Distortion is a 5 day long street party that takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark every year. It wanders from district to district, one day at each place. This year the festivals first day is right were I live. A few hundred yards from here, the deep rumble from the sub-bass pushes its way through the atmosphere until midnight.
The amazing side effect Distortion has is that, even though it is noisy like a nightclub, it shuts down before midnight and it goes somewhat quiet, except for the clubs that continues throughout the night.
This is not usually the case when people set up their P.A. bikes from Wednesday to Saturday all through the summer on the bridge close to my apartment, when the weather allows it. When Distortion is at it, the noise is somewhat regulated and even better – tomorrow the festival will be in another part of town, and Nørrebro where I live, will be very quiet.
Do I sound like an old angry man right now? Well, let me explain. I’m a musician as well as a photographer. I made a living as a professional musician many years ago. I’m deeply in love with music. I love Soul, Jazz, Rock, Classical, Metal, Pop and everything that inspires me. But I have a blank in my musical taste. I really love Drum’n Bass, because of its complex rhythms and its energy, but what I really dislike, is when you replace the drummer or the complex rhythms with a pounding bass drum on every single beat, banging away like a hammer, with no complexity what so ever. Just BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM….. The Distortion Festival is, apart from very few exceptions, just that. Among danish musicians it is referred to as the German Stomp. Because it sounds like marching Nazis.
You can tell that a lot of the music that are played from the different stages, are assembled by DJ’s and many without much musical training. It is not as horrible as it once was, but you regularly hear a song with a vocal hookline that are out of key with the bass and harmonies, if you can call it harmonies… To a musician, that is like dragging your nails across a blackboard.
I know that it is common to explain my dislike towards this techno / electro music, with the generation gap, where every new generation manages to make music that the older generation thinks is shit.
But think of it in another way – where can we possibly go from here? We’ve reached the tribal stage with electronic music. The great electronic musicians have already made incredibly beautiful music, with the likes of Brian Eno and the Godfather of it all: Jean Michelle Jarre.
It started out on another level, but sunk into tribal pounding gimmicks. There is the heavy metal of electronic music with the Skrillex genre, if you can call it that and then there is the clubmusic, with its enormous amount of genres. But even as a trained musician I have a hard time, telling them apart. But again, what can possibly come next? What will make the hardcore EDM lover in some years go: “Damn that young generation makes really shitty music!”? Will it be young DJ’s playing something that resembles a grinder? I don’t know. But I can’t imagine music to go to a simpler stage, because I have a hard time imagining music in a simpler form.
To me the laptop music at the Distortion festival goes a bit like this: You sort of set the pace with a super short intro, then introduce the pounding bass drum, shift between a handful of samples, and mixes it up a bit.
Then there is the part where you omit the bass drum, then later reintroduces it after a rally up. It is sort of the climax of the tune, called “dropping the bass”. In the most basic version, a really cheap sounding snare drum sample leads up to the reignited bass drum with a quantised snare roll. Some DJ’s let that roll continue for a while to heighten the tension amongst their audience and then drops the bass, meaning reintroducing it, with a couple of more layers on top of it.
So the electro sort of lives off a bit of dynamic tension, and a few samples. I’m sure every person who loves this kind of music or makes it, hates me by now. But hey, I don’t drink alcohol either, so that might be another reason. Play some Meshuggah and I will lighten up like a christmas tree with sheer delight. But a pounding bass drum on all 4 beats, brings me down immediately.
Walking about the streets of Distortion can be challenging. There are some bottlenecks around, where you get more or less squashed. Most people don’t stand in the same place for long. There is a steady stream of people wandering about. I’d say 75% of the people are on their way to somewhere else, except for the big stage at Sankt Hans Square, that seemed to be one of the few places, that were actually able to keep a large crowd for more than one 15 minute mix.
The pissing contest
The festival have put up a lot of booths where you can relieve yourself. But they do not seem to attract young guys under 30. For some reason a dude have to piss on something. The ground just doesn’t cut it as a legitimate target. A dude needs a target. So everything you can imagine are used as pissing targets. Fences, doors, doorknobs, staircases or whatever is at groin height or slightly higher. If you are a bit sensitive, you cannot ignore the same people shaking hands, hugging and eating just after they made someone elses property wet, and never got near any sort of disinfection fluid.
The ground is sticky
For some reason people at festivals throw their shit around like a chimpanzee. For some other reason the last quarter of a beer seems undrinkable and therefore are emptied out on the ground, and soon after becomes sticky goo, that everyone else needs to step in. Same goes with trash. I’m aware that it doesn’t take long before trashcans and containers are full. But festival goers do not seem to have even the slightest intention of throwing their litter even near a garbage container. It is as if that they live their daily lives as a moral citizen, and then goes completely bonkers, when they attend a festival, with a strong “fuck everything” attitude.
I have a hard time coping with people who throw their garbage around. At a festival, well okay, people are letting off steam, and needs to make some sort of whimsy rebellious statement, by throwing garbage around. But it isn’t much better when the festival is over. Apart from smokers carpeting the grass areas with cigarette buds, it is unbelievable what people throw into the lake where I live. Swans, ducks and all sorts of animals live in that lake, and still these dirtbags throw all kinds of shit into the lake. I just can’t imagine why?! Why is it so hard to throw your shit into a garbage bin? There are plenty of them all around, and yet the beer bottle and the odd bike, gets thrown into the lake…
I hope that one day the animals collect all the garbage and just throws it into one of the littering douche bags living room, with the words: “Here, we think some of this is yours!” and then just leaves the guy with a livingroom full of garbage. That would be awesome. Reality unfortunately is, that no-one even gets a fine.
I do not consider myself as a street photographer. I’m too shy. But for some reason, some people jump in front of your camera and want’s you to take their picture. They don’t ask were it ends up, they just pose. I’m really happy that they do so, or else I wouldn’t get pictures like these.
Distortion have been really lucky with the weather this year. Sunny and hot, which is quite unusual, even at this time of the year. It might have caused some people to dehydrate. But all in all, the festival seemed peaceful and the crowd were in a good mood. Drunk, with leaky bladders and throwing garbage around. But at least happy it seemed. Good for them, good for everybody. Tomorrow they have left for Vesterbro, while their garbage will remain for the municipality to clean up, and they will. They are quite effective when it comes to cleaning up the city. Except for the lake… The lake is the largest trashcan in town, and it seldom gets emptied.