Distortion 2011: Four Days in Paradise




Day 1: Wednesday, June 1
Everything anyone has ever told you about Copenhagen is true. That’s assuming everyone has told you that the city is beautiful, the people are lovely, and everyone rides a bike (and no one needs to own a bike lock, which is mind-blowing for a theft-weary New Yorker). Copenhagen’s Distortion Festival basically turns the entire city into one giant indoor/outdoor dance party—or, as one fellow festivalgoer described it, a kind of “rave labyrinth.”

Each day of the festival focuses on a different neighborhood, which means if you don’t know your way around the city already, navigating Distortion is more than a little confounding. The streets are packed with people, and around every corner there is likely to be a DIY DJ booth propped up on an ironing board or strapped to the back of the bicycle and operated by someone dressed like a plushie alligator.

On my first day at the festival, I was caught up in a zombie parade, quickly followed by a flash mob of people getting funky to Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” in the middle of a crowded intersection.  Ten minutes later, I boarded a Jägermeister bus (against my better instincts) and was sandwiched between two groups of the best-looking (and most wildly drunk) teenagers I’ve ever seen. At night, the action at Distortion shifts from the streets to the clubs. There are literally hundreds of bands and DJs playing around town, so choosing can be difficult. I opted to see Lauren Halo, a DJ set from Brian Degraw (of Gang Gang Dance), and Nisennenmondai at a club near the middle of town. After having my mind melted by Nisennenmondai (a spectacularly talented trio of ladies from Japan who play a futuristic hybrid of instrumental math-rock dance music), I stumble back to my hotel after drinking my body weight in Tuborg (the local beer, which I affectionately referred to as “Tubes”) at 3 am, even though the sun was already on its way up and most people were just getting started. I fall asleep in my clothes and vow to drink less on day two.

Day 2: Thursday, June 2
What do you call 100,000 people dancing wildly in the streets and drinking all day long in a place where beer and Jäger shots are available for purchase every five feet and there is no enforced legal drinking age? If you live in New York, like me, you’d call this an impossible nightmare. In Copenhagen, you call this not a big deal.

After wandering the streets of the Norrebro neighborhood all day and listening to my inner mom come out while watching drunk teens dancing on top of an enormous statue (I caught myself saying “They need to be careful up there!” to no one in particular), I did the only sensible thing and got very drunk. Tonight the most buzzed about show is definitely Iceage: a Danish post-punk band made up of four baby-faced teenagers that have managed to generate tidal waves of buzz with their debut album, New Brigade.  The band’s set—which generated a brief, violent bit of moshing during which a beer was exploded onto/into my camera—is a beautifully dissonant affair. They play six songs and left the stage after 20 minutes: a pretty punk-rock move. Earlier, I’d seen two of the band members actually standing in line to get into their own show, which struck me as another thing you’d never see a band in New York do.

Despite the fact that every journalist in town was trying to get some face time with them, the Iceage boys were nonplussed. They kept a low profile at the venue during the other band’s sets—which ranged from sludgy metal bands to abject noise acts. Approximately five or six Tubes later, I watch the sun come up over a slow-moving river and managed to stumble back to my hotel and only get lost once.

Note: Iceage will make their US debut later this month at Brooklyn’s Northside Festival. I suggest you go see them.

Day 3: Friday, June 3
On Friday, I peel myself out of bed and relocate to a new hotel. The final two days of Distortion center around the Vesterbro area of Copenhagen, which I’m told is the place where hip young people tend to hang out. To be honest, everywhere in Copenhagen seems to be full of impossibly hip young people hanging out. I soon find out that my new hotel is located directly in the center of the festival, which means that sleep will remain some kind of vague, impossible dream for the next two nights.

I spend the afternoon at a children’s park located inside what appears to be a giant castle. There are a million well-dressed Scandinavian babies dancing to old New Wave songs while their parents drink Tubes and eat hot dogs. There is a “Pensioners Distortion” for the old folks who also want to drink Tubes and listen to music from the ’50s. Everyone, including me, is happy. On my way to the hotel I stop to watch a band called Felines: a trio of teenage girls that sound like a tougher version of Best Coast. Later, at the festival’s closing night blowout, I spend hours drifting around the massive nighttime party, which encompasses 12 different stages and venues of various sizes situated around my hotel. After seeing Austra and Abe Vigoda play live sets in one room, I am basically blinded by lasers during Josh Wink’s tweaky DJ set before going to see Italian super DJ Crookers go berserkers in a giant warehouse space.

To be honest, I have no memory of getting back to my room, but I do remember looking out my window and seeing a crowd of people dancing to an electro remix of AC/DC in broad daylight at 5 AM.




Day 4: Saturday, June 4
There is a word that Danish people use to describe just hanging out with your friends: “Hygge.” On my last full day in Copenhagen, we decide to have a nice hygge in Christiana—the self-contained “autonomous neighborhood” in the middle of the city. The neighborhood has a distinctly hippie/cult-y vibe, due to the fact that it was founded as a kind of commune and is known as the place where you can go to buy weed or hash (which are sold openly and in great quantities on the street). The entire place has this lost-in-time/parallel-universe quality that is complimented by the fact that cars, bikes, and cameras are not allowed (and drugs are just fine). Everyone in Christiana (or “Freetown” as it’s sometimes called) is apparently on one long extended hygge, which is kind of contagious.

I eat some delicious vegan food and refrain from buying a brick of hash. I need to save my strength. The big closing night party of Distortion turns out to be a doozy—complete with a ‘water sports room” (in which masked drag queens do synchronized swimming and lots of drunk people have no qualms about getting completely naked), a Raverbus, and more top-tier DJs than you could shake at glow stick at. After taking in sets from Schlachthofbronx, Felix (from Hot Chip), Ben UFO and Tim Sweeney, I couldn’t help but keep coming back to the Drum N’ Bass stage. It was the spot where the kids seemed to be consistently going the most insane. At one point someone turned a can of hair spray into a flamethrower about three inches away from my head, but it seemed more funny than frightening at the time.  I watched some dude parkour his way up the side of some ancient building while everyone cheered.

Suddenly the sun was up, and it was nearly 6 AM, and in just a couple of hours I’d need to get my tired, drunken body onto an airplane. Still, I couldn’t resist stopping to dance one last time in front of my hotel. Several hundred very intoxicated people were happily jumping up and down to The Smiths’ “What Difference Does It Make,” and it felt like a physical impossibility not to join them. Besides, I was already way too overstimulated to go to bed, so what difference did it make? I was going to go home exhausted and happy no matter what.