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Inside Copenhagen’s Sex Positive Rave Scene

Get intimate with Bedside Productions, the company slash sex-positive party series infusing a sense of erotic curiosity in local techno circles.

About five years ago, when the new wave of Copenhagen techno was still in its infancy, an unfamiliar face at a party would quite literally turn heads. Arriving at an event meant a ceremonial series of greetings: hugs, kisses, and sincere exchanges of the charming “tak for sidst!”—“thanks for last time!” Everybody knew everybody. There were raves in bunkers and on boats—invitation-only affairs that never made it onto Resident Advisor. The scene has since exploded, earning an international reputation for its own unique hard-and-fast underground identity. But even as crowds gather in their hundreds (and sometimes thousands), that sense of intimacy is hard to refute.

One of the most significant shifts in Copenhagen’s rapidly growing techno scene is the sex-positive approach to partying that has begun to take hold in the last couple of years. It’s part of a gradual progression that’s been bubbling under the surface since the party Fast Forward laid out its explicit code of conduct back in 2015, inspired by the philosophy of the beacon of Copenhagen counterculture, Ungdomshuset (‘The Youth House’). The anarchist squat and safe-haven was torn down in 2007, resulting in some of the biggest riots the city has ever seen. “No racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia allowed” set the precedent for every party that’s come since and in the last five years, the commitment to cultivating safer spaces has been non-negotiable. But sex-positivity is more of a recent development, and there’s one name in particular that’s responsible for its emergence. Bedside is the production company-meets-party series creating transparent porn “without the bitter aftertaste” and revolutionizing the way Copenhageners rave. Its latest film, All Work No Play (Ei Blot Til Lyst) premiered last weekend at Berlin Pornfilmfestival, Copenhagen’s MIX Festival, and debuts online next week.

First conceived in 2017, Bedside Productions is spearheading a new kind of sex-positivity in Copenhagen’s club culture. It’s undoubtedly a byproduct of the city’s thriving techno scene (the place where its founders Anne Sofie Steen Sverdrup and Caroline Due met) but its parties are also influenced by the sex clubs that preceded this new Copenhagen underground. “I was going to sex parties before I was going to techno parties,” explains Steen Sverdrup, who started exploring the sex-positive scene when she moved to Denmark from her native Norway at the age of 20.

At that time, and up until today, three main sex parties dominated the scene: old school kink fetish party, Manifest, the more cozy, queer California concept Kinky Salon, and the hedonistic Hellfire. With the average attendee about 10 years her senior, Steen Sverdrup was one of the youngest, but her curiosity kept her there, and she quickly got to know the organizers behind several of the parties. Her entry into the techno scene came a few years later, back when community-driven party Et Andet Sted was still at its old location in the industrial area of Grønttorvet in Valby. The atmosphere was very different. “Back then, although there was this vibe where people would be hooking up on the sofas, there weren’t really dedicated spaces for sex or outspoken policies about sex in the clubs.”

Back then, although there was this vibe where people would be hooking up on the sofas, there weren’t really dedicated spaces for sex or outspoken policies about sex in the clubs.

Dark rooms had first started cropping up in Copenhagen’s techno scene around 2016 with parties like Et Andet Sted, which ironically added its sex-friendly space when it moved to Monastic—a former monastery in the city center—and its sister venue Ved Siden Af, conceived by the same founder,  and heavily influenced by Berghain. “Berlin has been a precursor and inspiration for most of the ravers of Copenhagen to some extent,” explains Marco Stoltze, part of Morph Collective, director of All Work No Play and an active member of Copenhagen’s techno scene. Benjamin Muasya, one-third of Endurance, an underground party set in an ex-hangar on the industrial island of Refshaleøen (and very exposed to the elements) says, “we try to prioritize having a darkroom whenever logistics allow, but it’s not like we have to have it. Bedside really made a quantum leap in terms of sex-positivity. It’s a different league in that sense—it’s completely its own thing.”
Bedside’s debut party came in February 2018 to celebrate the release of its first two films, Boy Oh Boy, an homage to early ‘80s gay leather porn, and Yoni Love, a woman’s quest for ultimate pleasure. “The party side of it happened quite organically,” Steen Sverdrup explains. With the introduction of dark rooms and the burgeoning Berlin connection (Fast Forward had already established an ongoing relationship with Herrensauna by that point), a taste for a more ‘experimental’ and expressive kind of partying had already begun to develop. “There was this curiosity brewing in the techno scene,” says Steen Sverdrup. “People had started to dress sexier, wearing BDSM outfits and harnesses—the kind of stuff you see in Berlin all the time, but that hadn’t been a huge part of club culture here to start off with. A lot of queer people from the techno scene had also been contacting us because they wanted to know more about sex parties, but worried that it wasn’t the right space for them.” That, combined with the fact that Bedside’s two founders were starring in one of the pornos themselves, made that first party a no brainer. “We thought if our friends are gonna see us fucking, we’re gonna make a sex party out of it.”
With homegrown techno royalty Schacke heading the lineup (now the party’s resident, along with Vixen), Bedside first opened its doors at Ved Siden Af, and welcomed in anyone who showed up dressed in their own version of sexy. It’s a very different door policy to somewhere like Endurance, which aims to prioritize otherwise marginalized groups and often ends up rejecting larger groups of [heterosexual] men. “I think we’re the only one of the larger techno parties [where the staff at the door] are told to let everyone in, as long as they come prepared,” says Steen Sverdrup. “That’s also part of how we create the vibe. We get a lot of people who don’t normally come to the techno scene—a lot of people from the gay scene, from the BDSM, kink, and sex-positive scene, and a lot of queer people, who don’t normally come to the techno parties. It’s more of a mixed crowd.”

We get a lot of people from the gay scene, from the BDSM, kink, and sex-positive scene, and a lot of queer people who don’t normally come to the techno parties. It’s more of a mixed crowd.

The ‘sexy’ dress code is also one of the most integral aspects of Bedside’s safer space practices. It levels the playing field by ensuring that everyone feels sexy, and it safeguards against staring—if everyone is exposed, then no one is. Like many of the guidelines that paved the way for Bedside’s code of conduct, it’s something Steen Sverdrup adopted from Kinky Salon’s sex parties. “That party really set the parameters for how we wanted to do things,” she explains. “They do a really good job of creating a safe and inclusive space where there’s a lot of room for exploration.” Another key consideration is transparency. Bedside clearly communicates what it’s about—beforehand, online, and at the door. “Information is important,” Steen Sverdrup affirms, “especially for people who are new to this and might be feeling insecure.” It allows prospective partygoers to fully prepare for the kind of experience they’re going to be confronted with at a Bedside party—which is not, as Steen Sverdrup is quick to point out—hardcore BDSM or ‘predatory’ behavior (nor is there any pressure to engage in sexual activity). “It’s your responsibility to know if this party is for you. You don’t have to know how you’re going to react in every situation, but you need to know that you genuinely want to be there. It’s your responsibility to know that you will not be awkward about seeing other people doing things that you might be awkward doing yourself.”

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The first Bedside party marked a kind of merging of worlds, with the more experienced sex club community—and their lack of hesitance—acting as a good introduction for those less familiar with sex-positive spaces. “That party was such an experience,” Muasya reflects. Not only was it there that Marco first approached him to produce All Work No Play but it gave him the confidence to experiment with his sexuality in a way he’d never had the confidence to before. “I wasn’t even supposed to go!” he laughs. “I just came to check it out.”
That such anecdotes are not uncommon is a testament to the kind of environment Bedside manages to create at its parties, with assistance from Club Mafia. The femme-led collective aim to help implement and uphold safer spaces by clearly communicating club policies and behavioral standards at the door, and acting as a go-to ‘friends on the dancefloor’ should anyone feel uncomfortable. “I really think the combination of Bedside and Club Mafia catalyzed this shift in the scene,” says Stoltze. “We were starting to get that vibe that I would usually go to Berlin to get, where it felt like no matter how freaky I act it’s still totally within the reasonable boundary of this space.”

We were starting to get that vibe that I would usually go to Berlin to get, where it felt like no matter how freaky I act it’s still totally within the reasonable boundary of this space.

“And it was really clear there was a huge appetite for this in Copenhagen. Once it started happening, people kept popping up out of nowhere. There were these huge lines at their parties, and it was like ‘OK, how are you all in this city and I didn’t know about you before?’ Bedside really managed to open the space for sex-positivity, and Club Mafia forced us to have a discussion about it.”
It was a conversation that spread quickly—as word tends to in Copenhagen—and roused even more intrigue after Bedside began ‘advertising’ at Endurance, putting up casting calls for All Work No Play. The gay porn film, directed by Stoltze, explores male intimacy and tenderness as a kind of antidote to toxic masculine behavior, and the team interviewed about 25 people in response to those posters. The first on board was Marc Helt, one-half of DJ duo veterans Marc & Mikkel, known in the scene for their longevity, and “10-hour-no-shower” sets. “Marc is one of the more old school ravers in Copenhagen,” Stoltze explains. “Everyone knows him. He always had this desire to be an actor, but when this came around, it resonated—everything clicked.”
All Work No Play is undoubtedly the most ambitious project Bedside has embarked on so far, but it’s one that encapsulates its ethos entirely. It features a group of five men from the techno scene (Helt included) three of whom were experimenting with same-sex intimacy for the first time while on camera. It attests to the safe and comfortable environment Bedside creates—particularly Steen Sverdrup, who assumes the role of ‘Emotional Fluffer’ on set, making sure performers are in good mental and physical health, and that their boundaries are respected. “Typically, the emotional fluffer will give the performers opportunities to reflect on how they are doing along the way, asking questions, ordering breaks, giving out hugs, food, drinks—giving them undivided attention.” Such practices underpin Bedside’s genuine interest in sexuality and gender, both from a personal and political point of view.
The Bedside team worked on the film for just over two and a half years, completing shooting back in February this year, and continuing to host parties at Ved Siden Af and more recently Basement. As it’s grown, so has sex-positivity, as Bedside slowly, but surely bridges the gap between heretofore fairly disparate scenes. “It’s been very liberating to see the rave community’s ‘normal crowd’ slowly becoming adjusted to it, and to see how people are starting to interact with each other,” says Muasya. “We’re seeing all these subcultures coming together and creating a whole new expression that wasn’t really part of the scene a few years ago.”
Because of Bedside, the conversation around sex, sexuality, and porn is gradually infiltrating the domain of Copenhagen club culture. Its unique, emotionally in-touch approach to eroticism is advocating for more openness around sexual expression. “I feel like there is a kind of tenderness and intimacy here that’s harder to find in Berlin,” says Stoltze, and it’s exactly the kind of energy he emulates in All Work No Play.
And while it seems Bedside can safely give up hope of another sex-positive party in 2020, as long as conversations like this persist, and its porn reaches a wider audience, its work is being done. “By challenging the format of pornography and creating these spaces together, we’re showing people sex doesn’t have to be awkward. We’re empowering people to experiment with their expression and sexuality.” In the meantime, sexually curious Copenhageners will have to make do with sex on screen but come 2021, ses på floor.

Harriet Shepherd is a freelance writer and editor based in Berlin. Her work has appeared in Resident Advisor, Dazed and Highsnobiety.  Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Photographs courtesy of Bedside Productions and Birk Thomassen.

Published October 27, 2020. Words by Harriet Shepherd.