LIIMA was born as much of breaking old habits as building new habits, and their second album, 1982 (co-produced with Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor), provides a masterclass in the benefits of pushing beyond one’s established comfort zones. Few things could illustrate that better than the tour the band undertook ten months after the release of their debut album. It’s hardly unusual for bands to test material in public before they enter the studio, and LIIMA had done exactly that to small crowds at the end of the four week-long residencies – in the countryside outside Helsinki, Istanbul, Madeira, and Berlin – which delivered 2016’s ii. But this time, having put on similar shows at the end of a further four residencies which they’d built into their touring schedule – the residencies which would yield their second album, 1982 – they arranged to go one step further: they decided, before beginning recording, to take the show on the road. These, though, were snow-covered roads, snaking their way through one of the more inhospitable parts of the world, the northernmost realms of Norway, where the sun never rises in winter. Furthermore, if the crowds were again small, this time it was for a different reason. This time, their audience was made up of school children.
“It felt oddly familiar, waking up early on Monday morning to go to school,” smiles Tatu Rönkkö, “but this time to perform, not study. We had a military camp style routine, from Monday to Friday: lobby call at 7am, load-in, soundcheck, a quick cup of coffee, and then, at 9am sharp, we were ready to rock the stage in front of 100 sleepy teenagers who showed more attention to their phones than us. Reality check. What the fuck are we doing? But after the second show, one teenager sent us a message on Instagram saying, ‘That was very special and inspiring’. So we continued driving from village to village through the dark and cold in the hope of conquering the hearts of North Norwegian school kids.” Casper Clausen, his bandmate, interrupts him. “It wasn’t so good for the self-esteem,” he laughs, despairingly, “but it put us in a good spot for entering the studio a couple of days later…”
LIIMA’s tradition of abandoning familiar routines began before they were even a band. It was 2013 when Casper Clausen, Rasmus Stolberg and Mads Brauer first met Tatu Rönkkö, who, within a couple of years, would prove the catalyst behind its formation. The three Danes – who remain the key components of Efterklang – were promoting the release of their fourth album, Piramida, and their search for a new touring drummer brought them face to face with the Finn. From that moment on, there was no doubt who’d fill the drum stool. “He killed it!” Clausen grins. “He wasn’t only playing the sickest beats, but he’d look up and smile at you, and just keep doing his thing.”
Rönkkö performed with Efterklang until February 2014, when they played a show, alongside a symphony orchestra and another ten or so musicians, billed – confusingly, they admit – as The Last Concert. “It wasn’t our final show,” Brauer confirms, “and we knew it. We just needed a change.” As if to prove this, they reunited in July, following a rejuvenating holiday, to play a Finnish festival, this time under the name Efterklang & Tatu Rönkkö. They spent the preceding week in a small cottage nearby, where they sought to create an entirely new repertoire. Though they didn’t know it at the time, this residency would prove the occasion for the birth of LIIMA.
“We already knew each other very, very well,” Brauer recalls of their relationship with Rönkkö, “and musically, over a hundred concerts, we’d developed a common language. One thing that had emerged organically was this ten minute improvisation in the middle of our shows, a contrast to the tightly knit songs in the rest of our set. Tatu comes from a jazz background, and is extremely good at being spontaneous, so when we met in Finland we challenged him not to use any real drums, only found objects and samplers. It quickly became clear that we wanted to do more than ‘just’ improvise. It seemed natural to shape our improvs into songs that inherently had a simpler structure and instrumentation than before. We instantly knew we’d have to repeat the process, so we continued with residencies in different places, refining our methods. We’d zoom in on the two minutes that really took off, recreating and restructuring, all at a pace of one or two songs a day. The live shows at the end gave the week a healthy sense of urgency.”
Stolberg, too, remembers these early experiences excitedly. “We made music from when we woke up to when we went to bed,” he says. “None of us had ever done anything like that. This was just four guys throwing ideas at each other, jamming it out, recording things and listening back. Everything was written collectively together. There was this energy which was just insane. We immediately decided, ‘This should be a band!’” Of course, there already was a band, but the quartet knew this was different. For starters, Efterklang’s rituals had become overfamiliar. “Having played together more than ten years,” Brauer continues, “with 700 concerts all over the world, things had started to become predictable: making records, where you give everything you have, and then touring the record, which takes everything you have.” In contrast, this new venture was intuitive, as though guided by the gut, not the head. “It felt liberating, like being in a teenage band,” Clausen elaborates. “With Efterklang, we’d work inside a computer, whereas now we never look at a screen.” Stolberg, too, says the process felt “fresh again, like writing our first songs.”
In addition, Brauer was, by his own admission, “getting deeper into some of the more nerdy sides of making music. Through software like MaxMSP and Supercollider,” he explains, “I’ve explored the maths behind the music. I’m fascinated with the time aspect, how all electronic music is locked to a grid, where every note division is always exactly the same. So I’m developing this ‘Fibonacci Clock’, where each note varies by a ratio of the Fibonacci Sequence. This way, the tempo isn’t static, and the feel of the groove keeps developing.”
With ii under their belt, it became clear that these new habits were ones they wanted to maintain. They set up more residencies, beginning in January, 2016 – before ii was even released – at The London Edition, where they worked in a club in the hotel’s basement, sometimes watched by small crowds, much as PJ Harvey was during the making of The Hope Six Demolition Project at London’s Somerset House. (Her musicians, however, didn’t wear the establishment’s fancy bathrobes while they worked.) They reassembled in Copenhagen a few weeks later at another hotel, working in its former kitchen, before embarking upon tours of North America, South America, and Europe. But, even then, they’d reconvene during breaks between trips to continue work, first in the less glamorous surroundings of a music conservatory in Viseu, Portugal, in July 2016, then, finally, in August, at Berlin’s Michelberger Hotel. By the time they gathered in Mankku Studios in Porvoo – again in the Finnish countryside – LIIMA were more than ready to begin recording. Their North Norwegian school trip had ended only two days earlier.
As with ii, they worked fast, spending just five days tracking in its vast live space, an old wooden ballroom. This time, though, they broke habits established on their first record, which had seen them merely documenting the songs they’d worked up during previous months. This time, with Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor as co-producer, they continued to refine their tunes. “It was clear from when we started working with him,” Stolberg says, “that he wanted it to be an ‘album’. He made sure the groove was there, and that there was a direction.” Additionally, LIIMA afterwards allowed themselves the luxury of post-production in a Copenhagen studio, adding or beefing up lines and re-recording a few vocals, something they’d resisted with ii.
Listening to 1982, there’s no doubt their new working methods have paid off. It finds them - musically and lyrically – exploring themes that shaped their youth while looking forward to a future in times that feel as uncertain as they ever might have, and in which we all struggle to find our identity. “Finding values of life, giving up on values of life… Our civilisation, our way of life and our liberal thinking is threatened and challenged…” Clausen muses. “I say our time, but could it be MY time, MY age. Was it like that for my father when he was 35 years old? I’m wondering, I guess the album is wondering.”
In the year 1982, Time Magazine chose the first ever non-human “person of the year”; the Personal Computer. Though ‘1982’ is not an album that tries to mimic the sounds of that year, it is an album borne of influences and circumstances that stem back to that point in time. It’s an album as much of existential questioning as it is of nostalgia and reflection.
Starting with the twilit, staccato drama of the title track and ending with the hypnotic simplicity of My Mind Is Yours, 1982 showcases the dark tension of David Copperfield – “It used to be called Harry Potter,” Clausen laughs, “but it turns out that’s trademarked by someone called Warner Brothers” – and the slowly changing soundscapes of People Like You, a response to Joy Division’s Atmosphere, initially inspired by jamming along with the Manchester band’s classic single. There’s also Life Is Dangerous, a 10cc-esque tale of a rich white man for whom nothing is exciting any more, and 2-Hearted, in which Clausen’s Autotune dissolves halfway through, like a fog clearing. That’s not to mention Kirby’s Dream Land – whose title was inspired by the comparable atmosphere of an early 90s Game Boy game, and which, startlingly, samples the sounds of the urinals in the Copenhagen hotel in which it was written – and the peculiarly futuristic, but simultaneously intimate, sounds of Jonathan I Can’t Tell You, whose payoff line is unusually memorable.
For a band originally founded upon enthusiastic acts of spontaneity, 1982 represents a huge, sophisticated leap forward. The decision to form LIIMA may have been as bold and radical as their new sound, but the consequences speak for themselves. Old habits are hard to break. The rewards, though, are as invigorating as they are invaluable. In fact, as the title track puts it, this is a “revelation, like the pavement hitting your face…”