SPFDJ: In Conversation

Sweden’s SPFDJ applies punishing techno with slick electro and raw ebm. Known for her dark atmospheres and punchy kicks, an SPFDJ set is far from ordinary. Since moving to Berlin, she can often be found playing cutting edge parties across the German capital, as well as running the Cranial Hands transmission alongside co-host Sprintf.

Recently launching her own label Intrepid Skin, the platform showcases the uncompromising sounds at the harder fringes of body music. It’s an outlet for her to push the artists that emblazon the rough and ready vision she’s an advocate for, and having already released music from Warsaw’s VTTS, SPFDJ now readies up its second release courtesy of Berlin producer Nene H.

Catching up with her for a chat, we talk early musical experiences, making hard techno ‘accessible’ and the work process behind running a label.

Why SPFDJ? What does it mean?

It kind of takes on different meanings depending on the situation. I have jokingly said in the past that it means “speedy fucking DJ”, someone recently asked me if it meant “soundproof DJ”, that kind of thing. Originally though it came from sunscreen – Sun Protection Factor. I’m very pale and always burn quite easily, I have been known to use a lot of sun screen and it became a bit of a joke amongst my friends.

Was there a key moment or event that made you think, ‘I want to be SPFDJ’?

At one point years ago I changed my twitter handle to DJ SPF50. A friend then amended this to SPFDJ because it has a nicer flow and is less obvious. It stuck immediately. Back then I didn’t yet have a clear idea of what or who SPFDJ really was however, that grew in time into the current persona, alongside some simultaneous personal growth.

One key moment actually happened in a discussion with another friend of mine about posting selfies online, particularly provocative ones. I voiced some concerns I had about doing this as a woman – you can get quite a bit of flak for it and I wanted to be taken seriously. They helped me realise I should be able to express myself in whatever way I felt like, and still be taken seriously. There shouldn’t be these narrow constraints on what women DJs have to be like to get respect, like ‘don’t do this’, ‘don’t do that’. It gave me some determination to rebel.

You said that you grew up with your brother blasting Euro trance, what does he and your family think of your uncompromising music?

To be honest I don’t really know. I don’t think they really get it at all. I think the old “but no one is singing?” is applicable here. Actually my mum even said “I just don’t get the style of dancing”.

My sister is a big K-pop fan while my mum listens to whatever is trending on Spotify. Perhaps I need to bring them to a gig sometime, it’s one thing hearing techno at home without any experience of a rave environment, and another walking into a heaving club full of energy and body-rattling bass. Maybe I’d just be making it worse haha.

You also mentioned in a recent interview that you try to make your underground music ‘accessible’. How do you go about doing that? Do you attribute this to your rise?

It’s not necessarily the music itself that is more ‘accessible’, I’d say in fact sometimes the opposite, but it’s rather the way I play it. Steering away from relentless in favour of occasional changes is my usual strategy. With this kind of harder music that I like, I feel a DJ set is more ‘accessible’ if the style of techno varies slightly over the course of the set, or if there are wildcards thrown into the mix like an electro track or something with a broken beat – it can be more engaging for a greater number of people (hence ‘accessible’).

I’m not sure this necessarily applies to slower or softer types of techno however – if you are playing that stuff it’s usually more important to build a consistent groove to lock people in. That to me is actually harder to do well and can be much more rewarding on the dancefloor for longer periods of time, it’s just not what I’m good at or suitable for some of the harder stuff I like to play.

I think my success so far potentially has something to do with this yes. I think I appeal both to people who already like this harder techno, and people who may be into the softer stuff but can get down with harder stuff for shorter periods of time. Perhaps it’s somewhat refreshing to both camps hearing a bit of the other side?

2018 was a big year for you but 2019 seems even bigger. Your recent boiler room and rinse FM residency has picked up a lot of attention. How has all the spotlight affected your touring and personal life?

It’s been tricky adjusting to be honest, it picked up for me so suddenly. I hope with time I’ll get better at this work balance thing, but even though my personal life has seen some negative changes, it’s been overwhelmingly positive for me because I fucking love what I do.

With a host of projects including your label, Intrepid Skin, and System.out sound system, run us through what your weekly schedule looks like?

I usually try to keep my Mondays relatively work free, they are my new weekends. Tuesday to Thursday are packed with label management, digging for music, planning and recording mixes or radio, some interviews too recently, as well as putting in some time in the studio learning production. Friday to Sunday I’m away for gigs.

Before I started Intrepid Skin, I underestimated the amount of work running a label involves so that takes up quite a bit of time, from listening to demos to liaising with distributors and PR, to pushing things on social media. Deciding to do the sleeve artwork myself added to this workload too, the same goes for some merch that has been in the planning but isn’t finished yet.

Shouts to Frank from Tales Collective who recently joked that “all DJs do is sit at home and announce announcements for their announcements”. I really felt this, as it takes up more time than you’d think just to keep socials up to date with where you are playing. This isn’t a problem though, I would much rather be doing this than an office job.

I have recently actually quit working for System.out Sound, I wasn’t able to keep up the work and I’m not exactly built for lifting 90kg subs so it was quite physically demanding.

How are you feeling about the new release on your label from another rising star?

Very excited! I feel really lucky and privileged to be given the trust to release both VTSS and Nene H’s music. They both could have gone for bigger, established labels, and I have so much respect for them, they are both killer at everything they do – production, live sets and also DJing as well, on top of being lovely human beings.

What does the future hold for you and Intrepid Skin?

I’m in talks with a few exciting producers and working on readying the third release that will likely take some time still. Currently I’m in favour of letting things take longer than planned to get it right, quality over quantity. I’m also working on a label showcase and the merch that I mentioned will hopefully be up on bandcamp soon!

For me, I’ve got some festival gigs to look forward to like Hyperreality, Pollerwiesen, Norberg, Dekmantel, Dimensions, Horst & No Bounds, and I’m off to India, Canada, South America and maybe Asia before the year is over. Some cool b2b’s are in my calendar too hehe.

Catch SPFDJ at Dekmantel Festival this August. 

Tickets and more info here

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