Swedish-born, Berlin-based SPFDJ has come storming into the scene, all guns blazing, with her ferociously energetic sets. Bringing the chaos of club culture to the internet with mixes in collaboration with Discwoman, Hessle Audio and Herrensauna’s Boiler Room session, it’s easy to see why SPFDJ is quickly becoming an in-demand artist and deservedly so. Cutting her teeth with the trippy London collective Universe Of Tang, she has gone on to be supported by SIREN and Red Bull Music Academy, toured across the States and is now being booked to play at renowned institutions such as Dekmantel, Killekill, The Hydra and Room 4 Resistance. Fully immersing herself in all pockets of the industry, SPFDJ runs the community project System.out Soundsystem, Chashmere Radio’s Cranial Handles show and more recently launched her label Intrepid Skin, with the first release from VTSS.
Returning to London this Friday for the mighty collaboration between Unbound Events and Loose Lips, we catch up with the fast emerging artist to discuss her new residency with Herrensauna, the persona of SPFDJ and launching Intrepid Skin.
Starting from the beginning, what are some of your earlier experiences with music and when did you decide to pursue it as a career? Were there any other plans before DJing?
I got into electronic music at University in Leeds, thanks to my best friend Hurfyd there who fed me all the new stuff and introduced me to basically everything, starting with what was termed post-dubstep and future-garage, like tracks on Hessle Audio, Swamp81, Nightslugs, that kind of thing. I bought my first pair of turntables while on a year abroad in Sydney late 2011 and started getting into techno properly during my time in London after University.
My move to Berlin in 2016 actually didn’t have anything to do with DJing. I accepted an offer to start a PhD in extragalactic astrophysics and was doing that for a bit, as my plan then was to pursue a career in academic research. The decision to focus on music instead wasn’t even fully my own. I struggled heavily with my mental health and was written off sick for months until my supervisor got whiff of some gigs I had played during that time and assumed I was faking my illness. He didn’t have any grasp of how someone with mental illness can uphold some aspects of their life while others not. DJing was what kept me afloat, it was the only time I was ever fully “in the moment” and not lost in a bad mental state.
I was never able to return to my research group, there was too much distrust and negative vibes for my anxiety to handle, so I quit and spent my time on the thing that was helping me – DJing.
How do you feel growing up in Sweden shaped you as a person and DJ? Do you think that your DJ sets would be different sonically had you grown up elsewhere?
I grew up with my brother blasting euro trance with his subwoofer pointing at the wall between our bedrooms just to annoy me. Basically all I could hear was loud muffly kick drums. People still listen to this stuff in the small town I’m from, drifting around 8 people crammed into a DIY Volvo ‘cabriolet‘ (the roof just cut off a normal car), subwoofers in the boot… I suppose this early experience might have something to do with my affinity for loud kicks haha.
Sweden also has great music education. The government subsidizes music lessons to school children. I’m from a working-class family with four kids and we were all playing instruments growing up, it was never a class thing there. With my private keyboard lessons, school choir and group music class I guess I spent like 3h a week with a music teacher!
Most of the music I came into contact with during my upbringing was very commercial. I think my background makes me approach a DJ set from a slightly more ‘commercial’ point of view – I take hard, underground music and throw it together in a way that makes it just that bit more ‘accessible’.
Do you ever tap into the scene in Sweden and see how you can get involved there?
I for sure feel like it’s special returning to Sweden for gigs now, but I don’t have many ties to the scene there since I was never in it, to begin with. Actually, I even lack the vocabulary to talk about music in Swedish, which has got awkward on occasion, having to resort to English and ask things like ‘wait, what is “record label” called in Swedish?’ mid-sentence.
Also living in both London and Berlin, did the cities contribute something different to you in terms of creativity and experience as a DJ?
Yeah, there’s quite a big difference in vibe on the dancefloors between the two cities. I think the multitude of clubs with long opening hours means there’s always somewhere to continue the party here in Berlin, and different groups of people/individuals go out at different times, spreading out a crowd’s energy over a longer time period. The limitations on opening hours in London mean that everyone is usually on the same journey, so the sense of a ‘peak time’ exists to a greater extent there. In Berlin, it’s more steady stamina while London is more of a high-energy sprint. Apart from affecting the average set length, it affects what I would play at 2am in Berlin vs. 2am in London, but also how I would build my set.
I think it suited my sound well to start in London, as I was never good at the patient, slow build thing, and a lot of the music I play doesn’t work in those kinds of sets, but I’m trying to develop this skill more and Berlin has been great for that.
You’ve worked with two collectives – Universe Of Tang and Siren – how important have collectives been to your growth as a DJ and how important are they to the scene?
I was never really a part of Siren, but they became good friends of mine after they booked me for their launch party (and my first ever gig), and they have been super supportive since (shouts to the Sirens)!
Universe of Tang happens to also consist of only women, though this was neither a conscious choice nor an explicit, defining aspect for the collective, we were just friends wanting to start something.
Both these collectives have been monumental to my growth, I’m not sure I would ever have started playing in clubs without them! It can be particularly difficult for marginalised people in the scene to feel confident that they have anything legit to contribute, but there is strength in numbers as they say! And there is, of course, a lot of internal support. Collectives are important to foster talent that might not feel entitled to taking up space by themselves.
What led you to launch the community-driven System.Out Sound project? What do you hope to achieve with it?
I can’t speak for my partner Charlie (sprintf), but for me, it had a lot to do with wanting to work together with and support other people. I guess this is what came naturally for me after Universe of Tang. We ran some of our own events my first year here in Berlin, and have done maybe a couple since, so we never really built a community around System.out the way we had envisioned it. Both me and my partner had too much on our plates for various reasons, some health-related, but the idea is to revive it in the near future.
Last year you launched your label Intrepid Skin, what inspired this decision and what is your aim with the label?
The label was born out of an urge to start an autonomous project, having always relied on the support of a collective or my partner. I had built both some confidence in my own judgement and a bit of “fuck any haters” attitude. The first release as well as the next one, and one after that, are by female producers, but like with Universe of Tang this wasn’t a calculated move. I just happened upon their music and loved it. I’ve got mainly music by new producers in the pipeline at the moment, I’ve been really enjoying discovering unknown talents, though there may be some appearances by more established names in future.
Why have you decided to release vinyl only?
I’m actually selling the digital on Bandcamp haha. I always wanted to have some form of digital available, as not everyone can afford to buy vinyl, while I also can’t afford to press vinyl if no one buys it, so selling the digital on Bandcamp only I guess is a form of compromise. Those who come across the vinyl and have the money for it will buy that, while those who can’t search for it on Bandcamp first.
When it comes to choosing artists to release on the label, are they people you’re friends with first or are you open to accepting demos that are sent through to you?
I am definitely open to demos, and have been sent some really good stuff by people I’ve never met! I would just strive to get to know the producer a bit before releasing their music, I’d like us to get along and have some shared values. The first few releases are by friends of mine – Martyna (VTSS) and I met 2 years ago and I now consider her a twin, mum and boyfriend all at once, depending on the situation haha. The upcoming release is also by a friend I’ve been spellbound by since first coming across her – Nene H. Keep an eye out for her EP this spring!
What are some of your favourite labels to go digging through?
Whenever I discover a new label I’ve usually devoured most of their back catalogue in one sitting, so rarely do I have labels that I keep returning to in my digs. I both love it when a label dig is really fruitful, and when you need to trawl through years of stuff to find one good tune. The latter can be frustrating, but the tracks mean more to you when you’ve gone through all that trouble to find it! Stay Up Forever is a good example here – so much of it isn’t to my taste, but then I’ve also found some gold in their discography.
Some other labels I enjoyed digging through on Discogs: Compound and Kazumi
Moving onto DJing, your mixes tend to be very wild and raw, where do you think this attitude comes from?
I have an “all or nothing” attitude with most things I do, I’m terrible at this ‘moderation’ thing. Maybe that has something to do with it. I also just really like hedonistic vibes, it’s very freeing.
How do you approach your residency with Herrensauna? Does it allow you to be more experimental and creative with your sets?
Perhaps it’s a bit too early to say, but so far I have had the chance to play different time slots to what I would usually do. I’ve done a couple of openings and a 5,5h closing set, so I’ve had the opportunity to stretch my selection into new territories, like the ~100 BPM region.
What other parties do you enjoy playing?
Parties with wild crowds! The crazier the energy the better.
You’ve previously mentioned how you try to come across hard on socials but really a softie – do you feel that SPFDJ and Lina are different people in certain ways? How would you sum up SPFDJ?
Yes haha! I feel like SPFDJ is the confident & carefree version of me that I was always lacking before. This version of me developed out of finally dealing with my mental health baggage, it’s almost a bit of a “fake it until you make it” thing that actually really helped me in my personal life. My online persona is an exaggerated version that’s given me a healthy dose of detachment and assertiveness also in my offline personality.
With your touring schedule quickly picking up the pace – I saw you recently played three gigs in 24 hours – how do you cope with finding time for yourself in amongst the madness? Is there that fear that you’ll eventually burn out?
So far the worry of burning out has been greatly overshadowed by pure excitement, and my love for the rave has more than once led me into sleepless nights between gigs. I’m currently working on better drinking habits to tackle this, and making the often difficult decision to leave a good party to sleep after my set on busy weekends. I’m also getting better at picking sensible travel options, optimising sleep and squeezing in naps wherever I can. This touring schedule is still so new to me though that mostly I’m just excited by everything and haven’t yet needed to put more thought into coping strategies.
Your next London date is with Unbound on the 1st Feb, do you tend to prepare for each individual set or leave lots of room for improv on the night?
There’s always some level of prep that goes into each set, especially with vinyl since you have limited space in a record bag. I will usually check out the other people on a bill before packing my vinyl, and with two, sometimes three gigs per weekend you need to take them all into consideration when picking the records to bring. There’s more room for improv with your digital library which I have found quite freeing.
Once my records are packed for the weekend I’ll make my digital playlists, sorted into dedicated folders for each gig. These playlists usually mimic how I have sorted my vinyl, i.e into different groupings of tracks of similar styles. I’ll pick out a few quite different first-track options for each night, so that I can adjust to whatever the vibe is when I step up like I’ll have an industrial option, a couple of different techno starters, an electro one, and preferably with varying intro lengths and BPM ranges. Where I go after the first track is usually improv, but like structured improv in that, I’ll move between my different groupings with added flavours from ‘outliers’.
SPFDJ will be playing at Unbound Events x Loose Lips this Friday – buy tickets here.