The Daily Grind Video

“Ask For” bumps like the Left Coast late in hip hop’s golden age, especially when that G whistle slinks in behind the hook. What sounds like the ghost of a murder victim in a Scandinavian crime novel near-whispering, “It’s time for you to go”, is what keeps The Chronic comparisons at bay. That, and an almost apocalyptic Herz frequency (I hope you like bass). At first listen, Haven, the debut album from CHLLNGR, may well have you alternatively nodding your head and checking beneath the bed for phantoms.

CHLLNGR is just one guy, Steve Borth, born and raised in Sacramento, currently living with wife, Heidi, and daughter, Pippa, in Copenhagen, Denmark. CHLLNGR, the

concept, was nursed there, in the land of the crisply styled vikings on bikes, at the

bosom of an elegance and minimalism that finds even vowels, overkill. When asked

about the name, Borth talks about challenges: those involved in both making and

hearing the album (see first paragraph). He ends with, “Plus, it was more aesthetically pleasing”.

This “never too much” edict is a contradiction of sorts. When it comes to music, Borth is anything but minimalist. Outside of his dub-founded electronic sound as CHLLNGR, Borth produces and provides live back up for Spoek Mathambo, an acclaimed South African rapper who screw-faces genres like kids do spinach. Borth is also the keyboardist in Teachers, a soulfully posh pop band fronted by M.I.A.’s hubby, Benjamin Bronfman.

You’d think going to these extremes would have Borth running into a phone booth every so often to switch up musical capes. No. He’s more like this chameleon who blends into any given habitat without ever changing his skin.

One minute, Borth and I are in Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District talking about how

cute his newborn is. The next, we’re in a diner on the Upper East Side of Manhattan,

breaking down his high profile musical alliances and how he survived the Nordic winter by fashioning cushy dub beats out of good taste, great chops, and a drum machine.

Tell me about the process behind making Haven.

The process was mainly me, trying to create something by myself. When I first started, I intended to work with as many people as possible. And then that morphed into, ‘Let’s see what I can do by myself’. I wanted to make something that was an album, that was a whole story. Before Haven, I hadn’t really played around with straight up electronic music, just using all electronics, so it was definitely a challenge for me. I’m really happy with the way with how it turned out. I’m already thinking about the next album and where I may want to take it. I made the album in a nontraditional way, taking just a few words and phrases, and manipulating those. Maybe I’ll make the next album a bit more lyrics oriented; do a bit more singing.


At your release party in Copenhagen you did a dub set. Is that a normal part of

your show?

I fell in love with rocksteady early. Old school Jamaican music, like, 60’s, King Tubby

and all that stuff. On my first project I got a bunch of musicians together and we did

recording sessions directly emulating that sound. I’m glad I did that–paid it respect, then evolved from there. Now I do something totally different, but it came from that place. If you were to play my old straight dub stuff against the new stuff you probably couldn’t hear the connection right off. But it’s there, know what I mean? Live I play a decent amount of stuff from Haven and then I always do some dub. I want to take people on that journey.

How did Teachers come about?

Ben [Bronfman] used to be in this band called The Exit, and I’d go on tour with them

sometimes and play saxophone. After that band dissolved he wanted to kind of start

something with a different vibe…more rock-pop. We’ve been writing for years; we have enough for an EP and an album. It’s almost all ready to go.

A lot of folks really rated that “ Monster” remix you guys did earlier this year.

How’d that project happen?

Ben got that opportunity because Kanye West had heard one of our tracks, this song

called “Gold”. Kanye liked it and then he invited Ben out to Hawaii to work on [My

Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy]. Ben worked on the original of “Monster”, I think he

has a co-producer credit. Then I made the skeleton for the remix in Copenhagen, in my room, in my small apartment, far away from everything. It was so surreal. It was a big project but I was totally comfortable, no pressure…not in like some big studio


How would you say that being in Denmark influences your work?

I have a photographer friend who I met through my wife. He worked on the first music video for Haven and we used stills from that shoot as well. I just wanted that influence on my aesthetics because I love the way that Danish people package things. It always looks tight, and it’s never too much. They never go too far, and always stop before it gets to be too much, which is a gift and an art form. I definitely wanted that. Also, I made Haven right when I was transitioning to Copenhagen. There’s a little bit of California in there, and A LOT of Copenhagen. I spent the majority of the winter finishing the album. I’m from California, so I obviously wasn’t used to really being stuck inside and it being so cold. I think a lot of the darker elements were because I was freezing. It was just me, trying to get warm. Obviously I was totally happy in Copenhagen but…

It was an adjustment…

Yeah! A little bit of a culture shock, actually.

Do you think you’d ever get tired of it and want to come home to the States?

I already feel totally comfortable there. It’s really weird to me to feel like I’m far away from something I’m accustomed to or anything like that. But also I was raised to be open and to make home wherever I am and having that mentality makes me tolerant. I could look at all these different things about Denmark and feel weird about them or I can look and choose to see what I want to see. I appreciate what they have and what I don’t know, I’m not scared of. I want to be able to embrace it. If you come into things with a mindset of, “What can I learn from this?”…I think that’s why it’s working for me. Because I want it to.

Each project you’re involved in is a completely different sound–genre, even. How do you keep it all straight?

As a musician, I’ve always wanted to do different styles. It’s healthy to explore. And then those different styles start to influence each other.

And elevate each other…

Exactly. As long as I’m working with musicians that are open to that, then maybe we

could create something together that no one’s ever heard before. For me, it’s been very exciting to meet people like Spoek Mathambo…


So how’d you get hooked up with Spoek? So funny, that dude...

He’s actually so sweet and really cool. He’s in Malmo and I’m in Cope

nhagen [in

different countries, but separated by about a half an hour train ride]. I’d seen some

press about him and contacted him by email. I just said, ‘Look, if you want to work

together some time, that’d be awesome’. We started emailing and then last September we were both in New York at the same time. We met up and realized that we had a bunch of mutual friends here. We started sending music back and forth, then last March, he contacted me on Facebook and asked if I’d like to accompany him on tour in Brazil and the U.S.

Just like that?

Yeah, I mean, we’d hung out a bunch of times and we really vibed with each other. But I didn’t actually know he felt that comfortable with me; enough to just invite me out on tour with him, but it was awesome! I flew from Copenhagen and he flew from

Johannesburg, and we met up in New York to rehearse. We only had one session

because I spent the rest of the time rushing to get my visa. So that was a whole ordeal. We flew out to Brazil the next day, and played our first show together at carnival, in front of 16,000 people. It was wild!

What did you play? How’d you arrange the show?

He had sent me a bunch of songs and told me to make my own versions of them so it’d be kind of a collaboration. They were all his songs with my little touch on them. Then live, I’m manipulating the tracks, playing a bit of keyboard, and some saxophone.

After that we played the Fader Fort at SXSW. Actually, it’s a really crazy story. I was

nervous and I’m never nervous before a show. First my saxophone broke. Then we

were backstage and realized that it was a total hip hop show. Diddy showed up with his entourage. There’s A-Trak, Big Boi, James Blake…. I have this stomach ache, my

saxophone is broken and all these hip hop guys are going to be watching our set. I was freaking out.

How was the set received?

It was cool. I mean, [the other acts featured] a lot of big beats stuff; not Rick Ross, but that kind of stuff. Here we are doing something totally different. You could see people were just a little confused. It was still well received, though. It’s just so cool working with South African artists. From just the people that I’ve met, the musicians are all about having fun and creating something fresh. Of course, the Blck Jks guys and Spoek are my only real references….

Have you been to South Africa yet?

Not yet, but I have a goal of doing a music video there. Spoek, [Blck Jks guitarist]

Mpumi, and this other artist, Mo Laudi did the remix for “Ask For”, so I’d love to shoot the video for that down there. But I also wanted to bring musicians from the States to jam with musicians I know in South Africa, then have the whole thing filmed. It’s just all about getting funding for a project like that.

Postscript: Global Grind massive, on behalf of dope global music everywhere,

we’ll be passing around a cup….

Global Grind

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