Photo: Fredrik Altinell (Johanna Knutsson)
Other DJs have biographies, Johanna Knutsson has a confessional short story written by Kontra-Musik’s Björn Jumme who describes a near-epiphany at Berlin’s Panorama Bar in 2014. “And then it came”, he muses about a moment in which the producer and label owner of Zodiac 44 and UFO Station dropped the Monster Mix of Faithless’ “Insomnia”. “As the dancers started to recognize the classic beats, there was a surge of energy and anticipation: everyone waited for that archetypical Insomnia break, and when it dropped, Panorama Bar absolutely exploded.” That was only one year after Knutsson left behind her home country Sweden, where she had been a successful business owner and part-time DJ. Knutsson, who will play at Berlin’s Oscillate party this Saturday, recorded a mix for our Groove podcast that reflects her eclectic taste – Faithless not included, sadly. We guess you had to have been there.
For your first-ever mix tape, you bought two CDJs and a mixer, which also marked the beginning of your DJing career. What happened from there on and are there beginners’ mistakes that aspiring DJs should try to avoid making?
The first year after I bought the equipment I was playing music every evening after work by myself in my room, trying to figure out how the hell this was suppose to work out. You have to understand, I had absolutely NO experince behind the DJ both whatsoever before that. I eventually figured out how to record my bedroom sets and would send them to my friend Daniel for feedback, who was one of the few people I shared this interest with. All of a sudden I was asked every now and then to play the warm-up in the local clubs, so basically learning to mix while people where watching. My only regret (not really) is that I put a lot of these sets online for download, and I realize now that the mixing was somewhat… poor. (laughs) I was just so happy to be doing something new that it never even occurred to me that there was a chance I wasn’t good enough for some people. I was still under the impression that as long as the music was super cool and interesting that nothing else really mattered.
Shortly thereafter, you moved to Berlin from your native Sweden in 2008, yet you still regularly play there as well. Why did you go to Berlin and which impact did it have on your career?
I had spent 7 years on my hairdresser and makeup career in Sweden, had my own company and was super busy with work, so I figured if I’m ever gonna give this DJ career a real try I should do it now before I get too comfortable. One of the first people I met in Berlin was Jo, who is now my booking agent, and Lucas Hunter who runs Klasse Recordings. Without them I wouldn’t have been where I am now for sure. The impact the city had would be that I spent every weekend of 2008 on a dancefloor and every weekday in record stores, which wouldn’t have been possible in Sweden at that time. I was feeding my musical interest and that has made it possible to make a career out of it, I guess?
You have founded the vinyl-only label Zodiac 44 together with Luca Lozano. According to the label’s concept, you were set to release 12 records in total, each representing a different zodiac sign. What’s the current state of the label?
It’s alive and well! We are just waiting for the remix to be done and then you’ll find the new record in stores beginning of next year, I reckon.
Apart from being a DJ, you have also released several records both solo and, more frequently, together with Hans Berg. How would you characterise the working relationship with Hans?
Hans and I work closely together with both our label UFO Station and our productions, and he also does artwork for the releases. To work with Hans is very, very easy. We always have a lot of fun together and we can be completely honest with what we think about what we create. I only wish we could have MORE time together in the studio then what we have now. Goal 2017: more studio time!
Speaking as a notorious vinyl digger, what is it exactly that triggers your interest when you go through the crates?
My memory is out-of-this-world bad, so I go for the visual when I look for records. I mean, I remember my favorite labels and artists of course but for finding second-hand records I go for the looks. It has worked out well so far! I also find that if you don’t know so much about the artist or the label you have a more open mind when listening to the music.
Your mix for our Groove podcast is quite eclectic stylistically and you have mentioned that it represents. How did you select the tracks?
This mix is a special one. Usually, I never fit these many styles into only one hour, but it was time to try something new. It’s basically current personal favorites from friends and strangers blended into one messy hour! When I DJ, I prefer longer sets (4h or more), where maybe most of it is four–to-the-flour but I still have the possibility to mix in some breaks, Ambient sounds, Dub or Acid here and there to keep it interesting both for myself and the dancefloor.
Last but not least, where can we see you behind the decks in the forthcoming weeks?
I am playing next at the Oscillate party in ://about:blank on the 26th of November, which I’m really excited about since the line-up is great. I have been traveling a lot the past year, so I’m also very happy to spend a few weekends in Berlin now in the end of the year so I can go record-shopping, be in Hans’ studio and do the High Power/Low Power FM-shows with Kate Miller without stress. Oh, and also visit every single Christmas market in Berlin!
Stream: Johanna Knutsson – Groove Podcast 84
01. Graze – Shadow Play (Dekmantel UFO)
02. Ssiege – I Hate You (UN.T.O Records)
03. Daniel Araya – Ambient 3 (Kontra Musik)
04. Daniela La Luz – Never Forget the Pinch of Riot (Parallel Berlin)
05. Morah – You Say No (Berceuse Heroique)
06. Suspended In Gaffa – Two Four Two (Rivet Remix) (B-O-D-I-E-S)
07. Mr Ho & Florian Blauensteiner – Ammunition (Klasse Recordings)
08. Hans Berg – Pathfinder (UFO Station Recordings)
09. Mor Elian – Drum Vortex (Joey Anderson Remix) (Hypercolour)
10. Marco Zenker – Motion (Ilian Tape)
11. Luca Lozano – Blabba (Klasse Wrecks)
12. Rivet – Shards Will Shine (Midnight Shift)
13. BBE – Revision1 (Satellite)
14. Pulse One – All of Us (Natch)
15. Schacke – Nightclub Warrior (Ectotherm)
16. Johanna Knutsson / Hans Berg – Alien Power
17. Idealist – Indirection (Idealistmusic)
18. Far – Numbers (Electric Deluxe)