It’s been four summers since Berlin-based DENA suddenly showed up in everybody’s newsfeeds. Her breakthrough track ‘Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools’ was a catchy mix of hip hop beats and Balkan pop in a distinct Bulgarian accent. The accompanying video was set in a Neukölln flea market, and it captured the type of ironic, cheap yet irresistible glamour that is often associated with Berlin.
On an unexpectedly hot late-summer afternoon, we meet over french fries and white wine to talk about her new EP, living in Berlin and the escapist potential of a great pop song. Despite the heat, Denitza Todorova, aka DENA, is reflective and enthusiastic. Her new EP Trust has recently been released and she is eager to talk about her musical ideas after having worked extensively on putting out the new material.
The roots of DENA’s passion for pop music – the 1990s specifically – can be traced back to her formative years in the post-socialist tri-border region of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey where she grew up in a small town. Pirated cassettes and VHS recordings of MTV shows played a big role in her musical education, as did her living situation. Sharing a tiny flat with her parents and sister, DENA’s early interest in music had an escapist quality to it. She elaborates: “There are all these photos of me when I was little; always with headphones on, obsessively listening to Michael Jackson. Listening to music on headphones created this private space, a room for myself.” This idea of a headspace and the physical aspects of hearing music so close to the ear comes up several times as we discuss DENA’s own music and the question of when she considers a track good enough to release. “You never know beforehand how a song will resonate with others. My personal criteria goes back to that image of me excessively listening to music through headphones – I want to feel closely connected to a track.”