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Things I Learned At Distortion

Scandinavia's largest street party through the eyes of a Californian.

Summer has landed, somewhat, in Copenhagen. On any given day where the weather app on your phone reads 12C or higher, the streets and parks will be littered with folks consuming copious amounts of warm beer, making Copenhagen a top destination for the sport of can collecting. On this past weekend, the first weekend in June, something amazing happened and public drinking was taken beyond all conceivable expectations. Distortion happened. One of Europe’s largest street festivals, attracting anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 people per day, Distortion is a mostly free mobile party that barrels through different neighborhoods over 4-5 days at a rate of a thousand beers per minute. I took to the streets this year to see what all the fuss is about.



You run into a dude who boinked your girlfriend that one time in 10th grade? S’all good man. Somebody pukes on your brand new white sneakers that haven’t been touched since they were manufactured in 1995? S’all good man. Somebody whips out their dick and starts blindly pissing in your general direction? S’all good man. Nothing can get people down at Distortion, nothing. Everybody you pass in the streets is ecstatic to see you, even if they don’t quite remember your name or how they know you. As a wise man once said, if there’s a happiest place on Earth, it’s definitely not Disney Land, it’s Distortion. The street parties are free, nobody is checking or cares if you bring your own Netto 1kr beer, and with all that money you save you can probably afford some new shoes.


While the feelings of camaraderie and free love abound at Distortion, that doesn’t mean that the imminent danger of serious pain isn’t lurking just around the corner. People aren’t violent at Distortion per se, they just have literally no control over their bodies whatsoever, including bodily functions. This is not the place to rock your short shorts and Coachella attire. You need to be protected from flying glass bottles, enormous Viking feet crunching your toes to a bloody pulp, arms fist pumping madly in all directions, and any number of bodily fluids flowing towards you like the wild rapids of the Zambezi River.  You’ll be safest and still look ever the Dane in a classic leather jacket, cap, and solid pair of Doc Martens. If you own none of those items, the second most popular outfit of Distortion seems to be a full body furry animal suit of some kind.



Distortion is not the place to try and jump-start your folk music career. Though it is advertised as a beacon of diversity, and surely you can find any kind of music to suit your needs, the only stages that draw the huge crowds are playing techno, dubstep remixes of 90’s hits, or hip hop; sorry, trap. If you plan on debuting anything that doesn’t have a hard-hitting bass line or synths, prepare for dismal reactions.


Let’s use our thinking caps. If in one corner we have raw meat that already looks like a giant turd on a stick, and in the other corner we have actual turds, which are indiscernible between human and animal feces, how about we don’t eat that shish kebab.”You’re already dancing on the edge of nausea and diarrhea by drinking yourself into the ground for five days straight, why do you want to go and throw E-coli into the mix? When it comes to street food at a festival, stick to what you know. You can never go wrong with some fries, a hot dog, or a falafel sandwich. Stay away from exposed raw meat, or exposed anything really, because if it’s too hard to bring out a container for your food then I shudder to think what else is beyond their scope of necessary effort.


Copenhagen is a lovely city. Granted, every third person is a heavy chain smoker and the only ones that are safe from their wildly flung cigarette butts are the city’s elitist infants, mocking you from the comfort of their limousine sized strollers. That aside, all in all the city is in pretty decent shape. If you need a little encouragement or reminder to keep the city clean, just take a look at any of the thousands of trashcans scattered around the city sporting the slogan REN KØBENHAVN or Clean Copenhagen. But you’ve probably had a few drinks at Distortion, promptly stopped giving a fuck and threw your trash wherever you damn well pleased. The sheer amount of rubbish overflowing in the streets during Distortion is uncanny, comparable to the dumpster villages outside of Moscow where unfortunately they do not have an army sized clean up crew to come and make things presentable again afterwards. The work done by the Clean Up crew is incredible, transforming the streets back to their recognizable state in just the few summer hours of nighttime that Denmark is allotted.



It’s safe to say that if males and females switched genitals for a day, the first thing ladies would do after practicing the helicopter dick propeller move, is go outside and urinate on things. As a drunken woman at a street festival, nothing makes us more envious than a group of guys joyously relieving themselves in one of their conveniently placed public urinals, or anywhere at all for that matter. For us, it’s a whole different ballgame. You’ll find sad women waiting in tortuously long lines to go in a stall that men would only use to take a dump, and those of us who refuse to go the port a potty route are not in a much better position. We’ll either be clamoring over graveyard walls to get a bit of privacy, or if you’re a big enough group, form a human wall around a corner and take turns guarding your friends, ignoring the small rivers forming ominously around your feet and the putrid smell of beer piss.


Nothing gets people hot andbothered like bad techno and shawarma breath. If you’re looking to hook up, forget Tinder because you’ll never get service at Distortion anyway, just open your arms and wait for somebody of the opposite sex to willingly fall into them. Shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes tops. Forget trying to chat this person up. The music is far too loud for any of your sweet nothings to be heard, so just settle for a few sweaty, out of rhythm body grinds and then begin slowly dragging your new beau off somewhere a bit more private.  Or not private, that rooftop over there looks good, or the steps of that church seem fine. Something about street festivals make everyone an exhibitionist; but don’t act so innocent, you and all your friends are just as excited to watch as they are to be seen.



Between the giant clouds of marijuana smoke rolling through the streets like an avalanche and the sweaty bodies gyrating bug-eyed to techno, it’s a close competition and hard to determine what drug reigns supreme at Distortion. Pot and MDMA is all well and good, but that’s not exactly news at a rave. What caught our attention the most was the laughing gas stand provided by Vibes Apoteket. If you’re not familiar with laughing gas, or whippits as they are sometimes referred to, it’s a small silver canister of nitrous oxide which you fill a balloon up with and then inhale it’s contents. The high lasts about 20 seconds so at 20kr a pop, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s legal and administered by employees wearing lab coats so it has to be somewhat better for you, right? Right.


The street parties in Nørrebro and Vesterbro are always free, but they end at 10pm, after which there are various late night parties scattered around the city that cost an entrance free and a final party out at Refshaleøen that costs a whopping 350kr. All of the most renowned acts play at the after parties, which draw a slightly smaller crowd of adamant fans. In order to keep Distortion going for years to come, these parties are essential for their bankroll, and who wouldn’t want such an amazing thing to continue? At the very least it’s a worthwhile reason to call into work sick for a few days and put off studying for those pesky exams, so we’ll see you there next year.

Thanks Distortion.

Follow Danika: @danikamaia