Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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Amanda Farah - page 4

Amanda Farah has 100 articles published.

LIVE REVIEW: Sarah Neufeld, Loppen, 08.05.2016

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sarah neufeld live in copenhagen

Expectations are high for any solo violinist. When the stage she appears on is Loppen, there’s some dissonance between the instrument and the setting. Sarah Neufeld showed, however, that the musician herself was in exactly the right place.

The Arcade Fire violinist’s songs hint at a Celtic, traditional influence, but her arrangements are adventurous and abstract. This becomes clear when she’s joined by her drummer, whose nuanced and creative playing transports Neufeld’s songs beyond their atmospheric recordings to something unexpectedly energetic and intense. At times, he comes close to upstaging Neufeld and her circular song structures with samplers, shakers taped to drum sticks, and subtle electronic inflections.

The energy stands in complete contrast to the fact that a large chunk of the small audience remains seated for the whole of the performance. In absence of seats, many people directly on the floor in good view of the stage. But this audience, however small, knows Neufeld and her work and is held rapt by her performance. Noise travels very easily in Loppen, and the vibe would have been incredibly different if the audience hadn’t been completely silent, if the more muted notes were muffled by talking, if fingers tapping on a snare couldn’t be heard.

But the energy is in Neufeld’s style of performing itself, which is obviously influenced by years of being in a band versus an orchestra. She never stands still and often swings her legs around when she moves. There is strength and muscle to in her playing, regardless of how rapid and slight her movements.

The standout movement of the evening was an extended pizzicato solo that swept Neufeld away as much as any guitar solo could have. But again it was her accompanist that rooted the song in something too abstract to be rock’n’roll, and so much more divine because of it.

LIVE REVIEW: PAWS, Stengade, 06.05.2016

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paws live at stengade copenhagen

Glaswegian trio PAWS are a no nonsense, no frills indie rock band. They play crunchy songs with catchy hooks, and they’re the kind of band that’s buzzy in their native UK. But so far they’re flying under the radar in Copenhagen, and their show at Stengade marks only their second visit to Denmark.

Amidst the fuzz of their existing catalogue, PAWS introduce their new single, “No Grace,” the recording of which is produced by Mark Hoppus. Perhaps it’s just the mention of his name, but the song instantly takes on a Blink-182 vibe that the other tracks don’t have. This is magnified as their vocals live have less reverb than on their recordings. Their new album is out next month, so it will be interesting to see how much of an influence the pop punk frontman has had on their sound.

To give them credit, PAWS had the unenviable position of following a band of locals whose fans/friends came out in droves but did not stick around. This could explain why, amongst their generally pleasant chatter, the band ask repeatedly if the audience are dead or alive — it does eventually produce the results of getting a small group to dance in front of the stage.

And they give back what they ask for. PAWS’s bass player, in particular, doesn’t hold still for a second, and bops across the stage and back again, throws himself forward and back in spasming motions, and somehow doesn’t break a sweat. And that’s really what you’re looking for from bands like PAWS; yes, there are plenty of other indie rock bands with solid tunes out there, but when you can get swept up in their energy, it feels unique and special every time.

LIVE REVIEW: Morton Subotnick, Jazzhouse, 21.04.2016

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Morton Subotnick

It’s safe to say that we never anticipated the audience rushing the stage of an 83-year-old electronic artist’s performance, but Morton Subotnick has always been a man of firsts. The electronic music pioneer played selections spanning his landmark albums Silver Apples of the Moon and A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur at Jazzhouse in low-key, minimalist style.

Minimalist in terms of presentation, that is — in terms of gear, Subotnick has enough hard drives in his set up to run a major ticket-buying operation and enough wires to be a legitimate fire hazard. But otherwise he sits behind a table, brightly lit but with no projections (though it takes at least 15 minutes before we register this point), the flashiest thing perhaps being his neon sneakers.

This is one of those rare occasions where you could conceivably hold a conversation over most of the music, yet no one is. The sounds come in whispers and the odd wave of noise, but mostly maintain a serene, therapeutic level. These are not note-perfect representations of the albums, either, which in many ways comes as a relief. Working with laptops instead of primitive synthesizers, it’s far more exciting to hear the music reinterpreted with modern technology than to hear a facsimile of what it was. From a technical perspective, this means that the higher end, for example, is far less harsh sounding, which is a favor to anyone with tinnitus if nothing else.

Morton Subotnick

This modernization doesn’t take away from the intent of the original works, though. It is still clear that Subotnick’s work is unlike what we have come to know electronic music to be. Even contemporaries like Kraftwerk who embraced the machine aspect of electronic music still don’t have the Space Age quality of Subotnick’s work. It’s choppier, more robotic, and brings to mind the proto-electronic work of tape splicers like Delia Derbyshire more than any New Waver. To underscore this, and the evolution of his own compositions, Subotnick ended the evening with a newer piece that fits more comfortably with contemporary abstract electronic works than much of his catalogue.

After his set, Subotnick came out to take away his gear, but didn’t get far. People were already on stage, looking at the labyrinth of wires, and immediately cornered him into conversation. More people followed suit, filling Jazzhouse’s small stage. Maybe the fresh news of the loss of yet another music legend had made people more brazen, and the artist took it in good humor. It proves that the fascination with his weird sounds is as real now as it was nearly 50 years ago.

LIVE REVIEW: A Place To Bury Strangers, Loppen, 10.04.2016

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Brooklyn’s A Place to Bury Strangers have built a reputation based on their intense live shows and blistering volume. I’ll vouch for that reputation; this is a band I’ve seen more times than I can count on one hand. I’ve seen them in different venues with differently proportioned stages and different qualities of sound systems. I’ve seen them enough that people ask why I would go see them yet again.

It’s a fair question. When you’ve seen a band play enough, there’s a certain amount of predictability, even if that amounts to expecting something wild to happen. In addition to noise, there’s a fair amount of flailing and some acts of violence against musical instruments to be expected from this band.

In the case of APTBS’s show at Loppen, the unpredictability began innocuously enough, with them opening with “I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart,” a song that in previous years would be used to blast the audience apart at the end of their set. If that’s how you’re starting things, how on earth do you follow from there, never mind end them?

A Place To Bury Strangers performing at Loppen in Copenhagen

What follows is some fog from the smoke machine, a budget light show stitched together with strobes and projectors by a roadie constantly having to switch and reposition them (it’s impressive for what it is), and yes, plenty of noise. There’s a little instrument swapping, but not so much that it slows the pace of a show representing a good span of the band’s catalogue.

Halfway through the set, the stage grows completely dark. Drummer Robi Gonzalez leaves the stage, then bassist Dion Lunadon, leaving frontman Oliver Ackermann alone, barely visible in the faint light and smoke, producing a sound from his guitar similar to a thunderstorm. It soon transpires that they’ve set up on the floor a few feet away from the stage, surrounding gear that can’t be distinguished in between flashes of a strobe light, which proves dangerous when the neck of Lunation’s bass nearly makes contact with my face. It’s an unexpected diversion from the glimpses of thrashing bodies through strobe lights.

In answer to an earlier question, they end things with as much feedback as possible — Ackermann first setting his mic against an amp and when that doesn’t work throwing his guitar on the stage and flipping the amp over on top of it. Antics were anticipated, and delivered on, but not exactly as expected. And for that reason, I’ll be there the next time they’re in town.

LIVE REVIEW: Puce Mary Album Release, Mayhem, 30.03.2016

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It seems only fair that an artist’s album release show should be her night to shine. Puce Mary, celebrating the release of her album The Spiral, on a bill of solid noise artists (performing in ascending order of aggression) doesn’t shine so much as burn; she is a one woman inferno who  consumes any impression the evening’s previous performers might have made.

Mayhem is dimly lit, a smoke machine is activated multiple times during sets, making it impossible to see or breathe, and for the occasion there are bunches of dried or at least wilting flowers tactfully arranged everywhere. It’s about as atmospheric as Mayhem ever gets, and while a single person behind a table of gadgets doesn’t, on paper, sound like it will be visually stimulating, it’s a shame when it’s blotted out by a Steven King-style fog.

The strengths of Puce Mary’s work is that she’s more rhythm centric than a lot of noise artists and her sound has a greater range of dynamics. She maintains a steady, brutal low end that, when it takes over a song, is bone-crushing. When she allows harsher punctuations to balance it, the shrieking could wake the dead.

Her physical movements while she plays are somewhere between being carried away by her songs and being completely possessed by demonic tones — it seems like a risk to climb on a table where all of your gear is laid out, but then it’s nice to have the visual threat level upped to match the music.

Half an hour into the set, the music cuts off abruptly. The already dim house lights don’t come up, but the DJ cues up some charmingly incongruous calypso. A small group can be seen huddling over Puce Mary’s gear. Whether or not that was the intended ending, it worked.

But seriously, the ventilation at Mayhem is not good enough for that much smoke.

INTERVIEW: Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals

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Ben Harper (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Photos by Morten Aargaard Krogh

Ben Harper never keeps fans waiting long. A quick glance back at just the last five years would reveal three albums, solo and with different collaborators. Which is why fans will know how special it is for Harper to be recording with the Innocent Criminals again for the first time since 2007. The album, Call It What It Is, has the familiarity of Harper’s cross-genre pop, shifting styles from track to track.

While recording for Call It What It Is began in January of 2015, the title track first appeared in Harper’s live set in 2014.

“It was one of the first ones I wrote and said, ‘Oh! Innocent Criminals. Put it away,’” he told us on a visit to Copenhagen in February. “But I couldn’t hold it. ‘I gotta play it. I can’t wait.’”

The song addresses the shootings of unarmed black men by police officers in the United States. “I’ve had enough reaction to it to know it’s a hot button,” he says. “Didn’t know I had so many conservative fans, actually. Oh…I’m singing to them, too. Or they found it, but I’m not really the type of artist you stumble on. Either you know me or you don’t.”

If you know Harper, then you know he isn’t one to shy away from the political. But as he readily explained, Call It What It Is also has plenty of room for lighter pleasures.

Call It What It Is is out 8 April on Stax Records.

Ben Harper (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh / mortenkrogh.com)

 

How did you end up working with Innocent Criminals again?

Couldn’t wait any longer. We had waited too long already, and it felt like there was a great window in all of our schedules and all of our creative longings and [we were] able to actually do it.

Did the songs come first or the idea to work together?

Songs came first. I had a pile of songs, and then I insisted that those guys bring me songs, because maybe in the past, not only would I not have been on the lookout for it, but maybe I wouldn’t have been open to it at all. And that hopefully represents my growth in a way that this can be a different experience with this band.

So was it a more collaborative album?

I think it’s the most we’ve done. We were starting to be collaborative with records past, but this is by far the most collaborative Innocent Criminal record ever made.

Which songs in particular reflect that collaboration?

This isn’t just a dummy answer: All of them. All the guys are credited as writers on all the songs. But it’s one thing when I write a song, and then they help me produce it and bring it to life. That’s the songs coming from me. The songs that came from outside my own pile of songs are “Deeper and Deeper,” which the guitar player, Michael Ward, brought that to me and he and I finished it; “Finding Our Way,” was brought to me — reggae tune — by Oliver Charles, the drummer and then he and I finished that one; and then “How Dark is Gone” was brought by Jason, the keyboard player and Leon Mobley, the percussionist. That one really caught me off guard. That one might be the most different song, not only on the record, but that I’ve ever recorded.

What was the recording process like?

It was like none other this time. Because when you’re young, you’re barreling through walls. Objectivity is not a word that is inherent in youth. Not for me. You don’t need it, you’re just throwing it out there, you’re making it. And I still would like to think I have that same recklessness, that nature, but at this stage and age, I need distance as clarity, as objectivity, to hear what I’m doing. Doing something and hearing what you’re doing aren’t always looking each other straight in the eye. In other words, what you’re doing, and what you think you’re doing aren’t always the same. And I didn’t want to look back on this record five years later and say, “Oh why didn’t I…”

And maybe everyone says that on every record about little things. But I needed the distance as objectivity. So I recorded for a week, go away for a month, go away for two months, and wouldn’t hear it. We’d work for a week, and we’d disappear. Some bands nowadays, a week means one song. We’re musicians first. The greatest jazz records that you’ve ever [heard] were recorded in a day, two days, three days. When I say we worked six, seven days in the studio, that’s like three-four songs we were making.

Also, musicians have a terrible habit of thinking everything they do is good. Which I’ve grown out of. Go away for two months, come back, press play, and either be incredibly motivated by certain songs, or incredibly disappointed by others, and then start digging deep. And that’s what brought out this record. Which I’m hearing clearly and am very proud of, if you don’t mind me saying that. I don’t usually say that about my own work, but what I’m doing and what I think I’m doing are the same thing.

I understand that there’s a contingent — “Pink Balloon,” “Remember When Sex Was Dirty,” that might not be your thing. I’ve always said, “If you don’t like a Ben Harper song, go to the next one.” But I love rock. I love rock ’n’ roll, I love the liberation, I love the freedom of it, and if you don’t like the story about the little girl and her pink balloon having fun, then that’s on you. If you don’t want to hear something rock, then I can’t help, but I’m not going to not do it because I’m worried about what you’re going to think. Just like I would never want you to worry about what I’m going to think with your artistic output.

Ben Harper (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh / mortenkrogh.com)

So “Pink Balloon” is about a little girl and her balloon?

Any dad who has a little girl and has tried to take a pink balloon from their kid and tie it to their waist knows what a fight it is just to get it out of her hand.

It was kind of pushed over the finish line by just the Banksy little girl with the pink balloon. It’s so moving, that image. And I said, “How can I get a musical version of that Banksy pink balloon while also thinking about my own daughters?”

Going back to your reflective process, were there any songs that you knew immediately would work?

“Remember When Sex Was Dirty” was like that. Certain songs need to surprise you and scare you. If you’re really clear on what you’ve done, I think art should surprise you as much in the future as it does the first time you see it and hear it. A song needs to pull you in right away so that you can kind of feel, see, and embrace. But a song should challenge the senses, I think, and reveal itself.

With that said, “Goodbye to You” is one of the songs on this record that — it’s just a cacophonous symphony of percussion and weaving melodies in and out. “I don’t like this, I don’t like this, oh! Okay! Now I know where we’re going with this song.” “Goodbye to You” and “How Dark is Gone” are just complete experiments. They dragged us kicking and screaming, they just hovered there, daring us to complete them. And I didn’t give up on them, where some songs you come back to and just know. And those didn’t make the record. The ones that I would come back to and go, “Oh yeah!”: “Sex Was Dirty,” “Pink Balloon,” “Shine,” even “Deeper and Deeper,” there was no question once that was going. “How Dark is Gone” put up a fight. “Finding Our Way,” the reggae tune, put up a fight. “Goodbye to You” we did three other versions, but that one, the cacophonous one, just pulled you through a dark hole. That was the one we finally settled on. So some were willing participants and some really put up a battle.

LIVE REVIEW: Deafheaven and Myrkur, Amager Bio, 17.03.2016

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deafheaven live

It’s only eight months since we saw Amalie Bruun’s debut performance as Myrkur at Roskilde, which was notable for its fanfare and how much attention was drawn to it being a debut. But her performance at Amager Bio has a lower key, hometown vibe to it. There’s a Danish flag draped on the drum kit (we assume in a charming, celebratory way and not a nationalistic way like black metal bands from other countries might) and Solbrud’s Ole Luk comes out for a song.

Bruun herself is sticking to her evil sprite character, emphasizing her haunting voice whether paired against a piano or heavily distorted guitars. She does have her metal moments — the shifts in drum fills, the separate, effects-laden microphone — but she’s best described as a hard rock act with particularly pretty vocals.

Myrkur (Photo by Tom Spray)

Compared to Myrkur, who plays up the pretty aspects of her music, Deafheaven actively work to hide the fact that their music can be quite pretty. In their quieter moments, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re an indie rock band, so strongly do their shoegaze influences come through, and even though singer George Clarke is shifting and stalking like a caged animal. You can’t fault him for energy, though it’s clear that he doesn’t always know what to do with it. He beckons fans to come closer, though no one tries to climb up on stage.

It’s really a rather curiously polite crowd considering the music and considering the singer’s own thrashing energy. It’s not until the encore, “Sunbathers,” that there’s any semblance of a mosh pit. But then the artier impulses of Deafheaven play to this; their new album, New Bermuda, follows a less predictable song structure than their previous work. It’s difficult to mosh when the aggression suddenly falls out the bottom of a song. But this decreasing predictability also makes them as exciting a live act as any of Clarke’s thrashing.

LIVE REVIEW: K-X-P, Loppen, 05.03.2016

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k-x-p

Finnish trio K-X-P aren’t the best at self promotion. Their band bio lists four people and mentions a rotating drummer (they currently have two drummers playing live). Their photos usually feature obscured faces. At their show at Loppen, they perform on a darkened stage while wearing black hoods, which suggests that one cannot live so far north without bringing some kind of black metal influence into his work. None of it really suggests upbeat, danceable electronica.

But despite their best efforts, K-X-P are curiously accessible. There is no harshness coming from the sawn-off guitar or the table full of knobs that singer Timo Kaukolampi twists, nor his reverb-laden, swampy vocals.

It’s not a big crowd, but everyone is dancing. All the little tables have been abandoned, left piled with coats dangerously close to the candles. Watching hands flail in the air and people jump around during “Space Precious Time,” the mood comes close to touching on rave culture, even as Kaukolampi attempts his best growl.

While having two drummers can seem like a gimmick, in the case of K-X-P it adds further dimension to the otherwise programmed music. It’s a little difficult to distinguish what’s coming from a person directly and what’s coming from a table of wires, but the literal feeling of being propelled forward by their movements compensates for this cerebral uncertainty.

And the confusion about preprogrammed sounds versus physically present instruments is perfectly in keeping with the tone of the evening. It’s hard to reconcile the notes that stretch out into acid-inspired whirs with the group on stage. It’s hard to reconcile that the bodies are dancing around in the low-ceiling Loppen and not in a festival tent in a field. But it’s only these superficial things that feel mismatched. Shut your eyes and enjoy the spaciness, and everything feels right.

LIVE REVIEW: Arnold Dreyblatt and the Orchestra of Excited Strings, Jazzhouse, 18.02.2016

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Vinterjazz follows on the same trend of Jazzhouse itself: There’s some jazz, but they’re not especially strict or picky about following certain guidelines. The loosely thematic program scheduled in February is an excellent excuse to put outfits together on the same bill that have only the vaguest ties to one another. Jazz purists would surely be horrified. But it’s excellent.

Stephen O’Malley is best known for his work with SunnO))); Randall Dunn is best known as a producer who sometimes works with SunnO))). Their opening set does not sound like SunnO))) and does not pretend to. It’s primarily a thick, ambient mass of guitar and keyboards, and yeah, it’s loud, and there’s a bit of that familiar rumble, especially when Dunn fills in the bass with a Korg. There are actually times when you can distinguish the guitar, and even individual notes, particularly an interlude where O’Malley strums a series of stuttered notes. It doesn’t take long before he jabs at the pedals set up before him with a finger as though he’s gotten annoyed at how quiet things are. It’s not an all-consuming volume, and there’s no smoke machine to gas you out, but it’s clear that the men know how to lull an audience even without extreme low frequencies.

Arnold Dreyblatt

The minimalism of Arnold Dreyblatt’s opening song is shocking in its contrast. He spends 15 minutes whacking out harmonics on his bass with a bow before being joined by the Orchestra of Excited Strings.

If his opening song is demonstrably and performatively avant garde, then what follows is practically pop music. Despite being joined by a tuba player, a guitarist whose right hand scarcely touches the strings and a drummer who also plays robotic guitar (rigged to a laptop — more of a party piece than a looping pedal, but every song starts and ends with it), the rhythms are conventional, the overtones are warm, and the songs are upbeat and accessible, no matter how creative the musicians’ methods are. By the end of the set, people are dancing in the doorway, crowded out of the main room by chairs.

With such wildly different performers, there was a noted shift in the audience from one set to the next. But if you showed up late or left early, you definitely missed out.

LIVE REVIEW: Anna von Hausswolff, Jazzhouse, 22.01.2016

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Low frequency sounds and thunderous bass aren’t always associated with relaxation, but Anna von Hausswolff’s sold out Jazzhouse performance could have been billed that way. From the beginning of opener Berg’s set, the evening was one filled with a resonance humming mildly in the air, lulling the audience into a meditative state (though Berg might have taken it too far by burning patchouli incense on stage).

But it’s not a smooth transition to Anna’s set. She takes the stage with her band in an unassuming way, situated on a platform, sitting behind her organ, far removed from anyone in the audience. This means that when she crouches behind the instrument, we can’t see what she’s doing. And it seems like she’s ducked down for a long while when she finally announces that her sub-bass has blown out, and she’ll be back in about 10 minutes, leaving us with a light drone.

True to her word, it is only 10 minutes, standing in pulsating blue lights that remind you of being in an aquarium. While the glitch has robbed Anna of any bold introduction, the now-repaired sub-bass has the shock value of making your teeth rattle in your head. Despite this, it’s very soothing. Because there is so much emphasis on the lower end, the guitars are a whispery afterthought; the myriad pedals before the two guitarist contribute nothing to noise.

Anna herself can shriek like a banshee, but it blends so easily with the arrangements that, regardless of her pitch, there’s no harshness. And the way that she sways — in big swooping motions with her hair trailing behind her — suggests a different atmosphere and a different music, a playfulness and nonchalance out of step with the avant garde.

Given the technical delay, this is one night when the perfunctory leave-the-stage-to-denote-an-encore could have been skipped. Von Hausswolff returns very quickly for a solo performance of David Bowie’s “Warszawa” before her band rejoins her for the final number. It’s an up-beat, almost pop number, different from the rest of the evening that she closes her set with. It’s past midnight, and there’s an air of fatigue in the room now, but it’s a wise decision to send us off with one last burst of brightness.

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