup time, and it also makes it possible to switch between projects a lot faster. At times when I am feeling easily bored I will have several Ableton projects open at once and switch back and forth as much as I want.  During the writing of this record I also mixed some Smerz records and an Ingrate record, and the switching between projects worked well to keep my natural tendency to be sometimes overly detail-oriented in check when I am at a point in the process that demands perspective and context, which is often what arrangement and mixing is all about for me.

The fact that working on all the projects can blend together like that and the process is so malleable also made me way less anxious about changing and deleting stuff, which led to more interesting results as I would take more ruthless decisions. Whenever I get too into a project I start being overly protective of the starting point, which just rarely leads to something interesting. I always prioritize iteration over initial ideas and I think eliminating the use of sampled audio and sticking to MIDI all the way until the final bounce just made that feel a lot easier. I guess you can do that with everything that lives on a computer, but whenever I work with sampled audio I just tend to work more slowly and carefully. My friend Ingrate called it being a vector > raster.

A lot of the music that I like is focused on timbre as composition, so looking back on it, I think I was just inching closer to that approach. I ended up having sound design playing a more crucial role in the composition. It made my process slower in the beginning, but I realized that I was having much more fun listening to my own take on a high hat than listening to a sample. I just wanted to focus on doing whatever made me feel excited and most of the time that is mostly about exploring synthesis. To me, limitations always make the process more interesting, and with my limitation of only using synthesized sounds, I ended up finding a process that requires equal parts research and composition. It made me think a lot about how texture and structure relate and at what point one becomes the other. Like if I talk about not using samples to create sounds, am I then allowed to use wavetable or granular synthesis? Deciding whether something is a sample or not is basically a matter of time scale. I just want the music to be interesting both on the time scale of texture and the time scale of structure.

Setting up the limitations, I also immediately started breaking them, but I think I still work well from that starting point. Because that is just what it is, a starting point. I never set out with a fully formed idea that I then create via my tools. I agree with Mark Fell’s critique (in Structure and Synthesis) of this romantic concept that the artist has a divine idea only to be translated into the material world be means of the tools, as that mode of operation makes the tools become almost insignificant and makes you ignore all the interesting discoveries that could arise in the process of using a tool. Another way to put it is that to be lucky might just be to pay attention to the stuff that wasn't supposed to happen along the way.

Getting into Max/MSP and programming has helped me to learn different approaches to making sound, but I think it mostly changed my perspective a bit in the sense that I just started noticing more clearly how a DAW is built and what kind of decisions have already been made for me. I think it’s kind of like how ideology operates, where it exerts the most power over you by making you not think about certain things. I made some tools and synths that I use once in a while, but I am highly focused on speed and reliability and I just haven’t spent enough time to make my instruments better than what is out there already.

How did you approach collaboration on Lens?

The most important collaboration on this release has been with Numbers. They have been really helpful in vocalizing the ideas present in my work and amplifying them on the structural level. I was looking to EDM and pop music when structuring the tracks and that style of arrangement can really benefit from fresh ears. I have rarely met someone so good at translating what they hear into words that I can understand. Sometimes concrete suggestions or even just stating what something is doing can make me think of new ways to work, which was more than I could hope for from a label. Having someone who can be that first audience in a caring way like that has made me feel incredibly grateful. 

Smerz are my long-time friends, so collaborating with them is always easy as we’ve been building our shared language since 2012. Being their biggest and maybe even first fan it just felt right to have them be part of my first release. The collaboration with Kevin JZ Prodigy was really interesting as he came in with such a direct energy, that just shook up my process in a way that really benefited the track in the end.

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