Like many others around the world, simplicity, deceleration and nature have been key to Johanna Knutsson's time in lockdown — in life and work.
The formerly Berlin-based DJ and producer, who recently upped sticks back to her home of Sweden, spent the first six months of lockdown adjusting to the "new normal". But September saw her inspiration and motivation return in abundance, and she found herself channeling the experiences of the months that preceeded back into her musical output.
This includes a brand new live set that she'll be debuting at Intonal Festival later this month inside a church, as well as another outing for Circle Of Live and their Sleep concert; the live ensemble she operates in alongside a rotation of other producers — this time it's with Sebastian M and Dorisburg.
Her solo production work has long teetered between organic, ambient bliss—taking inspiration from her surroundings or other visual stimuli—and playful strains of techno for labels like Klasse and Oscillate Tracks and her own imprints, UFO Station Recordings, with long term production partner Hans Berg, and ZODIAC 44, alongside Luca Lozano.
Ahead of her set at Intonal Festival, we chatted to Johanna about how the last year has affected her work, her biggest takeaways from the Covid pandemic and her hopes for a sustainable future in the music industry.
Straight in with a standard opener... How have the lockdowns been for you over the past year or so?
It's been a rollercoaster of emotions but when I think back on the year I still feel positive. I've taken better care of myself and my relationships, and my mental health has improved because of that as well. So much nature time!
I've lost many things and everything has changed, but not only for the worse. It's been tough for so many people around me, I want to acknowledge that.
How did they impact your work as an artist? Did you find it to be a time of inspiration or was it difficult to remain motivated?
The first six months was like being in a vacuum, I didn't manage to get any music done in that state of mind. But around September 2020 it all came back; all of my experiences got translated in to music. It was a great relief to know that I'm making music even when there isn't an audience, but myself.
What did you learn about yourself during this time? What were your biggest takeaways?
I learned that I'm sort of easy to adapt to new standards, I live super simple and find bigger joy than stressing around the world or chasing gigs. I'm done doing gigs every weekend, I will never get on a plane again (I've known that for a couple of years though). Slow travel by train is the way, and it makes you appreciate where you're going to instead of trying to get in and out of a city as quick as possible to get to another gig.
Without gigs and festivals, did you find your focus shifting in terms of DJing vs producing?
Absolutely, I still love DJing a lot, maybe even more so now when I don't have to do it but want to do it! I've been making so much music lately that I'm itching to play other peoples music instead. And god, I miss dancing so much.
How do you think clubbing will look once the lockdowns are lifted? What changes would you like to see in people’s approaches to sustainability and booking policies?
This ties back to my earlier answer on slow traveling I think. I think we'll all perform way better in cities closer to our own, because we're not exhausted by getting there or flight-guilt. It gives us the chance to build up a real life audience instead of instagram followers by performing closer to home, and maybe looking into doing local residencies instead playing in front of strangers and new promoters every time. That could be special occasions instead of every weekend.
It made many of us greedy, unhappy and ungrateful when we compare ourselves to other DJs, especially when I know most of us actually see the traveling as a huge side effect of the job after a few years doing it.
You’re performing at Intonal later this month twice: once with Sebastian M and Dorisburg and another inside a church. Can you tell us a bit more about each performance? What was the creative process like?
The performance with Seb and Dorisburg is our sleep concert that we've done a few times now, just me and Sebastian. Really looking forward to having Alex (Dorisburg) with us this time, I think it will be a nice addition!
My performance is in St Johannes church, it's my brand new liveset that I've built over the last six months or so. It's much more improvised and has new instruments and vocals added to it. Both these performances will be very improvised, especially the sleep concert since there's three of us weaving our music together on the spot.
My creative process has been very focused, since my rehearsal time has been interrupted by having to move my studio to my apartment in the beginning of the year, and then the big move back to Sweden this past weekend. It's been so stressful but also worked out! I might crash straight after the festival, but not before.
Collaboration has long been part of your practice, what is it that you love about working with other artists, especially Hans Berg? Do you have any new collaborations coming up?
I stopped collaborating with people when Hans Berg moved away from Berlin because it's so hard sending tracks back and forth, that's not the way to collaborate for us. But now when we're in the same country, and hopefully vaccinated, soon we can get back into the studio together again! Plus I will share this swedish studio with another Swedish artist that I can hopefully collaborate with once we're settled in.
Now we’re (fingers crossed) coming out the other side of the pandemic, what are you looking forward to most, in life and work?
I'm so happy for this new start in Malmö, coming back to family and nature. I'm looking forward to moving into my new studio here tomorrow and setting up properly again.
What else have you got on the horizon? Anything we should know about?
My biggest project so far: a 35 min piece on vinyl on a New York label. It hasn't been announced yet so I can't share more details, but it's been a great experience working with them. And the artwork is out of this world, so gorgeous!
Johanna Knutsson plays Intonal Festival (16-20 June).
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