When making the decision to prise oneself away from the safe familiarity of Leeds and into another country, you can be left with no shortage of things to mull over. The Study Abroad Office will rightly point us towards looking at the cost of living, potential language barriers, and the quality of the host university. All are important, obviously. But the truth is that for many, the social life offered by a city takes priority. Going out is a huge part of student life, and in Leeds we’re blessed with arguably the finest party scene in the UK, so when moving to Copenhagen I knew Denmark had a lot to live up to. Halfway through a year abroad, this is a comparison of my old home and my current one.
The Scandinavian countries are perennial table-toppers in charts measuring things such as quality of life and social mobility. And as if there wasn’t enough to be envious of, the Danes also manage to trump the UK when it comes to the administration of culture too. Whilst we fret about the future of our capital’s fading scene, Copenhagen’s flagship nightclub, and the spiritual home of electronic music in Denmark, Culture Box, is fully government-funded. Virtually unparalleled in Leeds, this is a multi-room maze of a venue, which is relatively old-school in its approach; tickets can only be bought at the door for a fixed price, marketing is at a minimum and smoking is allowed indoors. A world-renowned venue that steers clear of tackiness or excess, Culture Box sets a benchmark any Leeds venue would do well to match.
Copenhagen is no different to Leeds in how the city’s clubs breathe a new life into previously disused industrial spaces. Leeds’ Beaver Works and Canal Mills are paralleled by Pumpehuset (literally ‘Pump House’) and KB3, a former meat storage facility. But where Leeds’ reconfigured buildings have preserved a stripped-back industrial aesthetic, the Danes offer a little more style. This is best seen at Kødbyen (or the Meatpacking District). Situated in the once-poor area of Vesterbro, Meatpacking is probably the most popular weekend clubbing spot in the city. Restaurants and craft beer bars are flanked by still-operational butcheries and meat processing units. The pink neon sign of Jolene – a personal favourite shines down on revellers enjoying disco and house, whilst at nearby Bakken, on one Saturday you’ll be treated to the Pet Shop Boys and New Order, whilst the next you’ll hear Daniel Avery and a noticeably more techno-orientated sound. Whilst the selection here can be erratic, you’re sure for a decent night – made that little bit sweeter by the non-existent entry fee.
So it’s clear that Copenhagen has a strong scene and much of it hasn’t been mentioned here. Nonetheless, when this comparison comes down to the feel of the city, Leeds comes to the fore. This is partially brought about by their marked differences in clientele; Leeds’ scene lives and breathes with its students, whilst it feels that for the most part the clubs and bars of the Denmark aren’t desperately vying for attention as they do in Leeds’ saturated setting. In a Copenhagen smoking area you’re as likely to overhear a conversation between a Spaniard and an American as you are two Danes. Whilst Leeds is fairly diverse, Copenhagen is truly cosmopolitan, and this in itself adds an edge that anybody who chooses to study abroad is chasing. Something can be said for sharing nights with a truly varied array of people, as opposed to mainly British twenty-somethings. The downfall of this, however, is the very real danger of feeling like a tourist. Behind all of the fun, there’s a transitory feeling I find difficult to shake.
A midweek night at Hifi or Wire will often be put on for locals, by locals, as opposed to being filled by those who have never set foot in the club. Our universities do more than sustain Leeds’ night economy; they help shape it. The level of collaboration between venue and audience in Leeds must be praised. Whilst there is a novelty to living in a city where cycling home from a nightclub is the norm, and it is great to venture out of British club-culture, Copenhagen just lacks the collective, DIY spirit Leeds boasts. But having another six months here is by no means a punishment. Moving away does more than give you new experiences – it helps you appreciate your old ones in different way.
Written by Dan King – University of Copenhagen, Denmark