Pernille Mogensen gives us the lowdown on what it’s like to help create a festival like Strøm, nurture it for so many years, and then finally let it go.
Since its inception in 2007, Copenhagen’s Strøm Festival has grown into what is now considered Scandinavia’s primary electronic music event—and Pernille Mogensen has been one of the key forces behind the festival’s success from the very beginning. As the head of music, she’s been drawing a vast and brilliant collection of artists and performers to Copenhagen, overall helping create a vibrant, open and supportive community for anyone interested in the electronic music scene. From uber-accessible open-air events to live concerts at various venues throughout Copenhagen, Strøm takes advantage of the looseness of the term “electronic” and creates events that span many days as well as many vibes, genres and locations. Pernille’s advice for making it all work? “Just take a program and go for it.”
Unfortunately, this year will be Pernille’s last with Strøm—at least in an official capacity. However, she’s going out with a bang: Strøm events and activities are running all week, and on Thursday Pernille will even step behind the booth to DJ at our Girls Are Awesome x Strøm event. “Of course we have the Girls Are Awesome event on Thursday with some really cool chicks,” noted Pernille when she kindly took time out of the her jam-packed schedule to chat with us during the thick of this festival week. “When I was a bit younger I was like, ‘naw, fuck that, I’m never gonna book a girl just because she’s a girl’, but it has changed in time. I think it’s depressing when I look at a festival lineup and it’s like 98% male performers. There’s so many cool girls out there who could totally take them out, you know?”
To still be stoked after nearly a decade is demonstration of how close Strøm is to Pernille’s heart. Though organizing and coordinating a festival like Strøm is a dream job for many and can be hugely rewarding in a multitude of ways, these behind-the-scenes roles rarely receive recognition despite how highly demanding they can be. Strøm itself is run by a surprisingly small-but-passionate group of people notwithstanding how recognizable and impactful the festival has become. We decided to sneak a little peek into who and what goes into making it all possible by sitting down with Strøm OG Pernille for a chat.
Footage of last year’s Strøm: Metro Express
GIRLS ARE AWESOME: So, Pernille! Can you tell us a bit about your history with Strøm?
PERNILLE MOGENSEN: I started in 2007. I was co-organizing the opening event of what turned out to be the very first Strøm festival. It was an event at Lab at Vesterbrogade—it’s not there anymore, but it was a nice little hub for really nerdy electronic music. We had Else Marie Pade and Bjørn Svin in conversation, and he had interpreted some of her old work. We had Thomas Knak DJing and I was like, totally starstruck. I did it with a friend of mine, and then I just started hanging around the Strøm office and was updating Myspace and stuff like that. After a couple of years they asked me if I wanted to join the booking group and I agreed, and after another couple of years I became head of the booking group, and then for the past three or four years I’ve had an official title of “head of music”. So in collaboration with my boss, a little curating group and basically the entire office actually, I develop the concepts and book all the content for the festival. All of a sudden it’s been 10 years! It’s crazy.
Do you do Strøm all the time or do you use your time on other things as well?
I work as a freelancer. Besides Strøm, I also work as a booking agent for a Berlin agency where I represent DJs, and I also work for some other festivals and do some tour management and stuff, because it’s like…we don’t have any money, so it’s all passion projects. And Strøm is totally my little baby, it’s so fantastic to see how much it’s growing.
And this is your last year? Is it sort of like seeing your baby grow up and go off to college or leave the nest?
Kind of. We’re struggling because the whole format of the festival has totally changed so much since we started, and it’s still changing every year. We produce so many of the events ourselves now, whereas back in the day Strøm itself was focused mainly around Enghaveparken where we had two days of live concerts, and then all the other events during the week were organized by what we call external promoters—the venues, like Culture Box, Vega, etc. It’s a lot more work now, but I really feel that now our soul and our passion really gets to shine through in the events we do.
You must have an interesting perspective on how things have changed and evolved over time. If you’ve been doing this for a decade the scene must be pretty different now compared to when you first started.
The number of promoters has definitely exploded. Anybody can throw a party, a concert or even a festival for that matter—as soon as you have more than three acts playing it’s a festival. In Copenhagen it’s insane, I don’t know how many festivals we have, but it must be like hundreds. It’s interesting, though, because in electronic music there is still the DIY culture. You have no idea how much time we spend on paperwork and getting permissions by the city, by the state, by the guys who own the land, by the police, by the firemen, by the shop owners… it’s insane how much paperwork there is. It can still be really difficult to make the events, so you really have to want it. Otherwise you just do it illegally; and it’s Denmark y’know, so it’s just a bad idea.
So the DIY spirit is still really strong, and people really want to create some sort of platform for electronic music. We have ROSA for rock music, we have a lot of collectives for classical music, stuff like that, but there’s no place for DJs or electronic music producers where they can go and be like, “Yo, I got this contract offer, can you help me take a look at it”, or “How do I get my music out there; I really want to play abroad, how do I do that”, or “How do I do an event”, stuff like that. That’s also something that we would like to be able to accommodate at Strøm: to be the kind of place where people can go to ask these questions, because we have so much experience and want to help the whole scene improve and to grow.
Is the bureaucracy or finances the biggest problem, or what would you say is usually the biggest challenge?
I wouldn’t call it a “problem” but it’s a challenge definitely: we spend so much time on it every year. Applying for funding is part of it, because of course it would be easier if we just got a big bag of money, but it’s doesn’t work that way–and that’s totally fine. It’s partly become easier over time because people know us by now, since we’ve been doing this for so many years. Also politically….it’s a lot of networking and so on. So in that sense it’s easier, but at the same time it has also become more difficult because now so many more people are applying for the same amount of money, which has not exactly grown. Our main sponsor is the city of Copenhagen—originally Strøm was actually an initiative by the city—but the amount that we get from the city hasn’t increased significantly.
It seems like everything else would increase in price, though…
Exactly, it doesn’t really make sense. Also, when you receive funding, it’s like, “Sure, you can have our money, but you need to make sure you do this many events and this number of people attend, this amount of Danish and international artists…” So yes, it’s a creative job that I have, I get to listen to music and book some cool artists, but I also need to keep in mind that we need 1,500 people for a certain event, we need x number of performing artists at the festival, etc. So it can be like a big puzzle. It’s not just all fun, so to speak.
How do you think things will be in the future? Another 10 years from now, what does future Strøm look like?
Oooh, good question. I hope it’ll be like a top-of-mind place to go, for the Danish scene at least. We really want to be a place where people can go if they want to do something, or if they have doubts or questions… Basically we have so many skills and such a big network now, I hope we’ll be at the forefront of people’s minds as somewhere to look for that. But festival-wise I have no idea, anything can happen. Also, thinking about the format of festivals in general—especially because there’s so many—I don’t know if it’s the right format to stick to; that we have this week for events, or if we should spread it out over the whole year… I don’t know. Anything can happen, really.
I feel like there’s sort of a bubble with festivals right now and that the bubble must have to burst at some point, or that maybe the concept generally for what a “festival” is will have to change… just in the past few years there’s become so many it seems like they can’t keep multiplying like they are.
I totally agree, but there’s apparently also an audience for it. But it’s also—no names mentioned—so much quantity over quality, both in terms of the music but also the general quality of the event. In some cases it’s just about putting up a big stage, making sure people get fucked out of their minds and just playing some unintelligent trap music—no offense. I really hope that the focus shifts more towards quality and creating unique events, rather than just bigger, faster, crazier. That’s what we try to aim for at Strøm, at least. What we do might be a bit nerdy and a bit weird, but it’s fucking awesome. We’ve had some beautiful events: we had three sold-out shows last night, two of them in Cisternerne—one with a shoegaze guy from a band that some people might have heard of, the other one with SØS Gunver Ryberg who is just the most awesome chick in the whole world—and it’s weird, I mean it’s like an underground dungeon, and we fit like 160 people. And it’s amazing: when people were walking up the stairs their eyes were popping out of their heads. That’s what I think makes a difference to people.
Maybe there’s too much to choose from, but do you have experiences from over the years that really stand out particularly?
Yeah, there’s a couple… We had Mount Kimbie playing in Enghaveparken, they played the little stage and it was totally crammed, it was such a great concert. They had just released their debut album and it was perfect timing, for once the weather was really nice… it was just a really nice experience. And we had Demdike Stare in Cisternerne a few years ago and that just blew my mind completely. SØS yesterday was also fantastic. But also just being able to book acts like Aphex Twin, Octave One, other names that have influenced me personally, it’s fantastic. It’s a very privileged job, definitely.
So what’s next for you?
I’ve been hired as head of music at Frost Festival, actually. When Strøm is over I’m going to start focusing on that, but I’m also going to still do projects here and there if I can. I’m going to miss the electronic music scene and all of the DIY spirit and culture that is so distinct in the scene and not really in any other. It’s in my blood, you know, it’s what I’ve been doing always.
You can check out the plethora of this year’s Strøm events here. You can also catch Pernille herself DJing as part of our Girls Are Awesome x Strøm event on Thursday at Folkets Park in Copenhagen (for free!) so don’t miss out; we’ll see you there!