The Bottle Boys
Back in college, did you ever think: “Gee, I bet if a bunch of my musician friends and I blew air into beer bottles in a certain way, we could cover popular songs and become an international viral sensation?”
Didn't think so.
And while The Bottle Boys didn’t necessarily think so either -- that’s exactly what happened. After meeting at a party as freshmen at the University of Copenhagen, the four Danish dudes began improvising songs by blowing over the openings of glass bottles. Since 2005, they’ve racked up millions of views for their clever covers of hit tunes, have appeared in numerous commercials, and have performed all over the world.
We had the chance to chat with band member Martin Barrett Aagaard about the group, Danish beer, and why playing music on beer bottles is such a huge pain in the ass.
But first, let’s see the Bottle Boys at work
Before you read about them, you should probably first see (and hear!) what these guys are all about. Check out this classic “Billie Jean” cover, a song the Boys pretty much unanimously agree is one of their finest:
This couldn’t have happened anywhere but Denmark
America has no standard beer bottle, as breweries are free to use whatever the hell kind of bottle they want. Denmark, however, is a different story. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a Carlsberg or Heineken…. Danish brands typically use the same beer bottle,” Aagaard explains. “It says ‘beer’ in Danish at the bottom of the glass. It’s unique to the Danish glass system.” Today, they still use the same type of bottle they first used at the college party at which they met -- which is sort of like a middle schooler becoming a professional recorder player with the same instrument his parents bought him in 6th grade. “We’ve been playing for 12 years, and they’re the best bottles for us,” he assures us.
They make it look easy (but it’s not)
If breathing heavily into a bunch of bottles looks like an easy way to make a living as a musician, it’s only because they’re that good. “To make it look easy takes hours and hours of practice,” Aagaard says. Keep in mind, these guys actually went to school for music -- so when you see them doing a cover of “Despacito”, know that they’ve written sheet music for it. “We learn everything by heart. That’s the tedious part.”
How they make music
Just as it takes different sets of techniques to play different wind instruments like a flute or saxophone, playing a beer bottle has its own set of challenges. “The way that you blow into the beer bottle is actually quite unique,” Aagaard explains. “You have to blow at a certain angle and with a certain amount of pressure. When we first started out, we just blew into the bottle like you’d blow out a candle. That takes a lot of air. We got really dizzy in the beginning! We had to sit down [to play] because we got lightheaded.” Eventually, they cracked the code: “Over the years, we came up with the technique of using your tongue to create the airflow. You use a lot less air [that way] -- it’s not as demanding as it looks!”
Each group member has 11 bottles to blow on, and each bottle is tuned to play a single note. They fill the bottles with varying levels of water -- the more water in the bottle, the higher the pitch. Watching them, you might think that tuning would take forever, but that’s actually the easiest part!
“Since we’ve been doing this for 12 years, we can tune the instruments in 5 minutes," Aagaard insists. "We do it really fast. We tune [the bottles] on ear, and then fine tune with a guitar tuner.”
Traveling the world playing shows is part of the gig
Playing music on bottles isn’t just something they do for the YouTube views. They’ve recently given a TEDx Talk in Austria, and were flown to New York City to perform for Pepsi (as you might imagine, using Pepsi bottles for the performance). The Boys have also appeared in international commercials; one of the most interesting was a series of ads shot in Tokyo for Japanese brewery Kirin. Unlike the pop covers they normally do, they reinterpreted classical music for beer bottles. And in one ad, their music was synched with the sounds of chefs preparing sushi.
Oh yes, they drink beer
Beer is a huge part of Denmark’s culture. Founded in Copenhagen in the 1800s, Carlsberg is one of the world’s largest breweries, also responsible for popular international beers ranging from Kronenbourg 1664 to Tuborg. And Denmark now has a serious craft beer scene, thanks to new-school breweries like Mikkeller. “Mikkeller has a bar close to our studio,” Aagaard says. “They had one single bar that they grew into an empire.” And he’s not exaggerating! If you’re ever lucky enough to travel to Denmark, the Boys recommend checking out Nørrebro Bryghus. All their beers on tap are made with organic ingredients.
And the Bottle Boys have no plans on stopping anytime soon
Though the group was founded in 2005, the Boys only began taking it seriously as a real-deal business in 2011. They’re still running around the world performing (they just shot a commercial in Brussels), and show no signs of slowing down. It’s safe to say that wherever there are chart-smashing pop songs and beer bottles half-filled with water, there will always be The Bottle Boys.