Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

LIVE REVIEW: Caterina Barbieri, Alice, 06.06.2019

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Caterina Barbieri live at Alice in Copenhagen

Photo by Amanda Farah

It shouldn’t be news to anyone anymore that modular synthesizers are experiencing a huge renaissance in recent years. The instrument has evolved from the exclusive preserve of a privileged caste of electronic wizards to a viable tool for composition. We’ve seen expressed most often in Terry Riley-esque psychedelic dreamscapes (notably with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith). With her latest release, Ecstatic Computation, Caterina Barbieri’s approach to the modular synth appears to take as its reference point those 90s rave sounds so beloved of her compatriot Lorenzo Senni.

Stripped of any obvious beats, Barbieri’s music relies heavily on arpeggiation to achieve percussive effects, using generative processes to create these blissed-out emotional landscapes. As if keen to underline the literalness of this phrase, the backdrop to her set is a series of slightly warped nature scenes, at times oversaturated and at others bleakly monochrome.

On arguably her breakthrough record (at any rate the record that I happened to discover first), 2017’s Patterns of Consciousness, we hear a very cerebral, rigorous side to Barbieri. Close to minimalism, but far from its more hippieish vibes, its second side appeared to be pointing into the transposed club music we hear tonight.

The thing that really has to be stressed about the tracks on Ecstatic Computation is that they are all, without a doubt, absolutely ridiculous bangers. The fact that they have no drums is almost an afterthought, but is also key to their emotional pull: there is a yearning, borne out of the functional necessity of the styles Barbieri borrows from to reach a climax. Here the buildup is its own reward.

The five-note riff of “Bow of Perfection” blazes neon across the room and disappears, before bursting out again, and again, speeding up, the richness of its single sawtooth wave justifying the bravado of its title. Its a breathless set that speeds through work, occasionally breaking into thunderous noise and at others, for example the choral vocals on “Arrows of Time”, allowing an almost pastoral sweetness.

LIVE REVIEW: Priests, Loppen, 28.05.2019

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The band Priests live at Loppen, Copenhagen

Priests have always been an excellent specimen of where they come from: A D.C. punk band with a strong DIY ethos, political bent, and high energy live set. Their latest album, The Seduction of Kansas, shows more focused lyric writing and smoother production than their previous efforts, but thank goodness they’re still embracing the unpredictability of the unpolished live show.

While the set leans very heavily towards songs from their recently-released new album, they choose an early point in the set to introduce a cover of “Mother” by Danzig (forthcoming as a single). This is really the first moment when Katie Alice Greer’s vocal ability comes through. She really is a powerhouse, a fact that is easily downplayed on the recordings or when the reverb makes everything a little softer. 

Priests’ ability to roll with the punches also underscores their hard-won punk-professionalism. “I’m Clean” gets a stripped back performance after their drum machine breaks. It leaves drummer Daniele Daniele singing while Greer plays the drums with maracas, looking uncertain for the first and only time of the set. But there is something very authentic about saying, “our equipment is broken, but fuck it, we’re going to try anyway, but heads up it might not work” (paraphrasing, but that was the gist). And when you have a band that delivers an otherwise fully committed set, there is a strong appeal in seeing a little bit of vulnerability.

The stage lights are only working intermittently by the time they close out the set. So before the final tune, “Jesus’ Son,” Greer asks everyone to take out their phones and shine the lights at the stage. Red stage lights flash in an out, alternating between Loppen’s familiarity and a basement show feeling. Seeing the band embrace this quality, and seeing the community of the audience joining in, is just about the most punk experience there is.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Eiko Ishibashi with Joe Talia, Alice, 22.05.2019

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Eiko Ishibashi live at Alice Copenhagen

There is no disputing that Eiko Ishibashi is an experimental musician. Her compositions span electronic manipulations, found sounds, recitations of train stations. But she has also toyed with something akin to pop music, songs that are vaguely catchy and you could sing along to. Her set at Alice with Joe Talia, however, throws all conventional song structures out the window. 

She does not sing over the course of the evening. Instead she eschews beginnings and endings, creating one long, fluid movement of echoing sounds. In a predominantly electronic set, Ishibashi brings in piano and flute. The staccato piano is usually backed by Talia’s  cascading percussion while her flute lines are looped and manipulated, segueing from one suggestion of song to another. The organic/electronic elements of the set twist around one another until they are almost indistinguishable; the pitch shifting of the flute to make it sound like a French horn is as electronic as the weedy, pointedly machine-like sounds, but the flute sample feels much less digitized.

Towards the end of the set, Talia brings in a soft thudding percussion that sounds at first like thunder but later is unmistakably a muffled gunfire. The mood instantly shifts from soothing to sinister, strangely muted but still very aggressive. But as suddenly as it’s faded in, it’s faded out again, leaving only the sentiment behind.

While we went into the gig expecting to hear more familiar selections from Ishibashi’s catalogue, there’s no denying that the set did justice to her talents and creativity. So no, this isn’t necessarily what we were expecting from the evening. But it can be wonderful to be surprised.

LIVE REVIEW: Spectrum, Alice, 09.05.2019

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Pete Sonic Boom Kemper live as Spectrum at Alice in Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s been a great few months to catch up with some lowkey musical legends like (This Is Not) This Heat, the Mekons, and Charlemagne Palestine, which makes the inclusion of Spectrum all the sweeter. Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember first began to stitch together the seemingly incompatible worlds of drone and pop music as guitarist in Spacemen 3, the ultimate British stoner band of the 80s, before embarking on his own solo voyages as Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research.

Tonight Kember steers a course through his more song-oriented work towards his more far-out, drone work. Although he has become known for his production work and interest in modular synths, his setup is very simple. Accompanied by a guitarist dishing out slow bluesy slide riffs, he has a couple of samplers, a Yamaha keyboard which according to my research he must have had knocking around for decades, and a strange little synth whose gentle burbling accompanies the entire evening.

For a few minutes it almost seems like the evening isn’t going to start at all, thanks to a faulty sampler. In the memoir of his one-time bandmate Will Carruthers there is a story about the performance and recording of Spacemen 3’s Dreamweapon: A Night of Contemporary Sitar Music, in which everything seems to go wrong: the gig is in the foyer of a cinema where most of the audience is just waiting to see Wings of Desire, they are under orders from Kember to play no more than a single note for the entire set, and after the ordeal, Carruthers realises his bass amp had been switched off for the entire set. Which is to say, Kember knows a thing or two about adversity, and isn’t going to let that stop him.

As the signature one-note synth riff of “Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name” begins, all is well. Even on a sampler the sound bounces straight into the diaphragm with its warm buzz, cutting through the sweet up and down of the two-chord refrain. Kember has made a career of cutting out as much as possible out of his music, but as the reaction of the crowd testifies, always to great effect.

But these days it seems like it is in the longer, instrumental pieces that Kember feels most at home, with his back to the multicoloured psychedelic light. A standout section is one that features a spoken word piece by Kember, a characteristically repetitive string of associations (“like fire, like sound, like…”), played and broken up by the sampler over a sea of his distinctive synth bubbling. I can’t find a recording anywhere, so get in touch with us if you have any leads!

LIVE REVIEW: Spectacle, Alice, 27.04.2019

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Anna & Elizabeth are something of a millennial Shirley Collins, working on bringing traditional American folk songs into a modern context. The duo have been collecting songs, in their words, “from archives and old people” — though admittedly some of those old people were found on YouTube. All of their songs from this set are immigrant songs, tales of coming to America, as an effort to remind their countrymen of their roots even as they try to punish those who follow their ancestors’ examples. While there’s a decided traditional tinge to their banjo-and-guitar-based songs, subtle electronics feed into the background. Exactly how modern their interpretations are is really only apparent once they hold a laptop up to the microphone to play a recording of Margaret Shipman’s “Jeano and Jeanette.” The duo then repeat the song back with their own smooth-out harmonies. 

anna and elizabeth live at alice in copenhagen for spectacle

The highlight of Anna & Elizabeth’s set is definitely their scrolls. The two-foot-tall paper scrolls are created by the duo to illustrate their songs. For the occasion, they’ve brought a painted seascape, lit from the front, and a backlit paper cut collage detailing life next door to a warm-hearted and musically talented neighbor. The scrolls are turned manually by Elizabeth, who sings while hiding behind them, the accompaniment often quiet enough that you can hear the soothing hum of the mechanism.

Heather Leigh’s music, however, is at the opposite end of this aural spectrum, though superficially it appears she comes from a similar tradition. Pedal steel is often associated with Americana, but Leigh’s performance is dense and droning, a world away from the instrument’s familiar warble. In Leigh’s hands, the pedal steel sometimes chimes and sometimes sounds like an approximation of 80s hair metal guitar. Her accompanist on electronics and violin (which again is distorted beyond its usual self) only adds to the density of the performance. Leigh’s dazzling soprano is a defiant strike against the heaviness of her arrangements. She sustains high notes that many singers would use to punctuate a song, and with a force that many could only aspire to. She’s found a space adjacent to but still a fair distance from the familiar.

Spectacle more than earns its name in the rich interior of Sankt Johannes Kirke, just across the road from Alice itself. Local sound artist Sofie Birch sits at the end of the nave, emanating warm waves and rivulets of synth sounds. This is a far cry from the punk posturing of the noise scene, combining Birch’s production abilities with a careful ear for composition, particularly when she uses her own voice. Layering vocal loops to create harmonies is certainly a common technique in the scene, but what makes tonight’s example so interesting is how these accretions slowly change the nature as well as the texture of the melodies, how these evolve in an almost classical sense.

To our backs in the church a much larger synth lies in wait: Sankt Johannes’s organ, ready to be taken through its paces by an artist of a considerably more venerable vintage. Charlemagne Palestine made a name for himself in similarly hallowed surroundings as a carilloneur in Manhattan’s Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in the 60s, having made his way through the banjo, accordion, and singing in synagogue. He has often referred in interviews to the concept of “playing a building”, of considering both the bells and the organ as part of the larger synthesizer of the church itself, and tonight he gives ample proof of it.

The piece starts off with relatively soft (relatively for a massive organ, of course), pad-like drones of two or three notes, variously modifying and slowly building on one another. The sound starts to bulk out and fluctuate, you can start to hear the harmonics of a simple three note chord, played of the course of several minutes, collide with each other. The wall of sound becomes dizzying as your attention hops up and down the frequency spectrum, trying to land somewhere. With no melody to follow, no clear demarcations of time, the air of the church gets denser. Keen on showing us the full potential of the instrument, Palestine pulls out the stops (are rare case when the phrase can be used literally) to cut the texture with a buzzing saw of a chord.

The notes start to thin out again, allowing Charlemagne Palestine to break out into another one of his talents, a spectacular chant, the technique of which was taught to him by Indian classical singer and scholar Pandit Pran Nath. Without any technological amplification, his arms raised to the heavens, Palestine’s voice reaches into the deepest recess of the building, bouncing off the walls alternately booming and plaintive. A long silence follows the end of the piece, after which Palestine invites us to praise the instrument: “The organ is still the most complete synthesizer in the world. It can sound like Bach, but it can also sound like Schmach!”

INTERVIEW: Peter Hvalkof from Alice talks booking and Spectacle

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Photos by Morten Aagard Krogh

Since 2017 Alice has been the home to experimental, global and electronic music in Copenhagen, guaranteed 4 years of funding from the Arts Council and Copenhagen municipality. Half way into this project, the venue is showcasing its unique cocktail of genres this month with a two day series of concerts and talks under the banner of Spectacle.

We sat down with one half of the booking team, Peter Hvalkof, in the café of the neighbouring Union cultural center to get an idea of the work that goes into producing one of the city’s most unique cultural spaces, and to get a preview of what to expect from them in the near future.

Peter started his career in concert booking in the mid 90s working with Roskilde Festival, and by now describes himself their most senior booker. “At least I’m the one who has been there the longest!” His focus has always been on bringing acts from every part of the globe to Denmark, from Malian desert rock to Brazilian tropicalia.

His work at Alices started by way of one of its predecessors, Global. Started in 2006 in the same space now occupied by Alice, Global started out by buying bookings from Roskilde Festival. Most of these were Peter’s own bookings, which made it natural for him to team up with Global. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement: Global would be something of a scouting ground for Roskilde, and as such could attract a wider variety of acts to its own venue. “For most people it’s not just a chance to discover a new band,” Peter explains, “it’s a way to discover entire genres and cultures.” 

The delight of Roskilde Festival, and what spurred Peter to get involved in the first place, was exactly this potential for stumbling across the unknown while crossing an otherwise nondescript Danish field. We’ve experienced this ourselves in our reporting on plenty of occasions, memorably encountering the Thai band Khun Narin crossing the festival with their massive soundsystem after a set earlier in the day.

Attracting audiences to unknown bands is a much easier proposition these days of course, since even the most obscure act is only a quick search away, but you still need to earn that audience and inspire them to make that discovery. “There are so many curious people out there, who trust the programming, who instead of settling for what they already know are willing to take the risk. And for some it could be the concert of a lifetime.”

Peter Hvalkof of Alice and Roskilde Festival

“It took four years at Global to gain an audience that trusted that what we were doing was something spending the money and time on.” Of course Alice can take advantage of the same symbiotic relationship with festivals like Roskilde and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, but that doesn’t mean it requires any less work : “we knew that when we merged Global and Jazzhouse into Alice we would have to start all over. It takes a while to build a reputation, but we are improving all the time.”

Aside from its regular audience, though, Alice has also seen shows completely sold-out by expat communities. The most notable instances recently have been Italian songwriter Vinicio Capossela and Turkish psych-star Gaye Su Akyol last autumn. Gaye, Peter is keen to point out, will be returning to Roskilde this summer. 

Between booking for Alice and Roskilde, Peter is clearly a busy man. In the last year at total of 316 acts have passed through the doors of Alice, with only a brief one-month window of reprieve in summer. The planning for Spectacle started in autumn, so with that and Roskilde booked it’s time for a short breather. Today, in fact, Peter is technically on holiday, but he has come over especially to greet the Mekons who are playing here later this evening.

We spend some time discussing the term “global music” and its older cousin “world music”, the topic in fact of one of the upcoming talks during Spectacle. “For me, when it comes to describing to someone what I do as a booker at Roskilde or Alice, at least the term ‘world music’ is something they understand.” But then what is global music? “It’s local music from ‘out there’, but that could just as easily be Jutland as Zanzibar!”

Focusing so much on acts from the most disparate parts of the world also entails a considerable amount of effort in terms of paperwork: “I spend so much time writing letters of invitation to make sure that artists from outside Europe are getting their visas.” But this is hardest on the artists themselves: in the case of one duo from Niger, this meant spending a week on the streets of Burkina Faso while applying for a Danish visa. “Then they had to spend give weeks in Accra to get their visas for Britain, can you imagine that?”

“When I travel, one thing that always makes be happy—but also a little ashamed when it comes to my culture—is the fact that whether I’m talking to an electronic producer of a metal bassist, they know so much about their own musical heritage. That’s hard to find in Danish musicians.” But certainly not impossible, since Spectacle will see—alongside international electronic and folk acts—local bands like psychedelic outfits Ipek Yolu and Klimaforandringer, as well as Copenhagen-based composers Sofie Birch and Xenia Xamanek.

“Spectacle is a way to add some more focus on what we are doing. We talked earlier about hating the term ‘world music’ and in fact we tried to avoid the world ‘festival’ too, but if you create a series of concerts and you end up naming it… well that is a festival.”

As well as being its own venue, Alice as a project reaches out into other spaces as well, from the Union Cultural Center we are currently sitting—which will house the talks that are part of Spectacle—, to the churches of Christians Kirke in Christianshavn and Brorsons Kirke in Nørrebro. There are talks of also hosting events in the neighbouring Sankt Johannes Kirke. 

Later in the summer Alice will also be home to shows from the likes of Nadah El Shazly and Girls in Airports as part of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and is bringing its bigger acts, such as German experimental big band Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, to the Ofelia Plads stage in the city center. 

The Alice Spectacle will take place 26 and 27 April.

LIVE REVIEW: Cherry Glazerr, Ideal Bar, 11.04.2019

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Clementine Creevy of Cherry Glazerr live at Ideal Bar in Copenhagen

The dreams of the 90s are alive at Ideal Bar for Cherry Glazerr. The LA band, playing as a trio, are at the vanguard of 90s alt-rock revivalism. The audience are playing along, kitted out in a confusing assortment of retro fashions including but not limited to camisole dresses over t-shirts, hoop earrings in one ear, platform shoes, and pleather. 

The show was downsized from Lille Vega, which is only evident in the six-foot inflatable cherries stuffed at the back of the stage out of range of the lights. But this space feels right; there is a row of university-aged women lining the stage, losing their minds, dancing and singing throughout the set. The costuming of the audience further lends itself to the idea that this was somehow a secret, that only the kids from the counter-culture knew to come out for.

But it isn’t so esoteric as all that. Cherry Glazerr are a high energy rock band and they’re fun. Central to this fact is that frontwoman Clementine Creevy is a damn rockstar. She’s tossing her feathered blonde hair around, evoking the Runaway’s Cherie Currie. She bops and dinosaur walks around the stage throughout the set, feeding off the energy locked in around her.

The only time the band slow enough to catch their breath is to play “Grilled Cheese” and “Teenage Girl” from their debut album. While these older songs demonstrate how much tighter Creevy’s songwriting has gotten, the fact that the old songs are being played means the devotees in the front row are going crazy.

The one drawback of the evening is that Creevy’s vocals are almost non-existent. It’s not as though they dominate her albums, they are swallowed up despite the fact that the band isn’t playing especially loud. Creevy seems unbothered by this, so we can conclude that it’s a conscious if curious choice — she is, after all, a talented lyricist.

This choice does, however, work well for “Stupid Fish,” the end of the main set. The thin vocals from the album are swamped by the chugging rhythm of the song, which gets dragged out and mutated over the minutes. It’s more interesting for being a product of its environment, letting a song with heavy tone also get swept up in the fun of the evening.

LIVE REVIEW: The Mekons, Alice, 09.04.2019

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Mekons live at Alice in Copenhagen

Looking at the Mekons tonight, you might take them for the kind of band that tours English corn exchanges covering Fairport Convention and the Stranglers. The eight of them shuffle on stage good-naturedly, and almost immediately call for gaffer tape to fix an according strap. But no, almost immediately the cover is blown.

The Mekons aren’t a bunch of nice old-timers (although in fairness they do seem lovely), they are something of a living miracle: a punk band that has survived, endured and flourished for over forty years. From the classroom punk of their 1979 debut they have explored everything from sparse post-punkEnglish folk, country and western, and reggae; they have spread from Leeds to Chicago, collaborated with Kathy Acker, and continue to produce music with humour and bite.

Tonight is ample proof of this, a mix of material from their latest album, Deserted, as well some classic Mekons barnstormers. These merge well together, not because it all sounds the same, but conversely because variety has always been an essential element of the band.

Jon Langford and Sally Tims and Tom Greenhalgh share the main vocal duties amongst themselves (one of the interesting things about the Mekons is in fact how these different voices feel so consistent across their work). The folk elements are provided by Susie Honeyman on the fiddle, Rico Bell on according and Lu Edmonds (also of The Damned and Public Image Ltd) on saz duties, while Steve Goulding (hear him in Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives”!) hits the skins.

My ears are still ringing a little from standing too close to the stage, but what is a little tinnitus compared to the one-two punch of “Ghosts of American Astronauts” and “Hard to be Human Again”?

LIVE REVIEW: Laura Gibson, Ideal Bar, 03.04.2019

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Laura Gibon live at Ideal Bar Copenhagen

Of the many ways we can pigeonhole singer-songwriters — as country artists, hippies, coffee shop folkies — Laura Gibson manages to just skirt around all of them. The folk base of most of her songs is, on the albums, often mitigated by arrangements of varying complexity. When playing live, she makes her efforts to maintain that thoughtfulness by backing up her acoustic guitar or electric piano with a backing vocalist/violinist/pianist. 

But it’s who Gibson is between songs that defines her as a performer. She teases about her songs being melancholic. She tells long stories about train rides and her failed high school musical theatre career. She drinks from a yellow metal water bottle and then informs the audience, “I just made some music for this water bottle company. I’m pretty happy with the swag I got.”

Her personality is a wonderful counterpoint to the seriousness of her songs, the heartbreak, the feelings of alienation. She isn’t overly precious about her work, and it makes her all the easier to identify with. But when she describes the title track of her latest album, Goners, as having started life as a show tune, it doesn’t make it less lovely or wistful. 

Gibson proves how captivating she can be as she leads the audience in singing a gentle “ooh ooh” as a backing track to her own a cappella — a moment somewhat marred by the gig in Store Vega making the bottles on the shelves behind the bar rattle. But when the average artist struggles to get an odd chorus out of an audience, never mind a half-filled club, sustaining a singalong for a whole song is quite a feat. And joining the ranks of those who resist phoney encores, she sets us up in advance to know that we should make our singalong count; touching on the hippie, the coffee shop, but through and through, she’s a performer.

LIVE REVIEW: Tashi Wada Group with Man Forever, Alice, 27.03.2019

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Tashi Wada Group with Julia Holter and Corey Fogel, live at Alice Copenhagen

There is a level of unpredictability when going to see any performance that could be described as “avant garde” or fall into the category of drone. And while Tashi Wada is a composer and his group are playing the songs of his latest album, Nue, there is still a healthy amount of the unexpected throughout the evening.

The evening opens with the fortuitous last-minute addition of Man Forever. Kid Millions — also of Oneida and myriad other projects — uses his solo outing to tell the story of the car accident he was in a year ago. The spoken word portion of the set is fitted between drum fills and leads into his song “A Clear Realization.” For someone who sustained two broken ribs, a chipped vertebra in his neck, and an impact injury to his lower back, his playing is not only as mesmerizing as ever, it’s absolutely extraordinary.

Man Forever live at Alice in Copenhagen

Wada is joined by the powerhouse backing band of Julia Holter on piano, synths, and vocals and Corey Fogel on drums and an assortment of bells, gongs, and chimes. Fogel is a master of restraint throughout the set; most of the drums and gongs are hit with mallets, sending a muffled rumble coursing through the songs.

Holter is also more subdued than we are accustomed to seeing her as a solo performer. Her piano lines are often a whisper and her vocals are muted and wordless, mostly there to soften the mechanical whine they float over. It isn’t a wonder that, with such reserve from the band, the audience is dead quiet, not even daring to applaud between the abrupt shifts in songs.

It is surprising that, in a set in which personalities are withholding, Wada has become the dominant personality from his post in the shadows. Wada makes himself known in his haunted house synths and the way he makes bagpipes buzzy rather than whiny. The weird universe he has created around himself for the evening is peaceful and maybe a little camp, but it’s a step away from the familiar. It’s a recontextualization of familiar faces and familiar sounds. It’s lightness and stimulus tumbling over each other in between the silences. 

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