Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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April 2018

LIVE REVIEW: Lawrence English, Alice, 19.04.2018

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Picture this: our intrepid photographer arrives late and sweaty (we must assume) to the venue, parks his bike, and approaches the entrance. The area outside is ill-lit and completely deserted. As his hand reaches for the door handle, the entire building starts to vibrate.  The windows and doors rattle, the bricks tremble and even the pavement outside murmurs underfoot. One intense tone wrenches through the building, and as he makes his way through the corridor, past the empty cloakroom, it intensifies.

Inside, the room is dark but for a set of neon red strips on the stage. Under their ghoulish glow the audience lies strewn across the floor, as if stunned by the aftershock. I am lying among them, but the shock, though real, is mostly metaphorical. The man at the centre of all this, Lawrence English, introduced the piece with a recommendation that we experience it lying on the floor. There is some initial awkwardness, but as soon as the first dark waves of bass come crashing through the floor, it is clear that he knows what he is talking about.

Of course his previous body of work proves this on its own. Through his work both as an artist and a thinker, Lawrence English has long been interested in developing ideas around the bodily experience and politics of listening. The piece he is presenting tonight is Cruel Optimism, which draws its inspiration from a book of the same title by the theoretician Lauren Berlant. This is English’s most collaborative piece, including contributions from, among others, Swans percussionist Thor Harris and Austrian artist Heinz Riegler.

From down here on the floor, the initial impression is of sheer violence, an intensity felt directly through every limb in contact with the hard surface. For the first minutes I am coming to terms with a feeling of helplessness, an awareness of another being affecting my body in such an un-ignorable, un-interpretable way. Maybe because there is nothing I can do but experience it, the music stops becoming a medium, and becomes a complete object.

The first passage feels like being stuck in the loudest and busiest of city intersections. Subway trains of unimaginable size barrel through the earth below, sirens phase in an out of each other. A high pitched buzz covers all of this, swarming here and there until the bass collapses away and the buzz becomes the frothing sound of a wave after it has crashed. At other points the sound is positively monolithic, an insistence that occupies each body until it is suddenly swept away and replaced by something which is almost choral in quality.

It is very hard not to sound utterly ridiculous in recounting this, but as I consult the track list afterwards they seem to bear out my own listening: “Hard Rain”, “The Quietest Shore”, “Pillar of Cloud”, “Exquisite Human Microphone”. Needless to say, I will be lying down at concerts more often now.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Carla Dal Forno, Alice, 13.04.2018

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Carla dal Forno live at Alice Copenhagen

There seems to be an odd reluctance to label anything ‘goth’ these days, but Carla Dal Forno’s You Know What It’s Like is pure goth: dark, minimalist, eerily nostalgic in sentiment but progressive in execution. All in black, she appears on the dark velvet stage of Alice as if it had been specially built for her.

Despite the austere trappings, there is also something very affable about Dal Forno, who early in the set apologises for having lost her voice this evening. But the result emphasises the ghostly quality of the vocals already present on the record. The lyrics are hidden away under synthesised drum patterns and a ghostly wash of ambient noise.

The ambient glitches and buzzes are a backdrop for the entire set, connecting all the songs. The effect then is of a continuous piece, interspersed with awkward moments when people in the audience look at each other wondering whether it’s appropriate to clap. The nordic reticence must but a little daunting at first for a performer, but Dal Forno soon twigs to this and pierces the veil by introducing the songs.

“Fast Moving Cars” and “What Are You Gonna Do Now” are delightfully antithetical to what you would expect songs with those titles to sound like, slow and silky. Performed live, they spread to fill the room as if consuming all oxygen.

LIVE REVIEW: Arto Lindsay and Zs, Alice, 07.04.2018

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Arto Lindsay live with Zs at Alice Copenhagen

Whatever fantasies people harbor about New York’s downtown avant garde scene are more or less brought to life in the collaboration between Arto Lindsay and Zs. Lindsay is a legend of the No Wave scene who has used his last couple of solo records to create accessible, bossa nova-inflected indie rock. Zs are the noise jazz collective (performing tonight as a trio featuring Greg Fox on drums) that came up at a time when New York’s music scene was associated with something a little more Strokesy.

The performance feels very in-the-moment and less one band backing an artist or one artist fronting a band. There is less of a focus on traditional song structures and more free moving forms, often dominated by extremely loud guitars — not that we’re complaining. Patrick Higgins’ guitar is fed through so many effects that it no longer resembles guitar at all while Lindsay swipes away at a 12 string that mostly produces crunching sounds. Tenor sax player Sam Hillmer alternately provides incongruous whines that sound like they’re trying to soothe some maniacal beast and being that beat himself, straining and blustering like a banshee. Our opinions of Fox are unchanged from last month.

Zs live with Arto Lindsay at Alice Copenhagen

The main set ends with a deafening cacophony of mid and high frequencies. Lindsay seems impishly pleased with the noise, even as people around us wince. Sometimes the thrill of experimental music — or the inaccessibility of it — is down to basic physical challenges. But the volume is memorable and the composition is memorable, and there is the very distinct impression that this set is a rare and special thing to witness. And even if it’s not rare or the opportunity comes again, it still feels damn special.

LIVE REVIEW: Fever Ray, Store Vega, 04.04.2018

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Fever Ray live at Store Vega Copenhagen

Anyone who has listened with the slightest attention can tell that Fever Ray is a feminist project, and this manifests itself from the minute you walk into Vega. There are signs posted everywhere asking people to put their phones away, for tall people to stand in the back, and for women to come to the front. It doesn’t really work out that way, but it seems like Karin Dreijer anticipated this.

The show is a spectacle unto itself; it’s bright colors and neon lights, and outrageous costumes. It’s an assemblage of women who look like a fierce girl gang sprung from a fantasy novel. Almost all of Dreijer’s vocals are echoed by two other singers, in the process replacing the metallic harshness of her recordings with something smooth and forceful. There is also menace and provocation to it — during “Falling,” Dreijer and her backing vocalists are grinding and groping each other while staring at the audience with a certain menace. They know you’re watching and they want you to know it, want you to feel like a voyeur.

Fever Ray live at Store Vega Copenhagen

There is also a very egalitarian quality to this performance that is maybe part feminist and part Scandinavian. Dreijer really shares the stage, not least with her backing singers, to the effect that if you don’t know what she looks like, it’s difficult to determine who the frontwoman of the project is. We are four songs in before the backing singers recede enough to clearly establish her as the ringleader. It’s hard to image many other artists allowing their backing band to wear more attention-grabbing costumes, to sing solos and take over the stage dancing, or to don a wing-inspired silver cape and twirl around during their own performance. It’s all part of the weird celebratory vibe that runs through the evening. For every direct threat to the male gaze, the feeling of female solidarity floats above to strengthen rather than just sneer.

Photos by James Hjertholm

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