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Drinking Buddies of the Week: Tomas Barfod & KIll J

The two Danish electronic musicians told us that laptops rule, Internet trolls suck and you have to think you're awesome to make music.

Photography by Sarah Buthmann

Tucked into a slender side street in Frederiksberg, Café Intime is one of Copenhagen’s hidden gems and a place that feels like a time capsule. One of the city’s oldest gay bars, it’s managed to hold on to its original open-minded spirit and feel like a properly tight-knit community. Just walk in and you’ll most likely be greeted by an Intime regular belting out a Cole Porter song in front of the grand piano. Really, could things get much more genuine than that?

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It was an intriguing contrast, then, to juxtapose a place where time stands still with people who work with the tools that change with the times. Last week, we invited Danish electronic musicians Tomas Barfod and KIll J (aka Julie Aagaard) to have a drink with us at Café Intime. Barfod is a heavyweight in the world of electronic production: he’s built himself a name Internationally with his solo project, not to mention as part of the accalimed trio WhoMadeWho. KIll J is more of a newcomer on the scene, whose particular brand of electro pop has earned her hype but also respect as a promising name to look out for. Barfod and KIll J recently collaborated together for Barfod’s new EP (out today), so we thought we’d ask them about their worlds of electronic production—and let them take it away on their own, too.

NOISEY: Hey, guys. How did you two end up collaborating together in the first place?
KIll J: It started because Tomas invited me to sing a song with WhoMadeWho at a concert and then asked me to collaborate afterwards. I had never been as nervous in my life as I was when I had to get up on stage with WhoMadeWho, ‘cause I had to sing someone else’s song. I was scared I was going to mess it up; I literally felt my knees shake. I actually messed up the lyrics.

Tomas Barfod: Nobody noticed that, though. Everyone was drunk, anyway.

I can understand being self-critical going up there on your own. Do you find you can be especially self-critical because you're both solo artists, doing it all on your own?
Tomas Barfod: I’m more fragile when I’m with my solo project. When you’re a band, you kind of take the heat collectively. When you’re alone, if something goes wrong or someone gives you a bad review, it’s way harder ‘cause it’s all on you. On the other hand, success feels way better and more satisfying when you’re working on your own than if you’re in a band.
I also feel that to make music, you somehow have to believe that you’re awesome. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s really hard to convince other people to believe in you.

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KIll J: That’s funny ‘cause I don’t feel like that at all. I know I doubt myself all the time. I’m horrible at managing that. At the first couple seconds when I write a song, maybe I’ll think I wrote a clever line—but that feeling quickly disappears.

So how do you deal with that self-doubt?
KIll J: I’m a neurotic individual. I’ve accepted that and feel I channel it into the music.

I can imagine it’s hard being a neurotic musician in the age of social media, when everyone always has their eyes on you. How do you two feel about that—is it annoying or do you kind of like the whole social media thing?
Tomas Barfod: I embrace it. For example, we have a strong fan base for WhoMadeWho in Mexico and watching the interaction online is super amazing—that we can have direct contact with hundreds of people through our fanpage or whatever. It feels liberating, somehow.

KIll J: I think at a certain point you have to accept that there’s stuff you can control that you put out there, and there’s stuff you can’t control. There’ll always be trolls or whoever who’ve had a bad day. For example, I got a death threat once. It was after we released the video for "Propaganda", where we were commenting on how women are portrayed in the media in an ironic way. This guy didn’t get it—he called me out for being too slutty.

Tomas Barfod: That’s crazy.

KIll J: It was on YouTube so it doesn't matter, anyway. You can't take it seriously when it's on social media.

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Tomas Barfod: That’s probably the bad part about social media. People are like ‘it’s social media, so it’s ok to be a dick.’ I always think that all the people who are putting this bullshit online are kind of pussies. 98% of them wouldn’t say it to your face if you met them.

You’ve been around for a while, though, and have seen how social media and the Internet have affected the music industry as a whole. Do you prefer the way the industry is now or do you miss the pre-Internet days?
Tomas Barfod: I prefer it now because I feel I’ve been moving in sync with the times. Maybe some rock bands who were successful with the traditional record thing in the 90s are pissed, but not me. I think it’s amazing how fast and easy it is to get your talent out there. There’s a lot of competition but if you’re really good, the sky’s the limit.
Back then, you couldn’t get a computer to make music. You couldn’t record a band unless you had a lot of money. Now, you can come from Argentina, sit in the mountains, download a program on your cheap computer, upload it to Soundcloud and launch your career. I think that’s pretty amazing.

KIll J: Most people can sit down and start making music with very few tools or musical understanding. The market has been democratized. However, there’s also more people doing it, so you’re competing in that way.

Tomas Barfod: The problem with that, though, is that there’s 90% shit out there and everyone feels they have a place to put it out. People make a house beat, throw it on Soundcloud and it creates a lot of noise. There are more electronic musicians now and there are also more nerds who find this music and share it. Overall, it’s more vibrant now.

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How do you feel about the term ‘electronic musician’ in the first place, though? Since you’re both described as that, do you find it limiting or embrace it?
Tomas Barfod: You know, I started my career wanting to be a DJ and making electronic music. So for me, it was a big goal to be an electronic musician and I always saw it as a positive thing. I always felt it was unlimited, the things you could do with machines. You could basically replicate the warmth, creativity and soul of a good rock band on the computer—if you're good, that is.

KIll J: I think that’s a great question and I haven’t really thought about it. It’s true: pretty much all music now is electronic. I’m trying to think of music that’s completely stripped of being electronic and I can’t really think of any.

Tomas Barfod: It’s also funny that even if you’re making a Rihanna song, you’re sitting with a laptop. It’s just a laptop, which costs like $1000. Sure, when the song is finished you throw in a fancy video and a huge marketing budget on top—but it all came from a laptop. Basically all the music you listen to today started on a laptop. Even producers who make billboard hits sit in their bedrooms and work on a computer.

KIll J: Sometimes the bedroom is better than the studio, though! I just moved a lot of my tracking gear to my bedroom two days ago because I like tracking vocals in my bedroom, and it’s better than the booth. It gets really intimate and I like the sound of my bedroom, somehow.

Do you consider your laptop an instrument, then?
Tomas Barfod: Yes because times are different. If before people scoffed at it, now, even the hardest rockers know that laptops as instruments are kind of the deal.

KIll J: It's an instrument, absolutely. I remember I watched an interview way back with Björk when it was this exotic thing: she had this device and was walking around Iceland and recording samples. She got a lot of heat because people would accuse her of not being a ‘real musician’ because she didn’t play a ‘real instrument’.
I very vividly remember Björk defending herself and defending her instrument, the computer. That's really important because she’s definitely one of the people we can thank. Because of her and people like her, others are now taking us seriously for taking the laptop seriously as an instrument, too.

Thanks, guys.