THE SUN DOESN’T SHINE OFTEN in Denmark, so when it does, it feels like drugs. And if anyone in this rabidly secular country ever prays, they pray for sunshine and another chance to celebrate Copenhagen’s biggest street party / music festival, Distortion. This year’s festival runs May 30 – June 3.
Denmark is a country that prides itself on public decorum, and it’s hard to piss off a Dane in public unless you’re on your worst behavior. But for five days in late May / early June, these stifled, sun-deprived creatures lose their minds to beer and live music in the streets of Copenhagen. The most action said streets see during winter is a parade of artfully scarved, stone-faced cyclists pedaling as fast as they can to the warmth of their candlelit homes. The Danes that emerge for Distortion appear to be experiencing nothing short of a sun-deprivation-induced mental breakdown.
Each night, a different neighborhood hosts a street party that starts early afternoon and rages into early morning. Stages line the streets and DJs thump out the kind of beats you can feel pulsing in your fingertips. People stock up on Carlsberg days in advance to avoid the epic lines at 7-11 and walk the streets 6-packs under arm.
Festival organizer Thomas Fleurquin took a lot of flak last year for the delightful chaos that nearly tore the city to pieces. On the most popular nights, which happen in the hipster neighborhoods of Nørrebro and Vesterbro, over 100,000 people packed into Copenhagen’s narrow streets to revel in the fleeting summer. But older residents didn’t appreciate waking up to mountains of garbage and the stench of stale piss, and a $62,000 street cleaning bill failed to bolster Fleurquin’s business model. Securing a repeat performance for 2012 became a serious challenge.
Starting this year in debt, Fleurquin is hoping more people will attend the “club night” parties that charge a steep cover but are meant to lure partiers indoors after the sun goes down. Until now, these events were the only source of profit for the festival, and have always suffered a dismal turnout.
Something new this year are the street party wristbands that people can buy in a show of support for the future of Distortion in Copenhagen. The 100 DKK bracelets recently went on sale to offset the costs of cleanup. Fleurquin promises exciting benefits for party goers who buy a bracelet and warns that unless a significant number are purchased, this may be the last year street parties are held.
Already stuck indoors from October to early May, there are few Danes willing to pay a cover to party inside, and even fewer willing to pay for a bracelet when they can party for free. But it’s clear from last year that the street parties need to end earlier. The 9PM “club night” events were designed to shift everything indoors and keep the drunken shenanigans off the streets to reduce the costs of cleanup and boost the festival’s revenues.
“When you have a party, you have to clean up after yourself,” scolded a representative of the Copenhagen City Council after last year’s debacle.
Roll your eyes. But find a toilet and buy a wristband if you want to see Distortion 2013.
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Emily Hanssen Arent
Emily Hanssen Arent is a writer and traveler who has found a home in Boulder, Copenhagen, and Jerusalem. She is currently a graduate student of Middle Eastern Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel, where she writes, studies, and struggles daily with Hebrew and Arabic. You can follow her @emilyharent.
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