After school, Kristensen’s technical smarts secured her a place at the University of Copenhagen studying computer science for health care. Halfway through the course, she spent a term studying abroad at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario — incidentally, one of Canada’s under-the-radar techno hotspots, home of Junior Boys and industrial duo Orphx. Fresh from a break-up and ready to try something new, her semester in Canada became the germ of her DJ career. She’d been a keen collector for years — French pop, Detroit electro, UK bleep & bass — but hadn’t thought much about hearing it in a club context.
“I knew a lot about music but not about going out. What do you do when you go out? I was more of a concert person for a very long time. I never liked to go out with my university pals, because they’d go out and listen to terrible EDM or pop edits — then I went home and listened to Underground Resistance and the night was sorted for me,” she laughs. One night in Hamilton, she asked a stranger for a lighter (Kristensen is an enthusiastic smoker) and struck up a friendship. The stranger was a minimal techno DJ, and with typical Canadian hospitality he invited her over for Thanksgiving. Seeing he had decks set up, Kristensen asked to be shown the basics. “A bulb lit up in my head — oh, that’s all the music I know, and now I can actually mix it.”
Her first gig was at an art show in Copenhagen a few months later. “I was so awkward, and I was on a stage so people actually looked at me. I wasn’t mixing well and I had no clue. I remember I played Kraftwerk and somebody recognised it and that was cool. Like, alright, this is what you do — you try to create a vibe for people who are here.” It didn’t take long for her to get good — really good. She took up a residency at Culture Box in Copenhagen, starting out in the third room — the cocktail bar, basically, but “an amazing practice space. I’m extremely thankful that they just let me try, without any judgement.” These days she’s a resident at the club, playing three or four times a year and offering advice on bookings.
During the week, Kristensen was putting her degree to use in a government IT job, but as the international bookings started coming in, she was spending less time at her desk. Did her parents wonder what she was up to, risking her respectable career? “I think they were just surprised,” she laughs, “like, ‘What’s going on? Are you a drug abuser or something?’ That was mostly their concern. And I was like, ‘Mum, if I was using drugs I would not be able to tour like I do and then go to work on Tuesday’.”
By 2017, music was taking over her life, with gigs every weekend across Europe and North America. Copenhagen DJs often congregate in crews, like CUP and Untitled Tricks — that typical Danish collectivism at work — but Kristensen is a solo operator, and her relentless touring schedule has placed her at a slight remove from the city’s blooming party scene. Find yourself down the front at one of her sets and it’s immediately clear why she’s in demand around the world. Her bold, brawny style feels accessible but never predictable; fans of the UK hardcore continuum can tune into picks like dBridge and Soundbwoy Killah as she slams crusty breaks into saucer-eyed rave reveries, while techno purists can admire the way she pairs eyes-down fare from Speedy J and Mika Vainio with electro and wave obscurities.
Increasingly she’s found herself on bills with Nina Kraviz, another Russian DJ with a taste for leftfield techno, and Detroit originators like Jeff Mills and electro hero DJ Stingray. And yes, she has seen him without the balaclava. “I remember at my first Boiler Room in Berlin, and this guy — he’s very tall — comes and grabs me out of the crowd and says, ‘This was very good, let’s go to the bar!” That was amazing,” she chuckles. “We played together at a boat party too, and Stingray was pouring out vodka.”
“I learned that my dad had died because I asked someone I knew in Moscow to go and check on the apartment. His neighbour said that he had been taken away already by the cops and the authorities. I couldn’t believe it. I was in some kind of denial for a very long time. We still don’t know the cause of death”
The milestones began to flash by: her first night at Fabric, where she proudly wore the “rockstar” wristband given out to all club debutantes; her first week in the “festival wonderland” of Dimensions, with its fortress and flotillas; her first tour of Asia, spending a whole month visiting eight countries. Astonishingly, until last December she was still clocking into work every Tuesday. She looks surprised herself.
“I think I was lying to myself that it’s possible to be this robo-machine. I thought you really could, and it stretched on for some time. But when you can barely continue after the weekend because there was so much travel, and you have to be clear in your head on Tuesday and all you can think about is, ‘That was a fun gig’, or, ‘I’m looking forward to going there’ — there was just so much excitement I couldn’t hide,” she says, looking genuinely elated. “I think the breaking point was when the Asia tour was shaping up. I realised that I can’t be both places physically and mentally. I have to be honest with one thing now.”
In May last year she travelled to Detroit for the first time to play at Movement festival — a dream booking for the long-time techno collector, who made a beeline for the rave bunker of Submerge, headquarters of Underground Resistance. Then, a few days after playing her set at Tangent Gallery, alongside Deepchord and Headless Horseman, Kristensen’s long-running streak of luck simply ran out. On the flight home to Copenhagen, she realised she was having difficulties breathing. Two days later, sitting at her desk and still struggling, she finally took herself to hospital — and didn’t get out for 10 days. “All that time, it was a collapsed lung. You know, when you have breathing trouble you don’t necessarily think of a collapsed lung, especially as a young person! But at some point I couldn’t even speak anymore because my second lung wasn’t coping well.”
The treatment was more complex than expected, forcing her to cancel her much-anticipated OFFSónar debut. “I was really scared,” she admits — but not of being ill. “You’re in hospital for 10 days and you think your entire career has gone down!” When a DJ ends up in hospital, there’s a tendency to think they’re a casualty of their own rock & roll behaviour — so did she just overdo it in Detroit? “No, we don’t know what happened,” she says, offering two options: either she was laughing too hard at the No Way Back party, or it’s something to do with being tall. “This is the only answer I get from the doctors,” she shrugs. “It’s common in tall people!”
Just a few weeks later, in Serbia, Kristensen discovered that her father had died. He had been due to meet her new boyfriend, the Edinburgh-based DJ Telfort, for the first time later that month while the couple were on tour in Russia. “I learned that he had died because I asked someone I knew in Moscow to go and check on the apartment. His neighbour said that he had been taken away already by the cops and the authorities. I couldn’t believe it. I was in some kind of denial for a very long time. We still don’t know the cause of death. It was not found. We had a big investigation after that.”
At the festival, Kristensen made the decision to get on stage. “My agent was there with me, supporting me. She was like, ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ And I did it. I just went and did it, and I dedicated my set to my father. I was cheering his life with the crowd — just in my thoughts of course. We didn’t make a big deal, nobody announced it. The only thing I did differently was that I refused all interviews, because I couldn’t fake being excited. So I was standing there with a poker face.”
Her summer continued as already planned, each weekend at a different festival, punctuated by frequent trips to Russia to deal with funeral arrangements. “It felt really weird, especially when I was alone. If I wasn’t surrounded by people, that was when the freakout started. You start to look back on your childhood, why did I not call him more... this terrible guilt feeling. I did go to a psychologist for it, and she gave me some tips on how to integrate the fact of someone’s death in your life. I think I’ve now accepted it. But it’s super-weird to lose your parent. We weren’t that close, but we talked every second week. It’s shit, especially when you don’t expect it.”
The ‘Ascetic’ EP, released the week after her return from Asia, marks the beginning of a new era for Kristensen, both personally and professionally, as she settles into music as a full-time occupation. Led by the glinting bells of the title track, the EP makes good on the promise of earlier tracks and remixes, like her muscular rework of Special Request’s ‘Tiresias’; between the bone-dry crunch of ‘LXR Jam’ and the haunted hardcore of ‘Ascetic (In Breaks)’, she’s sketched out plenty of options for her next move. “As someone who cares about quality a lot, I feel like there’s some good material on [the EP]. I’m looking forward to deciding what direction it can go — is it going to be more clubby, or more deconstructed? This is why this release has something for everybody, because I notice how people respond to it — most techno heads like the A1, then the UK market is all about the breaks tracks and the minimalistic one with only one instrument, ‘LXR Jam’. And I kind of knew that,” she says, like a canny marketer. “But I like both worlds. I want to trick my listener — I want them to put me in a box and then they have to take me out of that box.”
At home, her studio set-up is minimalist: just Ableton, her LXR digital drum machine, and a virtual stack of plugins. She’s also discovered, during sound testing, that her new flat has a concrete ceiling — every bedroom producer’s dream. “But I think I’m done discovering all the possibilities that a computer can do, or my drum synth. Right now — like from today on,” she laughs, “I’m going in-depth with sound. I’m simply focusing more on the sound’s nature. I’m gonna make one riff and I’m gonna fuck around with this riff forever. I think I’m gonna learn more about velocity.”
In her own productions, Kristensen tries to create a certain character — a mystique, even. It’s the same ineffable quality she’s searching for when digging for new records. “I used to be way faster with my digging, like, ‘Oh, this is great’,” she says, clicking her fingers, “but now I try to give it deeper thought. It has to have some character and personality — or a face, you could call it. Unfortunately there are many productions that are too similar, that don’t leave any footprint after the listening session. But I’m actually quite amazed how much quality music is coming out right now, especially by people who have just started out or are just being discovered,” she says, listing Lisbon’s breakout star Violet, Melbourne DJ Roza Terenzi and AIROD from Paris as current favourites.
Techno nerds famously love to obsess over their favourite DJs’ approach to track organisation, so we ask Kristensen about her own Rekordbox filing system, which turns out to be the exact opposite of Avalon Emerson’s precisely organised crates. “I have a very interesting technique in the sense that I clear my playlists completely, archive them and start again,” she says, more like a vinyl DJ with a bag of records. “You really need to clear your mind sometimes. Every shelf needs to be cleaned, and so does your mind. I know some of my colleagues have an insane amount of playlists, and they actually forget them with time. I think it’s good to outsource it, and with the tracks you really love, you’ll remember them anyway! It’s a natural filtration process.”
Our pint glasses are empty and the conversation has reached the present day. After the turbulence of the last 18 months, Kristensen now seems to have all her ducks in a row. Coping with illness, death and grief seem only to have sharpened her instincts, first honed as a young girl in a new and foreign country, to work hard and keep proving herself. Now that she’s older and wiser, are there parts of her personality that have finally become Danish? She laughs knowingly. “Thinking a bit more about other people. This is definitely something I’ve seen from my peers in Denmark. I started caring more about community, and because I travel so much, community has become a sort of international phenomenon. When I was in Hong Kong recently, I liked the community so much that I went back to Hong Kong and we threw a little event together — we cooked Chinese hot pot, I played a special ‘80s set. And I felt like I’m part of a community but I don’t even live there.
“In the scene I operate in, the community is large and international, and I feel like I can fit in quite quickly with what I do. So [it’s about] being open to communities and understanding each other, and other people’s pains and struggles, especially if they’re immigrants. I’ve learned that from Denmark and I’m kind of practising it. It gives me a sense of hope for humanity, that people can unite so much.”
Outside, she lights a cigarette that somehow seems hard-earned. Before her cab arrives, we ask her if she finally feels, well... sorted? There are fewer things in her life now, she agrees — fewer hassles, fewer obligations. “It means I can embrace what I have left. I kind of ignored that philosophy for a long time. I’m also prepared for developing new sorts of anxieties,” she laughs. “But I’m excited. What direction do you choose for yourself — do you want to focus on the new anxieties, or do you want to focus on the new opportunities? People really underestimate the shifting of focus to good shit. It’s like ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ — it’s a famous pep talk, but I really love this phrase! It helps me to move forward with the decisions I’ve made. I really think if you focus on new stuff, all your constant worries take second place.”