Sometimes, two artists on a shared mission can summon the voices of many. Such is the case with Ragnar Finsson and Oscar Beerten, who perform as folk duo Raske Drenge. Finsson and Beerten not only draw deeply on Norwegian, Irish and North American folk traditions, channelling the voices of bygone explorers in song and style. With these deep roots as grounding, Raske Drenge also punch their story- songs across with the modern, expansive forces of indie folk- pop and punk- rock. To listen to their music is to enter into a living communion with multi-stranded tradition. Close your eyes and it’s hard to believe there are only two people in the room. Much of that force can be attributed to the chemistry between the ‘Fresh lads’ in question.
With roots in Colombia and a deep, well-studied love of traditional Scandinavian music, the Belgian Oscar Beerten plays fiddle and Hardanger fiddle,
the national instrument of Norway.
With a background in punk bands and folk, Ragnar Finsson handles guitar and vocals. That constellation lights up their music like a fireworks display. Listen to their eponymous 2020 debut album and you can almost hear the stars aligning. The instrumental
‘Hot Cat’ opens the album in a bracing melee of sounds, all frantic fiddle work, rapid guitar strums and foot-stomping rhythms. In the middle of its controlled folk’n’roll tumult, a sudden change of pace shows great reserves of instinctive dynamism, the suggestion that here is a duo who listen closely to each other at every curve.
That same dynamism is writ equally large in songs that suggest a degree of comfort with the melodies and moods of indie-folk. Consider the lilting ‘Grindavísan’, where Finsson’s voice rises up with forthright melodic purpose over a chiming guitar.
Or ‘Her’, perhaps the brightest of Raske Drenge’s original songs, though its lyrics perform a fine balancing act: “It talks about light and darkness,
the ‘monster’ inside, and love,” says Finsson.
Elsewhere, Raske Drenge dig into Faroese tradition for the pensive ‘Sigmundskvæði Yngra’. “‘Sigmundskvæði Yngra’ is a Viking ballad, written much later,” says Finsson, “about when Faroese native Sigmundur Brestisson came back from Norway to Christianize the Faroe Islands. He met opposition from Troń dur í Gøtu, a heathen chieftain from the village of Gøta, who attacked Sigmund's village at night. Sigmund escapes with his two cousins by jumping into the sea, and swimming until he reaches the shores of Suðuroy. There he is killed by Toŕ grímur Illi, who wants the golden ring around his arm.”
Another well of tradition delivers up ‘Skrímslið’, where the duo’s performances dance with one another in the service of a song demanding a resonant arrangement. “‘Skrímslið’ is a really old ballad about a farmer who meets a monster in his field one day,"says Finsson. “The monster forces him into a game of chess, and says that if the farmer beats him, he will give him anything he wants.
The farmer reluctantly plays and wins the match. The monster grants him his wishes, but when the farmer starts pushing it too far, the monster eventually claws his stomach, and kills him anyway. The ballad seems like an ancient warning to our society, not to push our luck with nature. Gives me the chills.”
The pleading beauty of ‘Seinasta Vaktin’ stirs its own chills, while the Nordic stomp of ‘Jordad Halling’ showcases Beerten’s fiddle work in full flow. Finally, double-limbed closer ‘Õhtutants’ ranges from a heel-kicking arrangement to something more introspective in a fluent show of unforced virtuosity: the kind that only musicians tuned into the same intuitive wavelength can muster.
As students at Sweden’s Malmö Academy of Music in 2017, Finsson and Beerten forged a kinship swiftly. As Finsson explains, “Oscar was a first-year student, and got assigned to play with me for my entrance exam. We soon found out that our musical chemistry was electric, and we had unspoken, mutual ideas about feel, groove, and taste.
Those ideas stretch back to a shared young love of punk-rock, which manifests in Raske Drenge’s attack-mode delivery and stage presence.
The measured influences of modern indie-folk are also audible; Sigur Roś, Tinariwen and Bon Iver number among points of reference. With these influences in mind, Raske Drenge’s music takes richly coloured shape as a hearty hybrid of, says Finsson, “Faroese traditional ballads, Nordic traditional fiddle music and Celtic traditional guitar, with some distinctive Appalachian trad.”
He continues: “In the Faroes we have these long ballads that we chant and dance to, but it's always a cappella. We don't have any traditional instruments. So part of what we do is combine these chanted ballads with Celtic/Nordic traditions, which makes for a pretty unique sound.”
That singular sound is enhanced by Finsson’s energetic guitar work and Beerten’s use of the Hardanger fiddle – an eight- stringed instrument that enables extra resonance. The duo also draw on a rich range of extra-curricular pursuits; Beerten spent six years in the Nordic countries as a music student, performer, instructor and artistic researcher.
Finsson also performs as HORRSE, whose debut EP sets ambient sounds and supple grooves to modern reinterpretations of deep folk traditions.
With this much experience behind them, Raske Drenge found their live form swiftly and set out to capture it on record. They played a full set of their own arrangements at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival shortly after forming. Recorded in Finsson’s family
studio in the Faroes over two weeks, the debut album ably conveys the duo’s live clout, virtuosity and dynamism.
Subsequent touring duties took them to Scandinavia and different parts of Europe: the latter was particularly special, Finsson notes, “because it was the first time we experienced that people knew us and knew our songs”. With this much ingenuity, depth and energy on their side, Raske Drenge might soon find this a common occurrence.