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Norwegian production duo breaks big in U.S.

Mon Oct 30, 2006 1:57 PM ET

By Gail Mitchell

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Two lovers of R&B/hip-hop working in a rock-oriented world: That was the situation facing Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen nine years ago when the pair established a production partnership in their native Norway.

Now, just 18 months after arriving stateside, the duo - professionally known as Stargate - is watching its determination pay off. Thanks to crossover hits this year by Ne-Yo ("So Sick," "Sexy Love") and Rihanna ("Unfaithful") plus Lionel Richie's R&B comeback ("I Call It Love"), Stargate is rapidly becoming an industry name.

"In order to come closer to the music we loved, Mikkel and I needed to come to America," Hermansen says during a session break at Stargate's New York base, Battery Studio. "Hooking up with American writers and artists has taught and inspired us."

A Sony Studios hallway was the locale for a momentous introduction to Def Jam R&B newcomer Ne-Yo. After listening to each other's music, a writing session ensued - the second day of which yielded the melodic "So Sick." The song clinched the No. 1 slot on Billboard's flagship Hot 100 singles chart.

Though the duo sometimes starts its creative process with a hard beat or unique chord structure, classic melodies - reminiscent of the lush, mood-setting music backdropping Boyz II Men or the pulsing grooves of Puff Daddy's "Satisfy You" - remain Stargate's hallmark. That's not surprising given the pair's early influences: Antonio "L.A." Reid and Babyface, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and R. Kelly.

Stargate also calls to mind another migrating twosome who carved a lasting imprint on U.S. R&B and pop charts in the '90s: Soulshock & Karlin. The Danish duo's credits include Monica ("Before You Walk Out of My Life"), Whitney Houston ("Heartbreak Hotel") and, most recently, Fantasia ("Truth Is").

Hermansen was a talent scout for Warner Music Norway and Eriksen owned a nearby studio when the kindred spirits first met. Since R&B and hip-hop weren't exactly the Norwegian rage then, the pair plied their trade writing and producing songs for mostly U.K.-signed acts, including R&B/pop group Blue and S Club 7, a group created by "American Idol" craftsman Simon Fuller. R&B remixes were also a specialty.

Before "So Sick," Stargate flirted with the Hot 100 in 2001 with Mikaila's "So in Love With Two." The song was followed three years later by Mis-Teeq's "Scandalous," which topped out at No. 35 on the Hot 100 and reached No. 2 in the United Kingdom.

Now Stargate is well on its way toward replicating its multiplatinum U.K. success stateside. The duo's 2006 credits include collaborations with songwriters Sean Garrett and Johnta Austin, as well as Beyonce, Mario Vazquez, JoJo, Jeannie Ortega and Paula DeAnda. On tap are new projects by Michelle Williams (Destiny's Child), Mario and Ne-Yo's second album. "It's definitely hard coming from Europe and selling R&B/hip-hop back to America," Hermansen says. "But that challenge has given us more confidence to do what comes natural to us."


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