Knife Magazine

Festival Feature : Alice Topsøe-Jensen & Paloma Cuesta


Words by: Kasper Houmøller Mortensen

Photos by: Flemming Bo Jensen & Cameron Pagett

Almost every weekend, Copenhagen has a new showing of experimental club music and fast-paced techno. The raves spread across a myriad of crews and venues with interchangeable live acts; however, a couple of mainstay artists and technicians solidifies this rapidly growing scene. If you have found yourself at raves hosted by either Agartha, Fast Forward, Distortion or Ved Siden Af (formerly known as Et Andet Sted), you will, more than likely, have experienced the work of artists Alice Topsøe Jensen and Paloma Cuesta.

Hailing from backgrounds in visual arts and pyrotechnics, these two make sure to engulf the clubs and warehouses in lights and installations curated especially to embody and define the aesthetics of modern raves. Over the past few years, Alice and Paloma have become household acts on the local club scene and have worked with a vast amount of diverse artists and productions ranging from primetime TV shows and theatre to touring rock bands at festivals, DIY warehouse raves and traditional concert venues.

Alice is a student at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, where she thoroughly explores materials ranging from light displays to textual pieces. Working as a VJ, and an installation artist, her work is on the border of being physical and immaterial. "I started out learning traditional stage light, but it never appealed to me, in the same way, that visuals, art, and design pieces do. They are my primary medium of expression," Topsøe explains.

Paloma on the other side (when not doing club nights and underground events) works as an electro-mechanic for one of Denmarks biggest light production companies. Besides that, she comes from a background in pyrotechnics. "I used to do a lot of shows with fire. I juggled, ate, blew fire and torched a lot of stuff, including my costumes. When I started doing technical stage work, I found ways to incorporate fire into that. However, it always depends on the booker and the venue, and it is quite often not possible to incorporate pyrotechnics safely."

An experimental approach to stage design and the role of light in a live music setting is essential to their working methods as well as their influence within the scene. Both artists find the club music scene to be very open to exploring with scenography and alternative staging in a different way than most venues.

"Rave culture and parties are an immersive trinity of lighting, sound, and crowd. All aspects are required to function as a unity, and this relationship carries elements of individual sculptural quality to the installation, while also being deeply submitted to functionality. This dualistic relationship of a singular art piece and design piece has been a focus area for my work and a field of constant exploration and improvement. I use screens and displays like plasma and contemporary flat-screen TVs to separate the installations from any specific era and liberate the work from cultural clichés and obvious retromania." A.T.J

As most underground club promoters are on tight budgets, the ability to make do with what is given, and using all parts of an installation, is central to both artists work.

"Working within the warehouse rave scene gives me the benefit of being able to use the big steel support frames and safety wires as part of an industrial aesthetic. It gives me the freedom to use the items that are meant to secure the installation as an integral part of the finished product." A.T.J

Both artists come from a different starting point in the business. Alice started as a VJ and created lots of visuals for various acts while Paloma worked with scenography.

"I have always had a natural affinity for working with rooms and settings. It all started with doing scenography and elaborate bar installations that transcended the practical purpose of a bar(...) I then started working with Thobias Molter (Et andet sted/ved siden af) as I found his unique approach to lights deeply inspiring. We created light works and installations for their own parties (EAS) as well as a host of events (fast forward, coma club, bølgen, distortion, etc.) I gravitated towards light design as I discovered that working with light possessed all the qualities that stimulated my creativity and workflow while balancing technical know-how and creativity." P.C

Both artists emphasize the community within the scene as one of the most enjoyable aspects of doing this kind of work. There is a lot of cooperation going on in this field of work, and many different people work interchangeably on each other's projects.

"It (the community) becomes somewhat of a family that helps each other out. It is physically impossible to do this job alone, and it wouldn't be any fun at all. A serious pull factor in this work is to meet, inspire, and be inspired by so many different and great people. I talk with everybody from technicians, programmers, promoters, and people working in the storehouses about what works and why it works.“ P.C

Alice and Paloma are currently working on the light-design for Lost Lands Festival, which will take place from the 14 - 16th of August in Mayhem, Copenhagen.

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