When you put on arecord, your first instinct is to move. If it’s not advanced footwork on a dance floor, it will be a sway of the shoulders, a nod of the head, fingers tapping against your thigh. You cannot escape the music of the dance scene powerhouse. As The House Of Wallenberg, he makes heavy hitting, loud, old-school, house-influenced party anthems that capture the subversive EDM scene in an authentic way that dancers, ravers and music lovers alike can all appreciate.
“People vote with their feet”, Wallenberg says. “It’s the same with music, if people don’t like a track they don’t sit around and intellectualise it. They just walk away, they clear the dance floor. You’re dealing with such basic emotions. That’s why you can never take it for granted, there is no science to it. You just never know. With music and in clubs, you are dealing with magic, you are dealing with something that has to feel magical to people. They are not going to listen to music that doesn’t stir up emotions”.
The first song I heard by The House Of Wallenberg was, Love Yourself Test Yourself, a song that went on to become a major staple in the LGBQT community, as well as part of my going-out soundtrack for the last few years. The track, featuring belting vocals from Jwl B of Florida rappers Yo Majesty, was part of a Clio Awards-winning campaign advocating for HIV awareness. The song went on to become an international hit and established The House Of Wallenberg as a staple on the nightlife scene.
But his rise to fame was slow. Before he became a nightlife personality, Petter struggled for years to put food on the table. Born in Stockholm, he moved to London as soon as he could and emerged himself in nightlife, art-school and being creative. He is a self-taught musician, using his abstract musical abilities and experiences to form the warm blanket of dance music he specialises in. As a project while studying visual arts, he started a pop group: “Then I thought, oh fuck art, let’s just make music”.
During that time he began working on his acclaimed debut album Legends. To pass time he started throwing parties in the club and building a network of friends and supporters eager to partake in what he was working on. The album was one of the first of its kind, bringing together a number of renowned artists in a collaborative body of work that both celebrated his idols and showcased his burgeoning music abilities. Neneh Cherry, Leila K, and Nicolette of Massive Attack are just some of the features on an album that is a beautiful body of work.
“I was really shocked by how well it was received, coming from a background where you are struggling so hard. I was like ‘Oh my God, they are writing about it. People say it’s good!’. I was so used to being invisible, writing in my room”, says Petter.
With The House Of Wallenberg’s latest record, My House Is Your House, Petter goes back to his roots with soulful house music. We chatted with Petter about the club scene in Stockholm, meeting your idols and taking the EDM scene back with his sophomore album.
What was your earliest attraction to music?
Even as a really young child, I just loved the machine around it. When I was six I asked my mom and dad, “Can I have a recording studio please?”. At that time, it was the most outrageous thing a child could ask for. At that age I was just fascinated about the making of it, the process of the album covers and the music itself, of course, but the whole magic around it. That’s what drew me to it, it was a whole kind of fascination with making music, with launching it, being a record label, I mean everything I do today. Even as a six year old that’s how I looked at it, and I was like “Wow, I want to do that!”. I used to make my own little mixtapes on cassettes and kind of pretend it was a single that was being released.
How did Stockholm shape your musical identity? Your loves, your wants, your style?
The good thing about Stockholm is that it’s a place for dreamers. For half the year, or even more, it’s really dark and cold and all you can do is dream. Dream about something else, because the weather can be so unbearable. I think that creates a lot of creativity because life is not purely in the here and now. Life is somewhere else because it’s so dark and cold. So you have to figure out how to fill that time. Growing up I was always dreaming about somewhere else and something, they were always creative dreams. Music was always about dreaming myself away from Stockholm. I think that’s a powerful thing. Now when I look at it, that’s the strength of Stockholm. Whereas when you are young, you want to be a young wild club kid and do lots of drugs and have lots of sex, and Stockholm might not be your dream destination. When I was young I just wanted to get away from Stockholm, and now I’ve done all that. Now I love it for what it is. I think the magic and the creativity coming out of here is because you have to survive a dire climate.
What’s your view of the club scene here?
I think the club scene here has a lot of love. I run my own club night and do events and parties and it’s a really easy good crowd to work with. I feel like I don’t have to troubleshoot. My years working and living in London… that’s a much more aggressive city. When my friends from London come over for my Stockholm Pride parties, they have a really good time, they love it. There is a gentleness here that makes it easier. People are generally not big city aggressive like they can be in London and New York. That makes the club scene really gentle, which I love as a club promoter because I’m also DJing and running the night, so if people run around with a lot of attitude and big egos it makes it really difficult.
I think a club scene is what you make of it in any city, and my take on clubbing is that it can be a very creative thing. I love the whole melting pot of having a bunch of different people in one room. For me the best party is the party where you get to know someone that you never thought you would be friends with. I always try to bring different people together: the best recipe for a party is to have a really diverse crowd. That is my club night ethos, I have young, old, gay, straight, and from every cultural background you can imagine, and I just want to mix them all and hopefully they will all end up in bed together.
How did your hit single Love Yourself Test Yourself open up doors for you?
It did! Internationally it got a lot of attention. Perez Hilton blasted it, the single got a lot of exposure. The single was part of a campaign for people to test themselves for HIV and know their status. Basically, what was amazing about it, what I’m really proud of is that after that campaign HIV-tests increased for the first time. It encouraged people to actually test themselves. My motivation for doing it was to do it in a non-judgmental way, to avoid scaring people. It was a positive thing, a big uplifting message. I grew up with the AIDS crisis, and the message was always one of fear: YOU ARE GOING TO DIE! I kind of wanted to take a positive approach, not to tell people not to have sex, just to encourage them to know their status. Love yourself even if you do test positive. Take care of yourself. And for me it was amazing that it did so well.
How did your latest single, I Believe, with the legendary house voice Adeva, come about?
Well, I’m an old fan of hers. In the late 80s and early 90s, she was the queen of house music, working with Frankie Knuckles and all the legends. She was really one of the voices of my early teens that shaped my love of music and house music. She is very reclusive today, sort of like the Greta Garbo of house, and doesn’t really make any public appearances. I tracked her down and I sent her the track that I had written, which was basically a gospel track, and she loved it and was up for it.
I read somewhere that you said you wanted to take dance music back from the EDM of today to the roots, to the original sound of ‘queer, black and female’. Why do you think it deviated so much, to become dominated by hipster white males today?
I think it’s like everything in culture. When something originates from a minority group, then it gets sucked up and swallowed by the mainstream and then they take away the original message and turn it into a mainstream thing. When you look at the machismo of dance music today, it’s ridiculous. There are the straight white guys and they really behave the way rock stars would have behaved like 20 years ago. It’s ironic because you when think of the origin of house music, and that it was really mostly driven by black, gay and female vocalists, in today’s dance music it’s the opposite. I don’t want to exclude anyone, or say this should only be black, gay and female, I’m just saying I want to bring back the love, the soul, and the celebration of what it was. My roots are very much in soul music, early house was very soulful. It was gospel, it was soul; I want to bring that back.
How much do you think you have changed from your debut, Legends, to your new album, My House Is Your House?
My debut took seven years to make. It didn’t really have a theme, it was driven by collaborations. Whereas this one is really about going back the roots of house music. I think the songwriting on this album is stronger. A lot of the songs on this album I had written before approaching the people I had to sing on them. This one has a very clear theme, a very soulful theme. My next album might sound completely different though.
You’ve had a lot of great collaborations; Neneh Cherry, Adeva, Leila K, Nicolette of Massive Attack. Who would you love to work with?
Grace Jones. I thought about this the other day. The only one left is Grace Jones. I’ve kind of gone through them, I’ve done Neneh Cherry, Adeva, Leila K, who is a legend in this country. I’ve ticked off my list of so many idols of mine, and the only one left is Grace Jones. There is an old saying, ‘Never meet your idols, you will be disappointed’; well in my case they were all as amazing as I could imagine. I think when you see someone that you admire, and then you meet them, of course they are not going to be everything you think they are. But there will be something there that will click.
Speaking of Leila K, there was some drama surrounding you guys years ago. Have you made up?
With Leila K there is a lot of drama. She is a very temperamental person. We are fine. We hung out the other month. Whenever you are caught up in any drama that is lived out in the press, it is stressful. That’s the way the media works, they need a story, a headline, and if that is what makes them write about the music and the album, then so be it. In hindsight I look back and think that wasn’t so bad, at least the word got around about it.
You direct all your music videos, any plans for longer music video projects?
Directing is one of my new loves. I’m excited about going into more of that. I love exploring. When I direct my music videos it’s sort of like a documentary because I allow it to be. In the middle of I Believe we used a Molly Parkin speech and I love that side of it, where you can stretch the boundaries of what a music video is. My love of directing comes from my love of music videos, but it has grown into something else. I want to direct more. I’m working on some documentary stuff and I want to develop that side of things so there will definitely be more coming.
The House Of Wallenberg’s new album, My House Is Your House, is out on June 3.