How Bendik Giske deconstructed himself through saxophone play

Bendik Giske remembers his first honk like it was yesterday. He was 12 when he enveloped the saxophone’s hard rubber with his lips and blew, sending vibrations through his teeth. “My mom was in the room and she was like, ‘Ugh!’ And I was like ‘Yes!’,” Giske, 37, recalls. “It was absolutely an instant connection.”

As an adult, he developed an antagonistic relationship with the instrument. Friends in Berlin felt “betrayed” when discovering that he played professionally, a fact he wouldn’t readily offer in conversation. His reticence was fueled in part by the rage he felt at having to tone down his queerness in the straight, male-dominated jazz world — particularly where he studied in Norway and Denmark. “The falsehood when you’re receiving applause for being something you’re not became me hating myself and the instrument,” he says. He felt disconnected from the public perception of the instrument. “I never play a melody,” he says. “Because once you play a melody on a saxophone you step into that understanding of what the saxophone is supposed to be — what it usually does.”

It was until Giske went to iconic Berlin nightclub Berghain that he reconciled his relationship with the saxophone. He was reluctant during his first visits: “I felt like everyone was an idiot,” he says. But simmering within the hedonism of long nights and early mornings, his various identities merged. This included his earliest musical memories as a child, moving back and forth between his birthplace of Oslo and Bali, where he and his mother occasionally resided in. In the swell of Berghain’s techno sets, Giske identified shades of Balinese music including the gamelan ensemble, an intricately percussive outburst played at Indonesian ceremonies that involves “a lot of gods and demons and quite a few demigods,” he says.

Surrender (his January-released album on Smalltown Supersound) is the saxophonist’s ode to queer nightlife. Over eight tracks, Giske pushes the instrument to unrecognizable limits, replicating the building blocks of electronic music through single takes. The result is both otherworldly and fleshy, as tiny microphones placed all over Giske’s body capture the physical exertion contained in creating sound. There’s also an expansiveness to the project, the result of recording in the Emanuel Vigeland mausoleum in Oslo. “It’s my favorite place on earth,” he says. “The walls are covered with paintings of fucking, childbirth, death, rimming, erections, and tits — everything that’s essential to humanity. And the reverb is amazing.”

Giske spoke to The FADER about subverting his own instrument sound, how the album relates to gay sex, and more.

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