Interview: MØ fights the power

MØ Interview’s Philip Erbacher catches up with Danish singer/songwriter, MØ, during her trip to Sydney:

It is something quite special to discover you like a musician via their live performance. No prior exposure, just turning up and seeing what you get. I’ve learned to trust my instincts, too. This is how I came across bands like Die Antwoord and Warpaint. Two South Africans that look like amazing hard ass future brogans doing rap/rave? Yes please. Four Californian girls with a catchy and empowering band name pumping out ghostly psychedelic indie? How could that be a bad thing ever? Opinions formed from someone else’s one sentence opinion going on to become some of my all time favourites.

I cannot recall what drew me towards going to see MØ live, but it was another one-sentence opinion I read somewhere. I just had a feeling she would be impressive. Her one and only Australian show during this visit (also her debut in the country) was held at Goodgod Small Club, which is renowned for booking acts that go on to be huge, well before they are broadly recognised. My expectations were exceeded a thousandfold.

The songs are well crafted and catchy, whilst still retaining soul and a unique edge. But the energy! Allow me to put it this way: You could nail her feet to the stage floor with crucifix style bolts and she would still break free.


I felt privileged to score the bifecta (that’s definitely not a word) of seeing her perform and then interview her the following day.

In general, I don’t shy away from conversation and interaction with all manner of people. I love it. But as soon as it is the least bit formal, I freak out on the inside. I let Karen Marie Ørsted know this is my first interview ever and that I’m nervous as all hell.
“Oh! No, don’t be. It’s fine” she replies with a giggle.

The first thing I ask is if she could clarify the pronunciation of her performing title.

After fumbling with the zoom recorder to check I’m actually capturing her responses, I ask whether there are any other pursuits of hers that feed back into her writing or performance.

“Well, music has always been my number one thing to do.” She sees me nervously looking at the zoom. “Is it on?” (more giggles). We’re good to go.

“I’ve been a skater and painting graffiti and stuff and I’ve been very active in, like the anti-fascistic you know, how do you say, um left-front?”
“Left Wing?” Her manager Bjørn Nielsen, is kind enough to iron out any bilingual issues we are having.
“Yeah, like demonstrating, activist stuff.”
“Perhaps a Pussy Riot or Clothed Femen sort of thing?” I suggest.
“Yes! It was that stuff, but also, like against you know,” (speaks to Bjørn in Danish to find the words, which sounds awesome) “against the power?”
“Like ‘stick it to the Man’?” I offer.
“Oh, no no, It’s not, you know… actually I don’t… I’m not like ‘RAAAGH! FEMINIST!’ or anything,” she continues, before Bjørn interjects to explain I wasn’t meaning gender, but more the ‘System’ or the ‘Powers that Be’.
“Oh yeah, okay. I didn’t know that expression. Yeah, just against that stuff. You know, unfairness in society.”

Karen has a cute little tattoo of a mask from punk/protest group Pussy Riot on her arm. This reinforces the commitment to her previous statements and leads me to ask whether she was in a punk band at some stage. “Yeah that’s right,” she confirms. “We were called ‘Mor’ which means ‘mother’ in Danish. We were active for, like, five years. It was so funny. It was a big part of my life. I’m sure it pushed me towards what I am doing now. We released some vinyl in Denmark. I’m sure there’s something on Soundcloud too”.

Knowing full well what effect music has on me personally, I’m intrigued by what might elicit responses in Karen. “You know, that’s what music does. If it’s something you like, it triggers stuff within you and that’s why you dig it and why you want to hear it again. To me, music is an experience. When I was a kid and I heard music, I remember when I heard ‘Believe’ by Cher (giggles again) I was crying! But you know, fuck that. I was a teenager when I was listening to Sonic Youth. They were one of the first bands where I was really feeling a lot of things when I listened to it. You’re starting to become an adult and are more aware of the world and your emotions and stuff. Sonic Youth was really ground-shaking for me”.

MØ has been actively touring for a while now, chalking up appearances at heavy hitting festivals such as Roskilde, Primavera and Leeds. Goodgod Small Club, as the name suggests, is at the entirely opposite end of the spectrum, in terms of crowd numbers. It’s like a shoebox. “Yeah. But I loved it! The atmosphere and the vibe and the crowd and the lighting and everything! I kinda like when it’s a small venue and it’s not too far to the ceiling. It creates this wonderful, intense atmosphere. Intimate as well. I really loved it!”

She’s not kidding. She spent lengthy periods through her set towering above the crowd on top of amps, rolling on the stage floor, venturing out into the crowd, etc. It was an empowered performance one couldn’t avoid engaging with.

SBTRKT+MO_2A telling yardstick for some performers is who they collaborate with. MØ has released songs with top shelf acts such as Diplo and Avicii, amongst others. I ask who else might be on her wishlist. “I would really love to work with Blood Orange. And I mean, of course there are so many. SBTRKT.” It was at this point my head exploded. I couldn’t think of a better response.

Left is an artistic interpretation of what MØ and SBTRKT might look like if they were travelling through a vortex in dodgem cars.

I was aware that her father raised her on, amongst other things, Billie Holliday. Despite the awesomeness of MØ tunes, I can’t resist asking how Karen feels about covers of others’ songs and letting her know I would have no problem with hearing her take on ‘Don’t Explain’…

“Ohh… I love that. Really, we would love to do covers, but so far we have not had the time. But someday, I’ll definitely do that one!”. Awesome.

Now, I think it is only fair to throw in one selfish question into the conversation. It has a thread of relevance, since it pertains to a fellow Danskere. I’m a big fan of Lars von Trier. I ask if she is also and what her favourite film of his might be.
“Yeah yeah! I am very much a fan. My favourite is ‘Melancholia’. It’s actually one of my top ten favourite films. It was so beautiful! But I love all of his films. I also love the Danish TV series ‘Riget’! But no one has ever asked me about this, so I’m like, YES!”.

To conclude the interview, I thought it would show good manners to thank Karen for her time in gift form. I hand over a small bag which she delves in to. Out comes a toy Koala cuddling an original Spice Girls cassette (the first music she fell in love with).
“Spice Girls! Oh my god! No seriously, that’s so cool! I love that. I actually have a collection of tapes. Now this is my new favourite one. Fuck. Takes me back.”
“You were performing in a Spice Girls t shirt in Denmark a couple of weeks ago! Gotta stay true to your childhood idols” adds Bjørn.
And then the zoom recorder is switched off. She looks at the koala pensively, smiling.
“Oh, I wanna come back,” she announces.
“Well, you’ll have to!” I add. At this point, someone may or may not have mentioned a return for Splendour. You heard it here first, kids!

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Words and pictures by Philip Erbacher. Check out his photos of MØ in Sydney here.