As a DJ for more than 20 years, Oakland’s Platurn has a way of transporting his audiences to multiple corners of the globe and various eras through his deep music knowledge and sound selection. It’s no surprise, then, to discover that quality may be considered hereditary.
Platurn’s latest mix, “Breaking the Ice,” is an exploration of super-rare cuts and grooves from his native country of Iceland, inspired by the work of his own father, Magnus Thordarson. A pioneer on the Icelandic airwaves, the elder Thordarson was the first to expose his homeland to American soul, Motown, and reggae records during his days as a radio host and DJ for the country’s National Broadcasting Service. In a similar vein, Platurn hopes to do the same: “Breaking the Ice” is meant to reveal the unheard sounds of a rather forgotten scene.
Running through a multi-faceted range of funk, glam, and prog rock to soul and disco, “Breaking the Ice” is a lifetime’s work of digging, exploring, and deep listening that’s been referred to as Platurn’s magnum opus. Leading up to his two release parties (one in Oakland, one in San Jose; both with Prince Paul) we spoke with the DJ to learn more about the process and what uncovered.
The Bay Bridged: You squeezed about 70 songs into an hour-and-a-half long mix. What was the process for finding all these records?
Platurn: In a broad sense, it really has been in a lot of ways a full-on lifetime in the making. My dad was a DJ and promoter in Iceland back in the day and some of the records I ended up using in the mix came from his collection; some of these records in the mix have been around since I was a baby. The actual focused concept started about roughly 12 years ago in 2006. My cousin and I started getting serious about finding more and it kind of toppled in that sense because we just kept going because there was a lot of cool stuff. It all happened in phases but it’s always been this lingering thing: Ever since I was a kid and getting into hip-hop and DJing, it’s always been in the back of my mind to piece something like (“Breaking the Ice”) together. I just wasn’t sure if there was enough material.
TBB: Can you tell us more about your dad and his role in all this?
P: The 16-page liner notes to the actual CD book that came out is essentially a story my father told on what the (Icelandic) scene was like back then — what the bands were doing, what kind of activity and relationship it had to the scene. It’s very detailed, it’s a lot of info, plus a bunch of photos that he took himself. (The mix) is very centric toward my dad and his experiences because this was the music that was coming out when he was in his heyday.
TBB: You obviously caught the music bug through your pops.
P: My dad being such an aficionado (of music) very much rubbed off on me. His story is super interesting: He was actually playing soul records (Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield) and reggae records on his radio shows, the dance parties and gigs he would put together, he talked about being the first DJ to play reggae music on the Icelandic airwaves back in the day. Like, no one had even thought about doing that or playing Motown or anything like that, it just wasn’t a thing and what he was doing was definitely not of the norm. Iceland has always been — and is — much more of a rock and roll scene that’s existed back home.
TBB: In this whole process, what surprised you about the Icelandic music scene?
P: As much as I’m showcasing a lot of the music, it’s not really focusing on one singer or a specific sound or era. The songs span from the 1960s to 1980s and it’s just a lot of different things, super random, obscure stuff. A lot of the artists on this — I’d say about 80 to 90 percent of them — were not groups that actually had a career, most of them were one-offs. Essentially most of the guys working in the music scene during these eras were just regular dudes, blue-collar workers that led pretty normal lives. But they just played music in their spare time.
TBB: That’s interesting, I got the impression that through this mix, you wanted to portray this story of Iceland’s music scene from those eras. If there wasn’t much of an established scene, and these are, essentially, backyard bands, what was your intent for this mix?
P: I think the intent was really to showcase the fact that music like this — music with some groove, funk backbeats elements — can come from such a surprising background. It’s just so unexpected that music like this could come from Iceland, an island in the North Atlantic that’s really remote and far removed from any kind of soul or funk music culture. These were rock bands just doing whatever they were influenced by at the time, they were pretty much just making rock and some of it ended up being really groovy, with some cool funky elements to it. When you think about Iceland, you don’t think about funk music or soul music, you think about Björk.
TBB: You couldn’t find a more perfect label to partner with for this than Needle to the Groove. Can you tell us how they got involved?
P: David Ma wrote the liner notes and he works for the label. David and I have been friends from quite some time and this has actually been an idea of ours for quite awhile; we weren’t sure if it was going to be a compilation or should we just sample this stuff and make beats. We started talking about this almost 10 years ago, knowing there’s some crazy shit that deserves to see the light of day and there was a possibility to actually put a whole project together. Take everything away from what this is — as a DJ mix, me being involved — and the music in itself is too good to ignore. When we started the conversation with the label they were pretty much on board. Who wouldn’t want to share some of this with the world? It’s just fascinating in its own right that this music actually exists.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.