“Well it’s in a way irrational to love vinyl in 2020, cause you can stream music. But on an emotional and sensual level it is very logical, cause music on vinyl format is more sensual. You can smell, see and feel the music and artwork put into it.”
There has always been a certain degree of mystery surrounding Sakena Ali in my mind. As much as curiosity to know who is this lady playing Detroit records in Copenhagen. For the most part because it rarely ever happens. On another hand, I find people that play diverse music and not necessarily limit themselves within strict boundaries of specific style or genre as inspiring, knowledgeable, open minded. And that is exactly how I would describe Sakena Ali, that has been active in the music scene of Copenhagen as a writer about youth and club culture, event organizer, DJ, and finally as an artist manager for over 20 years.
While raising 2 children and having a day job at the Information Security and Data Protection Department of the Danish Prison and Probation Service, Sakena still finds time and energy to spin records in the nightclubs of Copenhagen and manage one of the most important electronic music artists in Denmark – Mr. Bjørn Svin. We asked her to name the 5 best sounding and the 5 best visually designed records in her collection and tell us a little fraction of her story.
Sakena, please tell us about your involvement in Copenhagen’s music scene during the years?
I went to my first techno party back in 1993. There was a tiny club named “The Melon”, I had my first night on a dance floor ever and it opened my heart. It felt like home. I kept clubbing from 1993-2000, then I started writing reviews and taking pictures of the club scene for a website housemusik.dk.
Alongside the reviews I had two club nights: ”Devotion”, that played mostly deep house and more warm style and “Af-fyr”, that was more versatile, with many genres and very energetic music. I explored the club scene for new and interesting DJs and live acts. I always held “DJ-dinners” before events, so we all could hang out, make schedule that we could agree on and make sure that we had fun together. Then I started buying records and DJ’ing a bit. I mostly played at Culture Box, Jolene, Nordberg Festival, Nadsat and ended up as a board member of Culture Box.
I was most actively involved in the music scene from 2000-2007, where I left the scene as an active person. I began studying criminology and a few years later I gave birth to my two wonderful children. Children are very time consuming haha! In 2017 I became Bjørn Svin’s manager and slowly I am getting back in the loop. Still loving music more than ever.
How has the electronic music scene in Copenhagen and Denmark been changing during these times?
“And please don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the new times – it’s just very different from the old times. I am more proud to be part of the community now, than when I was young. It used to be kind of a secret and today it’s cool to be a DJ”.
It’s changed – A LOT! Like so much! I could talk about it for hours. It has become way more “professional”, with all the bookers and PR people. I am not sure it’s healthy to be honest. It’s not at all that much about the music, but way more about the hype and SoMe. And please don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the new times – it’s just very different from the old times. I am more proud to be part of the community now, than when I was young. It used to be kind of a secret and today it’s cool to be a DJ. One thing that worries me is that electronic music has become mainstream and it makes me think that more people than ever are lonely and depressed. And again, maybe I am wrong?
How long have you been collecting music? How many records do you own? And what is in your collection?
I have been collecting records over two periods in my life. First with my boyfriend. We had a collection together. When we split up, he got the vinyl and I got the CDs. Then I started to collect records again in 2002-2003. I have a small collection, maybe around 1000 records? I am not sure. My collection is very versatile – from Monolake to Whitney Houston and classical music, jazz, indie-rock, hip-hop and Detroit techno. The older I get, the broader my genres are.
You are managing one of the most important and influential electronic music artists that has ever hailed from Denmark. Can you tell us more about it?
Hmm – interesting. I have known Bjørn Svin since the high school, he is a very dear friend of mine. I have been managing Bjørn since 2017. It began one night at Berghain. He told me he needed a manager and we emailed about it and agreed on it. We said “Let’s try it out!”. Management is all about trust and honesty. Me and Bjørn have that kind of relationship. He can trust me. I am there for him. And I know his life story. Bjørn is one of Denmark’s most important voices artistically. Denmark and the world needs Bjørn. He pushes sounds and music to places that no one has ever been to. He is constantly evolving, he is curious and technically amazing. I am humbled by working with him. Bjørn is one of a kind!
Would you tell us a little bit more about why Bjørn Svin is still relevant in Danish electronic music after so many years?
He pushes boundaries like very few artists. He is an explorer in sounds, music and technology. He is brave like the few, his music changes so much over time and he keeps on being ahead of time. If you listen to “Kan Tropisk” today, it’s mind blowing and he released that back in 2001. Bjørn is like a danish version of Aphex Twin. His latest album “2 point 5 step pets” is so deep in sounds, that I still haven’t absorbed the album yet. It has so many things going on. Bjørn has matured like really good wine. His music is better than ever, still playful, curious, but also more serious.
What are your favorite vinyl record labels from Denmark or other Nordic countries?
Good question. Hm. I don’t really have any favorite labels from anywhere. Only Deutche Grammophon, cause their stuff always sounds amazing. But I trust and like Raske Plader. Rasmus aka Raske Penge has a really good taste in music, so when he releases new stuff it always gets me curious.
You are pretty active on Facebook group Spinning Vinyl. Why do you think such groups are important?
You know a lot about me! haha! Well it’s in a way irrational to love vinyl in 2020, cause you can stream music. But on an emotional and sensual level it is very logical, cause music on vinyl format is more sensual. You can smell, see and feel the music and artwork put into it. I love the group, cause we all love records – but have very different taste in music. Hence, it’s a good place to get to know new music.
Sakena, why records matter to you?
I am a very sensual person, I like to feel, smell and look at the music, besides listening to music. My collection is my story in life, it’s an emotional documentation of who I am as a person. I only buy records I want, you know, the music that really matters a lot to me.
Where do you buy records? What are your favorite record stores?
I love to shop in physical stores. I love crate digging and meeting other music lovers and I endorse the serendipity of finding new music. I think half of my records are bought that way – I didn’t know I needed those records.
I shop in several places in Copenhagen. Most often you can find me at Beat in Enghaveplads, 313 in Dybbølsgade, Percy Records and Rekords in Nørrebro, but also other places. I have records I bought at Hardwax in Berlin and from stores in London. I love to buy records in other countries – it’s like coming home. It’s always cozy to buy records and it’s a really good way to get to know your musical community. Back in the days my favorite store was “Loud” in Hyskenstræde. There is an intimacy in sharing music taste and have other humans know your taste.
It seems that you endorse jazz, funk, disco, hip-hop, house and techno. What is special about the tradition of African-American music?
“I learned to empower and feel myself for the most part through African American music. It was and still is my medication in life. African American music is very raw and emotional on so many levels”.
It’s the most sexy music ever made, to be honest. I consider sexual energies like air – it’s all around us humans. African American music has an inborn sexual emancipation that I can relate to as a biracial living in Copenhagen. I am half Muslim and half Christian, or half Pakistani and half Danish. When I was younger, life was hard for me. Music healed me, made me feel safe on the dance floor. Made me feel alright and not wrong. I learned to empower and feel myself for the most part through African American music. It was and still is my medication in life. African American music is very raw and emotional on so many levels.
We know that you are represented as an artist by Future Female Sounds. How has being part of the community of female DJs impacted what you do?
It doesn’t have an impact on what I do, I just play music. But I am also aware that female artists and DJs are in general overlooked and if we, the women, co-operate and help each other – it’s a beginning of a new world order. I like meeting all the younger female DJs – they are so cute and nice and it’s very inspiring also.
Please name the 5 best sounding records from your personal collection?
But, I would say that pretty much all my Monolake records sound great.
Hospital Records is just a good sounding record label. Every single record I own from Hospital sounds quality.
And I would say the same about Autechre, their records just sound good!
Please name the 5 best visually designed records from your personal collection?
These are the first ones that pop up in my mind, but of course I could find more.
What is your purpose as a DJ and what motivates you to go out and play?
Good question? On an egoistical level – I really enjoy to hear my records on huge speakers. But at the same time, I really like to make people listen to music they didn’t know. I like to challenge the norm. I like to play out-of-the-box with no genres holding me back. I like to make more uptight girls dance – cause when girls/women dance and can feel free to dance, men or boys will dance too. I think, as a female DJ, I have that power. I know how to make hips move – and hips don’t lie, haha! I also like to represent adult women behind the decks.
Once I played in a wine bar – some men came up to me and asked if the records were mine. They couldn’t believe a woman could collect records and play. But what really motivates me is very simple: it’s fun to play music for other people. To make this invisible soundscape and journey on a subconscious level. It’s also very exhausting. I feel I give a lot, I want people to have fun while I play.
Listen to Selector’s Choice on Soundcloud