Angular beats from a breakthrough Danish DJ.
Najaaraq Vestbirk, the Copenhagen-based DJ known as Courtesy, has a style defined by dazzling contrasts. Linear beats collide with broken rhythms and ravey breaks. Sinister atmospheres are shot through with streaks of warmth. Scuzzy textures turn ultra-clean from one moment to the next. But connecting all her angular rhythms is a clear common thread, a starkness and sense of urgency that's rooted in the noise and industrial music that inspired her corner of Copenhagen's scene. This sensibility is reflected in the records on Ectotherm, the label Vestbirk founded last year with Mama Snake, a fellow Copenhagen DJ and a member of Apeiron Crew, and which has so far pushed uncompromising club music from new names like Schacke, Rune Bagge and Ibon.
Perhaps the most interesting tension in Vestbirk's sound is this: it's fiercely modern, even avant-garde at times, but always aimed at galvanising the club. She's said she owns few if any records she doesn't intend to play out, and is most drawn to music that possesses some "original way of directing energy on a dance floor." This approach gives her DJ sets a sense of dynamics that's put her among Europe's fastest-rising DJs, and that's on full display in RA 579.
What have you been up to recently?
Besides touring full time, I've been prepping the next release on Ectotherm with Mama Snake, the other Copenhagen DJ I run the label with. It's a speedy techno EP by Schacke coming out end of July. We also hold a monthly residency on NTS Radio with the label. On a personal level I'm unwinding after the high of playing the main stage at Sonar By Night with Avalon Emerson last week.
How and where was the mix recorded?
In my home, on an Allen & Heath XONE:92 mixer, a pair of XDJs and 1210s.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
In my current sets I'm leaping between two kinds of different musical directions. One side is more experimental with modern bass, UK tech house and contemporary electro, with breaks and challenging drum patters. On the other side it's '90s rave and super fast techno, most of which is produced by people from Copenhagen. With this mix I'm trying to make sense of it all.
As a techno DJ you've got quite a flexible style, weaving in electro, breaks, even jungle when you feel like it, but it seems like most things you play share a certain dark, metallic sound. Does that sound right? Why do you think that particular sound speaks to you so much?
Yeah sure, those are definitely features I recognise throughout my collection in some way or another, though it's not something I think about in the act of digging. My process of picking out music and hence my "sound" is pretty immediate and emotional. Half of the stuff I play is unreleased demos and promos, and the other half I buy in record stores. I spend a lot of time going through piles of new and used records within a wide variety of genre bins and honestly just end up taking home the records that give me goosebumps. That's either because they have a strong melodic hook, an unexpected but functional drum pattern, or potentially some other original way of directing energy on a dance floor.
So far Ectotherm has only released music by new and mostly unknown Danish artists. Is the label intended to be a vehicle for new artists from Copenhagen? And what's your connection to these artists?
Mama Snake and I didn't make Ectotherm intentionally to promote Copenhagen artists, I think a goal like that could obstruct a strong common thread in the actual sound of the label. At one point we just found ourselves with our hands full of demos from friends of ours, all within a realm of functional and experimental techno. Six months later our first release was in the stores.
In terms of connection to the artists, currently we only have three people signed to the main label of Ectotherm: IBON, Schacke and Rune Bagge. We have a close relationship to all of them, and want to continue working with them over several releases. We would actually never put out music from someone we hadn't met in real life. I have learned that you can't tell a person's character from online correspondence, though it might sometimes feel like that. Life is just too short to spend pushing people that you don't share values with.
What makes Copenhagen's scene special? How has it shaped you as a DJ?
In the second half of this mix I'm touching 134 BPM, and that is a particular approach to tempo that reminds me of my hometown, and most of the music I play here is produced by people from Copenhagen. I'm even playing these songs pitched down -6 or -8. If you go out to a warehouse party in CPH people will easily be playing over 140 BPM, like I'm seriously one of the slow ones. It's a thrilling approach to contemporary techno that I just don't hear that often elsewhere. In the centre of that scene is The BunkerBauer crew, Euromantic, Fast Forward Production, plus of course Mama Snake and the guys from our label.
Apeiron Crew is also a very special entity there, and even though I left the group a year ago, my eclecticism is something that I partly acquired from being in a group of four DJs with strong individual tastes, and that's definitely going to stick with me. They are still some of my favourite DJs and a source of inspiration when I get the chance to see them play individually or as a group.
What are you up to next?
This summer I'm doing a row of festival gigs, highlights probably being Melt! Festival and Neopop, lots of yet-to-be-announced gigs for August and then my first North American tour in the fall.