A musical obituary (in memoriam Joakim Hjørne aka Flowjob) – Part I

A while ago I proclaimed 1998 as the birth year of Progressive Trance and called for celebrating the twentieth anniversary in 2018. I hope that you have done this for me a lot during this time! At the moment of the Corona lockdowns I regret a little not to have been outside more for dancing during the last years because such a crisis makes us aware in particular of human vulnerability and finitude.

And as if it couldn’t have come worse at the end of the year 2020, Joakim Hjørne aka Flowjob, a great musician who could make the sun rise with his tracks died – much to early. I was incredibly saddened by this, because on the first of January I was listening to his music and was about to choose one of his tracks for a new musical analysis, when I went to his Facebook page to find out about his sudden death a day before. Unfortunately, I did not know him personally but only through his music, which has accompanied me since 2003 (Fluff me tender, Various – FX on iboga records). I’ve never really been a fan of a person who is in the public eye, but when a musician’s work moves and touches me in such a way, it just brings me closer to this person. Thus, 2020 marks an incredible low point for me.

This I would like to take as an opportunity to look back on Flowjob’s twenty years of extensive musical work in the field of Progressive Psytrance. He himself describes his music in an interview with beat.com.au: „I always try to bring warmth and motion in my tracks that I often feel is missing in trance or techno music. Even though its trance and party music, I think there is room for melancholic feeling. But I do like pure fresh party tunes too. […] I like warm and huge trance vibes and also fresh and funky house and techno – I guess you can hear that on the tunes I make. For those who listened to early trance you can hear that I love the planetary vibe and pureness of early Eat Static music. I don’t think that I will change that in the near future.“ And he didn’t. Until his last album Beatpolar of 2020, he has remained true to his style. He has produced eight albums since 2006 (the first two with his then partner Mads Tinggaard, who left the duo in 2009 for health reasons). In addition, there are several singles and EPs, so you can say that his musical output was enormous. In a PM sent to his friend Yannis Jaia and then posted on his Facebook, he makes a flaming plea for the perpetual raison d’être of the music album, condemning the sole and constant releaseing of singles as „true comercialism in its truest form.“

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But what made his music so warm, emotional (It is to say that emotional responses to music can never be explained by the music alone) and groovy in musical terms? What makes a typical Flowjob track? I will now try to work this out on the basis of musical examples from for me outstanding pieces, which were created in the course of his musical work. And I would like to ask you to listen fully to the tracks and pay your last respect to a great musician, because he really produced a lot of finest music to delight his audience. This is part I of my analytical reflections on his music.

In addition to the analysis of compositional form, the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic analysis of the individual musical building blocks as well as synthesis can be a valuable part of the analysis, contributing to the understanding of the piece. That is, if I can recreate a piece musically and sonically exactly like the original, then I have pretty much understood what the artist was doing. I can send one thing in advance – I can’t do it fully here. As soon as several sounds, their reverbs and delays come together, which you have not heard sounding alone before in detail in an intro or in a break, it becomes very difficult to reproduce them or to recreate the resulting groove (for me so far). But therein perhaps lies the special charm in a track (for another producer :)), when you can listen to it over and over again, because it never gets boring and you keep asking yourself, „I wonder how he did that at this or that point?“ However, an exact replica is perhaps not even necessary, because we only want to get to know and appreciate the compositional principles. Back to the the music.

Already in the first track I know – Fluff me tender – the preference for puns is noticeable in the title (not to mention the artist name itself :)). Certainly it is a composition of Flowjob and Elvis Presleys Love me tender. Also something that can be followed like a red thread until the last album (e.g. the title Soularsystem). In one of the few interviews available online Joackim revealed that he shared this passion with his wife.

On the album Support Normality, released in 2006 on Iboga Records, Run Baby Run is the first style-defining hit, which already bears many typical Flowjob characteristics: arpeggio festoons and riffs with chanching bass notes, billowing jazzy house chords, swinging grooves, athmospheric voices and of course melodies. In short: finest morning psygressive stuff. (B.t.w. 2006 was a really incredible year regarding music releases: Vibrasphere – Archipelago, FREq – Gosub 20). Lets have a closer look!

The piece is written in B minor, has 132 bpm and a total length of 337 bars or 10:11 minutes. The whole structure is quite straightforward. The intro is veeeeery long (123 bars / around 03:24 min), followed by part A, a break, part A‘ and the outro. Basically, at that time the pieces were not yet so interspersed with breaks and drops like modern Psytrance today. It follows more of a constant flow ;).

From the beginning to bar 85, we hear a B minor7 chord that gets its motion from a modulated band filter. This is immediately accompanied by a two-tone and a three-tone repetetive melodic motiv, which can always be heard alternately through volume changes.

Two-tone sequence
Three-tone sequence

A galloping percussive sound, very much enriched with a flanger effect, comes to the fore from bar 17 and slowly fades out until bar 25. A heavily echoed female voice is heard from bar 25 and a defining arpeggio-„festoon“ for this piece is heard from bar 30 [00:50] and then fades in further.

Arpeggio-„festoon“ (approimation)

I make a jump to bar 73 (02:14), where a little nice melody could be heard. Before that some speech samples and other effect samples are interspersed. These presented elements will recur throughout the piece and hold it together.

Little melody

This is what my approximation sounds like in the intro including the little melody from 02:14. Well, a little special sauce recarding the sounds is still missing, but it gives us a good understanding of the harmonic and melodic action in the piece.

If you add all used tones in these melodic pattern together you get a harmonic B minor scale (H, Cis, D, E, Fis, A [G is missing]). And this is the reason why we perceive pieces as warm and emotional. Because they move in a tone scale that is familiar to us (harmonic minor) and thus pilot us back into a safe harbor after an intense night. Quite the opposite of an Arabic scale like Halluconigen used in LSD.

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From bar 79 on, the intro is rhythmically condensed and increased by further riffs and patterns, so that the track finally picks up intensity at bar 113 (03:24) with the use of kick and bass. Then, while roasting out and creating these additional patterns, I kept getting lost and just couldn’t get that unique groove in Part A due to the layered patterns. I will look into this again at a later date. Any help on this is appreciated!

What can be heard very clearly, however, is that from part A‘ onwards, different 16th bass notes are played (B, E, D).

Bass-notes in Part A and A‘

The „effect“ of the different bass tones with constant riffs above them is surely very familiar to most of us from pop and rock and gives me a very homey and comfortable feeling (You can listen e.g. to Don Henley – Boys of Summer or U2 – With or without you).

From bar 159 [04:52] in Part A, we move back into familiar territory. It becomes easier to reproduce again with the introduction of a new melodic riff in the break, which was continued in the following part A‘. Listen again to my approximation here with the mentioned melodic phrase during part A‘.

From this melodic phrase you can see very well what can make a piece real groovy respectively gives the piece its special groove.

Groovy melodic riff from Part A‘

Of course, it is possible to quantize all notes, by which is meant to place all notes exactly on the grid, which usually gives a track a driving, rigid character (which is often desired). However, if you want to give the track a special swinging rhythm – as was done here – you can create a very unique groove by moving the notes. The notes circled in blue are on the grid and the notes circled in green are slightly behind it.

So much for a first insight into Flowjob’s compositional work. Run Baby Run is a wonderfully created work with a variety of its own rhythmic and melodic riffs that steadily rise and fall again and pull the listener and dancer into its flow. The whole thing was enriched with a colorful bouquet of various spherical voice and guitar samples and effect sounds.

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Thank you very much for your interest. If you liked the analysis and want to read further musical essays and more about psytrance from me, please subscribe to my newsletter. Stay tuned if you don’t want to miss my part II about Flowjob’s musical work.