Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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Amanda Farah

Amanda Farah has 102 articles published.

LIVE REVIEW: The Horrors, Lille Vega, 27.11.2017

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the horrors live lille vega copenhagen

You could be forgiven if the image conjured up by mention of the Horrors was one of too much hair spray and lanky moodiness. It’s an image they’ve sold for the last decade, from their initial emergence from the garage rock revival, never quite shed as they began to explore denser, dreamier arrangements, and supported yet again tonight at Lille Vega if by nothing else than the number of Unknown Pleasures t-shirts in the audience.

The band on stage, however, are not moody, loafing neo-goths, but a group of high energy stumbling and twisting their way around. Amidst a total onslaught of enveloping lights and dizzying strobes is singer Faris Badwan, glammed out in leather trousers and sequined shirt. He’s thrashing around from the word go, flanked by Rhys Webb and Joshua Hayward, who are more subdued in their dress and movements but test the limits of their energy and balance.

the horrors live lille vega copenhagen

The focus of their evening is the new album, V, and the set tacitly ignores their debut. Having cast off any garage rock associations, what is left is a lush wash of guitars and synths. The live arrangements have more focus on the rhythm section, and even if the albums don’t inspire you to dance there are people dancing now.

There’s a warmth and enthusiasm in the crowd, at one point inspiring a woman to shout, “I love you, Josh!” at Hayward, and prompting Badwan to demand, “And what about me?” Though Badwan has the pouting pose down pat, he spends most of the evening continuing to lunge about the stage and teetering on the monitors, at one point beckoning to a man in the crowd and then prodding him with a mic stand when he doesn’t respond. It seems like things could spill over at any moment, that Badwan could fling himself into the crowd while “Still Life” rolls on behind him, but it never gets that intense.

It’s all weirdly just fun.

LIVE REVIEW: Mark Lanegan, Amager Bio, 19.11.2017

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Mark Lanegan live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

Mark Lanegan has been around for decades, has worked with more bands and artists than can be committed to memory, and has had a hand in a broad range of projects. His set at Amager Bio, however, is more firmly rooted in the present. Focusing his setlist on his work post-2000 with a particular focus on 2012’s Blues Funeral and this year’s Gargoyle, he ping pongs between alt-rock and blues.

The focus on the last fifteen or so years is an interesting choice given that Lanegan’s appeal does not seem to be cross-generational. The room is full, but many look as though they could have been on this journey with him over the last few decades. It makes for a weirdly subdued evening, with a crowd that is attentive but not especially energetic. Lanegan himself is glued to his mic stand, almost like he’s trying to twist it free, and there is something shaky about his general body language.

It is unsurprising that when he does speak, Lanegan’s voice is shot to shit; it’s easy to imagine a permanent state of laryngitis. When he sings, though, his voice is stronger than any of his timbre feels like it has a right to be. It’s many of the quieter songs of the evening that steal the show, such as his cover of the Twilight Singers’ “Deepest Shade,” while “One Way Street” (performed with just his lead guitarist) and “Bleeding Muddy Water” leave you wondering why he would ever be anything other than a blues man.

But then it’s nice that there can be surprises from an artist who has found himself at home with different artists and different tones. “Ode to Sad Disco” (introduced as “born in this city [as “Sad Disco”] and borrowed by me”) is surprisingly poppy even in its live incarnation, and a cover of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” closes the set with a surprisingly lightness from both the arrangement and Lanegan’s vocals. If Lanegan continues to record and tour in the coming decades, and continues to live in the present, it’s safe to conjecture he will maintain that sort of enigmatic status.

LIVE REVIEW: Protomartyr and Metz, Loppen, 07.11.2017

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metz live at loppen copenhagen

On paper, Protomartyr and Metz sharing a bill seemed absolutely brilliant. And before we get any further, we’ll confirm that their co-headlined show at Loppen — evenly split with an hour for each band — was, in fact, brilliant. What we didn’t quite anticipate was how strange those two bands are when placed side by side.

Part of the discrepancy is that Protomartyr is not a band you immediately associate with being laid back. The brashness of their albums translates as more of a nonchalance live, not least because vocalist Joe Casey’s performance style is more voice actor than singer. His dry delivery is the defining characteristic of the band, and even though his physical presence is often stock still and a bit hunched, he is devastatingly effective.

“Sorry for spitting on the people in the front row,” he says in a rare bit of between song chat. “It’s what I do.” Casey can toss out throwaway lines with deadpan humor, but when he chants, “everything’s fine,” it’s disconcerting.

Protomartyr live at loppen copenhagen

But what really makes Protomartyr seem relaxed is when Metz take the stage and the opposite approach to performing in every way: Everything is louder, the band’s movements are more violent, and the half-spoken vocals are replaced with screaming.

The shift in energy is somewhere between deranged and comical. The next hour is filled with loud guitars alternating between clanging and vibrato. Drummer Hayden Menzies plays in a fashion that suggests he would smash anything set in front of him to pieces (though the layered effect on one cymbal that makes it sound like he’s hitting the lid of a trashcan is a nice effect). Frontman Alex Edkins is a relentless screaming mess, likely restraining himself from leaping across the stage only because Loppen has a low ceiling.

It’s on that thrashing note that the evening comes to a close, but even if the line up is a little strange, on the whole it is adeptly paced. It leaves you drained with no eardrums left to speak of, but absolutely satisfied.

Photos by Morten Aargaard Krogh

LIVE REVIEW: Shabazz Palaces, Jazzhouse, 06.10.2017

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Shabazz Palaces live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

With all the whispers that Shabazz Palaces were something akin to hip-hop meets Sun Ra, the expectations for what they were going to bring to Jazzhouse were high. Indeed as we waited for the set to begin, the individual stations, with their drums and electronics sitting neatly on draped colorful fabrics, suggested something vibrant or just more dynamic than what their albums bring.

The reality is about half true. The set starts off in total darkness and the lighting only improves to dim. There are hints of how wonderful their early 90s outfits must be, but it’s too dark to see the details. But what is immediately clear is that Shabazz Palaces sell themselves short on their recordings. The muted dub quality of the albums dampens everything from the vocals to the broad-ranging references, all of which come to life in their live set. Vocalist Ishmael Butler’s delivery has a lot more attitude and personality live, and the nuances of the percussion that are lost on the alums are laid out in a dazzling array: Drum machines, samplers, congas, snares, and a giant mbira among others. Percussionist Tendai Maraire quickly proves himself to be a multi-tasking monster.

Shabazz Palaces live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

With this apparent attention to detail, it seems likely that it was a conscious decision rather than an accident of the sound system that the sub bass creeps and in squashes the vocals flat. Those moments are frustrating, because Butler’s style, and the duo’s occasionally synchronized movements in the darkness literally pull the audience in (though the opening to “Welcome to Quazarz,” insisting, “I’m from the United States of America/We talk with guns/Guns keep us safe” is feeling particularly grim the week of a mass shooting).

If Shabazz Palaces are Sun Ra levels of insane on stage, they are at the very least an energetic duo; Butler would probably rocket around the stage if he didn’t have to keep reining himself in to go back to his synths and samplers. Maraire has more the approach of a marathon runner and clearly understands the need to pace himself if he’s going to get through the set.

The set itself does drag out for nearly two hours and it feels it. Because while Shabazz Palaces have an undeniably strong sound, the focuses on the sound often surpasses the focus on songs. And as there are peaks and valleys in dancing, maybe it’s question of location — if the duo continue to go for lengthy performances, then visuals might be helpful, or at least a seated venue.

LIVE REVIEW: Slowdive, DR Studie 2, 30.09.2017

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Slowdive live at DR Studie 2 in Copenhagen

Slowdive have played in Denmark since reforming three years ago, but their set in DR’s Studie 2 is their first in a venue rather than a festival since the ‘90s. The setting is perfect for the evening:  It’s intimate, it has just the right amount of polish, and it just barely contains the expansiveness of the music.

Blanck Mass proves to be a highly appropriate opener. Though he performs in almost total darkness compared to Slowdive’s dizzying light displays, he is a kindred spirit of the post-ambient derivation of electronic music. His pedals may be hooked up to synthesizers rather than guitars, and he may lean more towards harshness than delicacy, but there is a familiar dynamic range in the bright chimes he uses to counter his often aggressive songs.

There is a bit more consistency in the sonic range of Slowdive’s set. About half of the songs come from either this year’s self-titled album or Souvlaki, and they seem cherry-picked to match that evenly metered chiming and chugging. Songs that have been reimagined from their album cuts — for example, “Crazy for You” being pulled back from its looping electronica or “Dagger” being filled out from its soul-destroying minimalism — are now fashioned into something that fits neatly in a setlist. It’s a demonstration of the band’s maturity as musicians as well as their understanding of what exactly was successful for them.

It is also interesting to see how the audience have embraced the new album; songs like “Slomo” and “Sugar for the Pill” garner a bigger response than older songs like “Avalyn” or “Blue Skied an’ Clear.” The new album has clearly given Slowdive a new focus. With the addition of synthesizers to their live arrangement, it’s also given them a new shape. This subtle change adds a new and different density to their songs (and given us Rachel Goswell’s small, inflatable flamingo ring that she balances on her keyboard and keeps her egg shaker in).

Not every band that reunites after extended periods away is quite so committed to their current or future incarnation. Though Slowdive are still treading familiar territory, and indeed may now have played Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair” live more than he ever did, they’re clearly back as a living band and not just for nostalgia.

LIVE REVIEW: Tori Amos, DR Koncerthuset, 23.09.2017

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Tori Amos live DR Koncerthuset Copenhagen

People who come to see Tori Amos play in 2017 know her well. It is not only the type of environment where you hear people talking about how many times they’ve seen her before, but one where you hear talk of what time their flight got into Copenhagen that morning so that they could be at the show.

Concerts by veteran artists in venues the scale of DR’s Koncertsalen give the impression that it isn’t possible to be a casual fan. The people there don’t just want to hear the new album and the early stuff; it’s a space where the person shouting for the obscure B-side from the ‘90s has a good chance of being indulged.

Amos understands her role. She scurries to the front of the stage in sky-high heels to greet people before taking her place sandwiched between her grand piano and three keyboards neatly stacked on top of each other. It’s a rare occasion to see a pop concert in this room in the round, and Amos does her best to look to the audience at the back of the stage throughout the evening (though as she shifts between her instruments — often mid song — they always see her back).

It is not an especially young crowd; it’s clear that most of the audience was introduced to Amos in their teens and have continued to see her over the years. Some are now bringing their own children with them. They are reverentially quiet through almost every song, to the effect that the man next to us goes to great lengths to hold in a sneeze.

Tori Amos live DR Koncerthuset Copenhagen

This quiet is appreciated as Amos is alone on stage. Though the occasional backing track comes in, it’s mostly just her and her pianos. This means that her set is flexible, adjusted according to reported requests that came in earlier. It also means that songs often take on a completely different feeling from their recordings, whether it’s a different arrangement or a non-linear rendition. Lyrics are reorganized, repeated, changed completely. It doesn’t make for any easy singalong, but this isn’t a singalong kind of crowd; they’re more likely to be pleased to hear something different in a song they’ve heard played before.

As the tour is meant to promote her new album, Native Invaders, the single “Reindeer King” makes an appearance, but the set is an unpredictable mix of songs from throughout her career, including non-album tracks “Ruby Through the Looking Glass” and “Garlands” that everyone still seems to know.

Amos has always been one to include covers in her set. This tradition has taken on the form an interlude which features “Fake Muse” projected onto the organ in Koncertsalen, looking suspiciously like the Fox News logo. This evening’s selections are “Let It Be” and, following an electronica reinterpretation of the intro to her song “God,” “Running Up That Hill” (Amos was surely tipped off to its frequent radio play here). These are received with the same enthusiasm as the now decades-old “Crucify” and “Winter.”

The quiet reverence comes to an end with the encore, when those in the orchestra seats squash themselves up against the stage and clap along to the backing track of “Sorta Fairytale.”

They stay put through new single, “Cloud Riders,” which, with an oblique reference to “raisin girls,” sees Amos shifting her body towards the grand piano and playing “Cornflake Girl,” picking it up from its bridge. It’s impressively timed considering the backing tracks, but the pre-recorded backing vocals are a little too loud. While Amos’ live vocals leave something to be desired for the first time this evening, the energy and borderline violence with which she plays is exhilarating. It’s a strange note to end the night on, but the sentiment in the room is that everyone is satisfied with their Strange Little Girl.

Photos by James Hjertholm

LIVE REVIEW: EMA, Ideal Bar, 17.09.2017

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EMA live at Ideal Bar Copenhagen

If American music is meant to reflect American life, and there is something inherently fatalist about the latter, then EMA is an exemplary specimen of the former. The eponymous Erika M. Anderson opened her latest tour to a small but clearly dedicated crowd at Ideal Bar, working overtime to contextualize her music for an audience that may not understand the American condition in 2017 beyond the eye roll-inducing headlines about the President.

Anderson is accompanied by a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist who plays bass, synths, and violin, as well as having built his rig which includes a touchscreen that he’s using to live-manipulate her voice. It’s a set heavy on her new album, Exile in the Outer Ring, as well as 2011’s Past Life Martyred Saints, two albums wrapped up in political and feminine angst. Anderson’s frayed post-punk is delivered with a force that suggests she could destroy worlds, even as she makes flippant quips between songs. “Do you guys have big malls?” she asks when introducing “Breathylizer.” “No? You have Ikea and shit, right?”

She’s all over the map performance-wise: “Blood and Chalk” proves that she could sing ballads if she wanted to, while the acid-fried “Fire Water Air LSD” and “33 Nihilistic and Female” prove that she really doesn’t want to. Her presence is strong but not threatening, even if she sometimes swings her ponytail like a weapon.

The house music has come up but people are still applauding and the band returns. There is some debate about what to perform, before “7 Years” is begun with the caveat that they might fuck it up (they don’t). Anderson then launches into “Butterfly Knife,” stopping two lines in to turn up her guitar. She apologizes to her soundwoman over cheers from the crowd. In truth, without some massive wash of noise or feedback to soundtrack Anderson’s exit, the end of the set does feel a little abrupt. It’s about the only criticism you can come up with, though, for the artist who’s providing the realist soundtrack to whatever dystopia we’re currently living in.

LIVE REVIEW: Julie Byrne, Jazzhouse, 12.09.2017

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Julie Byrne live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

No one expected a flashy set from Julie Byrne. It was anticipated from the beginning that the singer-songwriter would likely be alone on stage at Jazzhouse with her guitar. That she is joined by Taryn Miller of Your Friend on synths is already more activity than could be anticipated.

And yet Byrne is totally captivating. It’s not only that Jazzhouse is the perfect room for her voice; that it resonates over the packed audience is the most immediate selling point. It’s that Byrne herself is a striking presence. She’s swamped in a white robe that pools around her as she remains seated through her performance. She holds herself with a composure that emanates out from her being. Even while she’s singing, the room is quiet enough that you can clearly hear every time Miller hits a pedal.

The addition of Miller and their Korg synthesizer can’t be undervalued. There are a few moments of loud electronic noise washing over the room, but mostly the additional instrumentation is very understated, mimicking flutes or pedal steel in an intuitive, complementary way. Even just watching Miller as they shake their head enthusiastically while Bryne sings is such an endearing display of their rapport.

Miller helps to bring out a goofiness in Byrne that offsets some of her earnest New Age-y vibes. Bryne talks a lot about energies in the room and offering songs as prayers — if this had been a seated performance for the audience, I would have happily sat through a guided meditation with her. But then Byrne follows up the explanation that “Melting Grid” is about taking a risk at leaving a job for the sake of your spirit with a mad little “la la la” before singing the song. It’s a charming, off-script unpredictability that draws you in every bit as much as the songs.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh

LIVE REVIEW: Dylan LeBlanc, Ideal Bar, 31.08.2017

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Dylan LeBlanc live in Copenhagen

Everything about Dylan LeBlanc’s show at Ideal Bar feels crowded. The small room is sold out. His backing band — a second guitarist, bassist, drummer, plus keyboardist and cellist — barely fit on the stage. The endless push to the bar suggests a queue that never ends.

But the mood is light. It’s the first night of the tour and LeBlanc’s first time in Europe in five years. His repeated expressions of gratitude to the audience are so earnest they almost sound insincere (but the room is full of Americans, so they know he’s sincere). It’s an air that likely grew out of his early work, based mostly on acoustic guitars and a singer-songwriter aesthetic. While there is an interlude of LeBland alone on stage with just a guitar, the heart of the set is a bluesy Americana.

The songs often begin composed and measured, revealing complex and layered arrangements. At these points, it’s LeBlanc’s cellist who really stands out as the fact that alters the songs beyond a specific genre. Often the songs devolve into squalls of thrilling but increasingly predictable guitar feedback. At these points, you can feel how tight the space is; their movements are restricted beyond a point of natural inclination and on more than one occasion I fear Leblanc will get a guitar neck to the face. Songs’ endings stretch out beyond a sense of efficiency. It does reveal how tightly rehearsed the band is, but it also seems strange after a while that any one of those songs is not the end of the set.

At some point towards the end of the set, LeBlanc spills off of the low stage and plays in the protective ring the audience has formed around the stage for their bags. Leblanc is still clearly aware of the potential of hitting other people while he plays, though given a little more freedom. In a clearly well-rehearsed set, this still feels like a genuine expression of his energy, the way his constant thanks seem like a genuine expression of gratitude. And given the audience’s response,

it seems likely that when LeBlanc and his band eventually return to Copenhagen, it will be to a bigger stage.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh

INTERVIEW: Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux and Jackie Lynn

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haley fohr of circuit des yeux

Haley Fohr is a solo artist with a strong sense of the mysterious. We first caught her opening for Jenny Hval playing solo as Circuit des Yeux back in 2015 and were completely taken with her eerie folk, tenor-range alto, and ambiguous stage presence.

We’ve taken every chance to see Fohr perform since, whether as Circuit des Yeux or her electronica-fused side project, Jackie Lynn. Circuit des Yeux was back in Denmark to play a Saturday set on the Gloria stage at this year’s Roskilde, this time backed by a drummer and violist. Bolstered by these added textures, Fohr stood out as a strong force building up and controlling the dark vibes around her.

Circuit des Yeux just announced a new album, Reaching for Indigo, out on October 20 on a new label, Drag City. While she couldn’t divulge too many details about the album at the time of our chat, Fohr did elaborate on her working style and where she is as a musician now ten years into her career:

Is this your first time at Roskilde?

I’ve played Denmark a couple of times, but only in Copenhagen. This was my first time outside of that city.

We’ve never seen you play as Circuit des Yeux with a backing band before.

This is quite stripped down, I’d say. Usually I play with five to six people. So it was nice to finally have that represented in some way, even if it’s only a three piece. We’ll be back next year with a new record and there will be many more people on stage and I’m really excited for that.

You introduced new songs in your set today. What are you working on now?

I guess I’m just following my muse and the songs are getting longer, pushing around eight to 20 minutes instead of the more truncated style. With this new material I really went big and it kind of sounds expensive. I recorded it all at home still, but there’s a lot of strings and a lot of trombone and synthesizer. I feel like I expanded my textures in this way. It’s much different than anything I’ve done, and that’s how each of my records are I think. Or I try anyway, you know?

Did you work with a lot of other musicians on the record?

It’s very collaborative. I’m definitely steering a tighter ship these days, but it features a lot more jazz musicians from Chicago. I feel like it was kind of post-rock before, but I’ve got a lot more people that are from the Chicago jazz scene involved.

haley fohr of circuit des yeux
Photos by Morten Aargaard Krogh

Talking about your home studio, has having that set-up affected how you work?

I’ve never done a proper studio record. Ever. I’ve never recorded and mixed in a studio. That’s something I look forward to maybe later down the road, but right now I find that I work in a longer timeframe that’s a little more on my schedule than eight hours in the studio. It’s expensive and I feel like I can explore more and have the freedom to find what’s right for a song.

This new one was a little more laborious emotionally. I feel like it’s really cinematic. My music’s always been more album-oriented than song-oriented, which is harder to do in this day and age because of things like Spotify and streaming. But this new one’s even more like a film. Start to finish I feel like it makes more sense than if you pick a song out. Which to me is a cool development. I define it as a success.

Has working on Jackie Lynn as a stand-alone project influenced your new work as Circuit des Yeux?

Totally. Jackie Lynn was a truncated idea that came more from my brain and it was very narrative. With Circuit des Yeux, I feel like I’m almost a slave to a feeling. It’s kind of chaotic. I write songs but then they always turn themselves into something else at the whim of chaos. Jackie Lynn was definitely a one-off, but it was a nice exercise just to really define — “It’s going to be like this.” — and it was. It was like, “I can do that. I can make a two-and-a-half minute song and make it how I want it to be and embody a world in a different way.” Which was really freeing to make me feel like I was in control again. I’d like to do more of that, too. It works a different part of my creativity.

Do you feel like your performance is evolving with the songs?

I think my stage presence has changed. Circuit des Yeux doesn’t ever really feel like a performance, it feels like me. And my comfort level is growing. To be on stage is a thing in itself. To make that commitment uncomfortable — it always has been, but now I just talk a lot more to the people involved in the production. Today I was like, “No front lights, no white lights.” I’m really communicative about the things that make me uncomfortable, and that’s made it easier for me.

But also, standing up straight — I don’t know, I’m always slouching, I have my hair in my face — that’s just how I am. That’s just who I am on earth. I feel like that’s definitely evolved, just like owning my space. I feel like that’s also just part of growing up as woman. Anyone that does anything creative or maybe off the beaten path, your 20s are pretty awkward. Now I’m 28, when I started I was 18. You’re gonna grow into yourself and love yourself more the older you get.

Being comfortable with yourself would be necessary if you’re bringing in more collaborators as well. You would need to take on more of a directorial role to coordinate and get what you want across.

Certainly. And for me I really like to straddle this line of — I work with primarily experimental musicians that all have their own outlet and it’s pretty free. I don’t really like to work with session musicians, and my direction is pretty abstract. I talk a lot and explain what I want, but I will never say, like, “I want a G on the third beat of this measure.” I’ll say, like, “You sound like leaves wrestling and I want butterflies in the sky.” But it works. To me it’s always a balance of chaos and direction.

When can we expect the new album?

You can expect the details of that album on the first of August, but I can’t tell you when it’s going to be out. But I’m really excited. I feel like things have coalesced in a way where I’m steering the ship and it feels good. Everything feels right and I’ve got a beautiful team and people that will work within my means, which are not exactly the norm. I’m not down to play a bar. I’m really specific these days. So I feel lucky to work with people who also have a specific idea and are willing to honor that artistic expression.

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