The Swedish music producer and disc jockey Dag Krister Volle (1963–1998), better known by his professional name Denniz PoP, was a central figure in the emergence of Swedish production studios as key sources of popular music worldwide. During his career, Volle wrote songs and produced recordings, contributing to the careers of such popular 1990s pop music groups as the Backstreet Boys, Ace of Base, Rick Astley, N'Sync, and Britney Spears.
Dag Krister Volle was born on April 26, 1963, in Tullinge, Sweden, a suburb of Stockholm, to parents had immigrated there from Norway. Volle's mother encouraged his interest in music, even though his father pushed him toward a more conventional career. Despite the strong emphasis on music in the Swedish school system, Volle had no interest in learning to play an instrument; he was given a recorder (a small end-blown flute) but discarded it after a few lessons. Instead, he was drawn to collecting records and soon began playing them, using the turntables at a local youth recreation center to create musical entertainments for his friends.
Although Volle's friends called him by the nickname of Dagge, he soon adopted the name Denniz PoP, with both Ps capitalized. The name Denniz was taken from the funloving lead character in the American comic strip Dennis the Menace; PoP connoted both the acronym “Prince of Pickups” —an epithet that may have captured his adolescent self-confidence—and Volle's preference for pop music over the rock and electronic dance music (EDM) that was then in vogue. As he began DJ-ing in and around Tullinge, few music fans knew his real name.
By the mid-1980s, PoP was one of the most popular DJs at Stockholm's premier nightclub, the Ritz. His sets, unlike those of other DJs at the club, leaned more toward funk and soul than the latest electronic dance sounds coming from Germany and England. He also enjoyed the rock music of the English band Def Leppard and its producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, which blended heavy rock guitar sounds with infectious melodic hooks. PoP avoided jazz, which he found too complex, and EDM, which deemphasized melody because he noticed that dancers tended to leave the floor when a tuneful song came on the speakers. Rap, with its marriage of beats and words, also influenced PoP, although few of his own recordings would fall into that category. Volle was present at the Ritz in the 1980s when the club hosted leading U.S. rappers Public Enemy and LL Cool J.
PoP's move from DJ to record producer began in the mid-1980s when he and Ritz owner Tom Talomaa, along with a collective of other Swedish DJs, formed SweMix, a studio and record label devoted to creating club-ready remixes of pop hits from the United States and Great Britain. PoP's remixes were often ingenious; they included an early example of the mashup technique combining Soul II Soul's “Keep on Movin’” with Donna Summer's “Love to Love You Baby” (itself a landmark of dance music) and a version of Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean” that slowed the song down without changing its key. Although he would become an early adopter of Apple computers’ music software, these remixes were done in the 1980s fashion: by measuring, folding, cutting, and splicing recording tape.
After a few years of working on remixes, PoP reasoned that since he was already making something new out of the records he revised, why not make original recordings himself? When he told his associates at SweMix that the studio's walls would soon be decorated with gold and platinum records from the British and Americans, they were understandably skeptical. After all, PoP played no instruments, was not a songwriter, and knew nothing of the mechanics of music. What he did have, however, was a vision of how electronic dance beats, American funk and RB rhythms, and pop melodies could be patchworked into an irresistible new formula that would appeal to dancers, radio listeners, and record buyers alike.
In 1988 PoP released “Gimme Some Mo’ (Bass on Me),” a 12-inch single on the SweMix label, and in 1989 he scored a hit as producer of “Hello Afrika” and the follow-up “It's My Life” by the Nigerian-Swedish rapper and reggae artist Dr. Alban (Alban Uzoma Nwapa). These recordings overlaid reggae and hip-hop beats with pop synthesizer and sampled-vocal tracks. PoP's recording career took a step forward after SweMix dissolved in the early 1990s, leaving the studio shuttered and the label sold to the BMG conglomerate. In 1992 he and Talomaa formed Cheiron Studios on Kungsholmen island in central Stockholm, taking the studio's name from the mythological centaur of ancient Greek mythology who taught the god Dionysis how to sing.
Cheiron would become a major hitmaker through the 1990s, not only in Sweden but around the world. Part of the reason for its success, perhaps, lay in PoP's playful personality. “Denniz was a guy who didn't want to grow up,” songwriter Andreas Carlsson was quoted as saying by John Seabrook in his book The Song Machine. PoP organized complex scavenger hunts around Stockholm for Cheiron employees and was well known as a devastating practical joker. In appearance he was, in Seabrook's words, “so Californian-looking he could only be Swedish.” He was also a heavy smoker of Marlboro Menthol cigarettes.
Swedish popular music success was not a new phenomenon, the rock band Blue Swede having scored an international hit in the early 1970s with “Hooked on a Feeling.” The dance pop hits of ABBA in the 1970s and early 1980s also exerted a strong influence on PoP's music. Yet Cheiron's method, uniting independent songwriters, singers, and producers in an assembly line of musical hits, was something new in Swedish music, and PoP's ability to smooth down American R&B rhythms and incorporate them into a neutral pop language was unique. He disputed contentions that, because his musical contributions were electronic in nature, they lacked creativity. “It's easy to say producing this music is equal to pushing a button in the studio,” he told a reporter (as quoted by Seabrook). “But that's like saying writing a novel is a simple push of a button on your typewriter.”
PoP produced songs for a variety of Swedish and international artists during the early and middle 1990s, among them Leila K, Rednex, Solid Harmonie, Westlife, Bon Jovi, 5ive, and 3T (which featured Michael Jackson on vocals on the PoP-produced “I Need You” ). One of the most prominent was the Swedish group Ace of Base, which sent PoP an unsolicited demo tape. Unimpressed at first, he warmed to the song, then called “Mr. Ace,” after the tape became stuck in his car's cassette player and repeated itself continuously. Produced in a new arrangement by PoP that paired a light reggae beat with its simple emotional lyric, “All That She Wants” rose to the top of sales charts in ten European countries and reached number two in the United States.
Another group produced by PoP at Cheiron was a Swedish metal band called It's Alive, whose frontman and chief songwriter was Martin Sandberg. A 1994 release by It's Alive showed little commercial strength, but PoP saw commercial potential in the songwriting of Sandberg, who, unlike PoP, was a trained musician. PoP took Sandberg on as a protégé, giving him the name Max Martin (Sandberg learned of the name change only when his new name appeared as co-producer on a recording) and involving him in new Cheiron projects. Martin would go on to become one of the most successful producers and songwriters of the 2000s, responsible, among those of many other artists, for several of Taylor Swift's pop hits in the mid-2010s.
One of the new projects on which PoP and Martin worked together was the debut album of Louisiana-born Britney Spears, titled … Baby One More Time after the Swedish pair failed to grasp the implications of the title track's hook, “Hit me, baby, one more time” (they thought “hit me” was teen slang for “call me” ). During production on the album, PoP began to complain of trouble swallowing. His father had died of cancer in 1991, and he had already had premonitions of his own early death. So he ignored the symptoms or searched for cures on the Internet rather than seeking medical help.
Worried about the future of his girlfriend, singer Jessica Folcker, and their 11-year-old son, Max, PoP finally agreed to see a doctor in December of 1997. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and scheduled for surgery at Stockholm's Karolinska Hospital. The treatment extended his life, and he reappeared at Cheiron's offices, having lost a large amount of weight. He was unable, however, to attend a Swedish Grammy awards ceremony at which he and Martin received a special honor for their contributions to Swedish music. In addition to Martin, PoP also served as a mentor to Swedish producers Kristian Lundin and Jake Schulze. More generally, the production configuration and techniques he built have remained fundamental to popular music internationally in the 2000s and 2010s. PoP died in his sleep in Stockholm on August 30, 1998. The Swedish music industry's Denniz PoP Awards are named in his honor.
Seabrook, John, The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, Norton, 2015.
Billboard, September 9, 2000.
National (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), June 23, 2016.
Pacific Standard, March-April, 2014, “Swedish Pop Mafia.”
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), August 8, 2010, p. 13.
Creative Disc website (Indonesia), http://creativedisc.com/ (December 3, 2016), “Behind the Music: Denniz Pop.”
Denniz Pop Awards website, http://dennizpopawards.com/ (December 3, 2016).
Guardian (London, England), http://www.theguardian.com/ (November 4, 2015), John Seabrook, “There's a Dark Side to Pop.”
Swedish Music Hall of Fame website, https://smhof.se/ (December 3, 2016), “Denniz Pop.” ❑