Name: Johanna Knutsson
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: Tollarp Transmissions on Kontra-Musik
Recommendations: Any book written by Swedish author Birgitta Stenberg
Any music made by Swedish artist 1900
If you enjoyed this interview with Johanna Knutsson, her facebook page and soundcloud account are the best places to discover more about her and her music.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started to collect electronic music records in 2006/2007, after having some truly amazing club experiences throughout those years. I basically started DJing at home as soon as I discovered electronic music. It felt like I had found pandoras box, and it was filled with years and years of electronic music that had completely passed me by. At the time it was extremely stressful to have a normal job and trying to go through every techno/house track ever made up to that point..
I have always been very deep into listening to all kinds of music and reading books (who isn’t?) and as a child I was quite the loner . After leaving my parents at 16 to go find myself, I got so overwhelmed by all the different genres out there, that it took me another 10 years to find ”my” music that then turned out to be this one. In this small village in the south of Sweden where I grew up, my only way to express myself through music was singing in the church choir and learning to play piano with my cantor, so quite limited. We did however have an electric organ at home that I LOVED.
As soon as I’m getting a big house I plan to get the exact same one again for myself.
I still really appreciate all types of music, it inspires me a completely different way then a club set. I rarely play techno when I’m making dinner, it’s more old Tom Waits, Tangerine Dream, Kate Bush or stoner rock (Hällas is highly recommended)
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
It’s been so many years ago now so I can laugh about it I guess,but in the first year of living in Berlin and going clubbing every weekend I was out more to see what the DJs were doing behind the decks more then dancing. I was one of those annoying ones always dancing just in front of the DJ-booth and staring at their hands and the mixer for about 10 hours straight at Panorama Bar.
I didn’t have a fancy mixer at home, I had the cheapest 2 channel pioneer mixer and two Technics. I was very inspired by Tama Sumo,Virginia ,Cassy and Dinky there 2007-2008, I never missed any sets or mixtapes from them. I think that’s why I played more house in the beginning than I do now, because that was what they were playing. Eventually I found my own sound, the last 6-7 years I’d say. I’m not concerned about just playing ”one” sound anymore, now I’m more interested in finding fun rhythms, weird sounds and trying to weave it all together. I’m trusting my gut feeling more, and not desperately trying to read every single individual person on the dancefloor. I used to get heartbroken if I saw someone leave the dance floor when I was playing! Now I focus more on the ones I have with me throughout the set.
The same goes in producing, I had the advantage of working together with Hans Berg for many years and it’s taught me so much. When I finally got my own studio 1.5 years ago, he was always there for me if something wasn’t working, I could always ask him instead of having to watch the mind numbing youtube videos of problem solving. I didn’t have any clue about what I was doing in the beginning, but I’ve learnt so much by just going in to the studio every day and trying things out.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
It’s always been my poor self esteem that’s been in the way, I don’t really put on a performance/extravagant show when I DJ but it was way worse in the beginning. I would get so stressed if I didn’t get the mixing perfect between every track, and it would ruin the rest of the set for me. But the more I’ve played the easier it gets, and it’s so important to do it because you enjoy it, not because of money or trying to get famous. I’ve never had a final goal with DJing, I just love doing it and always want to be better at it. Find all the interesting records out there, both old and new!
I would never stop DJing just at home if I stopped getting bookings all of a sudden haha.
I LOVE listening to other peoples music! When I was just DJing I was listening to music differently then I do now, since I started producing I’m fantasising about how producers made the track; were they alone in the studio when, what machines were they using, were they happy or sad when making this etc etc. It’s like getting to know the artist through the music and getting an insight into who they are somehow. Does that make any sense? I can get really emotional by a super dark techno track, or a cheesy vocal house track. It’s all about the feelings that they can communicate.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
I've had this experience myself on the dancefloor a few times, where I've heard a track that I really liked and then realised I've had it in my collection for years without ever paying too much attention to it. It's magical! It has to do with what the DJ played before for sure and the original track, but it's also the way it's been building up or down to this perfect moment when this particular sound was exactly what was needed in the room. Definitely doesn't work like this every single track or night but sometimes it just clicks and everyone is gathered in this moment together in the music. It's pretty hard to describe. The best DJ's I've seen and heard haven't made it about them so much, but more been focusing on their work, music and the dancefloor, and then things like these happen. Some say it's boring to watch, I say it's more boring to watch someone having a fake great time for Instagram moments.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I bought two Technics 6 months after I bought my first CDJs 200, because I had such a hard time finding good music online compared to looking through record stores back then. As soon as I could afford it I bought myself a Allen&Heath mixer too, since I always hated the way the pioneer 800 DJM sounded. I’m a big fan of layering records and using external effects, and for that the Allen&Heath one was better for me personally. My RE-20 space echo came with me to a few DJ-shows but I use it more at home for when I record mixes. Recently I watched a feature about Avalon Emerson's way of DJing and it reminded me about how much fun it is to bring your own gear to the booth so I’m gonna start doing that again.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I’ve never been a fan of any white noise or aggressively playing around with the filters/eq’s whilst DJing, if the track isn’t enough on it’s own then why bother playing it. Different music has different functions, just because a track is straight and loopy doesn’t mean it’s boring, but it could work like a bridge between more textured tracks . So as a DJ I’ve always kept I simple in that sense, letting the music do the job instead of trying to make it sound like something else. I appreciate rekordbox for organizing my radioshows pre-show and for podcasts, and keeping track of my digital files. I just got myself rekordbox like 6 months ago, so keeping it very simple.
In the studio it’s different. Working together with Hans Berg really opened my eyes about machines, he has a certain way of understanding all the machines immediately, and he always finds the best sounding ones I think. My first synth that I bought was one that he had in his studio, and seeing him work with it was so inspiring.
I love technology of software that makes it possible for me to make music without having the money to build a huge modular system or purchasing several synths and machines. In that sense technology has given me the possibility to be creative and try things out differently then I could have done otherwise, even if I don’t have all the hardware I want right now.