Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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June 2019

LIVE REVIEW: Ava Luna, Pumpehuset Byhaven, 28.06.2019

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Ava Luna live

In terms of ideal concerts venues, it’s hard to beat Pumpehuset’s Byhaven on a warm summer evening. A break from the more extreme heat makes sitting outside very enticing, and New York synth-pop group Ava Luna are the perfect band for the setting. They essentially play block part music: It’s mostly dance-y, has a decent beat, but isn’t so deafeningly loud that you can’t decipher the three-part harmonies.

But maybe the setting isn’t perfect for the music. Not if you’re a performer, anyway. The perfect summer setting of Byhaven means that loads of people who aren’t especially fussed about the music are having drinks and chatting with their friends in the shade of Pumpehuset’s main building. Ava Luna start their set off unannounced, with a song so mellow it’s hard to tell initially if they’ve started to play or are still tuning up. Few people move towards the stage, even is as it becomes clear that the show is getting going.

If the band are discouraged by the inattention, they don’t let it show. Ava Luna know how to sell a song. Singers Felicia Douglass and Rebecca Kauffman have different, energetic performing styles — Douglass bops around with a fluid energy while Kauffman has more of a rigid theatricality — but the deliver every tune like the whole garden is rapt in their attention. The performance is balanced well, switching between singers and choosing key moments to play up the harmonies; leaning more into bright, vibrant synth lines; and deliberately slowing things down. It feels like the setlist has been chosen deliberately for the audience, for people who might want to get up and dance and acquiescing to those who want pleasant background music. It’s just curious that there is courtyard full of people who don’t realize what they’re missing out on.

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.

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