The disintegration of Norweigan black metal outfit Kvist in 1996 was a fairly quiet one, as the band had only existed for around three years with only a demo and a single studio album under their belt. The ex-members went their separate ways, most either disappearing into the ether or joining/creating other black metal bands in Kvist’s stead. That was all except for guitarist Hallvard Hagen.
Hagen was different from his former bandmates in that he didn’t continue to stick with the black metal genre. Instead, his pursuance of electronic music of all things led him to team up with 1/2 of the dark ambient duo Ildfrost, Jens Petter Nilsen. The ripe new duo was henceforth known as Xploding Plastix in 1999 and their first album, Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents, was released two years later.
Xploding Plastix have been tagged with a deluge of descriptors: big beat, electrofunk, electropop, breakbeat, drum & bass, etc. Although the later works of Plastix use a wide array of electronic influences, their foremost and original material can be pinned down under one specific genre: nu jazz. Influenced by the likes of fellow Scandinavian nu jazz artists like Nils Petter Molvær, Plastix’ debut album is the dyed-in-the-wool combination of wispy, smoky jazz and various electronic elements that became so popular in 1990’s Norway.
“Raw” is a word that could be used to describe Plastix’ Amateur Girlfriends in comparison to other nu-jazz releases. Comparative to an album like A Livingroom Hush, somewhat of a contemporary 2001 release by fellow Norweigan nu-jazz act Jaga Jazzist, Xploding Plastix sound much less digitized and cold than many of their more electronic-based Scandinavian counterpart. If anything, much of their instrumentation is presented as though it were being played live onstage in some downtown bar. The bass sounds organic, the drums sound real, punchy and warm, and the general vibe of the album is, generally, easier to swallow than the calculated frigidity of something like Jaga Jazzist. If not a bit quirky.
Does this then give Xploding Plastix an edge over many other nu-jazz artists? I would say yes, but not solely based on the duo’s presentation of their sound. Because Plastix work with such an organic sound, they would have to makeup the lack of calculated, IDM-ish rhythm sections and glitchy experimentation with songwriting that is, for lack of better wording, more adhesive to traditional jazz music. Many of Plastix’ tunes, such as the opening behemoth ‘Sports, Not Heavy Crime’, could be played in a live setting by a competent band, and would likely come out fairly well.
This makes it sound like Plastix are extremely formed around jazz, which they are, but to say that electronicisms aren’t an essential part of their sound would be foolish. The cool contrasting productions of the lo-fi drums with the clear, simple bass hook on ‘Doubletalk Gets Through to You’; the impossibly rapid drum patterns on ‘Funnybones & Lazylegs’ combined with distorted, almost scary orchestral synths; the occasional use of vocal samples like the one at the beautifully noisy climax of ‘Sports, Not Heavy Crime’; the straight-up breakbeat stylings of ‘Treat Me Mean, I Need the Reputation; these are all masterfully executed fusions of electronica and jazz, with jazz remaining the stylistic forefront and electronica providing its subtle backbone. Such a unique sound and pinpoint-accurate fusion is simply impossible to match with a live band, which is likely why Plastix’ live performances often consist of Hagen on a live drumset with Nilsen acting as DJ.
This unique brand of creative instrumentation, brilliant genre-fusing, and beautiful songwriting give Xploding Plastix’ debut album a special place in nu-jazz history, as it provides a sterling example of how to execute music of the often contrived genre. Talk about all killer no filler.