Solid Blake On The Danish Techno Scene, DJ Stingray And How To Dance To Electro
If you’ve been paying attention to Copenhagen’s thriving techno scene—as you should be—there’s a good chance Solid Blake has been banging out of your speakers lately. The 28-year-old Glasgow native is a co-founder of the now-defunct Apeiron Crew, a Danish DJ collective that consisted of Courtesy, Mama Snake (who we wrote about here) and Smokey. Before the group quietly disbanded at the end of last year to pursue their accelerating careers, they cut their teeth throwing parties all over Copenhagen; their disparate approaches to techno resulted in a fizzling chemistry that ignited their back-to-back sets as they weaved between each other in the DJ booth.
In 2017, Blake made her solo debut with Mario on Glasgow’s Outer Zone imprint, flexing her knack for eerie electro earworms with tracks like “Burns,” where the wails of a ghostly Minibrute float over metallic acid coils and jittery synth tones. This year, she’s also torn up clubs like Fabric and Berghain with Modeselektor after landing a track in Modeselektion Volume 4, and recently debuted a grime-techno project with CTRLS under the name Historical Repeater.
This weekend, Blake will perform alongside Mama Snake at our next Telekom Electronic Beats Clubnight at Gewölbe in Cologne on Friday, July 27. Before the party, we Skyped her in Copenhagen to talk about how she turned a chance encounter at an afterparty into a mentorship with DJ Stingray, and what her sets with Apeiron taught her about the art of back-to-back DJing.
What’s the most popping party in Copenhagen right now for you—a place where you and your friends could call your HQ?
It’s called Et Andet Sted, and it doesn’t have a venue currently. You only know about parties two weeks in advance, and no one knows where it’s going to be. It’s run by a group of guys I’ve known for a while in the scene. They found a space on the outskirts of the city in the fruit market area and put together this club. It was guestlist only, you had to sign up. Amazing bookings. A lot of work put into lights and sound—a bar of your friends. It’s really cool to play there. It reminded me of the Soundhouse in Glasgow with the electro room. They just had a great vibe and were doing it for all the right reasons.
But they knew it was coming to an end. It becomes very difficult to keep these things open and get the licenses and stuff. They’ve moved a couple times since, and I hear they’re in the process of finding another venue. My friend Gianpaolo Dieli, who runs Argot and is a Smartbar resident, started a residency at Et Andet Sted last month. He came and played last year once and fell in love with it. It’s that special. Once the new venue is set, you have to come!
Tell me about your debut release, The Mario EP.
The first hit of little ideas came from when I was asked to do a live set in Copenhagen. The metro runs in a straight line from one end of the city to the other. They have this festival called Trans Metro Express, where they ask four artists to write music specifically for that 25-minute journey, to be performed on the train.
I worked on it for a month, on the train taking down textures and everything, and made the live set. My friend who runs the label, Outer Zone, had seen a video of my set. From there, I put together the tracks that became Mario.
How did the EP evolve from your metro soundtrack?
It definitely changed a lot over time. When music is performed, it’s just these little stems of audio that you can play as you want. To arrange a track, I had to pick out little sections and try to make it into something. That happened over the course of a couple months, because I find it really difficult to have an idea of what to put together, and this was my first solo EP. So it was really scary. But now that it’s done, I just want to do more.
Have your DJ sets always skewed towards darker electro, or did that come out when you started producing?
Electro is something I’ve always been into. I remember I was like 15 years old in a club called Sound House in Glasgow. Glasgow has a 3 a.m. curfew, but it was a member’s club—you got a little laminated piece of cardboard with your membership—that could stay open till 5 a.m.
It was this night called Monox. Dan Lurinsky from Rubadub and Dixon Avenue Jams, these two labels from Glasgow, was doing industrial techno in one room. And Dixon Avenue Jams’ Kenny Grieve had this other room that could probably fit 50 people that they called the Smut Hut. And it was a lot of electro and ghettotech. There was a good scene for that in Glasgow; you used to hear that at Numbers parties too. I remember going to that room all night, like, “This is where I wanna be.”
What was it about electro that drew you in?
At electro nights, I feel like I can dance like a proper human—like someone who has a body and has control over it, which I don’t often feel like [laughs]. It makes sense. I know where my joints should be in association with the rest of the world. When I try to make straighter stuff, I find it more difficult to make it interesting.
What’s your electro dance like?
There’s a lot more sideways movement and shaping involved as opposed to the “18 hours in Berghain” movement…which I honestly enjoy a lot too. But I can enjoy myself dancing to electro more than straightforward, four-to-the-floor stuff.
And obviously, it’s so major that you got the electro god DJ Stingray on the remix! How did that come about?
We first met about six years ago. I was living in Copenhagen but I was back in Glasgow, and Stingray was playing in Edinburgh at a Rephlex Records night. I went on an hour-long bus, and there were no buses back until the morning. I would sometimes go to these nights with my friends and we’d have to find an after-party, because the club closes at 3 a.m., and we’d have nowhere to go. Sometimes we just sat outside and waited for the bus home. This night, we went back to my friend’s house. I met Stingray there, and we got to chatting a bit. I must have told him about my master’s program, because he’s interested in neuroscience. We stayed in touch and I sent him a few unfinished papers and tracks.
When the label was suggesting people to do the remix, Stingray was the top choice. And I was like, “Uh, yeah!”…until I realized he was going to have to hear the music. Then it was like, “Shit no, don’t send him it!” [laughs]. I spent a week on the edge of my seat until he came back saying he wanted to do it.
What’s Stingray like as a mentor?
I think he has the right attitude in the industry. He puts a lot of time and effort into supporting artists. When he did the couple of nights at Tresor, he booked acts that I haven’t heard of. He made this Facebook post about all the artists who had played and why they were amazing. And he’s the kind of person who will come with advice and ideas. It’s great to have a hero who is so accessible.
What did you think of his remix?
The remix is sick. It’s an improvement on the original. It just has the Stingray trademark—so over-the-top heavy, and you don’t know where the next sound is going to come from. I’ve got a bunch of his records, and it’s not that easy to play in the club because there’s so much going on. It’s a very involved lesson.
I think what I love about Stingray’s electro is that it’s not retro. Electro was great in the ‘80s and early ’90s, but it’s important to be driving that sound forward. You don’t want a genre to be stagnant for the sake of nostalgia. That’s something I’ve heard him say as well.
Speaking of support networks, why did you decide to start Apeiron with four other girls from Copenhagen? I’m really interested in the new wave of feminist and politically-motivated DJ crews.
We’re retiring the project this year because everyone’s so busy with what’s going on. In the beginning, we just wanted to put on parties together, really. Before our party happened, we were already booked to DJ together, so it was like, OK so that’s what we do now.
It was hard work, but it’s a lot of fun when you’ve got a crew. I once put on a party on my own, and I felt like a kid at a birthday party where you’re worried no one’s going to come. But if you’ve got a group of people, you split up the tasks.
It was a support network for sure. It’s a lot easier to first come out to a scene as a woman when there’s four of you, like, “Hey we’re going to put on this party, and it’s going to be sick.” I remember last year, when Optimo had their 20th anniversary in Glasgow, I was thinking, “There’s gonna be a few thousand people here, and I’m gonna know half of them.” There were just a lot of feelings. Going back to Glasgow can be tough—so many of my teenage years and early 20s are wrapped up in my head.
Then I arrived at the venue and realized I had these two amazing women by my side, and they had my back. Suddenly I felt comfortable and excited to introduce them. It also becomes much easier to go take a gig on your own when you’re associated with other stuff. It’s validating; people know you’re already working on these projects. It’s like Subcity Radio in Glasgow. It’s a sandbox where people can try out ideas for what they want to do, and the sole responsibility doesn’t fall on you.
It’s so crazy that the four of you would always play back-to-back!
We had points where playing back-to-back felt like the easiest thing in the world. You just knew what record you were going to play after. At Unsound festival in Poland, I remember looking at the others like, “Fuck, this is going really well, isn’t it?”
Other times, it was really hard. Especially when you’re playing with more than two people, it’s like the answer is coming from a Ouija board. Sometimes it gets out of your control and you’re just trying to catch up. Other times, you feel like you’re leading it in a direction that others don’t agree with.
What’s the key to making it work?
When you’re playing in a crew like that, you have to be spending a lot of time together so you’re aligned. You need to be working together behind the scenes a lot more. Not preparing sets, but hanging out, staying up late, snacking in hotel rooms, listening to music and seeing people’s reactions.
It’s also brought me to the stage where I feel comfortable doing things on my own. I had a show in Fabric in London last month, and Skee Mask from Ilian Tape showed up like, “Oh hey, do you want to just back-to-back for a while?” And I was like, “Fuck yes, I haven’t done that in a while.” I love being able to comfortably go into that, even with someone you haven’t played with before. Back-to-back doesn’t work as well for a warm-up set, for example. It’s easy to bang it and play party tunes. But if there are more nuanced decisions required, it can be tricky. So it’s a nice skill to learn.
Fuck, I learned so much during that time. I ended up with a completely different life because of it. Also the back-to-back thing makes it easier to go to the bathroom.
Check out more photos by Emil Jupin here.
Read more: The club music labels shaping the Denmark scene according to Courtesy
Published July 25, 2018.