Danish producer Thomas Troelsen is the mastermind behind some of the last decade’s catchiest pop songs. He puts his success down to his huge collection of vintage synthesisers and not caring about what is supposedly hip.
In the blinding white of a recording studio in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro district, an elfish, shag-haired young man, dressed shoulder to pointy-toe in Dior Homme, stands by the mixing console. His right arm aloft, he pumps it along to the bass-heavy power grind of a dancefloor anthem that might soon be frosted with the dulcet tones of one Britney Spears. He grins at a producer in the office next door, sitting on the edge of a long couch.
“I need to bring the hook out a bit more,” says Thomas Troelsen. “It’s got a nineties hip-hop feel to it,” says Nikolaj Rasted. “To me, it sounds like a stripper song,” Troelsen adds.
Whether the song – “From Lust Till Dawn” – will animate the girls at the Bada Bing any time soon is still up for consideration. But given the 28-year-old Dane’s track record, the chances are high. In the fiercely competitive world of hit-making – where the right hook can mean the difference between obscurity and tens of millions of euros in royalties – Troelsen has managed to fashion a career out of making highly polished, consistently dance-able anthems.
If you’ve ever got down to the synthesised horn section and bell chimes of mega-hit “Move Your Feet” by Junior Senior, watched the sun rise over South Beach to Melody Club’s “Baby”, or been beckoned behind the velvet rope and downed champagne to Private’s “My Secret Lover”, Troelsen has done his job.
So, really, why should “From Lust Till Dawn” be any different? “It’s not mixed yet but you can tell… that it’s going to be hot,” he says, laughing. “If I do say so myself.”
Braggadocio – Troelsen prefers to call it “anti-modesty” – has never been missing in the musical savant from the tiny town of Odense in north-west Denmark. A multi-instrumentalist, he first found success as lead singer of electro-poppers Superheroes in the late 1990s, where he wrote and produced most of the tracks. Addicted to the synth work on the Human League’s 1981 album Dare, Troelsen began collecting analogue synthesisers from the late 1970s and early 1980s, filling up his first studio on Copenhagen’s outskirts with them. Troelsen plugged away at song ideas, studying the Motown hits back catalogue for inspiration and building a reputation as he produced songs for Danish acts. “Move your Feet”, recorded in two weeks at the old studio in 2002, was his first international hit. It would climb to No 3 in the UK charts and crack the top 50 in Australia, continental Europe and the US. It did all this despite not having a major label backing its release. “The song has to match the artist singing it,” he says. “If everything clicks, then it doesn’t matter what kind of structure is behind it … If Britney puts out a fucked-up song, it’s not going to break.”
Oddly, for a man driven to produce dance-pop hits, he’s always steered clear of clubs (“too many strange people”) and quickly grew tired of going to concerts. “I don’t know what’s hip, I’ve never been interested in what’s hip,” he says. “I know this is what I want to wear, this is the fashion designer I like so I collect that. It’s the same thing with music. This is the kind of music I like to create. It’s that honest and simple, really.”
Even if the process of creating it isn’t quite so simple. Making a chart hit, it turns out, is anything but straightforward. Sessions at Troelsen’s Delta Lab studio – which he moved into a few years ago and renovated into a homage to Scandinavian minimalism – are methodical and exhaustive. He begins with the drums and synthesisers, before “getting to the point of what I’m doing” with the song lyrics. “I think he’s got a brilliant ear, and he’s very good at layering stuff to create a sound with the artist,” says Kenneth Bager, a veteran Danish DJ and producer. Troelsen’s first personal project in years, Private, is a testament to this – a 10-track collection of Prince-infused club songs.
Of course there are those who would wonder why someone of Troelsen’s talent would dedicate his time to producing saccharine pop for the mainstream. But that would ignore the thrill the Dane gets from competing on a playing field that the digital world has made ever more broad and cut-throat. “There’s much more competition in the radio field, getting top 10s and number ones,” he says. “Remember, my musical background was Little Richard. The critical part of the music press hates this stuff. And I fucking love it.” Apparently, so do many others. Millions, in fact.
The turbulence in the music industry has made album sales irrelevant. It has also demanded that bands give good live shows, build a solid brand and create a rabid following in order to make money. Or, they could just write a hit song. “Most markets might be suffering, but the UK single market has just reached its all-time peak,” says German music consultant Markus Kühn. “Given a hit single gets played around 7,000 times a day around the world at a few dollars a play, the writer can earn $20m to $100m in royalties,” says Troelsen.
01 Move Your Feet, Junior Senior, 2003, No 3 UK
02 Hot Summer, Monrose, 2007, No 1 Germany, Austria, Switzerland
03 Baby, Melody Club, 2004, No 2 Sweden
04 Show The World, Martin, 2008, No 1 Denmark
05 Eat You Up, BoA feat Flo Rida, 2008, No 1 South Korea, No 8 US Billboard Dance Chart