Is sustainable touring even possible? Last week Coldplay announced that they’ll give it a try and that they’ll work on a way to create a Carbon-free touring experience. We wish them all the luck although it’s quite easy to say that when you are the biggest band on the planet. But this issue affects us all and smaller artists are also welcome to join the issue. Danish artist Kasper Bjørke is a longtime friend of NBHAP and a constant source for stunning electronic music. He freshly released a great two-parted EP called ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ which we can highly recommend. And as an expert for quality floorfillers Bjørke is also a popular DJ that gets regularly booked. But flying all across the world isn’t really helping your personal Carbon footprint, right? So, for his gigs in Zurich and Milan Kasper Bjørke decided to go via train, resulting in a pretty intense experience. We invited the Dane to share his personal impressions on this issue along with his green touring diary and photos and you can witness the whole experience right here:
I am trying to make these changes for the sake of my own conscience – and the last thing I want is to come across as lecturing or judgemental. I am not trying to “flight shame” other artists, or anyone else for that matter, who are not able to scale down flying. I realize that it is a huge challenge for many people, not just artists, who are relying on flying as the only possible way of getting from A to B. I do feel its important to try to inspire others, to think about the option of going by train instead of always taking the fastest way, by jumping on the next 30 € low fare airline for your next gig, holiday or meeting. So, this could be touring artists – or families, who are considering where and how to go on their next summer vacation – or commuting business people… It is also important for me to mention, that I am still flying occasionally – when there is no other way. During 2019 I have travelled by airplane only three times for gigs – and if you compare that to 5-6 years ago, where I would fly several times a month, this is a big change…
I have been downscaling touring gradually, since I became a father five years ago. Both to spend as much time with my son as possible after he was born; but mainly a personal ambition of being able to look my children in the eyes one day and tell them that I tried my best to adapt to this new way of life, which we all have to do eventually; if we want to save this planet – and give the future generations a fair chance of having a decent life here…
So, for me this is not just about taking the train instead of flying – but also many other aspects of our daily lives, as a family, where we have changed our habits gradually, since we became parents… We try our best to live as pescetarians (with the goal of becoming full time vegetarians), we stay away from dairy products when we can, only eat organic products; local and in season whenever possible, we are recycling what we can and avoid single use plastic as much as possible, we don’t own a car, we spend our holidays in Denmark – and so on… by now it is in our mindset every day to live as sustainable as we can.
A couple years ago my girlfriend decided to stop flying indefinitely – which also inspired me in terms of scaling down on flying even more. So, I have been saying no to all gig requests overseas for the past three-four years, for example in Mexico, Colombia and USA. I do still love to DJ and have the ambition to continue to tour; I am just trying my best to be as selective as possible about which gigs I want to play and which gigs I need to play – and then plan it with my agent, so that I can avoid flying and go by train – whenever it is possible logistically. I understand that most other touring artists are not able to make the same choices… You have to do what you can, at the point where you are in your individual life and career. Personally, I have gradually worked towards shifting my financial setup, so that I am not as dependant on the income from DJ gigs anymore, as I used to be. I have a company where I am working with music management – and I am also producing music for films. When combined, this makes it possible for me to tour much less than I used to do.
Sustainable touring = a contradiction?
If you look at the plain facts, then one single flight from London across the Atlantic Ocean to San Francisco is around the entire carbon budget for a single person, for one year. So, in that sense it is quite impossible. At the same time it is not that black and white. I have been speaking to some very successful DJs and bands during the past couple of years, who are really concerned about the amount of flights they take – but they are financially dependant on the income from touring and instead try to live more sustainable in other ways. If you have to tour a lot, you could try to plan the touring as responsibly and effective as possible.
For example, you could insist on doing Brazil and Mexico dates on the same tour – instead of going back and forth twice across the Atlantic within a few months. Maybe do Miami on the way back from Mexico and not go back to Miami a few weeks later? You could try to encourage your agents to start a dialogue with the clubs and festival promoters about this issue, to work towards a more transparent booking system.
I am sure there are flights to be saved that way; if coordinated more in synch with where certain DJs are touring at a specific period, instead of just booking them into any random line up, at any given time. Strategic planning, based on territorial availability, must be able to bring down the number of flights of any artist or band! But if you continue to always just fly to where the money is, then it will be difficult, of course …
There is of course also the basic, common known option – to offset your carbon via organisations that plant trees, etc. A lot of airlines do it for you already… But it is not really what will bring down your carbon footprint right now (trees need years to grow). Flying less will.
Kasper Bjørke’s Train Tour Diary
Friday 15.11: COPENHAGEN – HAMBURG
07.35 AM: Departure from Copenhagen.
I am leaving on my first proper long train tour – and I am very excited! The journey starts without any hassle. The central station is just five minutes bike ride from my place. No stress leaving for the airport in time – and no hassle with security lines, boarding procedures etc. I grab some breakfast at the station and head towards Zürich, via Hamburg and with a nice 45 min. break on the ferry from Rødby to Puttgarden, Germany. On the ferry, I sit at the front and watch the grey autumn skies and the white foam of the waves – and I notice the soft voiced speaker announcement that tells the passengers, that the ferry is now a hybrid – as they have added filters so they catch 90% of the particle emissions. Good news… and we have to honour the good news these days and hope that we can still turn things around… my mind wanders off and I think about David Byrne‘s website initiative; Reasons to be Cheerful.
After arriving in Hamburg, I meet the hfn music crew for a quick lunch near the station. On the way, I walk pass a Fridays For Future demonstration and I notice a group of young people holding a banner… I wave at them and give them a thumps up… They shout repeatedly “Keep it in the ground, Keep it in the ground”. To my surprise there is not that many people in the demonstration and I feel a profound sadness for the next generations, who have been left with the mess that we, our parents and grandparents have created.
Friday 15.11: HAMBURG – ZURICH
14.20 PM: After a nice lunch meeting, I jump onto the next train that arrives on time at 22.00 in Zürich for a quick dinner with the owner of Zukunft and Headman, before checking into the hotel. The 14 hour long ride from Copenhagen really did not seem that long and I felt quite rested. We went by a Floating Points live show, before going to the club and I had a great gig together with Headman! It was my first time playing in Zukunft and I am really happy to finally have been able to visit this legendary club, which has been running for 14 years now. I’m reminded that I am also turning into a veteran in this business, after 20 years of DJing and making music… Time flies!
Saturday 16.11: ZURICH – MILAN
15.15 PM: I was in bed at 07 AM in the morning after the gig but still felt good and ready for the short trip to Milan after just a short stroll from my hotel to the train station in Zurich. I enjoyed the magnificent views from the train of dramatic mountains and calm lakes as we drive through Switzerland and the Alps. Just 3,5 hours later I arrive at the beautiful Milano Centrale, the biggest train station in Europe, and get a pick up by the sweetest guys in town from Modular Project. After a disco nap at the hotel I have dinner with Alberto and Alex from Modular Project, who had invited me to play at their monthly party in the new club, Grace… the party went pretty mad and I was in bed at 6.30 AM.
Sunday afternoon I went to the interesting place Tempio Del Futuro Perduto, which is a local combined art and club space. There was a flea market this particular afternoon… I met up with the German journalist Gesine Kühne to record a podcast for Electronic Beats about my decision to take the train on tour; and generally my thoughts on the climate crisis and what we as individuals can do to lower our carbon emission. It was an interesting talk. After the interview I went for the best pizza with Alberto from Modular Project, Gesine and her boyfriend Jakob before going back to the train station.
Sunday 17.11: MILANO – MUNICH
20.40 PM: I was travelling via night train from Milano to Munich and from there via Hamburg to Copenhagen, where I would arrive on Monday night at 22.40 – 26 hours later. The first leg of the trip to Munich was supposed to take 12 hours – and I checked into my cosy, private sleeping cabin with shower and toilet. Super nice experience and I managed to get some proper sleep while still waking up from time to time during the night…
Around 07 AM I pushed the black out curtain aside and realized that we were nowhere near Munich, where we were supposed to arrive an hour later – in fact we were still in the middle of Austria! I located a train steward, who told me that due to a storm and fallen trees on to the tracks in the Italian Alps, they had to take a different, much longer route during the night.
Monday 18.11: MUNICH – HAMBURG
13.03 PM. After almost five hours delay, I finally arrive in Munich; I missed my connecting train by 2,5 hours and had to hurry to change my ticket. The most comfortable option I could find was to take the next train to Hamburg, which takes around 7 hours, spend the night there in a hotel and then take the last five hour leg on Tuesday morning at 09.25 AM – which would bring me back to Copenhagen in the afternoon… 16 hours later than the original plan; which brings the total travel time from Milano to Copenhagen up to 42 hours.
The other option would be to fly. There was a direct flight with SAS at 17.15 from Munich to Copenhagen, which takes less than two hours. I could potentially be home that same evening, in time to kiss my kids goodnight. However, taking the plane felt like jumping into a car in the last part of a marathon. I had come this far. So, I chose the Hamburg overnight option and got on the next train that ended up taking almost 8 hours, due to an accident further along the route. By then I was so tired that I didn’t really notice. It just became a state of mind to be on the train after 24 hours, pretty much nonstop – and more importantly, it still felt like the right decision. I arrived in Hamburg around 21 PM Monday night. I found myself a nice hotel near Hamburg train station and enjoyed a bowl of soup in my room before going to bed.
Tuesday 19.11: HAMBURG – COPENHAGEN
09 AM: I walk back to the train station – and finally I am on my way to Denmark! After another ferry ride, I arrive on time in Copenhagen at 14.26 PM and I am excited to pick up my son at kindergarten. Feels great to be home! The journey during these past five days has been an eye opener both regarding the advantages and the challenges of travelling through Europe by train. Besides the long delay, which resulted in an extra overnight stay, it has been a pretty smooth ride all the way. Obviously, I will not be able to do this kind of tour every week – but that was never my intention in the first place. While I continue to scale down touring in general, this is the perfect solution for me. I wont be able to stop flying completely yet (until I decide to stop touring all together) but until then, I will be travelling with train around Europe, whenever I can!
Reflections on the trip
For me, the time that I spend on all the trains these past five days has been almost like a holiday, if I compare it having spent the same time on airplanes. All those hours on the trains ware very calming – it really becomes a state of mind travelling through the landscapes. And I never liked airports, security and the hassle of boarding and disembarking an airplane in the first place – yet alone being mid air. Trains give you so much more freedom. You have space to make phone calls, to work – and you can always walk around, go to the restaurant car and hang out, even have a semi-decent meal… you can even get off on the platform for a couple of minutes and get some fresh air along the way on a station too, if you need it. Basically, it is a much more smooth and easy ride than flying. Plus you get such an amazing view of the countries you travel through. It is quite something to watch the changing scenery… Denmark is flat, so for me it is very exotic to look at mountains, for example.
Of course, you can never foresee delays – just as with airplanes. I surely wasn’t expecting that the night train from Milan would be delayed due to fallen trees after a storm in Italy, so that I missed my connecting train in Munich and had to spend the night in a hotel in Hamburg, before I could return to CPH… 16 hours later than planned. – It was frustrating but I wasn’t as upset as I would have been, if I had been stuck in an airport for 16 hours, that’s for sure! Also, a big part of the joy of going by train this weekend rather than flying is knowing that my carbon budget was lowered by more than four times! According to Ecopassenger.org the total Carbon emission for my journey, if I had gone by plane, would have been 370 KG C02. By train it added up to 85,7 KG C02. So referencing back to each persons individual yearly carbon budget of 1,2 tons C02 (if we want to stay below the 2 degree mark of global warming), this is quite a substantial saving in my budget!
I would say in this fast paced society the only sane thing to do, is actually to slow down. I deal with stress – and it always re emerges when I travel by airplane. I even start to get anxious the day before I have to leave so travelling by train is a perfect way for me to relax more… It is really that simple for me!
My advice for other artists
I realize that it is a sacrifice (and for most also impossible), to stop touring by airplane because the amount of gigs you are able do will be significantly lowered, just from the logistic perspective. Financially it’s also a huge blow and it will most likely affect your chances of “breaking through” on a global scale. However, I think there a way to approach touring and set the bar for your ambitions and success a bit differently.
For example, maybe you don’t need to play in South America five times a year and also go three times to Asia so you end up crisscrossing across the oceans so much? As I mentioned before, I think that every artist should collaborate with their booking agent and the venues and festivals to aim at touring more consciously. The goal should simply be to lower your total number of flights as much as possible. So, I am not saying that everybody should stop flying completely – that would be double standards, since I am also still flying occasionally. I just think that it is possible for most artists to bring down flying to a certain point, while still growing their careers.
And I think trains can be an important part of that – at least when you tour in Europe. An additional idea, while you still have to tour, could also be to choose maybe three to five areas of your daily life where you want to bring down your carbon footprint and make your own personal “climate agreement” for the next year. Maybe you could consider becoming a vegetarian, lower your digital carbon footprint by 50% – by quitting binge watching movies and series online, avoid food waste – or commit to not buying anything new for the next twelve months? You could also consider stop having vinyl releases of your music – as we all know vinyl is not exactly sustainable. This is something I am considering, for my own future releases, while looking into more sustainable vinyl pressing options. In general when it comes to the future of touring, my hope for the next years is definitely, that heavy taxes will be added to all flight tickets, so that the prices comes up and makes it much more attractive to go by train. On a EU basis, funded by the extra tax income on flight tickets, my dream is that an Inter-European train network will be build, similar to the Japanese high-speed train network Shinkansen – with one transparent booking system that works across all borders. Then, I think a lot more people will be motivated to change their travelling habits here in Europe!
Explanation for calculation of your carbon footprint
If we divide the amount of carbon that we can still burn equally between everyone on earth, when using the latest figures of human population increase, then each person can emit 1.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year until 2100. This would give us a 66% chance of staying beneath 2°C of warming temperatures. 1,2 tonnes are less than a one-way economy flight from London to Los Angeles. Currently the average carbon footprint of a Danish person is 17 tonnes per year (!)
NBHAP thanks Kasper Bjørke very much for this inspiring journal that should definitely question our own understanding of travelling and consumption in this day and age. On November 29 the next Global Climate Strike will happen to raise awareness for this issue. NBHAP will be joining this strike not only on the streets but also by shutting down this site for the entire day. We happily encourage you to join us on any activities, inform yourself (via the links at the bottom) and start talking with others about this issue. We’re all in this together!