“The one thing that — for me — that set the whole agenda for the whole record, not just what it sounds like musically, but what it means, is the line ‘Love is free.’ I think it's genius. Christian found that sample.” This is Robyn, talking about Christian Falk, one of her conspirators in the trio La Bagatelle Magique. “But he wanted to turn it into a sad love song. He’s like, ‘I want it to be about when you’re on the dance floor and you’re crying.’ Cause he knows that I get that kind of stuff. And he’s like, ‘And then you’re saying to yourself, ‘You’re gonna make it.’ I was like, ‘No! This has to be happy!’” And now Robyn is pounding the table. “Like, ‘Love is free! It’s a celebration, these things you can’t control.’ You know? When life takes you into a spin and you have to just kind of embrace it and jump ahead of yourself and let go?”
Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique
The album that Robyn and Christian and Markus Jägerstedt made together is both hammer and anvil. To them, to dance is to subsume, which unleashes us. When we give in is when we see best.
“I think the dangerous thing is when you think you know something. Or, whatever it is that you don’t know, that you don’t realize that you don’t know,” says Robyn, laughing a little at all the not knowing. “The black matter, to just realize that it’s there.”
Her humility is everywhere. Love Is Free came from three people deciding when and how and what to submit. It doesn’t happen without help, and it began a few years ago, when two of them were over it.
“I think I wanted to take myself a little — like get some distance to myself. Cause, you know, when you put out records, you get tired of yourself. I felt tired of myself,” says Robyn. She says she wanted to be absorbed by other things, into other people’s orbits. She hit up the Royksopp guys, and Adam Bainbridge of Kindness, but the first person she went to with this feeling, this entreaty, was Christian.
“I just started going over to his house to listen to music and talk about stuff. And he had been taking a break off of music. He had tinnitus and he was kind of burnt out. He was doing textile hand crafts course. He was in school, embroidering and weaving, just to, like, do something else. I think he was tired of making music as well.”
There was a lull that probably did not look anything like a lull to people who were going to Robyn’s shows and hiring Christian to work on their projects. Robyn was hungry for change, and she had two related ideas. First, she wanted to counter the way she had been living since she was 16 years old, as a working professional, a frontman, the boss. She describes this alternately as “I’m in, like detox, of control, right now. I don’t know for how long I will be, but a little bit longer I think.” Or, as “I don’t want to sing, I just want to, like, bleh. Say stuff.” She thought maybe Christian could be her guide in this. “What happens if I just let go and try to be more open to something that I don’t know what it is gonna be? One way of doing that was working with Christian, because that was how he was living all the time.”
“When you put out records, you get tired of yourself. I felt tired of myself.”
She was also wishing she could be in a band.
“I think that I always romanticized the idea of a band. But also because, if you think about it — I mean now it’s probably different — but when I was a kid, all my guy friends, they had bands. And my girlfriends, even if we listened to the same amount of music, or were as interested in pop culture, or whatever, we didn’t have bands. And I wonder why that is. It’s weird.”
“I think you learn a lot from being in a band. It’s like being in therapy, like how you affect other people, how you get your ideas through, how you are being supportive,” says Robyn. “It really helps you to figure out what it is that you do. I think before, it’s like, more difficult for me to see what actually is it that I’m doing when I’m writing a song. But then when you take equal responsibility, it doesn’t turn into exactly what you want it to be. But that also makes it easier to define what it is you want out of it. In a way.” She left it all on the field. “Now that I’ve been in a band, I know that it’s really difficult, and I don’t want to be in a band anymore. But I’m happy I tried!”
When Robyn and Markus talk together about being in a band with Christian, they sound shell-shocked. His death, before they were totally done with the album, but almost, is part of that, but it also feels like when you wake up in a place you didn’t plan to and you have to call around to reconstruct the previous evening. To have been run over.
“There was so much with him, like jokes and anxiety and -- total egocentric person. He was such a character.” There were prank calls. Incessant pics. He played records for her, she showed him things that maybe he’d missed on his break. “This constant flow of communication, like when you work with someone, that was super intense.”
“Now that I’ve been in a band, I know that it’s really difficult, and I don’t want to be in a band anymore. But I’m happy I tried!”
She wrote melodies, and he sent them back to her chopped up and sampled and what she wrote in response to him made a third way. “I just wanted to get out of my own way of thinking. I was just like, ‘Yes! Please! Change it around, so I can find a new entrance back into it.’”
“At Christian’s place there were thousands of ideas, like every second,” says Markus.
“When we were at Christian’s house, it was like spluuu. Let’s get all of the ideas out.” That’s Robyn.
“We were fighting. And screaming,” says Markus. “And the one that were the loudest won the battle.”
“He knew when you were on to something that was out of the ordinary. You know, he could tell if it was real,” says Robyn. “He’s not feeling it if he thinks it’s from a fake place, like where you’re thinking too much, or whatever. So he would always go for that, which is a way of being supportive.” He did not use his inside voice when being supportive. And neither Markus nor Robyn felt any type of way about that.
“That’s how it was, definitely,” says Robyn. “And needs to be,” enjoins Markus.
The way they were working, which was by, as Robyn and Markus say, editing each other, offering up their work and trusting that the others would excise the bad and exult the good, produced an album of what Robyn names as disco. When she does, her language strips the excess weight off the American word. It is as if disco sucks was never, and isn’t still, a thing.
“Disco now seems to have so many different ways of being disco. Like disco can now live — I think in the States — be almost anything at the moment.” She’s talking about the way avant garde music and the people who made it were mixing in an uninhibited way in New York in the ’70s and ’80s. And she’s referring to all the crate-digging and YouTube rabbit-holing that she and Christian sunk into so as to bring each other back to life. “To me, hip-hop was dance music at the beginning, and then it became other things. It became R&B and electronic music and then house and techno, but I could have just as well discovered it the other way around. Cause to me they’re so connected and you don’t really know what came first, when you really look at hip-hop and disco, or whatever it is now.”
Having given the implications of dance music a fair amount of thought, she’s ended up on the other side of pretension. “That’s how I would like to see dance music. It’s like, something very simple and something you can’t define so easily nowadays, cause there’re so many genres now within dance music. But if you really look at it practically, it’s kind of like things that blend into each other, from different aspects of, I don’t know, street and club culture. I guess.”
Her conception of history sounds a lot like how we listen now, now that we have a century of recorded music in the palms of our hands, some of which was made in international contexts, some of which was made by loners, some of which was made to ride herd on American consumers, some of which was an accident. There is no performance of reverence in Robyn’s speech and it’s like waking up after ten hours of sleep in your own bed with your favorite person. Like, let’s get it.
After Christian died, the two remaining members of La Bagatelle Magique wanted to continue. “We tried to go back into the studio,” she says. “We were like, ‘Let’s do it now, when we remember everything.’ You know, where everything’s fresh, all the jokes fresh, all the things you talk about, like all the weird sayings you have. You have your own little universe when you make a record, with jokes and habits and food you eat together and stuff. So we were like, ‘Let’s do it now!’”
But they couldn’t. “It made me feel sick, like ugh, like I can’t take it, when we went back,” she says. “To try and force it? It was impossible.”
“We had to try to find a lot of stuff in his computer, and that was really weird,” Markus remembers. “You could see his projects with faders that were moving.”
“Oh, the automations,” she says. Her voice hurts.
“Yeah, like he was still there. That took a lot of energy.”
“Losing him — there’s nothing good about it,” says Robyn. “Sometimes you really want to find reasons. You want to say that there’s a reason for everything. I don’t think that there’s any reason at all in the world why — when someone gets sick like that and they go through so much pain, and everyone around them goes through so much pain.”
“I used to be that person: ‘Something good comes out of everything.’ But then I’m like, ‘No.’” Robyn delivers this “No” with an emphasis that is cartoonishly funny. She’s imitating a petulant child. She laughs a little at herself and to soften the blow. She has enough distance for that, and she is so highly tuned to the room that in this moment she is caring for her interlocutor, making sure that her answer does not communicate offense. She disagrees with any conceivable interpretation of her friend’s death that spins it in any way. There is no upside. “I wish he was still here. I wish we could make more music.”
She wants to be clear about something. “When we made this music, even when we knew Christian was gonna die, he was super in love with his life,” she says. “It was like he made up his mind. Like, ‘I’m not gonna try to make it into something it’s not. I’m just gonna mix. I’m just gonna make this collage and go for it this time.’ And I think that’s what was so inspiring to us.”
“I loved making this record.”
Her conception of history sounds a lot like how we listen now, now that we have a century of recorded music in the palms of our hands, some of which was made in international contexts, some of which was made by loners, some of which was made to ride herd on American consumers, some of which was an accident.