Fast Forward – The past is recent and the future is wide open (interview)
Interview and images by Cameron Pagett
“I like it,” Nikolaj Jakobsen remarks with a gratifying sip of beer as I inquire about the infamous Fast Forward Alien Head logo. Lukas Højlund pauses in the moment and mentions; ”Yeah, it was never supposed to be the logo … on the first party at Ungdomshuset we put all sorts of things on the poster … We also had the bio-hazard symbol, but it’s not really the logo.”
I still have the first Fast Forward poster on my desktop, 2015 is not so long ago, but looking at the visual building block and having a reasonable understanding of what happens next after 400 people danced the dark away at Ungdomshuset I am feeling nostalgia. The poster feels retro now and it’s undeniably cozy when I reckognize some of the same people have played at recent shows and one played at the two year anniversary in November. Two years really isn’t so long ago, but after 30 raves, an eternity of shared memories, an explosion of growth, a new, unique agency and thousands of stories within a growing community the first party with the first Alien Head feels ages away.
Two years after the first poster I have the same alien head on my scarve shielding my face from a cold wind off Istedgade, I am finally on my way to a Fast Forward Party. A fairly recent resident in Copenhagen I mostly heard about Fast Forward through my girlfriend after buying her the Alien scarf from Posh Isolation’s 8 year celebration in March, 2017. I didn’t realize then that the unofficial official logo was connected to the agency and collective currently throwing the biggest techno parties in Copenhagen. Now less then a year removed I’m stuffing a warm durum in my backpack to hold me through the night and I’m cycling to work past kl. 23 at the much anticipated two year anniversary party located centrally in the large former train warehouse KPH Volume in Vesterbro. The windows are shaking and the walls pulsing to the opening tracks from Bunker Bauer power group Sella Turcica and Osvald Lund Rønde, and I am feeling any late night fatigue fade from my body as each sound wave pushes it out. It’s still early, I greet familiar faces, meet new ones, orient my camera and enjoy a nice beer with the door girl while devouring a now lukewarm durum kebab.
The floor is already vibrating with a small contingent of earlies enjoying an explosive, seething opening set from Sella Turcica and Rønde. I begin to wander through the space and start my night. Volume consists of two rooms with the entry room consisting of a large coat area and a rather impressive visual installation made specifically for the event by Fast Forward Collective Artists Ida Engelhart and Sara Konoy. The artwork and excellent lighting system from Tobias Molter and Paloma Cuesta is already bringing a special ambiance to the half full warehouse, and is not at full strobing power yet, but is still pushing out enough vibrant streams of color and mystery onto the floor to inspire. My camera begins to feel ready after the first couple of beers start to hit me and I feel myself unthaw from the cold ride. I’m feeling it’s time to start work and take my first pictures.
Read more: See full photo-reportage from Fast Forward here.
Two months later in the cold dead of winter I sit at a kitchen table covered with Tuborg Classic and a lone i-phone and a recorder in a small, quaint apartment in Nørrebro. Flanked By Fast Forward founders, Lukas Højlund, Nikolaj Jakobsen and later collective addition Anders Marc, we gather to talk about Fast Forward at two years, where it has been, where it is now and where it is headed. I haven’t felt a shred of nervous energy and the talk begins naturally as if the questions were pre-determined. Jakobsen with his customary intensity emanating from his cool blue-grey eyes begins to lay out the foundations of what many consider to be one the finest DIY collectives in Denmark.
“The original goal was wider, it has gotten narrower, but also we found out that this sort of party works really well and there is a time and a place for it in Copenhagen. We have a lot of experience in throwing big parties. This and all the effort from the DJ’s and the activists makes it what it is. If there wasn’t interest and all the people who have come to help it wouldn’t have happened.” I am struck in a good way by the beginning of the discourse at how easy and humble the opening statement is. No-one was looking to hoard all the praise in a corner, but they were quick to put the credit away from themselves and the focus on a mutual desire to build a community that was natural, safe and positive.
Rewind to the techno cavern in Volume as the last tracks of Sella Turcica rattled and pounded away behind the waves of smoke seeping from the stage, I am huddled in the dark next to the speakers. I feel a hand rest on my shoulder and I turn to see Villads Klint from next act Khalil offering a hello. Khalil is a Copenhagen based experimental act featuring some of the best local music minds in Villads Klint, Simon Formann and Nikolaj Vonsild. It will be my first time seeing them live after meeting Klint and Formann at Phono Festival in Odense a month before. I am interested in seeing them after all the talk surrounding their inclusion for such an important show thrown by a Collective predominantly affiliated with floor banging techno. It seems an odd choice for the night and the booking raised a few eyebrows. With their debut release distributed by Posh Isolation it wasn’t for lack of perceived quality, it just wasn’t what people were expecting.
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Back at the table with only half of the Tuborg left Højlund explains, “It maybe wasn’t the best fit, but we feel we should be able to do what we want. If we want to put a concert in the beginning of a rave it won’t be the first time. We also want to challenge people a bit because if it’s just the same thing every time it gets boring.”
With more people trickling into the show and a real queue beginning to form in the cold night the first notes from Khalil’s electrifying performance cut into the space with an energy and presence that left any remnant of a boring or bad booking in the cellar. Khalil brought a feel that tied the existing fanbase together and brought a pacifying feel to the skeptical and unfamiliar. With a sound I can best describe as snapping, cracking and employing frequencies that could shatter the concrete under-foot without leaving a gram of dust, the room went into a frenzy, and surrounded me with bodies dancing along to the expansive sound escaping from the speakers. Vonsild in particular used his committed stage presence and ethereal voice to be sure that there wasn’t one foot left still by the stage. Members of the collective crowded the front of the staging area as I stealthe with my camera amongst a wall of supporters. It was one of the first hygge moments of the night and even though the sound was playing loud enough that plugs were necessary, you could still feel the silence between beats and detect genuine enjoyment in the smiles and embraces of people as they moved between blissful states.
“We can’t play the same artists every time,” Anders remarks. The three nod in agreement. There is a feeling that shaking things up from time to time is necessary for growth and bringing new groups of people to the scene. In the concert format Jakobsen makes it clear that they won’t go booking random acts, but like with the community of artists the agency contains from CPH techno houses Bunker Bauer, Ectotherm, Euromantic and Fast Forward the concert acts selected are connected by friendship and familiarity within an existing structure of interconnected musical projects. It’s all about a natural and familiar spirit. You probably won’t be seeing someone playing a bassoon, and if you just have to have techno and only techno they’re ok with you getting a shawarma and coming back… You will soon be getting five hours of it straight!
With a positive feeling in the air and nearing 3 A.M. the party was treated to the maiden CPH performance from Berlin based DJ Hyperaktivist. Wearing the best pair of trousers I’ve seen in recent memory and containing a mesmerizing posterior combined with absolute control in the booth Ana Laura Rincon brought the techno back to the party as the majority of the Copenhagen rave crowd began to spill into the venue. The space began to explode and getting walking room was starting to become an issue. What is by all accounts a rather large hall in Volume now felt like a small room so I retreated behind the stage to catch the magic erupting behind the bars. Drawing on a latin percussive influence with a hard and fast character Rincon seemed to draw on a pounding warmth stylistically her own while harnessing the cozy energy fallover from the Khalil performance into each track. If Khalil had the floor spinning, Rincon had it bouncing to the point where one could forget it was -2 outside and maybe feel a touch of Carribean warmth pushing through the cold. A supporter of Fast Forward, she later expressed how much she appreciated the family and friends vibe, that it was like a motto in a way. The feeling that the people involved were working together to push the scene because they loved it and believe in it.
The backstage was getting rather lively with most of the artists and core members of the collective celebrating what was turning into a memorable time. People seated on folding chairs and couches huddled into little smoking clusters which dotted the area. I ran into several key members of the collective until I rubbed shoulders briefly with a tall dark haired gentleman. He asked me if I would get a good picture of him, I asked if he was playing later. “Yes,” he replied politely, “looking forward to it.” … That guy was Freddy K.
Back in the apartment with the beer running out at an alarming rate everyone is in agreement that Freddy K. is a legend. A champion of DIY music and tirelessly dedicated to the techno community Højlund is quick to remark, ”We like working with Freddy because he is really cool.” After mulling as a group on good and bad experiences with high profile DJ’s Jakobsen goes on to say, ”He’s (Freddy K.) been in DIY since three years after I was born. He’s been running radio and a record label, label management and DJ’ing since ’91, and when you see a guy like that showing up to your party 10 minutes before it starts … then you know they like what they do.” Like what they do … it seems to be a theme present in everything I experience with this crew and perhaps the driving force behind the good feelings surrounding the collective. As Jakobsen points out, “None of us comes from a business background, nobody started out being a big-ass DJ and then thought, hey! I want a collective.”
Fast Forward are looking to work with people who genuinely want to work with them. No big names for the sake of big names, no undergrounders for the sake of underground cred. Simply musical quality and genuine interest in what eachother is doing. Community over hype, it’s not a supermarket show culture.
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The floor is shaking again as Copenhagen techno regular CTRLS aka Troels Knudsen took the room on the back of the hurricane left by Rincon. With room to dance becoming tighter and tighter the party began to hit its zenith. Drawing on the cold night wind Knudsen went on to use the speakers as his personal music megaphone for channeling the hard, yet glossy modern sound he has become well-known for. With the music louder, the lights strobing rapidly and the spirit of the night reaching it’s festive best I went on an adventure through the crowded warehouse. People darted everywhere, some heavily prepared in their most provocative garb and others channeling a more casual all black aesthetic. Cigarettes lights went up everywhere like small lanterns dotting Iceberg peaks and I headed for the exit. The cue was now well around the corner with more and more people trying to enter. I took a trip by the bathrooms only to be accosted by a few loaded patrons wanting pictures by the mounds of toilet paper stacking up outside of the trash cans. You could still hear Knudsen’s set from outside with the volume at a near maximum. Højlund and a few others flagged down some imposters trying to get in by the back doors and I found myself existing and sifting through a controlled mayhem.
“I couldn’t go to parties like this when I was younger,” Marc says. “I went to smaller clubs and had really nice experiences, I would have liked to have gone to this and seen people behaving and doing nice things it would have had a positive feeling for me … If you would have told me that you can make parties this big in Copenhagen with people behaving I wouldn’t believe it.” This is precisely what we were in, a rave where people feel safe and are respecting each other.
They all come from different backgrounds. Some come from Ungdomshuset (the Youth House) and the post punk scene, others metal, noise or even straight electronic, but what binds them together is the DIY spirit. A shared history in creating their own events and music outside of the established music industry. As Marc points out, ”The older guys from the scene, when I was young, talked about how when they started out there wasn’t a scene for the music they wanted to hear so they created it.”
Now with Copenhagen becoming an internationally recognized destination for Techno talent, a new environment exists in which a different approach to techno and other genres is being developed with its own unique set of characteristics. “It’s easier to just look at each other,” says Jakobsen. “You’re hanging out all the time and people are sending each other tracks … I think it’s natural what’s happening, not just in Copenhagen but all over the world.” With the scene still relatively young, much of the techno growing in CPH seems to embrace the lack of substantial history. As Jakobsen puts it “So many cities are trying to make their own music and to do it in a way that maybe hasn’t been done before.”
The past is recent and the future is wide open.
The cold begins to seep through my jacket as a friend arrives and we make our way back into the heaving masses as the CTRLS set relentlessly blares on. The sitting areas along the tall concrete walls are now a mass of people socializing and sometimes laying on top of eachother in relaxing contrast to the sweat and steam engulfing the dance floor. We find a small place to sit along the wall and she asks me if these parties are always so crowded. I reply that I can’t say for certain, but I am certainly impressed that the space has been filled with such ease and we reflect on how much of a success the night is turning out to be. Fast Forward parties with this many guests is still becoming a thing to get used to as the demand has led them to seek more space in larger and larger venues from the modest starting point in Basement which still functioned as a makeshift home not a year before. We rise to dance, I find a spot, close my eyes and let myself go for a bit. It isn’t difficult, the energy is tantric, the speakers are like a warm sound blanket and the music is too invasive to resist.
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The scene is growing and with the explosion comes a feeling of expectation. For some there is a tendency to want to pull back to the early days with smaller parties and for others a question of what comes next as the collective continues to gather momentum. For Højlund, Jakobsen and Marc the challenge of maintaining reputation and integrity in the community they have created boils down to a natural sense of growth. “I think it came naturally.” Jakobsen says, “When something is growing way too rapidly, like someone had a small party and then next there was a thousand people … I don’t think its happened this way. Everytime a little more attention, everytime a little more demand.” There is a noticeable calm amongst the three surrounding the growth. They have all been involved in musical movements and throwing parties for a time now so there is a quiet confidence among them resting on the idea that it’s about the community first. Højlund adds; “We’ve done everything up till now with people we in some way have a connection with.” The level it has reached is a good size for Copenhagen and is connected to the youth culture. With techno a relatively new scene in the mainstream in Denmark they don’t feel the need to push anything but to use sense and intuition to manage how many people they expect when they throw parties. “I think it goes both ways,” Jakobsen interjects, ”I dont want to have like, oh! now it’s big, now were gonna make it small so people can stand and wait! I also don’t want oh! it’s big, lets make it bigger! The reason we make it bigger is because there is not enough room … all the people standing in line are not total meatheads … if we find out that there is 2 thousand loud idiots with glow sticks wanting to get in we wont move to a bigger place for that.”
With the level of interest surrounding the collective, I am surprised and impressed when the three acknowledge that tastes change and motivation isn’t always concrete. They don’t view numbers as a pure indicator of success and they each reserve and maintain a certain autonomy in understanding that there may come a time that they don’t want to do it anymore. “It’s not like it has to be big, or it’s going bad.” Jakobsen explains; ”If they (people) want something else in a different time we will adjust to that.” They are not looking to be an eternal dominating monopoly on the music scene as Højlund explains, ”We do it as long as we want to.” For Fast Forward maximization is not the goal and in the same way a potential decline in demand is not something to be feared. There is a refreshing reticence in the knowledge that they are part of a larger chain of influence moving through the Copenhagen landscape.”It’s going to have its natural flow,” says Anders, ”before us there were others who had priorities change or lost interest and then we came along.” With a similar tone however Jakobsen was quick to point out for people who want to see techno thrive, ”You never know whats happening … possibly what’s happening at the moment is defining a new way of going out in Copenhagen.”
Back at Volume the backstage area is full to the brim and I am enjoying an amusing time with some of the regulars sharing a warm stream of air shooting from a loose heating duct coming out of the floor. The drinks are past flowing and the night is transitioning to the wee hours of the morning. In a few minutes the sun will be poking through the mist and the party will be entering its most wild phase. We are being treated to a pulsing, pounding, creeping and mathematically rythmic set of techno from Freddy K who asked for his picture earlier in the night. Maybe it’s from another gin & tonic or the happiness I am feeling being surrounded by friends and nice people, but I haven’t taken a photo for over an hour. I flicked my shutters to the max during the ear assault and light extravaganza in the middle hour of CTRLS. I don’t want to let the legend leave without a proper image so I re-center myself, head to the corner of the stage, crouch down and focus on the music. Once my eye is situated in the view box I begin to closely observe the intensity coursing through the hands moving the controls. We are approaching the end of the evening and he is still treating it like the last set he will ever play. No trash-time desperation, he is completely focused on the sound and it manifests itself in the crowd. It is now 6 AM and still a large contingent of people are dancing with seemingly infinite energy. After a time spent being sure Mr. K got his due, I am starting to turn into a pumpkin and I feel my night coming to an end. I don’t think the train that takes me back to my home will be running properly from rail construction and I know I need at least a little energy left in my legs to cycle home. After my goodbyes and a brief gander at the hundreds of coats lining the check-in I forge my way into the crisp morning air and welcome the first rays at sunrise.
I’m about to mount my bike and cycle toward city center when I run into a member of the collective walking home. One of my favorites dj’s, we both agree that it was super fun and I tell him that the only problem was that I didn’t get to hear him play. “That’s ok!” he replied, ”It’s nice to have a night off, I’m happy to hear my friends play … next time.”
Friends … sitting across from the three, in the final minutes of our Fast Forward discussion I see the same intensity from earlier in the conversation move into Jakobsen’s eyes, “I’m talking about something really important” he proclaims, “All the artists that we started booking in the beginning who are now our roster. If we hadn’t made the agency and brought everyone together… When you look at a majority of other collectives they may have some residents and then book a little of this and that. I think when it got it’s sound, that was when we decided that the crews representing Copenhagen techno would be a part. If we hadn’t done that it wouldn’t be the same.” It took me a little while to absorb that statement, and I have come to feel since that night that I can’t help but continually notice the togetherness that Fast Forward represents within the Copenhagen DIY scene. The importance of the agency and artists working separately within a shared collective pulling for eachother translates directly into the Fast Forward Community.
As Højlund poignantly reflects; “It’s not like now that we have this label, then lets go find some dj’s and do this thing. All of them were playing already, doing their own stuff. We didn’t invent them.”
Weeks later while working on this story I text an artist in the Fast Forward agency to ask him what in his opinion makes Fast Forward special. Ever laconic, I am given a one word reply, “Us.” Us? This single word echoes deeply into the fabric of the collective which is more then just the sum of it’s founders. It is a collection of artists, activists, technicians and music enthusiasts who move in and out of the organism that has brought so much happiness since its first outing at Ungdomshuset in 2015. “The people that come to the parties have also been involved in creating the parties” says Anders, ”People feel like it’s also their party.” Going through the imagery from the night I can feel the essence of this thought. At no point did I feel as if any one group or person was the focal point of the show, but rather each person in some way was making the night more interesting. You don’t feel this type of sameness often in performance oriented events. It’s not only about who is building the raves, but the people and the artists contributing through numerous channels.
Now after two years of Fast Forward with cold ears and tired legs in the final blocks of a long ride home I’m still feeling the pounding rythymn of the bass from standing too close to the speakers all night. I take a detour to the harbor in front of my apartment and get a freshly baked Frøsnapper from an adjacent bakery that is just opening. I sit on concrete steps ascending into the ocean that kayakers and small craft use as a point of entry to the sea. Sleep creeps into my eyes as the kebab energy from earlier has long disappeared and I am feeling famished. I eat my pastry and pull out my camera to give myself a sneak peek at the imagery before I inevitably pass out till well past noon. The images are looking very nice and I know it will be a treat once I hit the editing room with them. About a third of the way through I notice a picture of a friend smiling and wearing a colorful hat shaped like a birthday cake. I realize then that after such a wonderful evening in which everyone as far as I could tell and myself had such an amazing time that nobody, even within the proximity of the microphones had given an audible happy birthday wish. Exhausted I trudged home and passed into a deep sleep. I had no idea then that I would write this, but since we are on the subject and even though time has passed I might as well.
Happy Birthday Fast Forward! thank you for the memories new and old, the parties and what you stand for. Or in the spirit of what a certain someone pointed out; “Tillykke from us and Tillykke to us!” See you all in late march for ‘spring break’. 👽
Info: Next Fast Forward event is Spring Break at KPH Volume on March 31 (RSVP).