Photos by Lucy Johnston
It was this crunk rap, very attitudey thing, I was swearing a lot! That’s why I came up with the name MØ because in Danish that means a virgin, so it was ironic.
It has become something of a broken-record observation, but the volume of unerringly cool female-fronted music being exported by Scandinavia is quite mind-boggling: From the chart dominating attitude of Icona Pop to NONONO’s earworm of the year, the region has an unavoidable penchant for producing wonderfully infectious pop.
Perhaps no one is guiltier of this unerring cool than Denmark’s Karen Marie Ørsted, aka MØ. Producing big, punchy tracks that embrace her plethora of influences, she is undoubtedly a front-runner of the aforementioned scene. But what is the secret to this Nordic success?
“I talked to a friend of mine the other day about it and we were like, maybe it’s just the melancholy and the nature and the isolation?” She calmly tells me, moments after wowing a London ad agency with a no-holding-back performance in their coffee bar;”I dunno. I’ve thought a lot about it – I haven’t got an answer yet!”
“I came from a small suburb to another very small town so it was, yeah, it was kind of isolated but when I look back I had a very nice childhood. It was kind of nice to wander around in the suburbs dreaming about stuff.”
However it was a very British institution we have to thank for jump-starting her life in music:
“I started when I was seven when I got my first record, which was Spice Girls and I was like, that’s what I want to do. I’m not from a musical family, none of them are musicians, so I knew I had to work hard for this! I just started writing song after song back then; it just very quickly became my big passion and has been ever since.”
Listening to MØ, the Spice Girls’ manufactured tones may seem a million miles away, but their ‘Girl Power’ attitude simmers beneath everything she does, with tracks like ‘Waste Of Time’ and ‘Maiden’ highlighting a major theme in her work: “When I started in 2009 it was this crunk rap, very attitudey thing, I was swearing a lot! That’s why I came up with the name MØ because in Danish that means a virgin so it was ironic. But I chose to stay with the name because now it’s this whole thing about being a virgin to life, and young and naïve and restless and bored with youth.”
Throw in her musical idols – Sonic Youth (there’s that word again), Yeah Yeah Yeahs (also a Karen O) and Santigold – alongside a “fascination” with punk, crunk rap and grunge, and the recipe starts to come together.
“I started to dig into what I really wanted to write about – being more personal. Slowly this developed and then my manager hooked me up with Ronni [Vindahl]. He plays guitar in the band and is an amazing producer, the main producer on the record.
When we hooked up it all just made sense – he understands my sound.That was just the perfect match and all this happened!”
With a debut full-length delayed until early next year, for now we will have to make do with her Chess Club released ‘Bikini Daze’ EP, a teaser that includes the brass heavy, Diplo featuring, ‘XXX 88’, as well as an insight into MØ’s creative process: “I really like the contrast; I like the very, you know, “Grrr!” but then I also like being emotional and deep; the totally aggressive and the totally vulnerable.I like to play with these balances.On the EP the last track ‘Freedom’ is a cappella almost, and that’s also kind of to show the fans how me and Ronni work: I make the a cappella versions first on almost all my songs and then Ronni gets all the vocal parts and producers them together.”
Speaking to Ørsted, more contrast emerges; although youth remains an intrinsic part of her artistic make-up, she is endearingly level-headed about her relatively new-found internet hype: “I don’t want to just be like oh yeah it’s amazing, because I know the business is very tough so you always have to improve and be even better. I try not to think about it too much but of course it is very exciting!”
“When you are on the road and when you are at home it is kind of like two lives,” she enthusiastically tells me as we move on to live touring. “But then again, no, because you are always in the same kind of ‘bang, bang, bang’ routine. I really like it – I really love travelling, that’s the best thing.”
Buy: MØ – Bikini Daze