Off the streets and into the studio

The Container Lab from organisation Turning Tables, will give marginalised and refugee youth around Denmark the opportunity to express their creative potential, before it is sent around the world

rom the outside, it looks like an ordinary black shipping container. Inside, however, is a professional recording studio powered by a battery pack and solar panels.

The Container Lab is the brainchild of the organisation Turning Tables, established in Denmark in 2009 to “empower socially, politically and economically marginalised youths in developing countries by providing them with the means to express their grievances, hopes and dreams in music and film.”

Over the coming months, the container will travel through Denmark and give local youth the same opportunity. Starting in Albertslund, the Container Lab will proceed to a homeless shelter at Godsbanen in Aarhus, two reception centres for young refugees in Æro, and the Folkemødet (People’s Meeting) on Bornholm, before a final stint at this year’s Roskilde Festival.

At the inauguration of the Container Lab in April, Martin Fernando Jakobsen, from Denmark’s popular Copenhagen-based DJ collective Den Sorte Skole, explained the need to provide a platform for marginalised youth, who are often discussed but hardly ever spoken to.

“They have no voices in the debate, and yet people have so many thoughts about them. So we thought, let’s focus on the marginalised youth in Denmark, and let’s do a project that focuses on the homeless youth whom we have worked with before, refugee youth, and the youth in the Danish ghettos, who are also an overlooked group without a voice.”

Jakobsen is both the organisation’s founder and director. He started Turning Tables to establish permanent music and film schools for marginalised youth and activists in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, Myanmar and Cambodia. In the process, the organisation has helped to produce over fifty videos, including the first-known recording of a female Jordanian rapper.

Turning Tables project manager Åsmund Boye Kverneland. Photo: Peter Stanners

Turning Tables project manager Åsmund Boye Kverneland. Photo: Peter Stanners

Improving lives
The Container Lab is a collaboration with telecom company 3, whose CEO, Morten Christiansen, sits on the Turning Tables board.

“We think this way of using technology through creative means is a great way to help people,” Christiansen said. “It is essentially using technology to give people the tools to improve their lives and the lives of others who are in the same situation. And I like that.”

Christiansen says the first Container Lab is designed to get the attention of investors by demonstrating how simple and cheap it can be to create a product that can make a real difference.

“By helping to pay for the Container Lab, we are showing more global companies what exactly this is. And then we can start pitching it, and perhaps gain some momentum to get a few produced that will fuel a more global presence. Just think about South America, the Rio area, with all these protests – there are so many place where it’s needed.

“[The Container Lab] is easy to market, it makes for such a wonderful picture. It is beautiful. We are doing this and it does not cost that much, and you can see how many people are benefiting from it. You get local stars to come down and perform with local artists.”

Promoting dialogue
Turning Tables project manager Åsmund Boye Kverneland is a musician and DJ who had grown tired of life on the road and decided to use his energy and skills to mobilise change through Turning Table’s initiatives. He joined the organisation a little over a year ago and is now focussed on projects like the Container Lab that can make a lasting impact.

He explains that the founders started out by holding DJ workshops in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in 2009. They soon wanted to do more than just show up, play, and disappear, so they formed Turning Tables to start working long-term and to establish local centres to produce music and film.

“This idea of coming in with something nice and then taking it away again, this happens too often,” he mused. “We want to establish centres or labs where we can operate for many years. We can teach the local staff who come to work for us how to fundraise, to learn how to build, and within a 3-5 year period to make themselves as self-sustaining as possible.”

Kverneland explains that while Turning Tables can connect the youths with record labels and film distributors, some of the young artists end up as instructors on the Turning Tables team. Others have gone on to become professional musicians. Ultimately, it’s important to employ these young people because of their deeper understanding of how to operate in the country.

Turning Tables has also helped to organise festivals globally in places such as Tunisia and Myanmar where they facilitate and promote dialogue between conflict groups, illustrating that the arts can serve as a bridge.

“There was a lot of tension between the ethnic Burmese people and the Muslim minority in northern Myanmar. Then we set up a collaboration between youths from the two communities, and got them to showcase their work out in the broader societies. We showed that collaboration is possible.”

The inauguration was held in the spring sunshine outside the offices of the architecture firm Arkitektur Ministeriet. The dozens of guests ate free tacos and drank beer while listening to the opening speeches. Among them was Martin Højland, fellow member of Den Sorte Skole and Turning Tables’ head of Project Management, Fundraising and Coordination.

In his introduction to the event, he spoke of Turning Tables’ importance on all levels – from teaching kids how to hold a microphone when they’re rapping live to engaging youth on a large scale.

“A lot of people will ask what is the point of playing a rap song if you don’t have a home, or you have just lost half of your family to war or a crisis,” he said. “The reason that we travel around and do this work is because it does matter a lot. Telling your story and hanging out with other people can really provide a new perspective and enable you to see your future in a new light. And that is part of this project.” M


Turning Tables was established in 2009 to provide a voice to marginalised youth around the world. They have worked with thousands of young people in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Cambodia, Tunisia and Myanmar.

The Container Lab consists of a 20-foot shipping container, refurbished into a mobile and state-of-the-art music studio. Over the next few months it will tour Denmark together with musicians and DJs Phase5, Al Agami, Raske Penge, EaggerStunn, Bjørn Svin and Zaki.

The Container Lab was designed by architect Mija Byung, together with Center for Maritim Arkitektur.

3 Danmark is the major sponsor. Gyproc, Ecophon, Isover and Glass Solutions donated building materials. Other support was donated by Arkitekturministeriet, Lauridsen Skilte, Victron Energy, NJ Service, Logik & Co, Eentileen and Elindco.

Features, Culture

By Natasha Jessen-Petersen

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