Tattoo this date on your arm … or navel

Tattooing has a long history in the capital. Back in the 17th century, the Baltic Sea naval port saw many sailors pass through, swirling beers, breaking hearts and getting ‘old-school’ tattoos from steady-handed barmen in the backrooms of city bodegas. Even the former king of Denmark, Frederick IX wasn’t privy to the odd bit of ceremonial ink during his time in the navy! 

From its humble beginnings in the Neolithic times circa 3300 BC, and its proliferation in ancient China, tattoos have since become a common part of contemporary life. At least 30 percent of the world’s adult population are now marked for life, from pop stars like Rhianna and her ‘Shhh…’ tattooed index finger, to cross-adorning footballers. 

But if you thought that tattooing was at risk of becoming mundane, then think again. Despite the many awful ones you stop and grimace at this summer, there’s indisputably a real beauty that goes into the very best, which will be proved this weekend as thousands of guests gather at Vesterbro’s Carlsberg TAP1 Centre for the Copenhagen Ink Festival. It’s an occasion that celebrates inked skin in all its artful, really painful glory. 

Running for the third consecutive year, the three-day festival has become one of the most important conventions in Europe, with over 180 of the world’s best tattooists flying in to showcase their work and compete for the festival’s Best in Show awards. Among them is clothing designer Ami James, a former Danish resident who is one of the stars of reality TV shows Miami Ink and NY Ink; and the world’s best traditional Japanese-style artist, Shige. 

But this isn’t just any normal exhibition experience. If you’ve got the cash and a low pain threshold, you can turn up and get a piece done by your favourite artist, with the onlooking ink-enthusiasts cheering you on from the sidelines. Although organisers strongly advise you to contact and book an appointment with artists ahead of the event, you’ll also be given the opportunity to be spontaneous and drop by to see whoever is available and ready to go.

Aside from the tattoo parlours, the organisers tap into the tattoo subculture with a host of self-proclaimed ‘freak-shows’ throughout the weekend. These include the tattoo-only beauty pageant, Miss Inkfest, the sword-swallowing pianist Enigma performing a certifiably extreme new set, and the curiously named, black metal burlesque dancer Thunder-Pussy. Last, but not least, is the acclaimed Danish rapper Jokeren who intends to send the festival out in a blaze of glory with some of the finest hip-hop Scandinavia has to offer.

Despite those devilish treats, event organisers encourage that the event is open to all. Whether you’re a newbie to the world of tattoos, or a self-proclaimed obsessive, take a walk on the wild side this weekend. But remember, a tattoo is for life, not just for Ink Fest.

Copenhagen Ink Festival

TAP1, Ny Carlsberg Vej 91, Cph V; starts Thu (May 9), ends May 11; open daily 12:00-00:00; tickets: three-day pass: 320kr, day pass: 170kr;


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