Catching up with the Danish singer at SXSW…

In the backyard of a bungalow bar on Rainey Street, Austin’s historical district that’s somewhat off the beaten path from main thoroughfare 6th Street, Danish maverick  is whipping the Friday night audience into submission – literally, as her long, taut ponytail spins and lashes the crowd when she strides out over their outstretched arms.

She is provocative yet engaging, bouncing across the stage confidently and taking no prisoners. It’s all somewhat at odds to the timid, smiling Karen Marie Ørsted Clash met the day before – though, as she explains, her musical persona is her means of pure self-expression.

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Mø, ‘Don’t Wanna Dance’

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“In my pre-teens I wanted to wear black clothes,” she tells us. “There was just something going on inside of me - you know when you become a teenager, stuff like ‘aaaggghhh’ inside of you. So I started hanging out with people who were into left-side politics and listened to punk music and I just got totally into that and wanted to throw all my creative energy and all my ‘aaaggghhh’ into that.

“I don’t know why – that just seemed like that was what I wanted to do. I was only 14 – I didn’t know anything about politics, but I was just like, ‘F*ck grown-ups! F*ck police! F*ck everything!’”

A reaction to her idyllic childhood in a provincial suburb of Denmark, Karen’s escapism through music was sparked by the unlikely clarion call of the Spice Girls. However, it was their ‘Girl Power’ mantra that would empower and inspire the future artist.

“A lot of people, when they’re teenagers, strive to fit in and to be perfect,” she explains. “I know this is a cliché, but really it’s a big issue when you’re a teenager. I just learned through my teens that you don’t have to be this perfect image that you think you have to be. You just have to find a way where you feel comfortable in doing whatever you do and whatever you like.”

Add in a thriving passion for hip-hop, which blossomed in her late-teens, plus an obsession with Sonic Youth, and all the ingredients of the former art student’s contradictory aggressive/sensitive music become clear.

Early forays into recording produced crunk rap-inspired tunes, but it was upon hooking up with producer and fellow Dane, Ronni Vindahl, that Mø found her true sound – a result of the pair’s juxtaposing styles.

“I’m very messy, and he has good ears for details,” she explains. “He’s so technical and very delicate in his way of producing. Even though he also has the heaviness in his beats. That’s what I really love: he has this vulnerability and the delicateness, but he still has the heaviness. So I think we complement each other very well.”

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If you really give into just being yourself and being true in that moment, people will listen. It always pays off to just f*cking relax and be yourself.

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Singles like ‘Pilgrim’ and ‘Waste Of Time’ introduced Mø’s tough, fractured electro-pop, redolent of ’60s girl groups, while last year’s ‘Bikini Daze EP’ confirmed her soulful allure, and drew obvious (and lazy) comparisons to the likes of Lana Del ReyLykke Li and Karen O.

Her recently released debut album, ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ (review), includes the ironically titled ‘Don’t Wanna Dance’, a shimmering, stomping and infectious mover, the Diplo-produced brass-filled ‘XXX 88’ (“He’s so productive and so positive and open. He’s awesome”), and the forceful ‘Walk This Way’.

Further disparities emerge when one studies her lyrics. Among the weighty bass synths of ‘Fire Rides’, for example, are signs of Karen’s personal despair. “In too deep / I have become / My darkest dream / Which I’m running from,” she sings. But again, this beaming bundle of energy sat before us doesn’t seem too melancholy a person. “I think that’s why I make music: to get all that stuff out,” she smiles.

Before bouncing off into the midday heat, eager to catch sets later from Banks and SOHN, Karen considers her own appeal, and what will draw SXSW’s over-saturated punters into her snare.

“I feel like if you really give into just being yourself and being true in that moment, I guess that’s when people will listen,” she says. “It always pays off to just f*cking relax and be yourself.”

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Words: Simon Harper
Photography: Katherine Squier

This article appears in issue 94 of Clash magazine (click here to check it out and buy a copy).

Mø online. ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ is out now – read the Clash verdict here.

Related: Mø contributes to our regular Culture Clash section.

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