Copenhagen’s Distortion Festival: A guide to Scandinavia’s wildest street party
Street parties don’t get much bigger or better than this: it’s Copenhagen’s Distortion Festival and it’s Scandinavia’s wildest dance music festival, attracting up to 100,000 people per day.
Over five days, the streets of Copenhagen transform into a beautiful chaotic mess of revelry.
Distortion has a life of its own. It’s spread over multiple locations and clearly cannot be contained, moving through the city’s neighborhoods and venues at a feverish pace.
The heartbeat of the event is the music that brings the people together, with local and international artists providing a soundtrack of good tunes and good times.
The result? Big crowds. Much dancing. Many happy faces. And possibly a lot of fuzzy memories due to the inevitable drinking that goes on. But don’t worry, the locals are a friendly bunch, so you’ll likely make new friends who’ll tag you in their selfies the morning after.
What goes on at Distortion Festival?
If it’s your first time looking into Distortion, you might be confused as to whether it’s a music festival or a street party. It’s a bit hard to classify because it’s an event that doesn’t fit perfectly into a box.
Part of the reason we love it so much!
Officially, the festival is self-described as five days of street life and new dance music. But for simplicity, it can be broken down into three main rolling events:
1. Street parties
For the first couple of days, people take to the streets of Copenhagen.
With its urban carnival-like atmosphere, this is arguably the most chaotic bit of the festival, and for some, their favourite part!
It’s a real showcase of local music and culture, with lesser-known artists given the chance to show off their stuff, while bigger names are often saved for Distortion Ø.
Then again, you never know who’ll pop up at these infamous Street Parties…
Previous years have seen the street festival start off in Nørrebro on Day #1 then switch neighborhoods to Vesterbro on Day #2.
They well and truly share the love, and you’ll see stages popping up everywhere to suit all tastes of music — so if one’s not to your liking, just keep moving until you find something that suits.
The street parties are free, so anyone and everyone can join in the madness.
But if you’re feeling appreciative, you can opt to buy the Gadearmbånd (street wristband) — the funds raised help support the clean up afterwards. A thoughtful thing to do if you can afford it.
2. Distortion Club
By night,the party heads inside Copenhagen’s many clubs and venues. Unlike the street parties, the club events require tickets. But with first-rate acts it’s totally worth it.
Big names that have played at Distortion Club events in the past include the likes of M.I.A, Hot Chip and Ghostface Killah.
If you want to see Copenhagen’s nightlife at its best, Distortion Club is the way to do it.
3. Distortion Ø
This is very much the grand finale of the festival.
It usually takes place over the last two days at a green and hilly part of Refshaleøen, an industrial island right in the heart of Copenhagen.
This is the part of the Distortion series that looks and acts most like a traditional music festival: pulsing crowds, fireworks, lasers in the sky and everyone in the same epic place.
It’s Distortion on a grand level, drawing huge international interest with a focus on the newest dance and electronic music from acclaimed artists that hail from all over the world.
Last we checked, there are four amazing stages you definitely need to check out: Rave Stage, Live Stage, Disco Stage and the Techno Tunnel.
Our tip: prepare to party until dawn!
What is there to love about Copenhagen’s Distortion Festival?
If you love yourself some dance music, don’t mind a bit of friendly organised chaos, and are ready to get up close and personal with like-minded peeps, Distortion is right down your alley.
But here are a few more reasons to add it to your calendar:
So much dance music diversity
There’s definitely a strong music flavour at Distortion. And it’s naturally morphed over the years to match whatever is in season. But overall, you can expect to hear a lot of dance music, including techno, hip-hop, house, trap, experimental, and similar.
But then again, it’s Distortion, so anything goes and it’s always good to expect the unexpected at a festival like this. For example, you’ll find that other music genres do pop up, especially in the Street Parties where it’s a bit of a free-for-all.
Because there are so many artists involved in the event, it’s also a great chance to check out new talent, or open up your ears to a new sub-genre.
Street food that’ll ease the munchies
You’re going to want to wash down all that beer with some food, and you’re in luck. Because the Street Parties at Distortion are full of vendors selling some pretty tasty ‘drunk person food’ that can easily be wolfed down on the move (or the groove).
There are all the usual favourites, like chips, hot dogs, kebabs, falafels and sandwiches. Are you hungry yet?
Previous years have even seen Distortion team up with Michelin restaurant, Kadeau, to present a dance party dining option that is a little different. They set up 80-metre-long tables in Nørrebro and Vesterbro for communal dining on an epic scale.
This is Distortion after all, and it really is a shared experience.
Strange and exciting venues
The Street Parties and Club Events are an absolute mixed bunch. Previous years have seen parties pop up in the strangest and most wonderful places. From buses decked out with DJ equipment to multi-story carparks and clandestine gigs underneath bridges.
It all just adds to the thrill.
You can do it on a budget
As mentioned earlier, the Street Parties are free!
If you’re low on cash but still want to party like it’s 1999, Distortion is the way to do it. All you need is enough money for perhaps a bus ticket, a night in a hostel and a kebab at 1am.
Anything can happen
It’s a bit hard to explain unless you’ve been there, but the vibes at Distortion make your inhibitions just disappear. So of course, there’s much craziness to be enjoyed.
People walking around in animal onesies? Totally normal.
Sitting in second-floor windowsills drinking beers, with legs dangling precariously? Probably not very safe, but a common sight nonetheless.
Doing the limbo with a bunch of strangers? Just another day at Distortion, really.
One year they literally lifted a bus above a crowd and used it as a firework dispenser. Because, well why not?
Like we said, crazy stuff happens. Cool stuff happens. Sometimes a little from column A and a little from column B. But either way, you’ll definitely wake up the morning after wondering whether it was all just a dream.
Alright I’m in, when is Distortion Festival?
Got a pen? Good, you’ll want to mark your calendar.
Distortion Festival usually takes place in early June, which is a great time to be in Copenhagen. The temperature is perfect for dancing in the streets, and with 17 hours of daylight, you can make the most of the long days.
The festival does include some indoor venues, but it’s largely an outdoor affair so you’ll really get to enjoy that pleasant Danish summer weather.
Distortion’s origin story: How a one-night party became so much bigger
While these days it’s known to draw crowds of 100,000 people, Distortion Festival started out pretty small. It was 1998 and Thomas Fleurquin wanted to celebrate street culture and music amongst like-minded people, so he held a one-night party at the Mantra nightclub in Tivoli.
He may not have realised it at the time, but it was the start of something incredibly special.
It continued on the next year, and the year after that. Until in 2000 it was popular enough to expand from a one-day event into a five-day fiesta. They’d hit a new neighbourhood every day, taking the party from place to place.
It was starting to look more like the Distortion we know and love today, but it was still barely legal and still taking shape.
Those first few years really ought to go down in legend with what they achieved on practically no budget. It’s these rough-and-tumble foundations that potentially made it so popular. Something about the chaotic and ‘anything goes’ nature that drives it still today.
In an interview with The Sound Clique, Thomas says “I think the very core of the festival is probably to break with the boundaries of daily life and to explore the balance between human and animal nature”. That’s exactly what he did and perhaps exactly why it works.
2007 was a big year for Distortion. They hit the record of 2000 people at a single street party, and from there the momentum just took off. Things became more official, the Copenhagen City Council got involved and in 2012 they established the Distortion Foundation.
FAQs about Distortion Festival, Copenhagen’s coolest city-wide party
Plan ahead so you can party on down as soon as you arrive at Copenhagen’s coolest festival.
Where is it held?
There are multiple locations, but in previous years the street parties and club events have mostly been held around the areas of Nørrebro and Vesterbro.
There are also usually events held at Øksnehallen and City Hall Square, but it’s such a mobile festival that DJ sets and stages could honestly pop up anywhere in the city. So keep your eyes open and use your ears as a compass — follow that bass and you might find exactly what you’re looking for.
As for Distortion Ø (the big finale), it’s historically always been held at Refshaleøen.
If you’re heading to Nørrebro, you can make the walk from Nørreport Station or City Hall Square. If you’re heading to Vesterbro, you can walk from Copenhagen Central Station or Dybbølsbro Station.
Getting to Refshaleøen is easy if you’re camping — just head next door for the festival. Or if you’re coming from the city centre, it’s just a five-minute bike-ride from Freetown Christiania. Alternatively, you can just take the metro to Christianshavn and then bus it straight to the festival site.
Where to stay if you’re coming from out of town?
A lot of people like to stay at the camping site on Refshaleøen, which is conveniently next to the Distortion Ø festival site. Not bad if you want to dance or stumble your way home to your tent after partying until dawn — the camping site even has its own music stage!
But if you’d rather a bed, there are plenty of hostels, hotels and apartments for rent in Copenhagen’s city centre. If you stay close to the Nørrebro and Vesterbro areas you’ll be well-placed to get to and from the street parties.
What’s the camping like at Refshaleøen?
A super intimate and chill experience.
If you don’t have your own gear, you can rent a tent and buy sleeping bags and mattresses at the official onsite kiosk. There’s also bike rental for you to explore the city (a 15-minute ride away) and a bus stop nearby so you can easily make your way to the Street Parties and Distortion Club events.
The camping facilities are very generous — hot showers, flushing toilets, drinking water, food and drink bars, and everything you need to be comfortable. They even have their own music stage — because this is Distortion peeps and the festivities never stop!
If you like the idea of hanging out 24/7 with like-minded peeps, sharing bonfires, dancing together until dawn and even swimming in the canal to wake yourselves up, camping is a great option.
What should you wear?
A festival like this is really about freedom and self-expression, so it’s totally up to you.
But keep in mind, things will get crowded and you will be partying in the streets, so choose your shoes wisely. It might be one of those times you swap your stilettos for something comfy like sneakers: party up top, practical down below, if you know what we’re saying.
Oh and if you’re going to stay out all night at Distortion Ø, keep in mind that it may get a little cool when the sun goes down. So, a jacket or similar wouldn’t be a bad idea.
How much do tickets cost?
It can obviously change year by year, but last we checked, tickets cost roughly:
650 DKK for a Distortion Pass (includes access to all ticketed events throughout the festival).
380 DKK for a ticket to Distortion Ø on the Friday.
380 DKK for a ticket to Distortion Ø on the Saturday.
400 DKK for access to the camping site for the full five days.
Interested in volunteering at Distortion Festival?
It’s so much fun, and you’ll get free access to all of the ticketed events, as well as complimentary camping if you want it. They also cover your food and drink on shift.
There are loads of roles, from working the bar to checking tickets, or just running errands. You need to be aged over 18 by the festival start date, and you’ll need to apply on the website.
What is Tuborg and what’s it got to do with Distortion Festival?
It’s a beer brand, and it’s a Danish favourite. Expect to be seeing a whole lot of Tuborg at Distortion Festival.
Copenhagen’s Distortion Festival: The happiest place on Earth
As Distortion’s founding father, Thomas Fleurquin, explained when interviewed by The Sound Clique, he started Distortion really just to kick-off a great party for people and “to create and to share magic moments”.
So, when you think about it, Distortion Festival might be driven by dance music and street culture, but at its core it’s really just about togetherness and joy. And obviously Copenhagen has been the perfect place to do this.