Group Therapy with Carlo & Selma

“We will not tolerate any kind of discrimination, racism, sexism, hatred, misogyny, misandry, homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, xenophobia.” These are the house rules, in no uncertain terms, at Copenhagen club night Group Therapy. A young club night, Group Therapy has been running since October 2018 at Ved Siden Av, but in their brief existence they’ve carved out a harmonious musical space for Copenhagen’s “queer” club goers.

With five parties behind them thus far, resident DJs and promoters Carlo & Selma, Frederik Tollund and Morten Mechlenborg Nørulf, have been working closely with the venue to offer a safe clubbing space in the city for Copenhagen’s LGBTQI community and those that respect those institutions. In a city that is dominated by brawny Techno, much like most of Europe is today, they offer an alternative clubbing lifestyle with a more diverse music policy and some fundamental rules that discourage intolerant behaviour on the dance floor and encourage a diverse audience.

Carlo & Selma, an Italian-Norwegian DJ duo, are two of the four key figures behind the effort and have made a sincere impression in Copenhagen’s nightlife. Carlo (Molino) & Selma (Skov Høye) have been championing the ideology of their Group Therapy nights from the booth since they first joined forces 5 years ago. Selma, originally from Tromsø and Carlo from Venice, met in Copenhagen when his flatmates hosted a party for Selma after she came back from a student exchange programme in South Africa. “But Carlo wasn’t there,” says Selma over a telephone call and I believe I can hear a smile through her words.

Carlo had moved to Copenhagen from Berlin for studies, but stayed because he loved the city and the “music scene wasn’t as saturated as it was in Berlin.” Coincidentally, Carlo was in Berlin when he was supposed to be hosting the party for Selma, but “he had booked the ticket the wrong way.” Fate had prevailed however, and Carlo would make it home in time to catch Selma rummaging through his records. They instantly bonded over choice cuts from Efdemin, I:Cube and a couple of obscure white label edits and it was Carlo that proposed that they should “start Djing together.” It turned out to be more than just a passing, party fancy and “a couple of days later” Carlo & Selma “picked up on the idea” cementing their friendship and their work together.

Their “musical tastes have evolved a bit since then” according to Selma, but it’s always been “quite an interesting combination” where there’s always been ”some overlap and some divergence” between them. With individual eclectic backgrounds Carlo & Selma’s musical tastes converged on House music but quickly expanded beyond that into Disco and more recently break beat genres of music. “There’s no strict criterion in what sound we want to play,” remarks Selma; “if we can envision it in our set and build a story around it, we’ll include it in our set.” Carlo suggests it was through “percussion” that they found a common ground and Selma agrees that it is “a key part” in the way the play together.

After establishing their “sound” in Copenhagen they have started disseminating it all over Europe, playing places like Salon Zur Wilden Renate, Berlin and Dalston Superstore in London, but it’s back in the Danish capital where they’ve been making their most severe impression on clubland as the resident DJs for Group Therapy. Carlo & Selma stop short of calling Group Therapy a queer night, even though it has been coined as such by patrons and the media. “People recognise that it is a queer night,” says Selma and she doesn’t feel that they need to re-iterate that. Even though they “choose not to use the term “queer to serve as a branding purpose,” elucidates Carlo over an email later, they “do make sure that Group Therapy has a queer vibe” and they do that in several ways according to Selma.

“One of the things we work with is to create a safer place.” They do that “by collaborating with organisations such as Club Mafia;” who install non-security staff on the dance floor to make sure that the house rules are respected. “If people have an unpleasant experience they can approach someone that is not a professional security guard,”  explains Selma, and that way they can ensure that the event and the space is free from any people “behaving in ways that are unpleasant for other people.” Another way they instill the “queer vibe” at Ved Siden Av is through “giving the right importance to spaces like the dark room” according to Carlo. “It’s either us, our friends or Club Mafia, checking that the room isn’t used as a chill out area but for what it is: a space for exploring yourself and your sexuality.” And even though this might not be a natural occurrence in what is a predominantly mixed crowd, Carlo insists; “it is necessary in a city where the concept is not very common outside of strictly gay cruising venues.”

What’s striking is that there are often more girls and women” at these events says Selma, and even though gay clubs have been implementing these kinds of rules since time immoriam, if more “not strictly gay” clubs take the same actions Selma believes it “makes it more interesting.”  But why in an age where information is so readily available and everybody should understand and acknowledge club culture’s gay roots, is it still necessary for a a club night like Group Therapy to impose these practises?

“I definitely agree that it should ideally not be necessary,” says Selma via email later, “but I also feel that sadly in nightlife an awareness of the roots of club culture and the ideal standards for how to behave towards each other is something people still need to be reminded of.” Selma’s personal experiences and those of her friends “that stand out from the crowd” has shown that clubs today still “foster a bro-y culture.” For Selma, “even just as a woman I can find it annoying and tiring to go out to places where a large proportion of the audience is only there to score, rather than enjoy the music and have a good communal experience.”  

For these reasons Carlo & Selma feel it’s a necessary evil to set these rules in place for their Group Therapy nights. “Stating such guidelines explicitly can moreover be a help to not only educate clubgoers,” explains Selma further, “but also to ensure that our audience know that we take these issues seriously.” That’s also why there collaboration with organisations like Club Mafia is so vital to Group Therapy. “We hope that the sum or our efforts will be that people feel safer and more inclined to be themselves,” but she realises that it will always be “an ongoing dialogue between all the actors involved, including guests, staff (including doormen and other security), promoters and so on.“

It’s this communal spirit and attitude that Carlo & Selma bring with them wherever they go as DJs and this openness and inclusivity is something they perpetuate through their selections too. Although they’re launchpad will always be House music, they make sure that they create “a space for playing Disco,” but they’ve also had nights which “are very breakbeat, electro focussed.” Their musical selections are as diverse as their audiences with their selections  instinctively tuned to the “vibe.” For their upcoming set at Jaeger Selma tells me they will bring “a lot of percussion with Disco and maybe Pop” with Carlo adding; “we’re definetely bringing some gay anthems!”

There might be a few of their own edits in there too as they embark on the next stage of their career together as producers, but for the moment that remains the reserve of their own DJ sets. “The fun thing about DJing,” says Selma “is that you don’t have to release music to play it out.” They’re main pursuit as latent producers has been to “enhance tracks that we already have,” but Carlo is adamant that is certainly in the pipeline and he has no plans on leaving Copenhagen exactly for that reason.