Mad ES: Mountain Man VJ

Artist, activist, organiser, art director and VJ, Mads Knudsen has an explosive and colourful inner vision

Mads said that the wall of ice just came ripping down, the whole sheet in one go. It was day 22 of climbing the 6,194 meter Mount McKinley in Alaska. Measured from its base, it’s the tallest climb in the world. He and his two companions were pushing for the summit when they fell. He was the first climber up, so he fell the furthest. He plummeted 200 metres and was imprisoned in a tomb of snow and ice. Snow filled his mouth and nostrils and he couldn’t breathe. Squirming, he managed to create an airway that kept him going until his companion tunneled through the snow and rescued him fifteen minutes later. Experts later said that the three had a five to ten percent of surviving that avalanche in Alaska. Treading the line between life and death, that’s my VJ.

I first got to know Mads when we were touring through India earlier this year. We played six cities and had ample time to get acquainted between all the cars, buses, trains and planes that took us from north to south. But it wasn’t then that Mads opened up and I learned what this man was hiding. One afternoon we were setting up for a soundcheck at a club gig in Bangalore and, in response to a story I was telling, said, “that reminds me of the time that I was held up at gunpoint in São Paulo”. This was one of a number of statements he made during that trip that downright rocked my perception of him. I realised I couldn’t put this discrete, hoodie-wearing Danish man in a box.


Mad ES’s visuals shown behind the rapper, and the writer of this article, Shivani Ahlowalia. He calls his style ‘colourful maximism’ (Photo: Flemming Bo Jensen)

Numbed by the predictable nature of almost everything around me lately, I was delighted when Mads began to reveal himself. Mads Brydegaard Knudsen, dubbed Mad ES, is a VJ (Visual Jockey), graffiti artist, activist, organiser, art director, mountaineer and my bandmate.  He was born and raised on the island of Lolland to which he attributes his affection for nature, the fire inside, and excellent German. Before we came together with our galactic bass operation, Alo Wala, last autumn, we were connected through our affiliation with the YO FOK! collective in Nørrebro.

Mad Es is dogmatic about creating all the visual content that he uses in his performances. His visuals are rooted in an aesthetic he refers to as “colorful maximalism”, which he uses as a tool to strike the balance between the song’s intention, the vibration of the music, and the energy of the crowd. He performs like a DJ, triggering all the visuals live on stage and feeding off the collective pulse in the room. For a man who up until recently only wore black, he is not afraid of colour.

Mads’ first VJ show was at an event he curated for Christiania’s 40th birthday party in 2011. DJ and producer Anders Dixen, who performs as Unkwon, was familiar with Mads’ graphic finesse due to their pasts as graffiti artists and asked him to create live visuals for his DJ set. Mads accepted the invitation, took a one-and-a-half hour course on VJ’ing at the autonomous culture house Bolsjefabrikken, and showed up on stage.

A frame from Mad ES's music video for Okay Funky's 'Valhalla' (Photo: Hannibal Struckmann)

A frame from Mad ES’s music video for Okay Funky’s ‘Valhalla’ (Photo: Hannibal Struckmann)

It was a visual orgy that rocked the crowd, and Mad Es soon became YO FOK!’s resident VJ. He created the visual spectacle at They Call it Moombahton shows, and went on to craft intimate visuals for Eloq, Julius Sylvest, Copyflex, Copia Doble Systema, Alo Wala and Dixone. He has toured with these artists from Morocco to Iceland, and everywhere in between. As a club VJ Mad Es, says the most memorable shows were for international acts including Munchi, Nadastrom, Slick Shoota, Jillionaire and DJ Snake.

He was recently lured into directing a music video for Okay Funky’s new track ‘Valhalla’, a song that hums of immigrant life in Denmark. Mad Es describes the piece as a crazy three dimensional and psychedelic rave with Viking and African aesthetics. Constantly digging around for unearthly environmental experiences, Mad Es is now planning a trip to Tajikistan next year to conduct research for his documentary project on The Pamiri people. His self-appointed duty is to support the Pamiris in making their identity, struggles and beauty known to the world.

Mads, much like his expression, is a mindful explosion of light. He missions to bring people together through his art while always finding a way to feed the fire inside.


By Shivani Ahlowalia

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