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LIVE REVIEW: Future Islands, Jazzhouse, 26.02.17

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Future Islands

Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

It has been over a year since Future Islands last played a gig in Europe, which, together with a shortly to be released album and the last-minute announcement of this show, adds a heightened layer of excitement to the four-piece’s re-emergence in Copenhagen. This gap makes itself felt in the initial hiccups with the keyboards, but this ends up providing frontman Sam Herring the opportunity to begin his intense love-in with the audience.

There are few performers who are quite as obviously thrilled to be onstage as Herring. Arguably it was his idiosyncratic dance moves during their Letterman performance that attracted enough consistent attention onto the band to propel them into wide recognition, but there is more to it than an amusing dad dance. Seemingly every moment on stage is an opportunity for him to stare intensely into the eyes of every single audience member in the first three rows, point and grab for emphasis, usher them in.

Future Islands

Last time I saw them, Future Islands were vague specks on a stage a football field away from me. With that level of distance it’s easy to be dismissive of their more mawkish lyrical tendencies, but when the man is sweating, crying and singing a foot away from your face, it’s hard not to get swept up in the drama.

The new material shows that, even when inevitably many of Future Islands’ songs end up being about “the road”, they haven’t lost any of their intense, campy, melodramatic joyfulness. Until the album comes out in a few weeks’ time I won’t be able to say exactly which song made me laugh out loud, but be prepared for an instance of rather wonderful pseudo-reggae synth hilarity.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Genesis P-Orridge & Aaron Dilloway, Jazzhouse, 09.02.17

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genesis p-orridge live jazzhouse copenhagen

If there is one predictable thing about Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, it is the crowd s/he attracts: the goths, punks, noise connoisseurs, art musos, drag queens, crusties and techno-obsessives. Each one these stands for a moment in the career that transmuted little Neil Megson into the Pandrogyne h/erself. And although some of the elements of tonight borrow from the past, most notably Psychic TV’s “This is the Final War”, it is not to the industrial of Throbbing Gristle that we look to, nor Psychic TV’s mix of psychedelia and acid house, but to capital-N Noise.

With one of the genre’s masters, Aaron Dilloway, on stage with Genesis, and local Puce Mary giving providing the initial pummelling, this is not a night for just smugly basking among a hip underground. In the first minutes of the opening act, no sooner have I perfected my “arms folded, head tilted, thoughtfully appreciating abstract music” pose that the monitor begins to emit a frequency that makes the lighting rig tremble and my stomach tie itself into a Windsor knot.

puce mary live jazzhouse copenhagen

Genesis and Aaron Dilloway switch the direct savagery of Puce Mary for a more diversified approach: Genesis providing the spoken–or, more precisely, incantatory–word, Dilloway the uncanny sonic abstractions, and a screen doings its best to out-freak the other two.

Two people sat down at tables with some equipment doesn’t sound very visually exciting, but between Genesis’s wizard staff and golden trainers, a screen full of dayglo skulls melting into Psychick crosses, and, all the way to the right, Aaron Dilloway convulsion at his desk with what appear to be contact mics shoved into his mouth, there is arguably too much to look at.

Although Genesis P-Orridge’s sometimes lilting, sometimes declamatory voice is the anchor that propels the evening forward, it is Dilloway that really steals the show. Compared to some, his setup is minimal, little more than a few tape loops, a drum and some microphones, but out of these he is able to conjure what sound like rough field recordings in Soviet-occupied Dantean hell. Or something like that.

Visit From a Blackstar – David Bowie’s Final Works One Year Later

in Blog/Uncategorized by
David Bowie

David Bowie died a year ago today. This was the first of several mornings in 2016 that began in complete disbelief. At the heart of each one of those shocks was the richness of detail with which one could visualise each successive failed future: defeated Brixiteers loudly priding themselves on the fact that almost half of Britain dislike the EU, clamouring for a second referendum; Trump supporters denouncing the presidency as satanic; op-eds everywhere detailing just how close we got to Armageddon.

With Blackstar, Bowie had proved the efficacy and productivity of his late self-imposed obscurity. How many more of his albums would have suddenly revealed themselves over the coming years?

He would have been 70 on Sunday, but he won’t need the conveniences of calendars to be remembered. Blackstar managed to survive a year of thinkpieces, in part because its connection to the loss that immediately followed it meant that every mention of that album is a veiled or overt act of mourning and memorialising. It was without any doubt the album that defined that year for us, and each time we hear it, it reenacts the surprise of first hearing it, and the surprise of waking up two days later.

It’s an album of great conviction, that still baffles. We will analyze and over-analyze it for a generation, and every time we think we’ll have reached a conclusion, some new Easter egg in the artwork will be discovered and we’ll begin again.

The newly-released No Plan EP is little more than a teasing of what might have been. There was obviously no time to create something as fully realized as his final complete album. Will we search these final few songs for answers the way we scraped Blackstar? No, we’ll just happily accept any scraps that try to piece together what we lost. We’ll force ourselves to be content with Blackstar as the perfect farewell it has become, whether or not it was intended to be.

LIVE REVIEW: Jackie Lynn, Jazzhouse, 8.11.16

in Blog/Live Reviews by
Jackie Lynn

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Behind iridescent projections of cityscapes stands a still figure with a guitar and cowboy hat. Dressed in gear that could have been purloined from Gram Parsons’ wardrobe, Jackie Lynn might be looking out into the candle-lit tables of Jazzhouse with a slight nod of approval. Hers is very intentionally loner, dive-bar music, a hybrid of lumpen proletariat country and Suicide-esque electronic minimalism.

We should be more precise: Jackie Lynn is in fact the avatar of singer-songwriter Haley Fohr, until recently best known for her doom-laden folk act, Circuits des Yeux. There is still plenty of darkness to Jackie Lynn, and Fohr’s distinctive low vibrato cannot be masked, but there is also an unmistakable playfulness to the very concept of this project. Accompanied by a carpet of lofi drum machines and bleepy synths, provided by members of the gloriously-named Bitchin Bajas, Jackie Lynn strums her guitar and tells her tale of love, coke dealing, and “jocks and their tiny cocks.”

For what sounds like a conceptually overwrought mix of country and electronics, the Jackie Lynn project manages to sound perfectly natural, a glimpse of an alternate world, a micro-culture just barely out of reach of the internet. The briefness of the album, under half an hour, adds to the mystery, but the real power of Fohr’s persona is felt when she is there before you, almost, but not quite, accessible.

Jackie Lynn live at Jazzhouse
Jackie Lynn live at Jazzhouse

LIVE REVIEW: Tim Hecker / Tyondai Braxton, Jazzhouse, 01.11.16

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Not too long ago, ‘being a fan of ambient music’ would be classified at around 7.8 on the Social Dysfunction scale, just below ‘owning seven cats and two human skulls’, or ‘commenting on news websites’. But these days ambient is rougher, darker, and louder than its predecessors. If it looks to Brian Eno at all, it is the twisted Eno that makes up much of Adam Curtis’s soundtracks, rather than the one who composes lullabies for air passengers. Ambient is also, it would appear, much more popular now. At least enough that one of its main ambassadors, Tim Hecker, can quickly sell out a medium-sized venue like Jazzhouse.

Not that this is all Hecker’s doing. The evening is a double bill with an altogether more eclectic character, Tyondai Braxton. Formerly of Battles, Braxton is the cerebral experimenter to Hecker’s romanticism. The difference is as much visual as it is audible: the projections behind Braxton glitch and fragment, the everyday nightmare visions of garbled technologies; Tim Hecker is instead surrounded by rather ecclesiastical rows of pastel-coloured LEDs.

But for all their care in creating compelling visuals to reflect their music, both acts appear to inherently question the need for us as an audience to be standing like this, all facing the stage as if expecting interaction or entertainment. The intermingling tracks from Hecker’s latest LP, Love Streams, positively pour from the speakers, reverberating through bodies and rattling the fillings of teeth. You’d do as well to swim through this than absorb it standing. It is the much-discussed vocal elements of Hecker’s recent work that add a little light to what would otherwise be an unremitting textural piece, and perhaps he is aware enough of the side effects to cut things short: after a pedantically-precise 60 minutes, the lights go up, and those of us who forgot our earplugs began to regret our life choices.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Eartheater, Loppen, 21.09.2016

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Photos by Victor Yakimov

On record, Eartheater is an eclectic mix of everything from spacey electronica to lo-fi freak folk. But live, Alexandra Drewchin’s solo persona is that of an uncompromising, confrontational noise artist. It starts with her reaching the stage by wading through the audience, towering above us in her 8″ Converse platforms. Some swift tapping on her laptop triggers an insistent low-frequency rumble, over which Drewchin performs a spoken-word piece, her voice drastically lowered by her trademark vocal effects.

Loppen is by no means packed out tonight, but if anything, this seems to work to Drewchin’s advantage. A significant proportion of her set is instrumental, aided by guitar retrofitted with a midi controller that triggers everything from pure white noise to the sounds of thunder, barking dogs and rainfall. Throughout this Drewchin wanders among the audience, staring them down one at a time, before drifting towards the bar, draping herself over it as if her spine were elastic. You sometimes hear of music being characterized as exploratory (typically standing for pot-induced jam sessions), but in this case the whole point of Eartheater is to test the space on a tactile level.

Eartheater 3

This sounds a little too facetious, the fault is mine. Drewchin is more than happy to cut the intensity of her set with moments of levity and self-effacement, and her physical contortions are as much joyful as they are pained. And as the set draws to a close, even the most bemused members of the audience look buoyed by the experience, or at the very least inspired to take up yoga.

LIVE REVIEW: Deerhoof, Jazzhouse, 13.09.16

in Blog/Live Reviews by
Deerhoof live Jazzhouse Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s hard to think of a band as fun, weird and childlike as Deerhoof as, well, old, but 20 years in the business is a pretty significant amount of time. With around sixteen albums crowding their discography, the San Franciscan quartet’s unique brand of ultra-hyphenated, off-kilter art-rock has undergone endless refinements. If any band deserves to share that famous trope of the Fall, “always different, always the same”, it’s Deerhoof, a band that could record an album using nothing more than kazoos and still be immediately recognizable.

Case in point: towards the end of their set, I am puzzled by an familiar, but unusually riff-heavy song. After a couple of choruses, straining my ears, I eventually untangle the words: “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” I defy you to go out tonight and find me another band worth their salt playing Def Leppard covers, but more importantly, to incorporate them into a set without it sounding completely bonkers.

Deerhoof live Jazzhouse Copenhagen

It helps of course that Deerhoof’s latest album, The Magic, comes closer to standard rock tropes than most of their recent records. But for every Ramones-channeling “That Ain’t No Life For Me”, there is still a piece of their patented balance of unhinged and deadly precise, a la “Kafe Mania!”. Unhinged is a fairly apposite descriptor of the set as a whole, with John Dietrich’s guitar losing strings every other song.

In these technical pauses, drummer Greg Saunier comes to the rescue. Channeling Crispin Glover and Steven Wright simultaneously, Saunier embarks on tortuous meditations on the heat in Denmark and how it might be affecting both the tuning and the life-span of guitar strings. A good portion of the audience is baffled, but I would be the first to buy Saunier’s HBO special should he decide to ditch the drums for a stand-up career.

For all their fun, there is a challenging element to Deerhoof, a wry art to their playfulness that can sometimes be at the casual listener’s expense. Returning to stage for an encore, flushed by a blistering set, singer Satomi Matsuzaki spends a good ten minutes teaching the audience a rhythmically-challenging call-and-response. Satisfied that we’ve got the gist, the band get going. The song lasts a minute. The band leave. Best ending to a set I’ve witnessed in a while.

LIVE REVIEW: Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts, Stengade, 08.09.16

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Jeffrey Lewis: the William Morris of early 21st century Manhattan. A rather bold declaration, and definitely a facetious one, but when confronted with the lo-fi multimedia roadshow that is Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts, you can’t help but react with gleeful exaggerations.

Let me follow that with another one: Jeffrey Lewis is one of the very few musicians you can enjoy without knowing a single song he plays. In my case this is almost literally true, since I had not followed Lewis’s career closely, beyond enjoying his musical histories of the Fall and punk on the Lower East Side.

The effectiveness of his lo-fi-dom, typified by the pickup sellotaped to his trusty and battered acoustic, is in the way that the music acts as context, a score for his intimate tales of existential befuddlement. Which is not to say that the music is unimportant, but rather that it is there to serve the lyrics, rather than having a bunch of words thrown on top of it.

Jeffrey Lewis live at Stengade 2016
Jeffrey Lewis live at Stengade 2016

They have the immediacy of novelty songs, but their wry observations, particularly in songs like “When You’re By Yourself”, give them the staying power of a short story that gets so close to your daily life that it is no longer a matter of fiction and more one of millennial phenomenology. The pretension is mine, not theirs.

And just when you are worried things might be getting a little to real for you, Lewis is there to help with a capella renditions of Nirvana songs accompanied by literal and hilarious depictions of the lyrics, not to mention a brand new installment of his long-running history of Communism.

The night closes with a Pixies cover, more Nirvana “music videos”, and profuse apologies from Lewis for not having time to play even more songs, giving us just enough time to buy a few (ridiculously inexpensive) copies of his comics before riding home.

LIVE REVIEW: Beach Slang, KB18, 12.08.16

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beach slang at kb18 in copenhagen

Some gigs make you feel like you’ve crashed a private party. I don’t know about you, but that’s never really worked out for me. It’s less like blagging your way into Andy Warhol’s factory, and more like being stuck singing happy birthday to someone whose name you don’t know. Suffice it to say that, tonight, the constant cheers of “seven more songs!” were entirely lost on me.

Beach Slang turn up at KB18 to a barrage of cheers and in-jokes. You’ve got to hand it to them, gaining this kind of fandom with only album and a couple of EPs is an achievement in itself. Then again, their particular brand of emo-inflected pop punk seems to function precisely in the way their debut album describes, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us. I might not be one of the people they are looking for, but everyone else in the room is.

beach slang at kb18 in copenhagen

The atmosphere is that of a local band surrounded by friends. Beach Slang have not amassed enough material to span an entire set, but they have the venue on their side, and sleeves–in frontman James Alex’s case, tuxedo sleeves–full of covers: the Cure, Jawbreaker, and of course, the Replacements. The tux, the so-predictable-they’re-unpredictable covers, and the high-fives that erupt at the end of every song, reveal the light-heartedness beneath the sometimes tortured lyrics. Which is a real relief, seeing as a room of people close to their 30s reveling in teenagerdom might otherwise be a terrifying prospect.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Jurassic 5, Vega, 12.07.16

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Jurassic Five live vega copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

One thing that immediately springs to mind on a night like this: 99% of the indie acts we see don’t hold a candle to a good hip hop act when it comes to a live performance. Yes, the sound is drowning in so much bass that you end up concentrating more on massaging your stomach than listening to the subtleties of the beats. And yes, your changes of distinguishing the words amid this mixing nightmare are minimal. But then again, you are supposed to know the words already.

At least that’s the impression this audience gives. I’ve never seen such a large percentage of the crowd shout back the words at the opening act. But Dilated Peoples, a two-decade spanning West-coast outfit, are not just any opening act. They might be self-confessedly “underground”, but their following here in Copenhagen is rabid to say the least. One particularly devoted fan at the front gets singled out by the crew, having told them backstage about his intention of getting a tattoo of their lyrics the next day. The floor is already groaning under the stress of a venue packed with people trying to out-jump each other.

By the time Jurassic 5 arrive, it feels more like an unexpected second party, rather than the culmination of a few hours of waiting. But when your second party includes the trade-mark gigantic turntable, and, well, Jurassic 5, you know that you’re in a particularly good spot in the universe this evening. It’s their fourth time at Vega, and clearly the preceding three gigs must have gone pretty well too. Chali towers over everyone, peering into the balconies to question whether certain members of the audience were even alive the first time they played Copenhagen. In the meantime Akil keeps grinning and pointing to random audience members in the wings, keen to involve absolutely everyone.

Then comes the time for DJs Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark to enact once more their notorious hiphop circus sideshow, involving the aforementioned giant turntable and several home-made instruments and samplers. Glee, hilarity, and respect for their skill, all mix together. And that’s Jurassic 5 in a nutshell.

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