When Chorus Grant takes the stage at Bremen Teater, there is no indication of how weirdly wonderful the night is going to be. Kristian Finne Kristensen & co, with their downtempo, ‘70s inflected rock, are very reassuring. They’re not just pleasant, they’re comfortable to listen to. It’s a really nice, really unassuming way to ease into the evening.
So when Connan Mockasin takes the stage, looking for all the world — with his bleach blond hair and black poncho — like a cult leader, things take a radically different turn. His psychedelic rock is really the perfect soundtrack to lying on your living room floor and tripping your face off, but it’s his personality and stage presence that make him worth coming out to see in person.
Before even picking up his guitar, he comes to the front of the stage to tell the audience that he is delighted to be in Denmark. It’s his first show here, ever, and when he tells the audience that he’s wanted to come here since he was a child, he sounds genuine. That’s a big part of why his show works. When he casts cheeky grins at the audience in the middle of pre-song improvisations, it feels spontaneous. When he plays his guitar from a seat in the front row for much of “Why Are You Crying?” it feels impulsive and not like something he’s been planning to do since this afternoon’s load-in.
Mockasin’s band is similarly easygoing, which works well as much of the set has a slow-motion quality to it. They frequently hit wind chimes to add to the dream sequence sensation of the music. More than halfway through the show, Mockasin walks up to the soundboard in the middle of the theater to introduce their soundman and get an audience perspective. When he returns to the stage, the crowd are on their feet.
But if the evening has only been unpredictable up to this point, it’s with the encore when things get truly odd. The band help to carry out a large duvet surrounding a petite Japanese woman in a kimono. She leads the crowd in a chant of Mockasin’s name before he emerges from under the duvet, now dressed in beige pajamas, bare chested and doing little to sway me from my early assessment of him looking like a cult leader. He finishes his set singing through a pitch-shifted mic that’s dropped his vocals more than an octave. It might be going a bit beyond accessible artistic expression, but it’s definitely memorable.
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Au Revoir Simone line up neatly behind their synths across the stage at Loppen, like a sexier version of Kraftwerk. Unlike the storied Germans, the Brooklyn trio work to infuse some humanity into their performance, rather than erase it. They aren’t glued in place, and often switch keyboards, pick up a bass, or simply take the microphone in hand and step away from their instruments.
There is a clear division between Au Revoir Simone’s pop songs and their more atmospheric songs, namely that the pop songs get louder vocals. And while the pop songs are more fun, not least because they’re easier to sing along to, there is plenty to be said for the rich beauty of their crooned vocals dissolving into the synthesizers. It isn’t just woozy, swampy, formless ambient electro; there is always a beat to string things along, even when the drum machine or bass is enveloped by the same soft tones.
The live bass, used only on a few songs, doesn’t really differentiate itself in sound from the synth bass they use, but it is a better outlet for Annie Hart, whose bouncing energy is more suited to an instrument with some mobility. She provides an entertaining contrast to her bandmates, who are more inclined to gently sway behind their keyboards.
But the band maintain a certain detachment from the audience, and it’s not until the encore that they begin making jokes, teasing about how after 10 years they have enough songs for a jam band-length set, then fretting when this fails to get any laughs (possibly explaining their detachment — perhaps jam bands lack the same stigma here that they have in America).
They end the night with an altered version of “Knights Of Wands” — Hart, while defending her ancient keyboard that her bandmates hate, is forced to admit that she can’t remember which sound the song is supposed to be played on. The result has less of a chiming effect, but it’s the kind of variation that works, and the kind of spontaneity that would be welcomed to their set.
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There is something particularly interesting about watching electronic artists interpret their work live. It’s never certain whether you’ll get a full band or someone with a laptop. With Son Lux (né Ryan Lott), touring for the first time ever with a backing band. His sold out show at Stengade — and first ever show in Copenhagen — saw him accompanied by a drummer and guitarist in what was only their 18th show together.
Interpretation is really the way to look at the set. While the basics of all of Son Lux’s songs were there, thus making them each readily identifiable, the listening experience was still completely different from his albums. The biggest changes in dynamics come from the guitarist; as recordings, these are not guitar-centric songs, so the moments when the distortion is hit the hardest have a dramatic effect.
Then there is Lott himself: Limited to the space behind his keyboards, he is strangely compelling to watch. He often has his arms raised aloft — perhaps the only bit of him that can be seen from the back of the packed room — or moves in jerky motions to match glitchier music. Even during his quieter songs, he dances with with an enthusiasm that doesn’t quite match up but is infectious all the same.
One of the biggest shocks, however, is his voice. The whispered fragility of the vocals on his records, bolstered there with dozens of overdubs, gives no indication of just how strong his voice really is. Not only is it resonant and often emotive, but it carries through the cadences in the songs where the other instruments fall away and, as another example, when he comes back alone for the encore to play a minimalist version of “Lanterns Lit” Lott has a clear idea of how he works as a recording artist and as a live performer, and he knows how to execute each. His show might not be flashy, but it’s still an experience.
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After the doldrums of January, Copenhagen’s music scene comes back to life in February, and the FROST Festival is a notable contributor. Now in its fourth year, FROST brings Danish and international bands to conventional and unconventional venues around Copenhagen for concerts. Running from 1 February until 2 March, the festival aims to span genres and settings.
“FROST is all about putting the live music experience in context,” says festival director Mikael Pass. “We put a lot of effort into scouting for interesting, alternative venues across the city and match them with the artists we wish to present. This way the atmosphere of the room and the music blends, hopefully taking the concert experience to a different level. This year, a lot of the events take place in venues connected with water – an abandoned swimming pool, an old aquarium, ice rinks. Don’t ask me why.”
Though the water theme of many of the settings may be a coincidence, FROST’s organizers have a set of criteria they look for in their alternative venues.
“A perfect FROST-venue needs to hold a strong story telling atmosphere. It should work as the perfect backdrop for a concert,” says Pass. “At the same time it needs to fulfill the basic requirements – electricity, toilets and, of course, an acoustic that won’t destroy the concert experience. Then we look for a band that can fill the room and reflect its ambience. Sometimes we settle on the band first and then look for a perfect venue for them. The band becomes the soundtrack to the room and the room becomes the backdrop to the music.”
Though Pass is obviously excited to see all of the bands performing, he admits to being particularly excited about a few.
“Mostly I’m curious to see how the matches between the bands and venues pan out,” he says. “When Saints Go Machine at the old aquarium, Erlend Øye at the bottom of an empty pool, The Mountains and Turboweekend in the beautiful and historic Brew House of King Christian IV. And I can’t wait for Moonface to sing his insanely beautiful songs behind the piano in Koncertkirken.”
Beyond the offbeat venues, the city of Copenhagen itself — especially as it stands in February — is crucial to the concept of FROST. And don’t be surprised if future editions of the festival necessitate keeping your mittens on.
“We find it very interesting to explore the possibilities in creating music events in the winter city – not only indoors, but also to get people to use the outdoor spaces of Copenhagen during the winter,” says Pass. “This year, we produce shows at two public ice rinks and hopefully we can develop more outdoor activities in the future. Another goal is to do more light installations both at our venues and across the city to light up the dark Copenhagen winter,” says Pass.
One can see how Pass can be optimistic. Almost half of this year’s FROST events have sold out before the festival has even begun, and its reputation continues to grow.
“We get the feeling that we have become an established part of the Danish (and international) music scene. This makes it easier to discuss projects with both artists and the people running the alternative spaces,” he says. “However, we don’t make things easy on ourselves: Creating one-off events in alternative spaces takes a lot of time, money, networking and energy. And it’s a very open format; every edition of the festival has been a completely different story. FROST is like the bumble-bee that wasn’t designed to fly, but so far has managed to do so anyway.”
FROST 2014 begins this Saturday, 1 February. For the full line-up and ticket information, visit www.frostfestival.dk.
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The demographic of the crowd for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at Lille Vega is striking: the overwhelmingly male crowd seems to be evenly divided between those who have been following Malkmus since the ‘90s, and those who look just old enough to have discovered Pavement on their 2010 reunion. Amusingly, many men of all ages have Malkmus’ haircut.
Malkmus is still the archetypal indie rock guy, lanky, hunched over when he sings, and he comes on stage chewing gum, which he manages to keep up through the entirety of opening song “Tigers” before spitting it onto his setlist.
Yet somehow there is an ease to the evening. Having stacked several of his shorter tunes early in the set, the band seems to speed through songs, as evidenced by a 22 song set list (further bolstered by a medley of covers in the encore). This balances things nicely when Malkmus does indulge in guitar solos, including the ridiculous rock star move of playing his guitar behind his back for the outro of “Senator.”
The vocals could stand to be a little louder, they sometimes get lost under the guitars and keyboards, but the band is tight. Between songs, when Malkmus makes sometimes awkward banter (or at least when his question about whether anyone in the audience has ever accidentally appeared in the background of Borgen falls on deaf ears), his bandmates take jibes at him that he readily deflects back them.
While a chunk of the show was devoted to the band’s latest album, Wig Out at Jagbags, the Pavement songs “Harness Your Hopes” and “Summer Babe” still creep in at the end. Of course, these are the songs that garner the most enthusiastic responses of the evening. Malkmus is still the archetypal indie rock guy, clearly comfortable with what he’s doing now. But obviously most of his audience arrived at what he’s doing now via what he did 20 years ago.
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Jeffrey Lewis is a singer songwriter and comic book artist and writer, and that wordy description of his career is a pretty accurate summation of his work. Economical in everything but words, Lewis’ performance at Loppen is a mishmash of music and art, sometimes though-provoking and often amusing.
The latest incarnation of his ever-rotating band is the Jrams, featuring Caitlin Grey on bass/synth and Heather Wagner on drums, with both women chipping in with backing vocals, though there are none of the duets that feature on Lewis’ albums. Despite only arming himself with a sticker-plastered acoustic guitar, he still manages to shred away, distorting things into oblivion, flinging off his guitar strap and nearly taking out his synth before the end of the second song.
The set is upbeat, even though Lewis’ delivery is always even-keeled and sometimes leans towards melancholy, and even if songs like “Anxiety Attack” and “So What If I Couldn’t Take It” are darkly comic, if not depressing. The massive smile plastered across Wagner’s face throughout the set only emphasizes that the most serious moments are still meant to be fun.
The real treat in Lewis’ live shows are his low-budget films, which involve him standing on a chair with an over-sized comic book he’s drawn. His band plays a rhythm and he sings along to the pictures in his book. Last night’s films included a low-budget biopic on Watchmen creator Alan Moore and a chapter of Lewis’ ongoing “History of Communism” series, Part 6: Vietnam. Such is the educational portion of the evening.
And if songs about communism somehow gave no indication that Lewis is politically aware, there’s his latest single, “WWPRD” (What Would Pussy Riot Do) which he performed as spoken word. Most remarkably, he managed to silence the room with his screed on the value of artistic integrity (except for the intermittent cheers — who would have thought there would be anti-corporate types in Christiania?).
It might have made more of a statement to end on the ensuing punk rock spazz out, but in the end it’s an encore of the more gentle, folky “The East River” and “Reaching” that send everyone off back into the cold. Maybe that’s more appropriate; maybe songs about walking home are what you should be left with while making your way home.
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The dreariness of a Copenhagen winter is easily combatted by the shiny electronica of Australia’s Cut Copy. Their fourth full length album, Free Your Mind, sees the quartet expanding on the synth pop of its predecessor, Zonoscope, while exploring more experimental territory.
“Probably everything we do is pop to some degree,” says frontman Dan Whitford. “Even when we think we’re doing something crazy, it still sounds a bit poppy.”
Whitfrod sat down with us backstage at Lille Vega ahead of the final show of Cut Copy’s tour to talk about Free Your Mind, touring, recording, and why he’s afraid of concept albums.
Today’s the last day of the tour?
Last show. We fly back tomorrow. I think we’ve got most of the day here, and then we fly out in the evening. It’s crazy. The start of this tour just seemed like a never-ending run of shows. We have a backstage pass with all the shows on it, and we completed a whole US tour and it wasn’t even a quarter of the way through! We were like, “What the hell is going on? It’s going to go forever.” But we somehow got there. It’s been a really fun tour, actually, so that certainly hasn’t been a problem. But I think just being away from home, and missing being in Australian summer for two months is a bit of a thing for us. We’re keen to get back and put some shorts on and go to the beach.
Had the new songs been road tested before?
No, this was our first tour for the record. It came out when we’d already started this tour, so this was the first chance to play these songs to our fans. But it’s been cool.
Is there a learning curve to playing them live?
Yeah, we do figure it out but until you actually go on stage sometimes you don’t actually know what’s going to work properly or whether the songs come across properly to crowds. I guess just because the way we write music is very much that when we’re in a studio, we’re not thinking about performing live, we’re just like, “well, we can add this and add this and all sorts of crazy shit.” But then when it actually gets to playing it, we can’t have 30 different instruments on stage. We each play our parts, so sometimes it’s a weird translation from the record to a live context. I think you have to adapt a bit as you go. But thankfully the songs from this record seem to have worked really well from the beginning. I haven’t felt like we’ve had to change much, it’s just been like, “Yes, that’s how it should sound.”
Any songs in particular working well?
I really enjoy playing, “Let Me Show You Love.” I guess it’s a more deep song, maybe not quite as much of a pop song as some of the other tracks on the record. It seemed like maybe that was something that wouldn’t necessarily win over crowds. I mean, it was fun for us to play, but it’s actually worked really well in the context of the live set, and people really seem to get into it, so it’s a nice surprise that people are enjoying the track that we actually enjoy playing the most.
Do you prefer recording or touring?
It goes in phases. Certainly, by the end of making this record, I just wanted to go and play some shows. We’d been at home for a year and a half, we’d been working on the record writing, and then all these stages of recording, and then mixing. I think after a while you can’t even get in front of an audience, because you almost forget when you’re in a studio for too long that people are going to actually hear it. Because you think, after a while, it’s only the people in the band that have been listening to it, and that’s all that matters. But in actual fact, you just need other people to hear it. Sometimes you’re like, “What were we worrying about? It works!”
We’re still really enjoying playing live at the moment, but usually by the end of touring a particular record you’re pretty keen to get back in the studio, because I think as exciting as touring and traveling is, eventually you get to a point where you want to get some sort of creative stimulation again. You’ve been playing those songs so many times over and over that you want to find something new. It goes in cycles. It balances out. You can’t have one without the other, and they’re equally fun in their own way.
Do you ever write on the road?
It’s sort of difficult, because making electronic music in particular, it’s so reliant on the instruments and different synthesizers and equipment that you have on hand, you’re experimenting with all these different things, and using so many different things at once, that it’s kind of hard when you’re away touring. You don’t have access to all that. I’ve done remixing and that sort of thing while touring in the past, but not so much writing songs from scratch. I think probably also because half the time you’re on tour you’re feeling a bit hung over and sorry for yourself, so it’s not really the right mindset for being creative.
Would you describe “Free Your Mind” as a theme for the album?
I guess it does. I think it emerged, but we didn’t set out to do that. We really set out to not think about the end result. When we were making the record, as almost a technique to not get stuck, we decided that we’re just going to be totally positive about any suggestion that anyone made. We’d just try it, no matter how stupid it sounded, and then we can always come back later, and we can decide then if it’s good or not. To avoid having a stalemate where you’re just not sure whether you should do something or not and then have an argument, let’s just do it. You can always decide later. We didn’t really go back and listen to any of the songs that we were writing or recording until much later, particularly as a group. It wasn’t until maybe six months or more into the process that we actually listened to all of the ideas that we’d been working on. That’s when we discovered that there might be some sort of thread that runs through some of these songs. Once we discovered that, we tried to draw that out a little bit. I guess maybe the concept emerged, but I’m always scared to say “concept album” because it sounds self indulgent.
Are there other lyrical themes?
I guess so. Not all the songs seem to fit into that same box. The thing that sets this record apart to me is that previous records have been a lot more personal or introverted. The first record feels like a weird, lonely, solitary record. This one feels like almost an open invitation to anyone and everyone to be involved in what the record is about. Almost like a call to arms in a way for people who are listening to it to let go and enjoy themselves and do whatever they need to do for that to happen. For me, it feels like that probably is the thing that sets it apart from other records that we’ve done.
Where did the dialogue samples come from?
All sorts of different places. Some of them are from old mini disc recordings that I made when I was a teenager, recording all these different things from television and radio and weird places. A large number of them are from field recordings. Ben, our bass player, moved to Washington DC, and went around with this portable recorder, and just recorded people. Just asking them about their weirdest experiences and the strangest things that had happened to them and got some pretty funny results. A lot of those have ended up on the record as well.
What is your recording process like? As the main producer for the album, is it difficult to balance producing with recording?
At some point there needs to be someone that makes the final decision. I think we try to keep it as a group process up to a certain point. If no one can decide, I’m just like, “Well, I’m the producer, this is what we’re doing.” I put my foot down every now and then. But I think, inevitably, if you’re making electronic music you’re always producing your own music on some level. Even if you have an outside producer — like our second record, we worked with Tim Goldsworthy as a producer — but still, even just making the synthesizer sounds or deciding to use particular instruments, that’s basically doing the job of a producer. It’s not like we’re a rock band, we each have our instrument and that’s what happens. We switch around so much that it feels like we’re always producing our own records, even if we’re working with someone else. But it’s been cool, the last two records we’ve done in a very DIY way, where just found a cool space and set up our own studio, brought in all our own gear. It feels like a modern way of doing things as well, because you don’t need a big recording studio these days to make a record. You can bring in your computer and some good equipment and all your instruments, and there’s no reason you can’t make an awesome-sounding record.
Have you set up a permanent studio?
No, we’ve had two different ones. They were both warehouses. The first one, the one we used for Zonoscope, was a very rustic: Holes in the ceiling, no heating or anything like that. It was incredibly cold, because we were recording in winter, so we had these big coats on, and had one little bar heater that we huddled around, and if someone had to go and record something, they’d have to run up to the other end of the room, get cold as they were recording their instruments, and run back again. This time around we found a much better space that had actual acoustic treatment because bands were rehearsing there sometimes. And it had heating. We learned from the Zonoscope experience that some comfort is probably good.
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The second of Oh Land’s two homecoming shows is a jubilant evening. It’s the kind of evening where spirits are high and the audience can be encouraged to clap along — even to sing along — with minimal provocation from the artist. Everyone is just into it.
Even opening the show on a mellow note, sitting at the piano for “Cherry On Top,” is greeted with enthusiasm that’s equalled when she rolls into the more directly dancey “Pyromaniac”. That’s because Nanna Øland Fabricius herself is a performer in all of the best, most over-the-top senses. She’s the type who will thrash around behind her piano (or at least chair dance — everyone who has their headphones on while at work knows what I mean), throwing up her arms she’s going to do a trust fall with the same energy that she uses to bounce around the stage when not being the piano.
She shows her vocal range often by stripping back arrangements for quiet intros that burst into rousing pop numbers, and with songs like “3 Chances,” performed primarily with just her and guitar, allowing her to demure at the microphone. Her backing band can’t be undervalued either, not just as musicians, but also as vocalists — in particular, Katrine Enevoldsen matches Fabricius in strength, and the difference between having live backing vocals of that calibre versus a prerecorded track is huge.
Between songs, Fabricius is chatty, cracking jokes, teasing her American guitarist in Danish and then having to translate for him, and upping audience call and answers into elaborate, operatic scales. Nothing about Fabricius is too earnest, and that’s key. Even during her more serious songs, she still has a smile on her face, which is why she can pull off a lot of the hands-in-the-air, palms aloft moments. You readily believe that she’s just as cool as she is goofy. As a live performer, there’s more than one angle that she can play, in precisely the same way her songs span the sensitive and sweet to the straight up pop tunes.
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Pegase is French for “pegasus,” and in this case it’s also the name of the solo project of Raphaël d’Hervez (who’s backed by a full band live). It’s a re-imagining of bedroom electronica with multi-layered arrangements and vocals that range from an easy, subtle tenor to a pretty sweet falsetto. His songs are woven with whimsy in his vocal samples, glockenspiel and wood block textures, and the bending sound of a synthesized sitar. There’s a playfulness contrasted by an underlying sadness in the lyrics that puts on edge on all that dreaminess.
Pegase released two EPs last year. You can stream or download them and a couple of remixes he’s done on Bandcamp. Look out for his debut full length Out Of Range set for release February 3rd 2014.
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It was never going to be a stretch for Destroyer to do an acoustic solo set. Though his albums are fleshed out with a full band, Destroyer is still Dan Bejar on his own, and most of his work readily strips back to simple guitar and vocal arrangements without feeling like anything is missing.
So what’s really special about seeing Destroyer standing on a stage alone, strumming his guitar with his thumb? It’s the attention he pays to his entire catalogue, including a song from his latest EP, Five Spanish Songs, as well as early works like “Streets of Fire,” from his 1996 debut. It all bleeds together in the course of a twenty song set, but in this setting we get the impression of Bejar at his best. The room is dead silent and all of the nuances in his vocals, most notably his stage whispers, are conveyed in such a way that describing the evening as “intimate” actually feels appropriate.
But that silence feels too prominent between songs, and it’s well into the set before Bejar seems to realize he should fill in those gaps. Even then, he only makes little comments about when the songs were written and what they’re called. Bejar expresses uncertainty about how familiar the sold-out room is with the songs, comparing the evening to the idea of Donna Summer doing an acoustic folk tour. He then admits, “I never thought that before I said it, but now I’m going to think it more often,” and amid the laughter eases into “Chinatown.”
For the most part, Bejar’s interaction with the audience is limited to the half-bow he gives after each song, his curly hair tumbling down in front of him, needing to be smoothed back. It’s a small recognition that he is performing for a crowd, a not for his own amusement, which the placid look he maintains would suggest. This mild expression combined with that mass of bushy hair gives him the gentle appearance of a stuffed animal. He makes it easy to be comfortable in his presence, whether or not he acknowledges anyone else as present.