WHP FEATURE 041
There’s something brewing in Denmark. Until recently the country’s most famous dance music exports were Trentemøller, Kasper Bjørke and the electro starlet Mø - respectable artists that draw on the Scandinavian’s love of classic rock and indie as much (if not more) as they do the future dreaming pioneers of techno. Now, however, a whole new generation has emerged looking to embrace electronic music in it’s pure, alien form.
Taking over the new warehouse spaces that are springing up around Copenhagen, and hosting word-of-mouth parties that are packed with young, sweaty ravers, the new techno sound that’s swelling from the Danish capital is fast, hard, dark and surprisingly fun, and DJ and label owner Courtesy is leading the way. Her Ectotherm label (run in conjunction with Mama Snake) has only been around for a year or so, but in that time has cast a spotlight on a scene that was otherwise resolutely underground. The Ectotherm sound is brute machine music made for the headstrong– tracks tearing along on serrated, boshing kick drums that clatter at breakneck speeds.
Courtesy herself has spent the last year advocating for the new Copenhagen sound, playing everywhere from Berghain to Sonar, her sets becoming increasingly feted as she joins the dots between classic UK rave, wired Detroit electro and harsh new school techno, all mixed with a seamless perfection. With a forthcoming Warehouse Project debut, she spoke to us over Skype to give us the background on a whole new sound emerging from the North…You’ve got your WHP debut coming up, what are you expecting to do?
I’m playing a middle early slot, so I’m excited about how the room is going to be. Generally when I play in the UK people are pretty on it from the beginning, you can bang it out from earlier. But at the same time I have to be considerate about who’s playing after me. So are you a considerate DJ generally? Some people like to bang it out whenever, and some people give more credence to the dynamic of the night…
It depends on the setting. If you’re playing a festival on a big stage, the sets are an hour long, so you might as well just do your thing- people don’t expect you to build it up as you would in a club. But if you play in Germany in a club that’s open for, say, 24 hours, it’s really shitty to bang it out if you’re one of the first people. You can play with energy, and it’s not like you can’t play fast, but you need to play mellow as well. I like to play fast because I play a lot of electro and techno but I have to put a lid on that if I’m playing first. It’s not cool to be playing at 134 bpm if you’re playing before an act that’s not going to go above 130. Your becoming known for playing fast tempos– how much of that tendency has been shaped by the current Copenhagen scene?
I think it’s definitely inspired by Copenhagen. In Copenhagen there are a bunch of producers making music in this fast tempo, and a hand full of them are signed to our label Ectotherm. It’s this incredible music I’m in love with that we are releasing, so that also colours the way that I DJ. If you go to a warehouse party here sometimes the opening act will be playing 140, and that’s cool in the context of this scene. I see more people picking up the speed though. People said that Ben UFO was playing 134 at his Dekmantel set and everyone was raving about it, so I think people are ready for the faster stuff now, especially on the bigger stages. It’s interesting you mention Ben UFO, because he first came to prominence as part of the post-dubstep world, playing a lot of stuff around 140 bpm, and he’s been known to drop classic jungle sets – essentially there’s this deep rave heritage in the UK that goes back to the 80s and spans tempos, and that’s something that someone like Ben can draw on. Is there any corresponding rave heritage in Denmark that you can look to?
There was a rave scene here in the 90s, but I wasn’t involved in it, I was just a baby. But when I speak to people in the UK, they talk about how the first time they listened to jungle it was on a car stereo or on the radio – that never happened in Denmark. The music I grew up with was very mainstream. What was played on the radio here was more rooted in a rock history, or pop or EDM, so we don’t have that connection to rave, or anything like that. For me, I dig in the UK section. And when dance first came through in Britain it was seen as a threat; the government legislated against it, and it was viewed as culturally dangerous – has dance music been viewed with the same fear in Denmark?
No – politically there’s a lot of activity and good will surrounding electronic music – for the more underground house and techno or live electronica anyway. There’s quite a lot of support, there are venues popping up, new warehouse spaces in Copenhagen. It’s not being threatened, though I know that people worked really hard to get those places up and running. The UK rave scene used to be so intertwined with criminality and drug culture – there was no way you could pretend in the 90s that the two weren’t intimately linked. But it sounds like the techno scene in Copenhagen has started off from a position of being music that should be taken seriously on its on terms rather than as a soundtrack to get smashed to
Yeah – we have a fairly clean scene. But this is also connected to the fact that you can raise state money to do events – there are grants for state or nationally based groups that support electronic music initiatives. In Copenhagen there is a very healthy acceptance of the music as an artform. Now when I approach groups that would have traditionally focused on rock and pop music, and I come with proposals on curating an electronic stage at an industry festival, people are super open to it – all these old school rock people; they don’t know the music, but they respect the importance of it. Ahh that’s amazing - so does it feel like there’s something of a golden age going on in Danish electronic music?
Yeah! For me this is my 11th year as a promoter and a DJ. When I started out, it was the period of blog house – there were these big talented acts, but they crossed over to indie music, or stuff that people from rock would understand, as it wasn’t that different from other mainstream music. After that there were a couple of years when the city was kinda dead. There weren’t many things going on in terms of parties. Now there’s this crew called Fast Forward Productions, there doing these warehouse raves for a thousand people – in a city of half a million people that’s a big deal. And that’s where they’re playing this 140 sound. It’s really dark, it’s really fast and it’s really cool. It’s hard for anyone outside to see because a lot of these parties are discretely promoted online, some of them you have to be invited to get in. When I meet people abroad and they’ll say “what’s going on in Copenhagen! I haven’t been booked in ages”, and I’ll say it’s probably because no one can afford you, or you’re just not playing fast enough… So is there a distinctive Copenhagen style emerging?
We were one of the first labels in this new generation of techno to start a few years ago, and we were one of the first to support this new sound – now there’s a couple more popping up. When we launched a year ago, we weren’t doing any big pushy PR, and it wasn't blowing up with the first couple of releases – but now I’m being hit up by Nina Kraviz or Marcel Dettmann who just found out about the label, and there’ll be like 4 releases that they are found of. There’s definitely this international excitement about this particular sound. I have a hard time finding techno music that’s not made in Copenhagen that I love as much as the stuff that is made here. I’m just constantly waiting for the boys to send me more music. Techno’s got such a long lineage – how does this sound differentiate itself from, say classic Detroit or what’s been going on in Berlin, or any of the other eras?
It’s inspired by the German techno, but there’s a lot of melodic elements to it. It is referential, like most electronic music it has elements of old Detroit techno, but it’s not as deep – it’s a little more in your face, a little more quirky. It has that kind of – in Danish you would say ‘blink-in-an-eye’ I guess a slightly more fun approach to techno than you would see in the slightly more serious sound that’s being made in Germany. A lot of these Danish producers really love trance music so there’s a lot of strong melodic hooks in the music. And now the back catalogue is getting expensive on Discogs – was it always important to you to bring stuff out on vinyl?
Yes, definitely. We didn’t want to be a vinyl-only label for ever, but that’s what we started with. If you listen to something and think ‘…nah maybe just a digital release’, then maybe don’t release it. I think a way of showing you really believe in the music is to put it on vinyl. And I hear you’re going to repress records rather than let Discogs sharks scalp people on the price?
Yeah – no one gets anything from fucking Discogs sharks. That whole economy is bullshit, so yeah everything will be repressed eventually. Some people might have to wait a little bit, but it’ll all come. I’m also the kind of person that will spend the most time in the shitty 2 euro section in the record shop. I’ll spend the whole day there and maybe find two songs. I don’t really see the point in playing some record that a lot of people might know is expensive. There was so much cool music made in the 90s! There is heaps and heaps that isn’t on Youtube, there is a lot of songs that I play, and that have become my signature songs, I found by putting the hours in. And every time I play them I feel like I won a prize. Listening with your wallet rather than your ears is so strange
Well it isn’t that surprising when you look at how everything else is – it doesn’t deviate that much from every other thing in human society in terms of what people like or do or value. But even when I was a kid every time I’d go past a second hand stall I’d go an dig for clothes, and I’d love it so much when I’d have something that looked amazing for 3 euros – when I started digging for records I took that mentality with me. Thanks for talking to us