Slightly before Lorde did her thing with Royals, Denitza Todorova, or as she is better known, DENA, was rapping about issues with excess and the problem with always wanting more. Born in Bulgaria and now based in Berlin, DENA cleverly blends hip-hop, pop, failed relationships, humor and fashion to create something refreshingly cool. Her debut album, FLASH, is out now via Normal Surround and !K7.
I caught up with DENA recently via Skype. While she sipped tea, we chatted about being impatient, comparisons to M.I.A., cool spots in Berlin and what she would do if she were given a band of infants to help produce her music.
What was the hardest part of the process of releasing an album?
The wait. That was definitely the hardest part. The whole gap between writing the songs and not being able to immediately share it. It was kind of killing me in the beginning. Then I learned that, yeah, at any time I could just rock the songs the way they were. But it’s probably better to wait and put more thought into how exactly to put out songs, and maybe make videos and stuff like that.
How long was that gap? How long did it take between writing songs and releasing them?
The first one I wrote for this album was in 2011. Then in 2012 we put out two songs, and early in the year I had a 7-inch. By that time, I had written almost all of the tunes, actually. There are a couple of songs that I did later, but I felt ready before then. I was very impatient to share those. But it’s such a complex thing because it’s so much about, for example, working on live shows. Sometimes you actually just need time to let a tune grow on you and with you. All in all, I’m super happy that everything is coming out now because I have a better relationship to the songs.
You’re originally from Bulgaria, but moved to Berlin for school. What were you studying?
I was actually doing media studies and visual communication. It was a mixed thing. The one part of it was theory, and the other part was working with graphic design and videos.
At CMJ, we have a column called Scene Report. Artists tell us about the cool places around them for music and beyond. Where are some of the coolest spots in Berlin?
It’s crazy because Berlin is becoming so gentrified now, so they are closing a lot of places because people start to complain that it’s too loud, neighbors complain and all of that. It’s so fucked up. There are clubs like Berghain that are super famous places to go out. It’s a world famous club. Sometimes people fly over for the weekend just to visit that club. That club is crazy. Sometimes the parties last for, like, two days. Personally, I’ve only been there once because I can’t really imagine being out for two days! Berlin is so much about house music and dance music, and people are just out all night.
There have been a lot of comparisons to you and artists like Lorde and M.I.A. How do you feel about that?
It’s funny because, with someone like Lorde, I first heard about her a few months ago. I’m very honored, because I’m a fan. I really like M.I.A., so it’s cool. Both of those artists are amazing, so I’m thrilled to hear that. On the other hand, we’re all very different, and we’re all very much doing our own thing.
I was watching your videos, in awe of your fashion sense. What is your relationship with fashion?
I have a super spontaneous relationship with fashion. It’s really unreflective of anyone else, actually. For example, for the Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools video, it was just spontaneous. It’s just what I feel comfortable in, but stuff that I like.
I read in an interview you’ve been listening to a lot of Drake lately.
I just saw him last week in Berlin! It was crazy because suddenly Kanye West showed up. Kanye West was on stage in Berlin. It came out of nowhere. No one knew about it. It was a moment when everybody flipped out. The concert was amazing, it was really cool. I’m a super big fan of his lyrics and everything.
What are some of the other bands you’ve been listening to lately?
I just started listening to Disclosure’s album. Everyone was talking about it a few months ago, and somehow I didn’t have the time or something, so I’m listening to it a lot now. It’s great. I’m so into the kind of old-school house music sound. I also like Shlohmo, for example.
What other genres do like? You live in the hub of really popular house music.
Yeah, I’m not as into the house going on now. Berlin is so much about the minimal techno, and that’s something I’m not that into. I definitely appreciate London, there is so much good music coming out of the U.K. For example, I’m totally in to KTB and pop music. I really like Charli XCX. I listen to a lot of music and vibe on so many things. This morning, I was listening to an old Q-Tip album and was remembering how Q-Tip is, like, the best. And then I think about old Tribe Called Quest records, and all the connection with jazz. I’m really in this nerdy zone with music.
Would you rather have babies play your instruments, or have babies mix you music for you?
This is like the ultimate question. I’d probably have babies play the instruments though. If babies were mixing the music… that would be out of control I think.