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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.

LIVE REVIEW: John Carpenter, DR Koncerthus, 30.05.16

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John Carpenter performing live at DR Koncerthuset

Photos by James Hjertholm (jameshjertholm.com)

People really love John Carpenter. From those of us huddled high up in the gods (or as Americans call them, the nosebleed seats) to the chosen few with a front-row view, there is a buzz of real anticipation. The lights go down, a band walks on, and the applause begins. Not for the band, though. The applause is for Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, Escape from New York, Halloween, They Live. I bet a few nostalgics were even applauding The Fog (sorry, not I: even 12 year old me thought that enchanted mist appearing on radar was dumb, no matter how many zombie pirates lurked within it).

And at the center of it, the man himself: the trademark mustache, long white hair, black clothes and playful grin. Not many directors get to bask in such direct, wordless admiration as they revisit what amounts to almost their entire working life. Nor does he shy away it. You get the sense that John Carpenter is sharing his films and music with the enthusiasm of a fan rather than a creator. There is much impish fun to be had in horror, as he demonstrates when the entire band dons matching black sunglasses during their rendition of the theme to They Live.

There is a fundamental question lurking around the concert hall this evening: does the music stand up on its own? The large screen that acts as a backdrop for Carpenter and the band gives you something of a hint: the music is accompanied by clips from his films, but rather than functioning simply as support for the music, the visuals end up dominating attention. During songs from his Lost Themes albums, the screen remains blank, reinforcing the feeling that something is missing.

John Carpenter

Is that such a scathing criticism of Carpenter’s musical output? Or is it instead a testament to how well his music combined with his movies? My own problem with the Lost Themes is that they fundamentally misunderstand the appeal of his soundtracks. Yes, the trademark synth sounds are there, but at least in the live setting, the guitars and drums detract from the alien, inhuman quality that we admire in his earlier work. And when you do add guitar and drums to John Carpenter, you can either sound like Mogwai (great) or like, well, a John Carpenter cover band.

Perhaps the problem is exactly that his music has been so influential. We have seen it transmuted over the years in a variety of interesting ways, to the point that there isn’t much that he himself can add. But at the end of the night, despite some irritation with the guitar playing and the drum levels, the main thought in my head was that I need to watch a lot more of JC’s films.

LIVE REVIEW: Fat White Family, Loppen, 24.05.16

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Fat White Family performing live at Loppen (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

My ears are still ringing. I am, like most people who go to gigs regularly, terrified by the possibility of chronic tinnitus, but I will say this: if anyone is going to force me to perpetually hear an irritating, high-pitched whine, it might as well be the Fat White Family.

The Family’s fortunes have risen considerably over the past couple of years, with two albums, several collaborations, endless tour dates and a substantial body count of managers and musicians in their wake. It is no secret that they have had more than their fair share of turmoil, but what the music press relishes in depicting as their excess and scandalous behaviour, can be more accurately described as sheer dedication. In spite of injury, anger, arguments and exhaustion, the Family plows mercilessly on.

Fat White Family

From the first menacing bass riff of their latest single, Tinfoil Deathstar, the band appear at home in Loppen. The venue’s size is a great leveler, forcing any act that plays there to stand or fall on their ability to merge with the audience. Frontman Lias Saudi is always up for some sweaty merging, and it isn’t long before the whole band is topless and spitting pieces of their torn lungs into the microphones. Some have observed that their latest album, Songs for Our Mothers, is less sonically abrasive than its predecessor. You’d never have guessed it.

For a band that thrives on unhinged energy, it is the quieter moments that show Fat White Family at their most confrontational. Garden of the Numb sees Saudi and Saul Adamczewski duet a dirge-like country hate anthem. Lines like “You sycophantic weasel-minded whores / You would sell your mother’s cunt to open doors” work all the better because they are quietly growled rather than screamed. Ice-cold hatred is infinitely more terrifying than hot anger.

But the Family isn’t going to end on a downer. No, nothing ends a show like the rockabilly madness of “Bomb Disneyland”. And as Saudi incites the crowd into the sweatiest, filthiest mosh pit, you can’t help but grin at the appropriateness of being in Denmark when a band screams “dirty-bomb Legoland” at you.

LIVE REVIEW: Elder, Loppen, 25.04.2016

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Elder

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

What could be better on a cold, wet Monday evening than a bit of stoner rock at Loppen? A great deal of Copenhageners would have understandably replied “staying warm and dry at home,” but Elder, the headlining act this evening, certainly have their fair share of hardcore fans.

“Stoner rock” tends to denote a particular mentality rather than a well-defined genre. Of the three bands playing tonight, what unites them is a love for Black Sabbath, vintage equipment, and the endorsement (implied or otherwise) of the ‘erb. Openers Carousel tend towards the more traditional hard-rock end of the spectrum, but this is perhaps not the right crowd for that.

Elder

The Oakland-based, follicularly-gifted quintet Mondo Drag are another case entirely. Drawing from esoteric 70s prog, in the vein of Goblin, King Crimson and Camel, the band’s extended jams resonate much more with the audience. The Ozzy-esque vocals are there, as with basically every other band in the stoner category, but the band is at its best when they focus on keyboard-led instrumentals.

Elder

But as soon as Elder begin tearing through “Compendium”, the opening track of their 2015 LP Lore, you get an idea of how the genre can become more than an enjoyable romp through Black Sabbath’s major works. The influences are still there in the chugging bass riffs, but frontman Nick DiSalvo’s guitar can suddenly become ornate and melodic, riding the drums and bass like the foam on a rough sea.

Describing this as their billionth appearance at Loppen, the band clearly feel at home. And after two hours of waiting, the audience is fervently on their side. Beer splashes everywhere, and bassist Jack Donovan nearly beheads a few people in the front in his frenzy. A few obligatory technical glitches do little to dent the enthusiasm of either band or audience, and as the evening draws to a close, Elder proved they were definitely worth enduring the awful weather.

LIVE REVIEW: The Residents, Amager Bio, 09.02.16

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Photos by Amanda Farah

The Residents have remained a mystery for 40 years now, with a back-catalogue that makes the Fall look like lazy in comparison. Their appearance is always an event, gathering together misfits of all ages and backgrounds, and today it is preceded by an interview at the Main Library. Three masked figures, two of them looking not altogether dissimilar to the Spirit of Jazz from the Mighty Boosh, sit menacingly in the candlelight as their spokesperson answers questions with witty evasions.

The three weirdos looming over this conversation are known Randy, Chuck and Bob, and the album they are presenting, “Shadowlands”, is the last in a trilogy they have named after themselves. After the departure of “Carlos”–ostensibly to run a chicken farm in Mexico (the spokesperson assures us it is “more of a metaphorical chicken farm”–the band began to attach names to themselves, replacing the obscurity of anonymity with that of personal narratives.

There is definitely some kind of narrative at work at their concert, where old re-worked favourites like “Constantinople” and “Blue Rosebud” are intercut with video segments. This is not so much a retrospective as a re-presentation of material which has always sounded outside of its own time. The sound can sometimes veer towards the cheesy–particularly with the tinny, hyper-effected guitar solos–but if anything this heightens the weirdness, highlights just how out of place the band really is.

With a backdrop of optical illusions and a looming giant balloon that functions as projector screen, the band’s bizarre outfits pop out with such hyper-reality that you might convince yourself that they themselves are illusions. To some extent, of course, that is true. You’ll notice, for example, that the figure of ‘Randy’, half crazed scientist, half psychopathic magician, is considerably more portly on stage than he was during the pre-show interview. Many internet theorists posit that the man hollering on stage is in fact the same Homer Flynn that presented himself as “spokesperson” for the band only an hour ago.

But that is an altogether too probable explanation. If you need to speculate as to who the Residents really are, you are better off going for the wildly improbable (I have heard everyone from David Byrne and Paul McCartney). You could pin them down, categorize them, name them, but then what would remain?

LIVE REVIEW: Julia Holter, Vega, 04.11.2015

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Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

It’s fair to say that Julia Holter has become something of a contemporary cult figure for the Here Today staff. In fact, checking the side bar on Spotify, I can see that at the moment of writing at least three friends are listening to her. But what is it that hooks us? From the insular minimalism of Ekstasis, via the disquieting swirls of Loud City Song, and finally to the harpsichord-dominated psych-pop of her latest album, Have You In My Wilderness, the L.A. singer-songwriter is hard to pin down to anything other than her voracious and sparkling personality.*

If you have only accessed Holter through her records, her live presence will come as a surprise. No mystery, no ominous lighting, just a cheery young woman with a mass of thick hair and a laid-back band. For this tour Holter is joined by a bassist, a violist and a wise-cracking drummer. The use of strings lends quite a different effect from last time I saw her, when she was accompanied by a small but brash brass section (making the song “Horns Surrounding Me” almost literal). Which is not to say that the set is all airy-fairy sweetness, but rather that this evening discord is sown slowly and suggestively, rather than forcefully.

Julia Holter Vega-4837

After some initial technical difficulty, the band begins with a song “about dying on an island,” as Holter herself puts it. The song in question, “Lucette Stranded on the Island”, is full of quiet, lush melancholy, showcasing the band at their sweetest. No matter how dark the subject matter might be, Have You In My Wilderness is without a doubt the brightest of Holter’s work, epitomized by the bobbing bass line and drums of “Feel You” (which, we are reminded, does not sound completely unlike the word “failure”).

There are other moments of brilliant dynamism, particularly on the song “Horns Surrounding Me”. Though the horns in question are nowhere to be found, the ominous, driving piano riff does a good enough job of evoking the paranoid desire to run away. As the drums pick up on the alternate beat to the piano, the pace seems to increase, and the viola starts to wail. But the real highlight of the evening is “Marienbad”, with its haunting opening arpeggio and medieval-sounding vocal harmonies. There is an escapist element to all Holter’s music, albeit an escape into something disquieting, but the minimalism of this song seems to highlight the space in the room. Have we escaped back into the present?

*Yes, I am aware that she has released records prior to Ekstasis

Our gig picks this week

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“Hey guys, any good concerts this week?” You bet. As the days get darker and colder the gigs keep piling up. To help you sort out your musical priorities, we’ve come up with our recommendations for the next five days.

Wednesday, November 4

Julia Holter, Vega

Always a favourite at Here Today, Julia Holter’s latest release, Have You In My Wilderness has received universal acclaim. If your dream hangout spot is the Road House from Twin Peaks, welcome to your new musical obsession.

Thursday, November 5

The Prodigy, Tap1

Do we really need to tell you why the Prodigy are worth seeing? Weren’t you around when the video for “Firestarter” was playing everywhere? Jeez, live a little.

Shilpa Ray, Loppen

If you haven’t already shaved the top of your head and colored the remaining hair green in tribute to the Prodigy, you can opt for a more quiet evening with Shilpa Ray, who did this wonderful duet with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Friday, November 6

Chelsea Wolfe, Loppen

The dark queen of doom folk is back again with Abyss. Halloween really isn’t over till Chelsea’s passed through town.

Mercury Rev, Koncerthuset

These indie heroes of the 80s and 90s are still going strong with their newly release The Light in You.

James Chance and the Contortions, Jazzhouse

NY NO WAVE! KILL YR IDOLS! God knows how or why they are still playing, but how can you not be into a little contortion?

Saturday, November 7

Put on your best canadian tuxedo and point your Mustang south towards Amager Bio for longhaired-wonder Kurt Vile.

(If you are in Århus you will have the chance to experience Kurt Vile at Voxhall on the 4. of November.)

Kuku and Blixa Bargeld, Jazzhouse

Honestly I can’t think of many reasons why you wouldn’t want to see Blixa Bargeld doing anything, anywhere. Just the other day I watched a video of him making risotto on German tv. Worth it.

Sunday, November 8

Son Lux, Lille Vega

No one goes wild on a Sunday, so why not chill with Son Lux instead? Also, is this what people mean by chamber pop?

Thurston Moore, Store Vega

Or else head round the corner to Vega’s larger venue and check out Sonic Youth-founder Thurston Moore. Then again I haven’t read Kim Gordon’s autobiography yet so I dunno whether I’m supposed to be ok with him or not.

Patty Waters, Jazzhouse

Believe it or not, Jazzhouse does actually host jazz gigs every now and then. “Priestess of the avant-garde” should be all the endorsement this jazz innovator needs. Jazz (and did I mention jazz?)

 

LIVE REVIEW: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Den Grå Hal, 02.11.15

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor

The last time Godspeed You! Black Emperor played in Copenhagen we were seated in plush velvet theatre seats, trying to reconcile their apocalyptic symphonies with the bright lights and cheer of Tivoli outside. But tonight the venue is much more appropriate. The wooden roof of Christiania’s Den Grå Hal towers above us, the air is chilly, and the nauseating smell of burnt sugar is thankfully absent.

The evening starts with the looping guitar drones of Bhutanese musician Tashi Dorji. Hunched over his instrument, face obscured by a black hoodie, Dorji abuses the strings into producing a wall of sound that grows to painful levels. Several audience members retreat outside to smoke and save their eardrums for the main event.

Tashi Dorji

After the slow initial buildup of “Hope Drone”, GY!BE immediately settle nerves by launching into the first two movements of “Storm”: never fear, ladies and gentlemen, we will not be denied the classics. You can tell by the nods people give each other at the beginning of each song that albums like Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! and F#a#infinity are deeply ingrained since adolescence, but when GY!BE play one doesn’t have so much the sense of reliving younger days, but of tapping back into something that always felt timeless.

The middle section of the performance is taken up by the full playthrough of the band’s latest album, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, which features some surprisingly upbeat sections. The first, “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!'”, for all its initial stoner-rock plodding, eventually starts to sound not entirely unlike a weird, drone-y performance of “Norwegian Wood”. Try listening to them back to back, you’ll see. In quieter moments, such as “Lambs’ Breath”, your eyes are drawn up to the projections behind the band. Possibly the only band in the world to have their own dedicated projectionist, GY!BE are illuminated by loops of grainy 16mm footage. A lonely stag on a dark road, fields of corn, Revivalist churches, cop cars, factories on fire.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

People my age have grown up in an era obsessed with post-apocalypical stories, but when someone uses that word, I never think of Mad Max, or The Road, or zombie movies, but rather the cover of F#a#infinity. And as the band  concludes its two-hour set with “The Sad Mafioso” section of “East Hastings”, it seems obvious that for many of us these aren’t allegorical warnings, but perversely exciting possibilities.

LIVE REVIEW: Young Fathers, Loppen, 16.10.15

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Young Fathers

A wry smile crosses G Hastings’s face as he leans into the mic and observes “I’ve never been tear gassed before a gig before.” It’s probably fair to say that for most of us in the audience at Loppen this also is the first time. While a police raid on Christiania continues into Friday night, the venue begins to feel like a refuge, but Young Fathers are not a band to make us forget the burning makeshift barricades in the street outside.

The Edinburgh-based trio burst into the limelight after winning the Mercury Award for their album Dead, quickly following it up with this year’s White Men Are Black Men Too. But no matter how much praise their records receive, it is immediately obvious that Young Fathers are primarily a live band. While a drummer flails his limbs wildly along with the distorted synth lines, the trio rap, scream and croon with a rare intensity.

The first half of the set draws mainly from the band’s most energetic, uncompromising material. Songs like “Rumbling”, “Just Another Bullet” and “Old Rock n Roll” seem to justify the hip-hop tag that often gets bandied around, but their energy derives from the lo-fi simplicity, rather than samples and complex beats. The defining feature of Young Fathers is the interplay between the vocal styles: G Hastings’s howls and screams, Kayus Bankole’s violent rhymes and Alloysious Massaquoi’s more soulful side.

Young Fathers
Photo by Amanda Farah

From the far-left of the stage my main view is of Kayus Bankole, his purple shirt drenched in sweat, gazing intently into the crowd. This power of the band’s presence, their attention to what is going on around them. You can see it in Bankole’s eyes, hear it when Hastings speaks in support of migrants, or else when they gently discourage people from moshing. To many that last part sounds like the words of a kill-joy, but really this is a battle that has gone on since Ian MacKaye’s passionate disavowal of mosh pits during the hay-day of 80s DC hardcore. But whereas MacKaye could sound a little holier-than-thou, tonight Hastings manages to discourage annoyingly violence dance moves with a gentle firmness that instantly quells the crowd. Gigs are for everyone, not just jumped up meatheads.

It feels a bit perverse to claim that the highlight of the gig is the final a cappella song, given how rhythmically exhilarating the band can be, but I stand by it. Because it proves the thesis that this band is driven by three unique and urgent voices.

LIVE REVIEW: HEALTH, Pumpehuset, 12.10.15

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Photos by Tom Spray (www.tom-spray.com)

Defining HEALTH in 2015 is not as easy as it once was. On their first two records the band mixed the cold synth noise of peers like Crystal Castles with mathematically precise drumming and razor-blade guitar riffs. But chatting backstage with bassist John Famiglietti, it is evident that he is just as enthusiastic talking about Daft Punk as he is Mudhoney. And their latest album, Death Magic, released a full six years after their sophomore effort, is evidence of that bridging interest in both pop and experimental music.

Throughout Death Magic, though it veers between blasts of noise and calculatedly danceable tracks, there is a common thread, a pessimistic gaze that finds nothing to separate mainstream and alternative. And when you consider that the hits of today include the disaffected moroseness of the likes of the Weeknd, or witness Miley Cyrus’s doomed attempt at edginess, it isn’t hard to be convinced that we are living in an uncomfortable yet fascinating transition period where words like “pop” and “indie” express mere quantitative, rather than qualitative, differences.

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And yet, tonight I do hear a difference. HEALTH’s live sets are well known for their energy and abandon, the band carefully planning out the setlist to maintain peak attention. They scramble in between songs to minimize the gaps, tearing through the set at a blistering pace. Songs are cut off as soon as they risk losing steam, at times reprised later in the set. But in spite of all this amazing display of dedication towards the craft of live performance, it is very easy to pick out the old HEALTH from the new. New tracks like “MEN TODAY” and “NEW COKE” (note: HEALTH are dedicated to the art of caps-lock) still thunder with a violent obsession that borders on grind-core, but there are heartbreaking moments when drummer BJ Miller starts playing a four-to-the-floor disco beat (see “LIFE”) and it all threatens to fall apart at the seams.

What you discover listening to HEALTH today is that their most interesting associations with pop music have absolutely nothing to do with their lately-acquired Depeche Mode pretensions. It is rather in the fact that their moments of drum madness and feedback loops bring to mind Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” rather than Crystal Castles. Pop music has sporadically moved closer to the experimental, with greater results than the inverse move. It is true that the topic uncovers a cultural divide between the US and Europe, where we tend to be much more staunchly divisive. But one only has to hear the band tear through a bleeding-edge rendition of “We Are Water” to be reminded why we should still allow HEALTH the benefit of the doubt. A band that can make a track like that sound as urgent as the first time we heard it might still go on to do great things.

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