Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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Amanda Farah - page 6

Amanda Farah has 100 articles published.

LIVE REVIEW: Jenny Hval, Jazzhouse, 24.06.2015

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Jenny Hval live at Jazzhouse, Copenhagen 2015

Whenever artists make an off-kilter record, it’s always exciting and a little nerve-wracking to see how they will perform it. In the case of Jenny Hval, whose latest album, Apocalypse, Girl, combines spoken word with muted electronics and some odd-ball pop songs, there are any number of ways her performance at Jazzhouse could go wrong.

The show, however, is far beyond a concert and more along the lines of performance art. It’s pure entertainment, the kind you recommend and don’t worry about whether or not other people will find it strange. [inlinetweet prefix=”null” tweeter=”null” suffix=”via @heretodaydk”]You’d have to be completely joyless not to find humor in Hval’s avant garde fly girls[/inlinetweet], who play with an iPad that projects onto a screen on stage, or gyrate in the shadows of a backlit screen, or momentarily take over to sing a karaoke version of Britney Spears’ “I’m Not a Girl.”

Hval herself angles for subtler performance, wearing a reddish wig for no apparent reason, allowing herself to be jostled by the fly girls, and pausing slightly longer during “Kingsize” when she declares “I am one-fourth Danish,” to allow the crowd to cheer (which they do).

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Hval never seems to exert herself when she sings; no matter how far she stretches her voice or her range, her body is languid, lax, her posture somewhat lazy. She balances this nicely with projections of a woman smoking, sped up just enough to make it twitchy whereas Hval is anything but.

The visual aspect of the set is a tremendous counter to the fact that the music side of the performance doesn’t differ at all from the recordings. But you could never argue that you haven’t been given a real treat. For how casual the evening feels, it’s clearly choreographed down to the wigs being pulled off at the end of “The Battle is Over.” Hval has to apologize to the crowd that there won’t be an encore, that they haven’t prepared one. And after the spectacle of the last hour, it’s better that she walks away than offers anything less.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Blanck Mass, Jazzhouse, 04.06.2015

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It’s the second night of Distortion and Blanck Mass, aka Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons, is playing Jazzhouse for his first ever Copenhagen solo show. And there’s no one here. On an ordinary night, this would already mean that everyone is missing out, but for a late show following hours of raucous street parties, this is the chillest way possible to round out the evening.

In the darkened room, half of the approximately 30 people who have assembled are sitting, staring up at Power, who is backlit by a projection screen. The next hour is an ebb and flow of ambient lulls and crests of beats. Without any beats, his songs have an Eno-esque softness. When paired with the freeform, shifting colors of the projections (except for the one that was a skull, that wasn’t so freeform), the mood is between serene and sedate.

When Power plays with Fuck Buttons, he has Andrew Hung to interact with, and that in itself changes the energy of the performance. Alone on the stage, he fares well enough, bopping behind his table and flitting from one piece of equipment to another. But we can’t even see his face, so there is an effect of disembodiment.

Granted, for his more beat-driven tracks, it makes less of a difference. The rhythms are scattered and compete with one another in a way that absorbs the movements into each other. On a different night with a different crowd, this could be a very hip party soundtrack.

But here, now, with the evening is drawing to close, a harsh buzz saw of static cuts through any comfort that had settled in the room. The jolt fades into more soft, enveloping synths, and finally rolls back into one of his multi-layered rhythms. The music cuts, the projection screen goes blank, and Power says an unamplified “thanks” to the crowd before walking off the stage.

LIVE REVIEW: Liturgy, Jazzhouse, 29.05.2015

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Liturgy (photo by Johannes Leszinski)

Photos by Johannes Leszinski

Liturgy open their set at Jazzhouse with frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix singing controlled, almost monastic vocals, looping them back on each other, and an anticipation hanging in the room. Of course it won’t continue like this. And with knowing nods between the band members, there is enough time to brace yourself for impact.

Much has been made about whether Liturgy are a black metal band or not, with their latest album, The Ark Work, further fueling the debate (and dividing a few fans in the process). But does it really matter what the precise sub-genre is when the music’s loud enough? The bigger question is how the synthesized, horn-like sounds of their last album would translate. Answer: As a sort of high-level screeching, but not at a frequency that’s painful to listen to.

Liturgy (photo by Johannes Leszinski)

They are full of subtle tricks amidst the noise: a sawn-off guitar given a permanent capo, effects that make guitars sound like glockenspiels, and their drummer, Greg Fox, who is apparently half man/half machine and looks like he could drum for days without breaking a sweat. Together with bassist Tyler Dusenbury, he really shapes the songs, and also helps you sort out who in the audience has any ability to keep time — there’s an awful lot of arrhythmic flailing in the crowd when they move out of 4/4 time.

It’s all a weirdly serene experience. Hunt-Hendrix normally maintains a straight-faced, disaffected expression, but is not immune to the occasional smile. The rest of the band have the countenance of the three chillest dudes ever, noise be damned. It’s the kind of performance that simply washes over you, sometimes sweeping you along in a rolling, repetitive song. It’s not what you’d call relaxing, but it’s totally engrossing.

Liturgy (photo by Johannes Leszinski)

LIVE REVIEW: Refused, Pumpehuset, 29.04.2015

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Refused (Photo by Amanda Farah)

Photos by Amanda Farah

The reunion cycle for bands is pretty predictable: First swear you’ll never reunite, then get back together playing venues and festival stages larger than at any point in your initial career. Everyone will hold their collective breaths and pray that it’s not an embarrassment, then proclaim it a triumph, possibly with tears in their eyes.

Refused are now at the point of starting over, despite all protestations from their camp. Their show at Pumpehuset was the beginning of a new tour to promote a new album — their first in 17 years, out in June — playing with a new guitarist (who happens to look like Billy Crudup in Almost Famous) and opening with a new song.

What is the same, however, is the essence of why anyone cared that this band was coming back. They are as loud and as tight as ever. Frontman Denis Lyxzén has the same startling, sustained levels of energy, dancing, jumping, instigating the crowd, spitting water, though gingerly sipping hot tea while the band plays.

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The audience is full of an energy that borders on violence, with the first stage diver appearing only minutes into the opening song, the new track “Elektra” (Note to all would-be stage divers: Make sure, unlike this first diver, that there’s someone to catch you before you jump).

Refused debut three songs from their new album, Freedom, the standout of which is “Françafrique,” with its dancey, disco rhythm and Shape of Punk… crunch.

It would be easy to let the moving target of Lyxzén distract from the rest of the band, but if the band as a whole did not equal each other in energy, if there weren’t a certain number of kicks and jumps framing the stage, then the singer’s slick dance moves would just make him look a fool.

But the sweaty man in the nice suit who jumps into the crowd for main set closer “Tannhauser/Derrive” and is immediately swallowed up by flailing bodies doesn’t look foolish at all. We can debate all day about punk ethics, selling out, and authenticity, but as of right now, there’s no denying that what they’re doing is a good time.

Body count:

Stage divers: 12

Crowd surfers that made it to the front: 2 (one of which got to the stage, then dove off of it)

LIVE REVIEW: Kate Tempest, Lille Vega, 13.04.2015

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Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

It’s a strange mix of emotions that come out of Kate Tempest’s show. Most of her set at Lille Vega is taken from her Mercury Prize-nominated album, Everybody Down, which tells the story of disaffected working class youth trying and failing to make a better life for themselves. It doesn’t sound like fodder for an uplifting evening, but that sense of encouragement is precisely the feeling you walk away with after her show.

Tempest opened her set with “Marshall Law,” performing the first verse as spoken word to a silent room before bringing in her band of two drummers and a synth player.

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Having the live band instead of a majority of programming hugely contributes to the energy, with Tempest playing off of the other performers and, early in the evening, grabbing one drummer in a huge hug at the end of a song. But watching the interplay of the backing band on songs like “Good Place for a Bad Time” make you appreciate that the majority of her beats are live.
These are the details you can only really notice when Tempest herself isn’t at the mic. She’s engaging and difficult to look away from. Her rap of “Chicken” is at about double the speed of the album version, and the audience is almost unable to process her skill.

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So when Tempest ends the night talking about the need for empathy, for the power of pursuing your dreams, there’s something youthful and infectious in this idealism. But she’s old enough and has been through enough for us all to believe that maybe, just maybe, she knows what she’s talking about.

INTERVIEW: Jenny Wilson

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Jenny Wilson (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

It’s ten years since Jenny Wilson released her debut album, Love and Youth, and to commemorate the occasion she’s playing the album in full from beginning to end at four dates, including Skuespilhuset on 19 April.

Jenny’s style has shifted significantly in the last ten years, and revisiting Love and Youth means looking back at a different way of playing, and songs that have been missing from her set for years.

We met up with Jenny at Harbo Bar in Nørrebro at the end of January to talk about Love and Youth, her creative process, and what she’s working on now.

Are you looking forward to the anniversary shows?

It’s going to be exciting. It’s strange when ten years suddenly has passed. It was just the other day I actually went back to that album and listened to everything. Because normally I never go back to my albums. I never listen to them. It was actually [my manager] Jessica who suggested — I think it was maybe six months ago — we should do something because it’s ten years, “Oh no, I don’t want to go back to that! Oh no. No, no no no.”

I was getting stressed, “Oh no, now I have to rearrange the songs so they will be more up to date to what I’m doing right now.” Because what I’m doing right now is quite far from what I did back then. But now I’m actually beginning to embrace the old, and I can see that there is a reason to do it as it was back then. The original versions. I’m going to that.

Are there any songs that you haven’t played in a while?

I’ve played I think three songs the last five years from the first album. The rest is something that I haven’t been in contact with for a very long time. But now I listen to the songs and I read the lyrics and I start to remember how to play guitar. I played guitar live when I was touring Love and Youth, and I started playing keyboard and piano with the next album, and now I’m just playing a bit of synthesizer. So now I have to learn to play guitar again.

Do you feel that your relationship to the songs has changed, like a different person wrote them?

Oh yeah. Very much. But what I discovered now when I returned to Love and Youth again is that I think the songs are closer to me now again than they were maybe five years ago. I was pretty scared that I would think the songs to be childish or just stupid. I didn’t find them stupid or childish, actually. It’s definitely another chapter in my life, but I still feel for these songs, I can still sing the lyrics without feeling ashamed.

(Photos by Morton Aagaard Krogh)
(Photos by Morton Aagaard Krogh)

I imagine you wouldn’t feel ashamed about listening to someone else’s record you loved from 10 years ago.

If you’re an artist or a writer or doing anything creative, you need to just proceed and go forward and not look back too much, because if you look back, you won’t make anything new. I mean ten years — pretty much anything can happen in ten years. When I wrote my debut album, I only had one son, now I have two. I was still so much closer to the person I was as a teenager, even if I was at the end of my twenties. But now I’m turning 40 this year, and my first-born son, he’s 13 and he has feet like this [makes hand gesture], and I have one more son, he’s eight, so it’s like, during these ten years, I’ve become a much more — I don’t know how to say it — a much more rich person, both in my private life and also as an artist. I think I have much more insight in life. I’ve been sick twice during these years, had breast cancer, I’ve gone through a lot of stuff that has really shaped me. I think I was much more loose. I was much more of a child still, even if I was an adult.

What was the writing process like for Love and Youth?

It was a lot of trial and error. I had to invent the wheel, because I was sitting in a closet in my apartment and I had to learn everything from scratch. I had a past in a band and we made some records. I’d been through the recording process before, but this time I did it in a completely different way. I learned how to program beats and to record. It wasn’t comfortable. It was far from easy to do it. That was also the challenge in it, that I had to. I had to twist and turn everything to find my own language and my own sound. I really wanted to do something that I hadn’t tried before. I was working very, very fast, just playing around with whatever came up to my mind, because I was so liberated by the feeling of being the only one in charge. I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission to do anything, no democracy here, it was just me. And I really loved that, so I was experimenting a lot.

But with the lyrics, I was much more determined to stick to one subject, stick to a topic, and I was working very hard with getting that universe together. Many songs had other lyrics from the start, but then I changed it, because I saw this theme coming up. I thought it was a very interesting way of working to actually have one subject that you have to dig deep into and you have to describe feelings and and situations from new angles. I really, really love to work like that. That’s the method I have been doing for all my records after that. I always search for a very long time for this subject.

What has changed about how you work?

I’m much more of a professional now. I don’t have to try all the spices, I know that I can stick to salt and pepper. For my last album, Demand the Impossible, I worked very much alone for a year to find my universe and to find the sounds and to find how to produce it. But then I actually worked with two other persons, my drummer and a real sound engineer. I’m not a real sound engineer at all. Which is okay. But I really wanted to do it in another way. Also because of speeding up the process a little bit, because it takes a long time to do everything yourself. It was much more fun, and I think I you can feel that there’s a lot more energy on my last record than the first because it’s a collaboration with other human beings.

I think in many ways my process has been the same in these ten years. I’m a very solitary writer. I don’t want anyone to interrupt me in the beginning because I need to find — I call it “universe” because it’s like I need to create a place. It’s like creating a map where you know all the streets and you know the language and you know all the dangerous parts, you know all the good parts, all the beautiful parts, and that’s what I do when I create a record. I really need to understand my little world. Because when I do understand it, I can write lyrics that come from a completely new angle. And also the music gets more original, I think.

You just put out an album last year, but are you working on anything new?

I have not started to record anything new at all. I’m in this phase where you think that you don’t have any ideas, that you think that you will never, ever do a record again, but I know this phase. I feel completely secure in this phase now because I’ve been through it so many times. This is the first stage of starting to collect material or ideas.

I’m working with Love and Youth, I’m going to rerelease the album on vinyl with a new cover which is a kind of pastiche of the original cover that an amazing Swedish artist has made. I’m working with the shows, I have to get into that old universe again. I’m also writing poetry. I’m trying to make a collection of poetry. We’re going to release Demand the Impossible in the rest of the world now. I’m going to make a video for a new single. I’ve started to direct my own videos, which I really enjoy.

Do you have a very strong visual idea when you’re writing?

Yes I do. That’s part of actually building this world. I started to do this when I worked on my second album, Hardships: I have a file on my computer where I collect a lot of pictures. On the file for Demand the Impossible, I found pictures of graffiti, deserts, things that actually matter to me. Maybe that’s not the images somebody else sees when they hear my music, but it’s still important to have these images.

Do you write music then lyrics?

I begin with searching for something, and that can go on actually for some years in the back of my head. I’m doing other things, but something is happening. Then I start to record stuff. Usually, almost every time, it starts with the beats. Then I make some kind of melody for the voice, but I often don’t have any lyrics. I sing in some strange English, but just so I get the rhythm and then I start to produce and compose the songs. In the very very very end of the process, I write the lyrics. Often when I just play around with words, it’s strange how actually, even if I just sing out of the blue, there’s always several words that I actually stick to because they had something to do with it. I didn’t have a clue when I just sat there and sang but then I could see, “Ah! Okay!” It’s a kind of puzzling.

Do you think the songs from Love and Youth will feature more in future sets?

Probably we will pick some songs in our two-hour sets. But you never know. I’m really looking forward to playing these songs again. They’re really good pop songs, actually.

Sónar Festival Day 2, Koncerthuset, 14.03.2015

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Night two of Sónar is a very different experience from the first night. If the opening night was experimental music with a lot of physical breathing room for the audience, then night two is closer to a rave with wall-to-wall people wanting to dance. In some ways it’s more of a festival — longer queues for drinks and to get into rooms to the see different acts — but there’s also just the feel of it being a Saturday night, and of everyone abandoning themselves to whatever consequences will come Sunday morning.

 Words by Amanda Farah and Alex Maenchen.

October Dance — 19:30

The ‘80s were kind of cool, you guys. It’s a secret that everyone knows and it’s the basic ethos by which the fresh-faced youngsters from October Dance live and die. Stuck in the early 19:30 slot on the SonarDome stage Saturday night and fronted by Michael Cera’s mustache from Youth in Revolt, these guys have no right being as good as they are. The Danish trio, supported by rhythm keys and bongos, serve up big art pop straight out of the Peter Gabriel school of sledgehammer synths, with frequent, feverish detours into back alleys in search of manhole covers that gush out the most steam. After the fourth modulated keyboard solo in as many songs, however, a lyric by Echo and the Bunnymen comes to mind: “First I’m gonna make it/then I’m gonna break it/till it falls apart.” It’s dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Alternately, you can put on a headband and watch a tennis ball machine spit balls at a wall for 40 minutes and you get the same effect. —AM

Kwamie Liv — 20:00

Kwamie Liv’s set is a lot like 5 a.m. The stage is washed in an opaque, bluish light and someone’s left it to the iTunes visualizer to run the show. It feels like the wrong time to show up, but there’s a sizable crowd. Liv is barely a silhouette in the fog, which suits her just fine. The soulful opener is almost heightened by it, which she sings solo. As she breaks into “Lost in the Girl,” the keyboardist and drummer make their presence known. It’s a big number, and the minimal setup really doesn’t do it justice. But Liv prefers to saunter through her songs. “All I want to do is just take you a little higher,” she sings on “Higher.” And she does, a little. And yes, Kwamie Liv has a song called “5 a.m.” but even George Michael knew not to take “Careless Whisper” so literally. —AM

Taragana Pyjarama — 20:25

There isn’t yet a name for the electronic equivalent of surf rock, but there’s plenty of the summery, breezy music to go around. Taragana Pyjarama is tapped into those sunshiny, sparkling feelings that make them kindred spirits of Brooklyn’s Blondes. The mood of the songs is heavily dictated by the drums, which either are really chill electronic beats or heart-pounding smashes, both of which give an unwitting shape to the more ambient songs. There are some live, super-vocoded vocals, and a handful of pre-recorded vocals that hint at some pop ambitions. Pop or ambient, they manage to bring a sense of spontaneity to a set with a lot of samples. —AF

Factory Floor by James Hjertholm
Factory Floor by James Hjertholm

Factory Floor — 21:30

We’re big fans of Factory Floor, but their Sónar set was not the best we’ve seen from them. Reduced to a duo without live drums, guitars or vocals, there was something definitely missing. Their hypnotic beats still attracted a huge crowd of furious dancers, far more than when we saw them at Lille Vega at the end of 2013, and there was plenty to love and recognize in their metallic beats. But while you can recreate drums and guitars from samples, there is no substitute for Nik Void’s distinctive, atonal voice. Give the girl back her microphone and it would make all the difference in the world. —AF

AV AV AV — 22:05

There’s a line out the door at the tightly packed SonarDome to see ELOQ, UNKWON, and DJ E.D.D.E.H bring some domestic, name-brand electronica for their first ever show together as AV AV AV. Their set highlights a slick mix of glossy melodic productions à la Purity Ring and stomping club beats. Amazingly, each contributing component retains its identity in the performance. The gorilla’s unmasked in DJ E.D.D.E.H., who gets the crowd going with a nice bit of run and rip showmanship, while ELOQ and UKNWON look to be cooking with as much focus and intent as Jesse Pinkman and Walter White. Some songs turn out to be little more than monochromatic shapes built to show the integrity of their design. Still, AV AV AV know how to please a crowd, and they’re not shy to let us have it, so it’s “All Good”.  —AM

Brynjolfur — 23:10

Copenhagen’s Brynjolfur stood center stage surrounded by synths and a laptop on three sides. His bright dance music has a very 80s, New Order feel to it, a vibe aided by the live drums and guitar. There were pleasant, predictable patterns throughout the set:  Slow descents into lulling valleys that freeze with seconds of surface tension and then erupt into massive banging beats. The ecstatic reaction that follows every time is just as pleasantly predictable. Brynjolfur maybe lacks some of the direct engagement of a pop star, but he’s still highly recommended if you ever wonder what “Blue Monday” would sound like if it was written today. —AF

Sónar Festival Day 1, Koncerthuset, 13.03.2015

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Sónar’s inaugural Copenhagen festival, cushioned within different spaces at DR Koncerthuset, ironically covers a lot of ground. There is the broad spectrum of electronica represented, from pop music to dance friendly synths to industrial to the somewhat frightening. But then there is also the balance to strike in atmosphere between festival and club night, unsure of whether it wants to be bright and shiny or evoke a warehouse feel. Where Sónar succeeds is in allowing everyone to physically move from room to room and adapt accordingly.

— Words by Amanda Farah and Alex Maenchen

Smerz — 19:30

There are two hard surfaces prominently at play as Sonar Festival kicks off its two-day residency in DR Koncerthuset: Metal and glass. Opening the program on the intimate SonarDome stage, the Norwegian duo Smerz embody the venue’s stark concrete staircases with their uncompromising brand of electronic pop. It feels like a deliberate choice to play on the basement level because here everything hits you heads up. Henriette Motzfeldt and Catharina Stoltenberg’s compositions are measured, two-part exercises in breakbeat that mix the sublime with the violent. The machine Smerz builds from it is one Stoltenberg operates with deft percussive gearshifts, throwing up gang signs like its a FUBU convention, while Motzfeldt feeds it with her porcelain vocals and melodic keys. They’re definitely tougher than they look and almost as tough as they sound—sometimes they rip it so hard that it seems like wheels are going to fall off, but then you hear the tires squeal so slow they grind. —AM

Puce Mary — 20:00

What’s most jarring about Puce Mary is the beautiful, serene expression fixed on her face even as horror movie screams of feedback rise up around her. The only time that beatific expression changes is when she sings, holding the mic close to her mouth in her fists and producing guttural, inhuman sounds. She spends her set bowing something that doesn’t appear to be a stringed instrument and eking out rhythms from pulsing industrial noise and series of stutters and clangs. Add to that the soft colored lights swirling around the room and it’s like going to prom in the third circle of Hell. —AF

Sekuoia — 20:25

Sekuoia takes the stage and won’t let you forget it. Behind him the LCD screen shows the name plastered in tall, static white letters superimposed on scenes of blue and white skies, blue and white mountains, blue and white islands in the ocean. And that’s what the proceedings feel like: static and white, and sometimes blue. Sekuoia may be the stage name of 21-year-old electro ventriloquist Patrick Alexander Bech Madsen, but considerable credit should be given to the mercenary work by his accompanying guitarist and drummer, who both look clean out of a Dorito-encrumbed sofa cushion variety Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band. While Mr. Madsen takes a swig of water mid-song, the facade of live performance is held somewhat intact by his band. It doesn’t help matters that these songs seem build proof, never committing to a thought long enough to let the non-dancers in the crowd enjoy it too. These kids should be watchmakers, you can set time to these beats. But some flourishes make the stage show entertaining, and this goes for the drummer especially, who at times looks to sprout second and third heads where his shoulders are. In Sekuoia’s world of stacked samples and resonant dins, the clash of a real high hat goes a long way. When technical issues bring the show to an anticlimactic end, it becomes clear that the music is just a blue color swatch, cut so square and flat that the most interesting thing about it is the funny name behind it: Sekuoia. —AM

Darkness Falls — 20:45

The Danish trio makes for a convincing, non-specifically 80s tribute band right down to their costumes: Their singer is wearing an amazing sequined dress with severely jutting shoulder pads that look like they could cause harm. Their performance paints them as a band with potential to be a really great pop band some day. Their programming is pretty slick — which is good, because there’s more programming than anything else despite the presence of keyboards, guitar, and drums — their energy is good even if their movements are a little awkward, and they have a cohesive direction. And based on the way their final song is received, they have at least a few hometown fans ready to go crazy over them. —AF

Vessel
Vessel

Metronomy — 22:00

Perhaps what fans find most charming about Metronomy is their unabashed approach to heartfelt indie pop, and with a frontman in Joseph Mount who seems the kind to shyly shrug when asked whether he’s got any plans on prom night, it’s difficult to think it’s all some sort of coy affectation. Whatever doubts a middling appreciation for their studio recordings may conjure, Metronomy are for real. On the big SonarClub stage, they get right to the point with “Love Letters,” a song which could run on an endless loop on a channel devoted to unrealized iPod commercials. Percussions are particularly emphasized in keeping with their dancier numbers, working to push the other instruments forward rather than snuff them out. It’s a simple but smart bit of audio engineering that has the rest of the band all jazzing hands and gesturing toward drummer Anna Prior before Gbenga Adelekan’s bass plunks in on “The Look.” Metronomy’s music is given dimension on the stage that it just doesn’t have at home, in spite of whatever high end DJ rig you may play them through. “Resevoir” bleeps and bloops while Prior and keyboardist Oscar Cash do a go-go jig, and “Corinne” is a go-nowhere song that highlights precisely what’s working for this group—an infectious conviction to hit the notes, no matter how dull they are, as square and precisely as possible that you could very well take them home to meet your mother and go out for a raucous jig on the dance floor afterwards. —AM

Kenton Slash Demon — 23:15

The Kenton Slash Demon set feels like a welcome recalibration of mood. Big beats veiled in thick synths—like a good lover, they take their time. This is a DJ set through and through, but you’re in it. Everything is prudently mixed so as to give generous room for the listener to sink into the pulse of the track. Their builds are like suspension cables pulling taut. Even the out-of-place looking lady who caught the tambourine during the Metronomy set can’t resist joining in. The bar setup ensures that beer flows one way, into the thick of the crowd, and where it isn’t flowing in, it’s keeping those not having any fun stuck to the floor. The guys on stage are all smiles as they pull onto the familiar gravel of their own driveway—big beats and emotional high notes. They fade out in a mist of reverb before they pop the clutch for one more go. —AM

Vessel — 23:35

There is something inherently violent about Vessel’s music. His set opens with searing, painful static that, when it settles into something that by comparison could only be called gentler, it’s still thick, sludgy, and metallic. It’s also so beat-heavy that people are dancing in as thrashy a way as one can before they’re technically moshing. Behind Vessels is a series of distressing film projections — even the overly sexual ones imply distress — that are mesmerizingly well synched. So mesmerizing that I failed to notice at what point he had taken off his shirt, and really, the flailing, sweaty man behind the table would have been pretty compelling on his own. —AF

Jon Hopkins — 00:30

For a man with a slight frame, Jon Hopkin’s got clout. It seems only he can open a set with extended, elliptical whirring, like the orchestral track’s been ripped from it spine and skull, and still have the crowd visibly excited for what’s coming. The images on the screen behind him are like a minimalist film, primitive graphics interspersed with hi-def photography of particles from deep space, be it that of a night sky or a fathomless ocean. Point is, he’s sending our world spinning in a surge of fragments. His beats are incisive and sharp and dampened with sonar pings of strings. Hopkins is best when he’s building these polygonal sound structures, these open marriages of percussion and synths. About twenty minutes in there appears to be technical difficulties, with the video going black. Three minutes pass as things are furiously rewired. A heartbeat. High hat. Snare. We’re back and Hopkins is more animated than ever, a mad ship’s captain whose way of fixing what’s broke is breaking it some more. One thing was always certain—he’s was never going to let us drift. —AM

A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Koncertkirken, 21.02.2015

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A Winged Victory For The Sullen played their first-ever Copenhagen show at Koncertkirken as part of the Frost Festival. The Belgium-based duo of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran stand at opposite ends of the altar, O’Halloran at a grand piano with synthesizers laid out on top of it, Wiltzie with his own synths and a guitar in hand. Their line-up is fleshed out with a violinist, violist, and cellist sitting between them, and the two full-time members occasionally nod to one another.

It’s a very understated performance. Despite synthesizers, despite an electric guitar, the most noise at any given time comes from the piano, and even then there’s something startling about its clarity. There is a huge disconnect between seeing Wiltzie play guitar and hearing what is expected of a guitar. His style is so muted, so delicate, that the tiny, sparkling little notes he plays seem more in keeping with some of the electronic arrangements. But in a room so quiet you can hear people opening their beer cans, it works.

And the room is beautiful. Koncertkirken is lit softly with strangely bright blue lights, and the stage area is dotted with Edison bulbs from behind a gauzy curtain. More of the soft blue and some green lighting do little to obscure Jesus on the cross looming over the musicians (hey, why not? It is Lent).

But these settings aren’t flawless. The first problem is that the altar is low, which means that unless you’re in the first row or two or up in the choir loft, your view is obscured. Not necessarily a problem in itself, but when everyone cranes their necks for a better view — and everyone is seated in pews that aren’t bolted down — something is taken away from the serenity of the experience.

That being said, the church has the perfect acoustics for AWVFTS. Their music, their style, is the same tone and timbre as a church organ. In fact, it seems like a wasted opportunity that they don’t incorporate the church organ. At the music’s loudest, there is never any echoing, just a pleasantly humming reverberation. And it is moments like that that separate bedroom music from a real live experience. Because ultimately, recommending AWVFTS live depends on where they’re playing. The performance of the band’s atmospheric music hinges on an equally atmospheric setting.

Ólafur Arnalds, Koncerthuset, 13.02.2015

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Ólafur Arnalds is trapped somewhere in the worlds between modern classical composer and electronic artist, and he doesn’t really fit the profile of either. He opens the show at Koncertsalen by asking the audience to sing a note (“E flat, or D sharp, depending on what kind of person you are”) for him to record on his iPad and loop through his song, so the evening is already more interactive than most before he’s even played a note.

Accompanying him on stage is a string quartet, two French horn players, and one fellow  stood in the center of the stage penned in by stacks of synths, drum pads, and on some occasions, a trombone (he’s also the only person who has to stand all evening, so he gets a bit of sympathy). Arnalds himself sits between two pianos, his synths laid out on top of a grand piano.

With this setup, it’s striking how minimalist some of Arnalds’ music is, emphasized as he plays piano with one hand and swipes at the electronics over the keyboard with restrained flourishes from the other. When he’s only playing piano, the intense concentration melts away from his face and is overtaken by a dreamlike expression. And the minimalism in turn tends to be usurped by bigger arrangements, a swelling of atonal noise.

Forty minutes into the set Arnór Dan, who appears on Arnalds’ albums For Now I Am Winter and Broadchurch, comes out for a few songs, and it changes the atmosphere of the show. Suddenly, it’s a pop concert, and not even an especially avant-garde pop concert. The mood lighting gives way to flashes from the long fluorescent beams behind the stage. And now with a singer center stage, it’s easy to forget — in that very Nordic way — whose name is actually advertised (a sentiment aided by the fact that Dan is Danish, he is speaking Danish to the audience, and he is pleased as punch that his mother is in the audience). But Dan leaves the stage and the tone shifts back to, if not a classical concert, something out of step with the mainstream holiday we’ve taken.

And finally, it is just Arnalds on stage, playing the piano that forces him to keep his back to most of the audience. His final song is a tribute to his grandmother, the woman who “made me listen to Chopin when I wanted to listen to death metal.” The backing tracks are so faint they’re almost a figment of the imagination, and as his fingers leave the keys, it is only these fading sounds that keep us all from sitting in complete, awestruck silence.

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