Techno artists aren’t generally known as early risers, but Johanna Knutsson doesn’t conform to the usual late-night stereotypes. During the week, she’s in bed by 10:30pm and up at 6am. “My boyfriend works as a bike messenger, so his alarm rings at six anyways,” she says. Of course, the demands of her profession do require plenty of sleepless nights when the weekend rolls around, but otherwise, the Swedish-born, Berlin-based producer has one focus: the studio. “I see my studio as work time,” says Knutsson. “I go to the studio, I get shit done and then I can relax.”
It helps that her studio is located in Lichtenberg, a relatively remote corner of Berlin that’s well off the tourism and techno circuit. “Once I’m there,” says Knutsson, “I’m not being disturbed. No one can pop by, because it’s so far away.” This routine may sound antisocial, but Knutsson is someone who’s always thrived in solitude. “I enjoy being alone very much,” she says. “I got diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when I was seven, so I’ve always known that being alone helps if I have too much anxiety.” In the studio, her doubts and fears grow quiet. “It’s my happy place,” she says.
After being awarded a couple of grants, Knutsson spent most of 2018 in the studio, spurred on by her agreement to perform a live ambient set at that year’s Nachtdigital festival. “I had never done a live set in my life,” she remembers. “I also didn’t have the equipment. I [literally] YouTubed different ways of making a live set, because I had no idea. But I said yes to it anyways.” Her months of hard work paid off, as she wound up playing right before Ben UFO, who was so impressed that he asked to play a recording of the set on Rinse FM’s Hessle Audio show. Furthermore, the music from that set ultimately became the basis for Knutsson’s bucolic and deeply personal debut album, ‘Tollarp Transmissions’, which came out earlier this year on Kontra Musik and took its name from the small Swedish village where she grew up.
Knutsson knows that the record likely surprised people, as she’d spent most of the previous decade in Berlin building her name as a techno DJ. And while she wants to make it clear that she hasn’t abandoned techno — in fact, she’s put together a separate techno live set that she’s anxious to premiere — Knutsson also says that ambient music has always been part of her repertoire.
“I can do more than one thing,” she proclaims with a laugh. That much has never been in doubt. Aside from her solo work, she’s done numerous records over the years alongside fellow Swede, Hans Berg, with whom she also runs the UFO Station label. With Klasse Wrecks boss Luca Lozano, Knutsson heads up the astrology-inspired Zodiac 44 imprint.
And over the past year, she’s also become a key member of Sebastian Mullaert’s Circle Of Live, a collaborative live project that features a rotating cast of nearly 20 all-star producers and a drool-inducing amount of on-stage gear. “I thought it was just going to be one or two times, but then it just blew up and took off,” she says with glee. “It’s been amazing. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done as an artist. It’s like being in a band. I’ve always wanted to be in a band.” Still, it’s her solo efforts that are truly coming into focus these days.
Over the summer, she released a split EP with Karen Gwyer on Oscillate Tracks, the label offshoot of the Berlin party where she also serves as resident DJ. More music is on the way — both techno and ambient — and Knutsson is determined to continue pushing, especially after a decade in which she often lacked the confidence to really put herself out there. “I don’t have a very tough skin,” she admits. “It is getting thicker though.”