We recently got a chance to sit down and talk with Knutepunkt‘s Claus Raasted to discuss Nordic larp, his favorite KP moments, and what’s to come for Knutepunkt in the coming years:
Claus Raasted: The thing with themes at Knudepunkt is that for the people who create the themes (the organisers), sometimes the themes seem to be very prominent, but as a veteran participant I feel that the themes don’t really have a lot of impact. Sure, a lot of people from different larp cultures exchanged ideas and that was definitely a case of crossing borders, but that’s more or less what KP is about anyway. I think the themes of KP mostly contribute in small, fun ways, but nothing major.
Aaron: How has the international audience for Nordic-style larps increased in the last few years? Why is that?
Claus: First of all, one of the most problematic things about “Nordic larp” is defining it at all. Finnish larp scholar Jaakko Stenros gives an excellent summary of the phenomenon here. It’s 30 min, but both entertaining and insightful. That said, we’ve gotten better at documenting, the power of the internet is growing, and it’s becoming easier and easier to find other kindred spirits who share your interests. Because of this, the Nordic community centered around the Knudepunkt conference has grown steadily, especially in terms of foreigners (from outside the Nordic countries) participating. And while Nordic larp (whatever it may be) is not for everyone, quite a few of these visitors return home as evangelists who start producing Nordic larps of their own – or re-running previous larps. Nordic larp has become a brand, and a powerful one – even though we may not always agree on what it is.
Aaron: What has surprised you the most about the international interest? Scared you? Inspired you? (and by “you”, feel free to generalize about the Nordic community if you like)
Claus: For me personally, one of the most surreal things about the international interest in Nordic larp is that people I’ve known for quite a few years are now becoming internationally recognized experts who are listened to in many places. I mentioned Jaakko Stenros earlier, who’s rightfully recognized as a larp scholar and authority these days, both in and outside of the larp community, but ten years ago he was just Jaakko, whose sofa I crashed on when I was in Finland, and who I’ve dreamed up crazy projects with after late-night drinking sessions. I vividly remember a night of planning, where we talked about establishing a publishing house for Nordic larp stuff. Now, ten years later, I have a publishing house of my own and both Jaakko and I are published authors whose works are cited by others. Him more than me, sadly, but you can’t have everything. Sometimes thoughts like that hit me, and they’re very humbling. We’re no longer just a group of friends doing weird stuff that nobody else cares about. Which is both good and bad.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I find it scary – or at least disturbing – how many people are quick to criticize and demonize what we do. Non-larpers usually go “Wow. That sounds crazy, but in an interesting way.” when you talk about some of the more ambitious Nordic larps, but there’s a lot of “You think you’re fancy artists, and you just suck” attitude coming from other larpers. Some of it is of course understandable – after all, some of the stuff that’s done sounds decidedly weird to some, and therefore pretentious in a bad way, just like all other kinds of art can be – but I’m amazed at how important it is to a lot of people to distance themselves from projects that I feel are incredibly interesting. Sure, not all larps are for everyone, but the amount of people who dislike “the artsy stuff” without having any clear idea of what it actually is staggers me sometimes.
Claus: KP is hopefully going to expand in both size and scale. If it doesn’t, spin-off events or events made by some of the same crowd will continue to expand. Mini-larp festivals like the Norwegian Grenselandet or the Danish BlackboxCPH festival are springing up and growing. Other conventions that are KP-inspired pop up in more and more places and initiatives made to broaden “our” impact (whoever “we” may be in this context) are happening all the time. If you want Nordic larp and Nordic larpers, the places you can get your poison are growing all the time. It is just natural, since the number of people who identify with the Nordic scene is also growing.
Aaron: Has it gotten easier or harder to run KP?
Claus: It’s gotten harder. My first KP was in Denmark in 1999. It was at a public school (a high school, actually) and we slept on foam mattresses in sleeping halls. In 2004 the Finns took us to a conference center for the first time. In Norway earlier this year, the most expensive tickets cost 475€. And we’ve also gotten older, which means that it’s harder getting youth culture funding, since we’re no longer youths. The bar has been raised, the “core” KP-goers are more clearly defined and the event is a lot more well-produced than it once was. On the other hand, the hype machine works as well, and this year’s KP first ticket batch sold out in 20 minutes. Your read it right: 20 minutes. A counter-movement is stirring; the Danish KP of 2015 has plans on lowering the luxury level and making it bigger and more economically inclusive to young people, and I’m sure the Swedes have something up their sleeve as well.
Aaron: What are your top three favorite moments in any KP at any time, and why?
Claus: Phew, that’s a tough one. I have 14 KPs to choose from, remember.
#1: In KP2004 in Finland, a large group of us had (for some obscure reason) decided to run around the hotel stark naked after having visited the sauna. Alcohol might have been involved, since there was snow outside. This in itself might be considered fun enough (it was), but the golden moment occurred when we came in via the front door of the hotel, only to discover that a couple of paramedics were there in full response gear because someone had had an attack of something allergy-related. The looks on their faces as we burst into the lobby is something that’s hard to forget.
#2: At my first KP in ’99, we were put into something called “intimacy groups” by the organizers, and were told to discuss certain subjects as a way of getting to know people from different countries at the beginning of the event. One of the discussions was on how to simulate sex at larps. Swedish larpwright Martin Ericsson (whose last big larp project was the Monitor Celestra) stood up and said the unforgettable words: “When I get beaten up at a larp, I want to feel I’ve been beaten up, and when I have sex at a larp, I want to feel the penetration”. I wasn’t even present when he said it, but it’s definitely a KP-moment.
#3: At KP2007 in Denmark, we had visitors from Belarus (a former Soviet republic, for those who aren’t current on European geography), who were there to get ideas on how to use larp as a tool for democracy in Belarus. During a spirited discussion on what kinds of larps would be interesting to bring there, a Norwegian larper said something which I’ll never forget (though I might misqoute a bit): “For the last ten years I’ve gone to larps to cry, to feel pain, suffering, and things like that. Now I just want to go out into the forest and beat up some orcs!”. To me, this is what makes larp so interesting. Sure, I’m into heavy-hitting stuff like the prison-larp KAPO, but I’m also a fan of putting on some armour and beating up some people with latex swords. Even though KP is a gathering of ambitious, wild-eyed artists, it’s also a gathering of people who like to have fun.
Claus: I have no clue. It’s KP, and I’ll be there. Maybe we’ll hear more about what the theme is and means at a later date.
Aaron: Would it ever be possible to run a KP in a non-Nordic country? UK, Germany, U.S, etc.? Can the brand branch out? Should it?
Claus: It would be easy to run KP in a non-Nordic country. I was recently in Latvia looking at conference hotels there, to get an idea of prices, should we decide to move elsewhere, and Germany’s been talked about several times. I think KP should remain in the Nordic countries, though, but similar events could easily be held elsewhere.
Aaron: For those who are scared of Nordic larps and KP, what would you say?
Claus: I’d say it’s like being scared of someone because they read a certain kind of book and like a certain kind of movie; in other words, damn silly. Especially, I’d say something to people who throw the old, tired “Larp is just for fun, we don’t need theory or to talk about it. We should play instead.” in my face: we’re so many people from so many places who share a hobby. Of course we need some kind of common language so we can exchange ideas. Somebody probably at some point said the same things about movies, literature, radio, TV, and other forms of expression. We share a hobby, but we don’t always agree on what’s most important about it. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other.
Aaron: Would an American boffer larper ever get anything out of attending KP? If so, what?
Claus: Depends on what the American boffer larper is interested in. I’ve met quite a few “American boffer larpers” and some would enjoy it immensely, while others would be bored out of their skulls. Even so, I think some of the things at KP are of interest to all larpers, no matter what their “type” may be. Norwegian larp elder Eirik Fatland held an extremely useful and down-to-earth talk on characters and playability this KP that I think everyone could benefit from hearing. I know I did, and I can’t think of very many larpers who wouldn’t want to hear more about the growth of the Palestinian larp scene over the last couple of years. Mainly, KP blows peoples’ minds by giving them a taste of how varied, and colourful and sometimes outrageous the world of larp is. If you’re open to hearing about things you yourself might consider far-out, you’ll have a blast at KP. If you’re more likely to go “What’s wrong with these sickos?”, then it’s probably not for you.
Aaron: Larpers in the four Nordic countries seem to work well together. Is this true, or are there conflicts? Do you think American larp groups are in conflict or not? From an outsider’s perspective, what advice do you have for American larp cons who want to be cool like KP? Or should we make our own brand of cool, and what, in your opinion, would that look like?
Claus: Ha! The Swedes think the Danes are horrible misogynists who only want to get drunk. The Norwegians can’t understand why anyone would want to play something that’s not that serious and the Finns are considered strange by everybody. An important thing to realize is that while there’s a definite “Nordic” community that’s grown out of KP and its circles, the larps in the different Nordic countries are by no means all Nordic larps. Most Danish larpers aren’t interested in playing Nordic larps, and the same goes for the other three countries as well, though the Norwegians seem to have a higher “Nordic-interested” percentage than the rest. And of course there are conflicts. All the time. Some may disagree on politics, gender issues, language use, or methods, and larp styles and preferences also differ widely. One of the more well-known Finns, Mike Pohjola, wrote that immersion was the only goal (in his Turku Manifesto at the turn of the millenium), while a few years later, another Finn – Laura Kalli – wrote that immersion was overrated bullshit that you shouldn’t worry about. One of the strengths of our community is the culture of disagreement and that’s brought us quite far, even though some of us disagree strongly on a lot of things. So do I believe the American larp culture has conflicts? Yeah. I do.
And do I have advice for American cons? Sure. Stop being afraid of people being people. Stop making rules for everything. Let go a little. Some people accuse KP of being a drunken party of people who sleep around. I don’t blame them. I just think that some of the magic comes from the crazy parties, the secret rituals and the outrageous war stories. Most wild larp projects start out as drunken ideas at 4 a.m; at least quite a few of those that start at KP.
Aaron: Can you talk about the rant session at KP and the naming of sex partners, or other infamous rants? Does that strengthen or weaken the community to have a rant session, or that particular rant?
Claus: Of course, I can. But I’d rather refer to Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola’s excellent text on Play that they wrote after Rantgate. If I’m to talk about rants at KP, I’d rather link to the first Hour of the Rant from 2011, so you can see how it works in practice.