“We were visitors in a world we are not familiar with. We’re urban kids from Oslo.”
When Norwegian electronic musician Torgny needed to make a music video for his first single, his friendship with documentary filmmaker Emil Trier led him far away from tired video clichés. Embarking on a genre bending film project, the two friends discovered that, in Norway, the kids are alright ... with being on camera.
In the video for Norwegian electronic artist Torgny’s “The Only Game” a gang of kids drinks, drag races vintage Volvos, and terrorizes gas stations in slow motion to the producer’s bittersweet electropop. It captures the restlessness of youth and sets the music off perfectly. It also depicts a genuine slice of modern Norwegian life. The kids in the video belong to a subculture derogatorily referred to as rånerne (boars). Torgny describes them as “very young car obsessed rednecks listening to sort of like real German trance music,” over the phone from his home on a snowy day in Oslo.
The video for “The Only Game” is one of three music videos for songs taken from Torgny’s debut album Chameleon Days. They were directed by his friend, documentary filmmaker Emil Trier, who joined him for the interview. Working together the two friends created something really unusual: a trilogy of short films set to music, revealing three different aspects of Norwegian youth culture.
Challenging the traditional concept of a documentary, Emil deliberately wove poetic themes into the films using artful cinematography and loose plotlines. There’s a little fiction in the equation. Emil describes the style as “poetic documentarism” and wholeheartedly acknowledges that the videos are a sort of hybrid. He’s shown the trilogy at documentary festivals, non-documentary festivals, and, of course, they’re also floating in the Internet, promoting Chameleon Days.
A lot of musicians seem happy to star in their own music videos. But, when it came time for Torgny to make a video for his debut single, he yearned for something more. The former singer of hardcore punk band Amulet, Torgny (full-name: Torgny Amdam) had had enough of being in front of the camera. “I’d done a whole lot of performance videos and I thought, with the new music I’m making, let’s try to push the limit and do something that you haven’t seen so much before,” the producer.
The idea for how to “push the limit” came from Emil’s work. It started when Torgny visited Emil to see a rough cut of his full-length documentary The Norwegian Solution, about Nammo, a model factory that produces military ammunitions in the idyllic town of Raufoss. Some rånerne in the film captivated the musician. “I was blown away by this one scene with these kids just hanging out in their cars in this parking space and they looked really special. They had their own look, kind of freaky, and I said this would be great for a music video, we should try to get something together,” he remembers. The filmmakers approached a different group of rånerne in another town and shot the kids hanging out over the course of one day.
Torgny joined the crew for the shooting of “The Only Game” and when it was done, he didn’t want to stop. He was recording the rest of his brooding, experimental debut album Chameleon Days and the new songs suggested new cinematic possibilities. Emil was ready to keep going too. “When we did the first one, it wasn’t enough in a way. Youth culture is so diverse; I wanted to show a contrast. We had to do video number two, “Big Day,” which is like these preppy kids from a whole other part of Norway,” he explains.
The next video, for the somber, rock-tinged “Big Day,” follows a group of high school girls from a wealthy suburb on their graduation day. In a modern rite of passage, they rent a party bus and go on an alcohol-fueled tear through town that ends in a little drawn blood and nausea. It is both life affirming and melancholic. There’s a feeling of fragility and real danger as the young women teeter on the edge of the grown-up world. All three videos share those qualities, which capitalize on Torgny’s foreboding compositions.
For the final video, “I Came Here,” the filmmaking duo turned their gaze to the indigenous Sami people in Kautokeino, far to the North of the country. Young people there herd reindeer with their families, living very much as their ancestors have for thousands of years. The boys still wear traditional embroidered tunics, but they have developed a taste for hip hop and an all-consuming passion for snow scooters. The video showcases the kids’s X-Games ready scooter abilities alongside their ability to consume astonishing amounts of alcohol. It also features Slin Craze, an emcee who rhymes in the Sami language.
“They’re really like northern cowboys in a way. It’s really cool to hang out with them. We had a big wrap party with all the kids and it was kind of a West Side Story thing with all the graduation girls and the kids with the cars and we got the Sami kids from up north,” Emil says.
The differences between the three groups of kids are stark, and their members face very different futures. “There’s a class aspect. Some of those [car] kids, they work at a stone grindery and they had broken their hands and they were laid off. Then you have the party girls in “Big Day” and they’re going to move into finance I think. The Sami kids are going to be quite the same. They’ll gain some weight, they’ll have some kids,” Torgny conjectures.
At the party, the different groups didn’t really get along, but a few of the Sami boys hooked up with the girls from the suburbs. And, happily, all the kids liked their portraits. “They’re the YouTube generation. They were totally cool. They’re used to being exposed on the Internet. And they had this intuitive understanding of being part of something bigger than themselves. Even though this is reality, they kind of understood that they were characters in a bigger sort of narrative in a way,” relates Torgny.
Building trust with the kids was important, because, in all cases, it was almost as if the pair was shooting in another country. “We were visitors in a world we are not familiar with. We’re urban kids from Oslo,” Emil explains. Once they built a rapport, the project usually wasn’t too hard of a sell and, once they got a group of kids involved, the teenagers usually ran with it.
Sometimes this was true in a literal sense, with the filmmakers struggling to keep up with them. Torgny recalls, “that was also important for the project, they’re initiative. They were like, ‘Oh, let’s move to that gas station!’ You know in ["The Only Game"] where they shower each other with water at the gas station? That was a ritual they had. We were like, ‘Okay, let’s go.’”
The finished music videos function as short documentaries in the way that they are faithful to their subjects, but Emil and Torgny don’t represent the project as anything other than what it is: a blended genre with all the uncertainty and slipperiness of youth itself. As Emil tells it, “We showed the three videos in the Netherlands at a documentary film festival and people were like, ‘Is this how Norway actually is?’ And in a way it is. It is like a crash course to Norwegian youth culture.”
Perhaps this hybridized genre was the best way to capture their subject. Emil finds that Norwegian coming-of-age films are out of touch. The skate kids in the movies never wear the right t-shirts or listen to the right music, and someone is always playing guitar, when Emil doesn’t know any Norwegian kids who play guitar these days. “It’s important to get the details right. It’s important to make it real and that’s something I tried to do in these videos. To make it real — and dreamy,” he says, emphasizing the final word.