Label boss, selector, musician, performer – the list of talents continues to grow with Johanna Knutsson. A DJ’s DJ that lets her record collection speak for itself: even starting a vinyl only imprint Zodiac 44 to share the taste she’s refined by years spent planted near a Berlin booth since 2008. Whether it’s her picks on a given night or her and Hans Berg’s releases on their own UFO Recordings, she never ceases to bring wonder and excitement to every moment of her creations.
This year MUTEK has invited her to Montreal bring everything to a live set for Circle Of Live and show us why she’s one of the most talked artists in our world today. No stopping Ms. Johanna Knutsson.
You’ve spoken a lot about your experimental/brave move to Berlin about a decade ago. How you became a fixture at Panorama Bar and started building your collection. Very metaphysically. Did you have a vision or see a version of yourself deep into the future that you wanted to realize? Did that experience reinvigorate your imagination?
I mean, I never imagined to tour around the world doing this for a living, of course. Reality has surpassed imagination several times around to be honest. I get more and more excited for every year that goes by and I also think that I become better every year. I’m still learning and developing because it’s my biggest interest in life. Since last year I’ve started to play live too, which is what I’m doing at this years Mutek
Do you see DJs as rebels of sorts? If you were to only DJ do you think someone may wake up to a mix of yours in three decades and be like “WTF IS THIS?!”
Haha, yes i’d hope so. Something that keeps me doing this is that I don’t want it to feel generic or bland, I’d rather people reacting with wtf then meh.
Yor craft is definitely reminiscent of great DJS like Tama Sumo, .capture the moment..keep it moving, keep it live.. That makes me so happy to hear.. Tama was one of my first influences moving to Berlin and I think that stays with me, all of those incredible nights i’ve had to amazing musicians. So much dancing, which is great for ones mind. Best way to meditate and get out of your head.
Are you ever having more fun than when you’re in the midst of a set?
Not really! Everything can be terrible up to stepping in to the DJbooth but if the equipment works and the sound is good, there’s nothing that can bring my mood down. The first five tracks are the most important, can I get them right then I can play for hours and hours without even thinking about it.
I saw you were commenting on stale mixing or DJs that stay in one wavelength for entire. Can you pin point anything that separates a “vibe person” or a “Dj’s Dj” in experience or expertise?
Uhm,well it depends, I can also play straight but I’d bore myself to death if I wouldn’t have any little excursions to keep it interesting. I believe you can DJ because you fucking love music or you can DJ because you love the attention and dancing on stage and get all of that attention. The two doesn’t necessary go hand in hand. I can vibe if I am really vibing with the crowd and the music but I won’t be so busy that I forgot what I came here to do: make other people have an interesting musical experience.
You’ve also said (with misplaced shame) that you pull based on labels aesthetics while records shopping and love finding that one track with three obscurities you’d never play.
Yes, those are my favorite records haha. I don’t know why but I’ve always been very careful to not play hits, I want to find old stuff that haven’t been heard in ages, or brand new undiscovered artists/underrated labels.. I don’t want to take the easy way out, I’d rather build a journey with highs and lows where we almost do a workout together the audience and me. Having said that, I’m sure I’ve played famous hits without realizing it…
How vital is surprise to a performance and do you think imperfect mixing can contribute to the energy?
Very vital for me! Imperfect mixing can do both, it can piss people and myself off or if it’s just a little and because a perfect mix can’t be made between certain tracks, I think it’s still worth to play it if the track is amazing but breaky 170 bpm.It also has to do so much with the crowd and what kind of night it is
You seem to have devoted equal time to each end of being a DJ..dance, produce, collect, start an imprint.
Everything to keep it interesting. It’s become like this very organically,not because I’ve had to do anything but always wanted to try different things out. Benn like this with everything in my life but these things are the interests I hold on to.
What activity outside the booth keeps you motivated or inspired to continue on in such a steadfast manner?
The every day life from day to day, the .Nowadays there are no free time, being a freelancer and doing all of these things means that you either have to love it because it eats up every waking hour (it still don’t make me rich but i am superhappy), or you burn out. I’ve now warped into being what I do and I love it.
Have you ever thought the path you chose way back then was, in fact, the most difficult one?
Yes for sure. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’m not questioning it anymore because I know now that even if i’d get out of the game I’d still keep on doing it for my own sake. I don’t care about the do’s and dont’s anymore, and that has made a huge difference. The only thing one can keep on doing is to continue exploring and practising and everything else will work out eventually.
Interview by Michael Neumann