See the Light
Lounging with the Sofa Surfers

By Mo Shah

It’s a rainy Monday evening in New York and I find myself perplexing at the legendary Knitting Factory; I’ve been trying in vain to get one of the Sofa Surfers to stand still. They’re only in town for a jam packed two weeks before the sojourn back to Vienna , a city infamous for it’s stellar DJ culture and electronica scene. A few days prior, I was fortunate enough to see the boys perform at a private show in an unusually upscale midtown venue, and witnessed what was probably the most refreshing electronic music I’ve heard in some time. Music such as theirs instantly warrants a closer look (well, listen), so here I am, on the eve of their last performance in New York , and every time one of the Surfers starts talking to me they run out for a cigarette. Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg.

When they finally sit down with me for a drink, there’s a lot to absorb. The Sofa Surfers are comprised of Wolfgang Scholgl, Markus Kienzl, Wolfgang Frisch, and Michael Holzgruber. An intense, almost Moby-esque, Wolfgang Scholgl immediately strikes you as the driving force and cardinal presence behind the group, but he’ll never admit to it, even if his band mates do. He possesses that raw star quality that captures you the minute you connect with the band’s music. While working the turntables and equipment, he moves and vibes with the music to a degree that is both dramatic and infectious. When he talks about the Sofa Surfer’s music, one understands immediately how much it means to him, and how unaffected he really is by the band’s European accolades. It was a breath of fresh air to hear how he places almost no paramount on fame, and unlike many European musicians, monetary success in the United States is not high on his to-do list.

The rest of the Surfers play an integral role in the outfit’s success. According to Wolfgang, the band has no “leader,” Each member has his own unique vision that is fleshed out at various points in the Surfer’s albums. Be that as it may, it would not be a leftfield thought to assume that Wolfgang Scholgl is the primary architect behind each of the Sofa Surfer’s musical outings

According to Wolfgang Frisch (yes, two of the four Surfers are Wolfgangs – hey, they are Austrian) the band’s history “is based on friendship. Wofgang, Michael, and me - we were from the same village near Vienna , and we had some sort of rock-pop band in the early Nineties. We were between seventeen and nineteen when we started. We tried to combine our sound with computers, but it wasn’t working out. So we had a few releases under different names until we started experimenting during different sessions. The sessions were really good, and a lot of fun. Luckily to support ourselves most of us were in art school and living with our parents. I worked for an architect as well.”

It was around this time when electronic music was revolutionizing the club scene around the world, and it found its genesis in Europe . Wofgang Frisch continues, “Some new electronic music came out in the mid-Nineties that had an attitude of doing everything on your own. So we had our equipment…it wasn’t the best equipment, but we said okay, let’s do this on our own.”

And so they did. Their recording sessions grew in complexity and scholarship, infusing electronica almost instinctively with a dazzling milieu of breakbeat, dub, hip-hop, reggae and rock. One of the first cuts on their debut record, “Sofa Rockers”, featured a stunning remix by Richard Dorfmeister, of the legendary Kruder and Dorfmeister duo who are contentiously considered the godfathers of downtempo electronic lounge music. What followed was a flurry of touring and acclaim, including a headlining segment at the Alternative Music Awards, which aired on the BBC. The performance solidified the Surfers’ reputation in Europe as a stellar live act that incorporated a number of aural and visual stimulants to engage and enthrall audiences. The Surfers continued to work tirelessly in the studio, remixing tracks for artists ranging from Punjabi alternative rockers Cornershop to the sublime electronica of Tosca.

To read the full review, please look for our forthcoming issue of SWAY magazine.