Listen to this track by red-tracksuited Norwegian dance-rock boundary crossers Datarock. It’s “Fa Fa Fa”, their multimedia cult hit song as featured on their 2005 debut full-length, Datarock Datarock. The record was released in two forms; one in Europe, and another that featured a different track listing in North America in 2007. Further, this song appeared all over the place in commercials, video games, and movie soundtracks, perfectly in line with a typical indie-rock post-radio strategy. It was a part of how barriers between media were becoming more permeable by this time.
This permeability took on other forms, too. By the early years of the 21st century, a lot of work had been done by pop bands to tear down the walls between genres and to undercut listener expectations to create something new. The effect was often a case of taking disparate textures and musical elements sourced from various styles and eras and smashing them together just to see what would happen.
Because there were alternate channels to market beyond commercial radio, and through niche scenes forming that would support all of this, some great music came out of it. This included this eminently danceable track that turns out to be more than the sum of its parts beyond what we hear on its surface.
Datarock hail from Bergen in Norway, a virtual hotbed of musical energy from the hushed and glacial folk-pop of Kings of Convenience, to the hook-laden singer-songwriter pop of Sondre Lerche, to the warm dance grooves of electronica outfit Röyksopp (also associated with the Tromsø techno scene) and beyond. These acts and many others were a part of what has since been called “Bergen Wave” flourishing from the late nineties and into the early to mid two-thousands, often championed by bigger labels abroad.
This scene was not so much defined by a single style of music so much as it showed that these bands were able to find common ground in many musical genres that had previously been treated as entirely separate. Datarock certainly brought this concept together in their music and on this song, complete with a sizable chunk of Talking Heads DNA, coupled with modern electronic dance structure and aesthetics, along with the late seventies New York disco elements that so many post-punk bands like David Byrne and co. referenced for good measure. Even the “Fa Fa Fa” title of this is at least a hint of a reference to 1977’s “Psycho Killer”, that song itself referencing Otis Redding’s 1966 single “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)”. There’s a distinct thread to follow, connecting eras, styles, and subtle references. But besides that and lyrics about “brains in the past”, this is a tune you’re meant to dance to without all of the scholarly connections to music history too much in mind.
Beyond the bona fide funkiness of this track comes the distinctions between what we’re meant to process as a given in pop music – a narrative line, a meaning – with the tongue-in-cheek means to express it. When it all comes out in the wash, are we meant to take this song “seriously”? When you read the lyrics apart from the song, they seem more like a parody of a pop song, all about needing a boost of energy and motivation, about getting up and going somewhere far away while “riding fast”. In this, it’s a classic rock ‘n’ roll song that people have been writing since Chuck Berry wrote about the trials and tribulations of the average “School Day”.
It’s the melange of styles, particularly a shot of disco and electronica, that makes this go beyond that. With that classic lyrical theme of getting up and going down the road to find a better place (even if it’s nowhere), we also get the artifice of disco and techno that brings it all into balance and keeps it from becoming too earnest. Sweating on the dance floor and shaking your rump is always more fun when you don’t have to take the story you’re being told too seriously. This song serves that expectation pretty well.
Yet in another sense, “Fa Fa Fa” can certainly be taken as an expression of what it is to be young and unsure of what the future will look like. The lyrics aren’t in any way a confessional outpouring. But at the same time, touching on that classic theme is no less relevant now than it was when expressed in earlier eras. There’s plenty of doubt and need to be found in this song. It’s the contrast between what can easily be taken as existential angst here and the absolutely joyous music that accompanies it that makes this track more than what it appears to be on first listen.
Maybe it is hard to dance and think about existence at the same time. But this song still gives you the option. Thusly, yet another set of barriers are made to be more permeable than previous; those between the head and the rump.
Datarock are an active band today. In fact, their newest record The Musical is out right now. You can learn more about the band and that release by visiting datarockmusic.com.