Friday, 15 April 2011

Kenneth Christiansen: In Dub We Trust

Resident Advisor caught up with Echocord Records boss and our next guest at Slash Dot Dash, Kenneth Christiansen, for a chat about Copenhagen, record shops, the label and his Culture Box club.

"Denmark's purveyor of dub techno stayed in Copenhagen, and it made all the difference in the world"

With everybody and their brother rushing to find house and techno fame in Berlin, those that stick around their local scenes are more important than ever. Copenhagen's Kenneth Christiansen is one such character. Around six years ago, he pondered a move to the German capital. At that moment, however, he found an empty space in the city's downtown district and along with several other local music lovers built Culture Box, now regarded as one of the city's go-to venues for quality four-four beats.

Christiansen has a devotion to his city, but he has an even bigger devotion to dub techno. Via his Echocord imprint, he's doggedly pushed the sound for almost a decade. This month, they'll celebrate their 50th release with a compilation and a tour. In short, things are busier than ever, proving that staying home (and staying the course) was the right decision after all.

Have you always lived in Copenhagen?

No, I grew up in the countryside, very close to Germany. I moved to Copenhagen when I was 20 years old because of the music scene. I wanted to work in record shops. There was a very big underground techno scene in Copenhagen at the end of the '80s and the beginning of the '90s. Acid house and techno was really big, and illegal warehouse parties were going on everywhere.

Were there certain DJs or certain parties that really stick out in your mind?

At that time it was really more harder techno stuff. Really banging techno shit. I remember the first time Richie Hawtin was playing here with Dave Clarke. Miss Djax... And then we started to go to the Love Parade in Berlin. I went to Tresor, E-Werk and all that, yeah. It was very close from where I lived, only like two hours to go to Hamburg for example. So it was very easy to go to Germany to buy records.

What record store did you work at in Copenhagen?

The first one I was working in was called Street Dance records. I worked there for three-and-a-half years, and then decided to open up my own record shop. That was called Science Fiction. At that time there was a lot of competition: We had three other stores that specialized in electronic music in the city. So, after one year, we decided to close it. Then I got a job in another shop called Loud Music, which was—for me—the best record shop in Copenhagen ever. It closed about six years ago now. It was the last record shop which specialized in electronic music in Copenhagen.

How long was Loud around?

We had 10 to 15 really good years in Copenhagen with record shops, but then it went really, really fast. Everything suddenly closed down because everybody was starting to buy records on the internet. We still have, of course, some record shops, but it's more secondhand shops with all kinds of stuff, it's not really specialized in any genre.

When Echocord began, the label was largely a vehicle for Mikkel Metal's production. But it seems like the label has opened up quite a bit over time. Was that always the plan from the beginning?

I didn't have a plan really, it was more about releasing some nice music that I really thought was good and something new and fresh. That was the basic idea, and then suddenly it grew and more people got involved. I also thought at a certain moment that maybe I had to move a little bit away from what I was doing, maybe to make it a little bit more for the dance floor, release some of the tracks on vinyl, also just to sell a little bit more. It was difficult at that time just to sell tracks for home-listening on vinyl.

At what point do you feel like you made that move to becoming a little bit more dance floor?

I had a long talk with Mikkel Metal about it when he was doing his third album I think? He did a lot of stuff on Kompakt, and so we thought, "OK, maybe it's time to try to move a little bit and try to see how it goes and see what people think. Still have it be dubby, but also have make some of the tracks more powerful."

Was it simply a case of people not buying listening tracks on vinyl anymore? I mean obviously you love everything you release, but it sounds like a business decision to focus on that.

I think it was both. I started to DJ more and more myself at that time, and I could see, for example, in Berlin that these listening parties were becoming less and less. It was just party party, four-to-the-floor. But I think it was also nice for me to change it a little bit, but not too much. That's why I started the sub-labels: so I could release other kinds of music.

Had you not been DJing much before?

I started to DJ in 1991, but that was just local DJing in Denmark. I started to DJ outside of Denmark at the end of the '90s for ~scape, Barbara Preisinger and Stefan Betke's label. They did a lot of showcases all over Europe, and they invited me to be the resident DJ. He was a big influence for me. Then when I started Echochord up and I started my own club here in Copenhagen, it's started to get faster and faster. The past three or four years especially.

Has the label changed in other ways over time?

Not really, I think. I still think Echochord is Echochord. Maybe it's changed a little bit. I mean the whole music scene is changing all the time. For example, I like to hear the fresh dubstep, some of it, not the harder stuff, but the dubby dubstep, the techy dubstep. So of course it has changed a little bit, but not really too much.

Are you bringing dubstep into your own sets as well?

Yeah, a little bit. Not much, but sometimes I play a dubstep tune. I think it's really good for the whole dub techno scene actually that there's a little new fresh sound that's coming in. It gives it a new energy again. You can mix it also with this techy dubstep techno, it's almost techno, but dubstep techno, whatever. You can mix it all together. I really like that.

You talk about this new energy, and I'm curious about that. I think a lot of people would say that dub techno hasn't progressed much as a genre. What would you say to that?

I think there are still a lot of new tracks and records that come out that you will say, "This is dub techno," but it still has a new fresh sound. Well, maybe you have to be a little nerdy to hear it. If you listen to Goa trance or you listen to rock music, you can't hear any difference with dub techno maybe, but I think there's still some very fresh tunes coming out that are interesting for me to play for sure.

Tell me a little bit about Culture Box, the club that you run in Copenhagen.

We've been going for six years now. I started the club with my partner Loke Busch, at a time when we thought there was nothing at that moment for electronic underground music. We had been doing parties for many years with other groups of people, and we just got tired of moving the parties all the time and putting up lights and blah blah blah, so we wanted to try to find a place where we could have a club, a steady place every weekend. Then, suddenly, we found this empty space and now it's been six years. It's crazy.

Did you imagine you'd be doing it for six years? I mean you had done the record store for a year, you know, and I'm sure you maybe thought to yourself, "Huh, I don't know if this is going to last."

I wasn't thinking about it. I was just doing it, really. We were a big group of people actually, and we were really thinking, before I got married and had kids, you know, "OK, should we all move to Berlin like everybody else and try to do something there or should we try to do something in our hometown?" Today, I feel very lucky that we all stayed and we have this place here now instead of being one out of a million [in Berlin].

Tell me about Copenhagen.

Copenhagen is a very small city, a very beautiful city. We have a lot of parks, we have all the canals, the channels. We have a lot of beautiful and nice people here. People are very friendly and kind, and if you drive 20 minutes you're in the countryside and if you fly 45 minutes, you're in Berlin. It's really nice I think.

One of the things I was surprised by when I visited for Trailerpark Festival, is that it seems like there are so many young people doing artistic things. Is that something you feel as well, that it's a little bit more vibrant at the moment or has that always been the case in your opinion?

I think it's always been here, there's always been a lot of activity and very young people doing a lot of creative stuff, cultural stuff. There are so many people working for free, who just want to be a part of it. There are a lot of festivals here, and a lot of young producers. It's been that way for many years I think actually.

But you said that at the time you started Culture Box, there wasn't a lot going on. Why do you think that was?

There were some venues doing parties maybe once a month or maybe once every two months. But at that time the R&B and pop and rock and heavy metal scene were really big. The trance scene was really big, but for techno and house music, electronica stuff, there was nothing.

I was surprised by how small Culture Box was when I visited there.

Yeah, I mean, there are two floors. We have the basement, which can hold 80 people or so. And the main floor which, if it's really packed can have 250. I like that, though. The good thing about Culture Box is that if you have 100 people you can still have a really nice party. And that's very important because the scene here still isn't so big and sometimes you never really know how many people show up.

It was important to us to find a place that looks underground, but that's also nice in a way. We can change the lights a lot, and we rent the place to others who do parties there. They can change the how the venue feels quite easily. We have a good soundsystem, which I think is also very important.

Tell me a little bit about your Pattern Repeat project. It started just recently, right?

Yeah. It's me and a good friend of mine, Resoe. I was actually working with him at the record shop eight years ago. He's very much into the same kind of music as me, and he also runs the Baum label. He has a really nice studio, so I thought, "OK, I'll go to his studio," and suddenly we had a track. "OK, why not try to start our own label with our own music?" We've made some records now, and we've already played at Berghain and Fabric. It's a nice little side project.

This is the first time you've actually made music yourself, correct?

Yes, but I would not say that I'm making most of it. Dennis is the man. I more sit next to him, and have the ideas. I have a lot of ideas in my head, and it's really nice to get it on vinyl. It's really fun.

You're in the studio saying, "I want it to sound a little bit more like that." You're the advisor, almost.

Exactly. We both are! [laughs]

Kenneth Christiansen will be performing an extra special 3 hour set for us at the legendary Public Life on Friday 8th July. Limited tickets are available on Resident Advisor and due to the small capacity of the venue we recommend that you get in fast to avoid disappointment. They wont be around for long

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