Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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April 2019

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.

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