04.06.2016 | Words by: Jo Kali.
For the past decade Najaaraq Vestbirk has been establishing herself as a promoter, journalist and DJ, in the heart of the Copenhagen club scene. Now, going by the name Courtesy, she’s been attracting attention for her part in the techno collective, Apeiron Crew, her ‘Spacecraft techno’, and the enthusiasm she’s rousing overseas for her Danish hometown. “I think it’s kind of been this misconception that, for these last few years, people have thought nothing has been happening in Copenhagen. We don’t have a lot of big clubs booking really big names so, internationally, people didn't really figure out what was happening and people thought it was a dead city and that’s just, really, not true.”
Of late, Najaaraq is doing everything she can to remedy our misjudgement. She delves into the sonic landscape she knows so well once a month for her RBMA radio show; Scenery: Copenhagen. Having a scene that’s naturally blossoming around you makes for something interesting to talk about, and that’s partly the reason for Ectotherm; the label she set up last year alongside fellow Apeiron member, Sara Svanholm (Mama Snake). The labels first release comes from Martin Schacke, someone she’s witnessed perform at neighbouring experimental, noise, techno, DIY venue, Mayhem “where a lot of our friends would play this amazing live, functional techno”. She seems proud of her hometown as much as she is glad to be able to open it up for us, but the aim of the label isn’t to solely release Danish productions, “but when you're surrounded by people that make very high quality music, and no one is releasing it…”
Focusing on her label and playing out most weekends means she’s had to loosen herself from Apeiron, but it doesn’t phase her. The group parody themselves to Wu-Tang in the way they can all zone in and out, do their own thing whilst still remain a vital support network to each other. She remembers when the group first gathered, a time when she’d felt disillusioned about what a life behind the decks might mean, and had taken a long break from it. “When we started practicing and doing parties together, that kind of made it fun to DJ again,” she admits. “I’m not even sure if I would have…” she pauses before deciding; “yeah. I’m not sure how much I would be DJing now if I hadn’t had that year finding the pleasure of it again”.
Since her teenage years, Najaaraq has been involved in promoting parties - from dropping flyers around town, to hosting - and that mindset of thinking about the whole event, the energy, and the audience, has clearly stuck with her. “I think DJs who have hosted parties have different sensibilities to how functional you need to be. Like I play super experimental music but I’m still hyper aware that I am there to make a party. That’s my goal, because I would never be at my own party and be like; I just have to play this music and I’m not going to care about whether it’s going to work in the room, or like, work with the people that showed up. I really feel like I have a function of making people dance, and that definitely comes from promoting parties and going to parties for sure.”
With her mixes, like her recent FACT one, she says she likes to use them as a way to show how she DJs; “I will always try to imagine how I would navigate the energy of a DJ set when I’m in a club because actually that’s normally what works best, in my opinion, for mixes.” Feeding off the crowd and the way they’re interacting with each other, and the music, is the way Najaaraq navigates her sets. “Its not about putting together these experimental tracks, but how can we keep an energy level, like it can totally swing but somehow be linear, and I think thats what you have to do when you’re DJing. Will the energy be appropriate after this song? Will I keep people on the floor?”
Outside of playing music, Najaaraq guest lectures at a row of art schools back in Denmark, teaching “how to enter the industry, like how to make a crew and how to promote parties, and you know, basically a lot of the stuff I would have liked to have known 10 years ago.” What she talks about develops as she develops herself but she admires the way in which her experience gets treated like a gift by the students, “it’s super giving because you’re having to articulate why the choices you’ve made are good or bad; and having to think about your work in that sense, and communicating it in that way, is a very healthy exercise.”
In school, she admits, achieving things was always a struggle, she dropped out of high school and found it difficult to write academically in her late teens, instead finding her way through sound and music. She was admitted into the prestigious Conservatory in Denmark to study music management and humbly relays how nervous she was the summer before - “they’re gonna find out I can’t write. I’m going to do poorly at this school” - but knowing how privileged she was to have gotten in, she asserts; “I learned how to just get it done.” Through her course and various internships she found her way into the industry and then stumbled into radio; “the kind of journalism you could do if you can’t write.” Working for Dunkel, a venue that’s sadly since closed, she started to record interviews with acts like Floating Points, Ben UFO and John Roberts. “It was amazing,” she beams, “It was years ago so they weren’t as massive as they are now but, yeah, that was how I got into it.” Eventually she grew confident enough to approach a music magazine, pitch them little Q&As, until eventually, with the help of a good editor, she felt able to write bigger pieces.
Teaching and writing are both open paths for her, and ones which she respects, but a full time job is something she can’t maintain alongside touring at the moment. For the past 3 months, Najaaraq has been based in Berlin on a journalism scholarship. As I speak with her she’s packing up her apartment before heading to Amsterdam to play alongside Avalon Emerson and Nic Tasker at De School. “We basically became internet friends,” she admits, when I ask how her and Avalon got acquainted. “So, we look quite similar,” she begins to explain, “we basically have similar aesthetics, play similar music, although, she can definitely handle house stuff more than I can.” Despite their friendship and similar eclectic taste, De School will be the first place the two play together on a line up and I think we both agree it’s something to look forward to.