Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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May 2019

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!”

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