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LIVE REVIEW: White Hills, Loppen, 14.04.2015

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Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

My first visual experience of White Hills, probably shared with a majority of the audience at Loppen, was their appearance on the Jim Jarmusch vampire flick, Only Lovers Left Alive. In a scene towards the middle of the movie, the leather-clad vampires are being serenaded by the band in a grungy venue in Detroit. When the set ends, someone asks Tom Hiddleston’s character if he wants to meet the band, and is answered with an emphatic negative. The reason is evident enough: the band looks fictional–bassist Ego Sensation sporting a tight, ruby red outfit and see-through bass, and frontman Dave Weinberg writhing around in a 70s polkadot shirt, the spitting image of Alice Cooper–, cannot sustain itself under the harsh scrutiny of the daylight world.

But this evening’s encounter on the borders of reality is worth it. White Hills’ latest LP, Walks for Motorists, quite apart from having a fantastic title, is also a satisfying evolution in the band’s explorations of dark psychedelic rock. As if to acknowledge Jarmusch’s endorsement, Ego and Dave have added elements of goth and no-wave into the mix.

WHITE HILLS-8852
Spirit of the space age, Ego Sensation

Perhaps the most obvious of these influences can be witnessed on album and set opener, “No Will”. Its riff is lifted wholesale from legendary goth-rockers Bauhaus’s single, “Dark Entries”, and the chant of “No will!” matches perfectly the “Dark entries!” chorus. But in spite of these musical appropriations, the tone of many of these tracks, particularly evident in Dave’s vocals, is more akin to Killing Joke, full of sexual aggression. All these elements are reconfigured to fit the long-form space-rock of White Hills, resulting in something I’ve been referring to as stoner-goth.

In a gig setting, songs from different albums tend to approach uniformity, particularly within this genre. I could try enumerating the songs in sequence, but to do so appears a little fraudulent. There are of course exceptions, like the aforementioned “No Will” and the Swans-esque “Wanderlust”, but to experience a band like White Hills is to abandon a sense of time for the duration of the gig. Instead of listening to a song as a series of discreet sounds in sequence, one tends to perceive the music as a series of shifting and modulating textures.

By the end of the set I am elated that the band has not collapsed in front of me in a dust of rock and roll archetypes. We have climbed up White Hills, and have returned safely. My only regret is not bringing sunglasses to the gig.

WHITE HILLS-8610

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LIVE REVIEW: Dean Blunt, Jazzhouse, 20.03.2015

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Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

 

The first thing you need to know about going to see Dean Blunt live is that you are not going to see much of old Blunters himself. Shrouded in a heavy swirl of dry ice, the London producer’s presence is only intuited though his downbeat vocals and a baseball cap emerging from the cloud. It is only through the magic of our photographer’s x-ray camera that I find out, a day later, that there was someone standing behind Dean Blunt.

This air of mystery and intensity is at odds with the mood of the opening band, Danish r’n’b act Liss, consisting of Søren Holm, Villads Tyrrestrup, Vilhelm Strange and Tobias Laust. Their sound draws on everything from the Police to R. Kelly, 90s UK garage, 80s funk, though judging by their appearance they are far too young to have experienced any of those artists at first hand. Boasting an impressive rhythm section and good vocalist, the band look to be the Scandinavian answer to the colourful nostalgia of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars.

Dean Blunt Jazzhouse-7564

If you came to Copenhagen’s Jazzhouse in the hope of spending some time in the often lush eccentricities of Dean Blunt’s critically-acclaimed Black Metal, then you were woefully ill-prepared for this gig. Blunt and his ghostly gang begin with the first couple of tracks from the album, “Lush” and “50 cent”, beset by technical problems (something to do with the microphone cable by the sound of it), which added a tense quality to his chanted vocals. Most of the sounds are produced by a sampler, but these sound oddly compressed. The effect is less cinematic than the album, but also more surreal.

The glint of metal from a saxophone is briefly visible on stage before the lights all go off and the group launches into “Grade”, which mutates into a ten-minute soundscape of explosions and tortured sax squeals. It is roughly at this point that I remember having seen two odd shapes at the front of the stage while the crew was setting up. They are revealed to be strobe lights, directed directly into the audience’s eyes, unleashed on us for the last 20 or so minutes of the set. To be perfectly honest I spent most of that time trying to decipher the alien messages hidden in the strobe sequences, and therefore found it hard to concentrate on what songs were being played. I do recall a girl standing behind me singing the bass-line to “Punk” with both hands covering her eyes.

Though the above description sounds rather too much like a form of psychological torture, it’s undeniable that Dean Blunt takes the live experience seriously. His presence/absence on stage, the confrontational lighting, can be seen as dedication to providing his audience with a dramatic experience, though not an easy one to explain.

LIVE REVIEW: Pond, Pumpehuset, 10.03.2015

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The cover of Pond’s latest LP, Man It Feels Like Space Again, does a good job of evoking the mood of the band: colourful, messy, childlike, brilliantly ridiculous. Though less well-known than their sister band, Tame Impala, the Perth fourtet have received significant critical acclaim.  Justifiably so, as this set proves.

The evening kicks off with Froth, a shoegaze-y indie band from L.A., who make up for a slight lack of imagination by looking cute and earnest in their Pavement t-shirts. They are playing on the smaller stage, on the first floor of Pumpehuset, a suitably snug environment. The audience is enthusiastic but rather small, depleted, no doubt, by the Ariel Pink gig that’s happening elsewhere in town.

(Photo by James Hjertholm)
(Photo by James Hjertholm)

I’d like to think I have vaguely sophisticated tastes when it comes to music, but truthfully, all I want from a live band is a bunch of wackos happy to make fools of themselves, playing psychedelic garage odes to nothing in particular. Pond provide this in spades, bouncing through the first two tracks of their latest album, “Waiting Around for Grace” and “Elvis’ Flaming Star” (bad sub-editing there, guys, Elvis is singular, and merits an ‘s’ after the apostrophe), intermittently collapsing into the odd jam.

“This song is called ‘Heroic Shart’, which is a ridiculous name for a song.” Frontman Nick Allbrook, like his bandmates, revels in underlining their absurdist side. The sound of opening beer cans is incorporated into songs, awful dance moves are attempted. Mid-way through the set Nick and Joe muse about the baldness and possible whereabouts of Brian Eno, before covering “Baby’s On Fire” from the 1974 album Here Come The Warm Jets.

The fun comes to an end after only an hour on stage, surprising for a band with six albums under their belts. A final encore, and my new favourite Aussies disappear into a clear night in Copenhagen.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Yung + Total Heels, Stengade, 4.03.2015

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Total Heels | Stengade | Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

It’s easy to become completely Copenhagen-centric when you live here. The rest of Denmark seems to be just where people’s parents live. It’s refreshing, therefore, to see an act like Yung, injecting some Aarhus-bred punk into the Copenhagen scene. Fresh from the release of their Alter EP and a gig supporting Metz in London, the band has drawn a significant crowd at Stengade.

Total Heels | Stengade | Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

The opening act, Total Heels, are a band I make it my business to see live whenever possible. Their manic brand of organ-lead garage rock, full of fat riffs and prehistoric drum beats, is pushed into overdrive by the energy and wit of their frontman, New-Yorker Jason Orlovich. Their self-titled album incorporates everything from the Stooges to the vocal weirdness of the B-52s, but at its heart Total Heels is a live band, all sweat and spit.

Yung | Stengade | Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Yung are often, out of laziness, lumped in with the rest of the ‘Danish punk’ scene, whatever that might be. Yet both their sound and attitude is markedly different from their Copenhagen colleagues. Sure, there are post-punk references there in the guitar riffs and basslines, but the approach is less dark and diffident. What you get with songs like “Don’t Cry” are the emotional swings between melancholy and raucousness of American proto-emo bands, even the jagged pop-punk of the likes of Jawbreaker. Mikkel Silkjær’s vocals tend towards a high-pitched chanting and raspy shouting, a marked contrast with the disaffected drones of some of our local bands.

Both bands are models of onstage commitment, fortunate enough to have a small international audience without taking anything for granted. And in a climate where international interest in ‘Danish punk’ is bound to fade soon, that level of energy and humility will be key.

LIVE REVIEW: Iceage, Jazzhouse, 26.02.2015

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Iceage, Hand of Dust and Less Win should be no strangers to our readers or Danish music fans in general, yet it is still impressive that the former should be able to sell out a venue like Jazzhouse two nights in a row. Only 16 months ago, for my very first review at Here Today, I saw Iceage showcase their sophomore album, You´re Nothing, to a crowd half the size.

Iceage (Photo by Tom Spray)
Iceage (Photo by Tom Spray)

The intervening time saw the release of Plowing into the Field of Love, perhaps the bands most critically acclaimed album. However, the band that I hear on that record, and see tonight, is not the buzzing hive of originality their fans like to present. Though talented in their own ways, and certainly possessing remarkable and abstruse tastes, Iceage appear to suffer from a desire to live up to their own images. Tracks like “The Lord´s Favorite” are admirable imitations of the likes of Nick Cave and the Gun Club, but no amount of stumbling around on the stage is going to transform them into their idols.

While the rest of the Copenhagen punk scene is under the spell of gothy Americana, Less Win combine the best elements of British post-punk in the Bunnymen tradition, with fast and technical American post-hardcore. Their energy is way above most of their peers, steamrolling through their set.

Iceage (Photo by Tom Spray)
Iceage (Photo by Tom Spray)

Unfortunately Iceage spent a large part of the first half of their set trying to fix technical difficulties with the guitar. It´s a revealing moment, as the band hug each other, whisper, and generally do their best to ignore the audience. I can´t blame their diffidence towards an audience whose first rows are barely pre-pubescent. Despite being disappointed by the lack of commitment on the part of the band, I am convinced Iceage still have the potential to ignore the adulation and use their tastes and talents in a more creative way.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Alt-J, Tap1, 19.02.2015

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Alt-J (Photo: James Hjertholm)

Photos by James Hjertholm

Figuring out how to describe Alt-J can be tricky. Simon & Garfunkel with a sampler? Their latest critically acclaimed album, This Is Yours, endlessly mutates from art-rock to folk harmonies to bluesy riffs. At a sold-out Tap1, in the shadows of the Carlsberg buildings, the quartet highlight their rhythmic and anthemic sides.

Wolf Alice (Photo: James Hjertholm)

Opener Wolf Alice is a confusing listen. Stuck behind two obnoxious giants, I become temporarily convinced that I’m listening to Elastica. The North London band, fronted by Ellie Roswell, accumulate a wealth of sounds from 90s British indie rock, processing it through a vaguely shoegaze filter. Their live set emphasizes the raucous elements of their sound, but while their take on 90s nostalgia is expertly handled on songs like “Moaning Lisa Smile”, I spend most of the time trying to figure out what songs they are pastiching.

Alt-J (Photo: James Hjertholm)

Arriving in Copenhagen at the tail-end of a European tour, Alt-J are clearly in good form. Starting with “Hunger of the Pine”, they shift between registers and moods with confidence, giving the set a more coherent feel than the album does. Tracks like “Every Other Freckle”, with its weird medieval-esque interlude, and the bluesy “Left Hand Free” have an added swagger to them, aided by the idiosyncratic drumming of Thom Green.

Alt-J (Photo: James Hjertholm)

Though the close harmonies between Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton are not always completely in tune, even their odd little mistakes have a vulnerable charm. It helps that almost the entire audience seems to know every lyric, particularly on songs from their debut album like “Matilda”. No small feat, considering the phrasings of songs like “Bloodflow pt.II”.

VIEW THE FULL LIVE GALLERY HERE

 

INTERVIEW: Gazelle Twin

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Gazelle Twin

Photos by Amanda Farah

Gazelle Twin’s second LP, Unflesh, with its viscerally minimalist approach to electronic music and singular conceptual vision, has received a good amount of critical acclaim over the last few months, allowing the formerly Brighton-based composer Elizabeth Bernholz to tour widely across the US and Europe. This week, on the occasion of her concert at Vega’s Ideal Bar, accompanied by her husband, visual artist and musician Jez Bernholz, we caught up with the pair.

Gazelle Twin and Bernholz, Elizabeth and Jez, have much to teach the world in terms of touring on a budget. The couple manage to carry all their gear (one sampler and one keyboard) in a single suitcase, travelling from gig to gig across Europe by train. I get the impression that, for all its practicality, it is the romanticism of train journeys that fires up Jez. His own brand of electronica pulsates with a passionate earnestness, typified in tracks like “Austerity Boy”, which complements the more sparse and aggressive compositions of his partner.

It is difficult in retrospect to reconcile the energy and terrifying blanked face of the character prowling the stage in a blue hoodie with the soft-spoken and charming woman I interviewed only a couple of hours before the gig. Backed by glitchy and hard drum and bass lines, this embodiment of teenage violence whispers, breathes and chants, half thug, half shaman. The imagery evoked in her words can be clearly guessed by glancing at the titles—“Unflesh”, “Exorcise”, “Anti Body”, “Guts”—eviscerating and tortured, innards and fluids sprayed on a backdrop of cold, artificial sounds. Hidden within that alienation, though, are traces of some kind of reserved humanism. Where “Belly of the Beast” uses the sounds of supermarkets to evoke ideas of parasitic consumption, the haunting “Premonition” reaches towards a more pastoral mode. The human voice, altered or dry, singing or just breathing heavily, stands above all else on the record.

Though many have already pointed towards some fairly obvious influences on Gazelle Twin—The Knife and Björk perhaps mentioned most often—there is clearly something quite unique and personal about Elizabeth Bernholz’s music which merits close listening. So on Wednesday evening, over dinner at a Thai restaurant on Istedgade, I am keen to find out what lurks behind the character and music of Unflesh.

Gazelle Twin

What has it been like to transition from recording to performing this record live?

For this record it has been almost seamless. It’s quite easy to perform live because it’s so minimal, and there was that intention to strip things away, half thinking that I wanted to be able to perform it really dry, with a solid sound, and not to have to rely on any effects.

Was it more difficult with your debut album, The Entire City?

With the previous record, which I didn’t perform that much, it was much more difficult, because I didn’t write it with that intent. It was very sweeping, you needed a visual part to it. I never felt that satisfied performing it.

But now you perform live with Jez, what is that like?

Jez and I are married, and he kindly offered to perform with me. I used to perform with two guys who had their own projects, and it was always very hard to organise that part of it, to get everyone available. But also I’m just very anxious, and performing is quite a lot to get through for someone who is very sensitive, so it’s actually been very helpful having you [turning to Jez] just to have some security. Performing this way allows me to be more aggressive and play a role.

Does your approach to the songs change as your perform them more and more?

I haven’t felt the need to change much in the songs. I think we’ve to go a point now where we’ve done close to fifteen sets in this tour, when we’re starting to think it needs something else, something in the same vein, probably not a new song but a cover. In the past I’ve covered Joy Division, which is a bit audacious. “The Eternal”, which fitted into my older stuff. The most recent one is a Wire cover, “Heartbeat”. Credit goes to Jez for that. I always try to cover stuff that’s as different to me as possible, usually songs by men, rather than female-written ones. Prince is one.

“Premonition” has a very different mood to the rest of the record. Almost pastoral.

It’s just that one melody [sings it]. It has that medieval feel, it’s in lots of music, especially choral music—the bedrock of all my music—and then transitioned into folk music. But it’s not really anywhere else on the record.

Are you ever surprised by your work?

I never thought I’d be doing spoken word—or “rapping”, if you want to call it that. If you’d told me that two years ago I’d have cringed. But I try to do it as naturally as I can.

Is being natural important?

I like artificial sounds. I wanted the elements of this record to be very distinct from one another other: bass, drums, vocal, a background of choral vocals or synthesisers. I didn’t want too much synthesiser on this, or if I did I wanted it to sound like a human voice, and most of them actually are. I like the way I can affect my own voice. There’s an earnestness to the dry, natural voice, but I wanted to get away from that completely.

All the videos and promotional material for this album feature you with a pixellated face and blue hoodie. Where does this character come from?

It just comes from lots of childhood experiences, lots of memories that I unconsciously started to think about in the process of wanting to make music that was really aggressive. It’s all about school, displacement, being a young girl, really. There’s adult anger in there as well, but mainly it’s a teenage expression of anxiety. I just wanted to scream a little bit, which I never did at the time. But it’s not all meant to be deadly serious, there’s a cockiness to it, playful aspects which I hope come across.

And the hoodie?

Originally I’d wanted it to be a P.E. kit, but that would have been a bit weird, dressed as a child. There’s more room to disguise myself this way, and I’d had a blue thing going through my previous costumes. Blue is a bit of a school colour, a sporty colour.

As for the tights over my face, obviously there is this association with crime, this really masculine image. I always found that hilarious, butch guys with shear tights on their head. But it was just a way to blank my face out. I wanted to look pixellated. And it has this doll-head effect at the same time, so hard and soft.

Is it difficult to perform with that get-up?

There’s so much breathing that sometimes the hair of my wig goes down my throat. Really horrible experience, but I have ways of getting around that.

Do you plan on keeping the character for future projects?

The more I’ve externalised the character, the more I’ve thought “that’s it, there’s nothing more to say.” But I think there are still other routes to take it. My ultimate plan would be to stop touring the album and work the character into a graphic novel, so that the girl is a stand-alone character, existing beyond the music. I’m not sure the music is the fullest expression of that persona. I’d like there to be something that lasts and has a different kind of existence.

So which comes first, character or music?

The character came after I’d written most of the music. The music was just my experiences. It’s hard to remember, really, because so much is visual when I’m writing. I collect a lot of images and film, and sometimes I will just write down words and pick a word I want to write a song about. It always starts with a musical loop, or I’ll pick a word and imagine how it will sound. Or an image might give me a feeling for something to express. It’s a whole jumble, I’m completely all over the place when I’m making stuff. I just gather things, hoard things, just live with them for a while.

It reminds me of the kids I was scared of in middle school.

I wanted to look like one of those Cronenberg kids from The Brood. The P.E. kit was my version of that child.

Gazelle Twin

LIVE REVIEW: Run the Jewels, Pumpehuset, 19.12.2014

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Photo by Tom Spray

Killer Mike and El-P’s three year bromance culminated in 2014 with the release of Run the Jewels 2, widely regarded as the best hip-hop album of the year. The look of pride and gratitude on El-P’s face is evident even at the back of the packed room at Pumpehuset. Half-serious, half-clowning around, there is a rare chemistry between the two men, bouncing onto the stage in well-deserved celebration to the sound of “We are the Champions”.

As a reflection of the year, RTJ2 is not a subtle album but a bold one, dealing with the contradictions of being at the top just as the fraught tensions inherent in the American justice system flared up again. Though the mood of these tracks is intense, what sets them apart is the lyrical approach taken by Killer Mike and El-P. For every classic boast (“I fuck and rap/  I tote the strap, I smoke the kush, I beat the puss”) there is a moment of brutal tenderness (“And I pray today ain’t the day you drag me away/ Right in front of my beautiful son”).

These contradictions might not be as evident in the live show, but the level of energy more than makes up for it. The audience know every hook, making the signature fist and gun sign whenever they aren’t busy out-jumping each other. There is a relationship between artist and audience that is unseen in other genres, a commitment, in the words of Killer Mike, to “burn this motherfucker down.”

Though most of the set is based around the latest album, there are some choice selections from their 2013 effort, including the seasonally-appropriate “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”. And after the party it’s time to hip RapGenius.

INTRODUCING: We Like We

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We Like We produce experimental chamber pieces that manage to allude to the works of minimalist composers like Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich while retaining the spirit of independent music. The Copenhagen-based quartet, consisting of violin, cello, vocals and percussions, meld the technical virtuosity of their respective classical backgrounds with a good ear for harmonics, dissonance and rhythmic dexterity, wonderfully captured on their debut release “a new Age of Sensibility”, released by The Being Music.

Though recently formed, We Like We are no strangers to the Danish music scene, having played their first live performance alongside Efterklang at Frost Festival in 2013. The release concert for their album will take place at Københavns Musikteater on December 16.

LIVE REVIEW: Swans, Store Vega, 23.11.2014

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Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

As if to reiterate the fact that concert-goers can be a foolish lot, ear-plugs are being handed out on the stairs into Store Vega, perhaps to those whose only other encounter with Swans was their often-regretted cover “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. The ear-plugs are a small concession relative to the brutal onslaught which is to come: eight songs (give or take) spread over two and a half hours, beginning with a fifteen minute gong solo.

Said gong solo marks the opening of “Frankie M”, a staple of recent Swans shows, though as yet unreleased. Live shows are something of a breeding ground for Swans songs (lets get over that pun right now, before I am tempted to repeat it), with several of the tracks off To Be Kind constituting part of their live repertoire long before the album’s release. Gigs are, for frontman Michael Gira, a way to directly experience the odd mix of love and confrontation between band and fans.

Swans live at Vega

If Swans have become slightly less physically violent than they used to be, and Micheal Gira less prone to unleashing his genitals on stage, they have only turned more visually terrifying: a skeletal Norman Westberg hovers precariously to the right of the stage, while an ominous Christoph Hahn broods over his lapsteel on the left. Gira directs with wild hand gestures and looming over his band-mates, building up tension by ever more unbearable degrees. Though much of the set is based on drone noise-scapes, songs like “A Little God in My Hands” allow for a different, markedly more bizarre atmosphere. With its off-kilter bassline and rhythm, the song inhabits a Twin Peaks-inspired psychosphere, amplified by Gira’s tendency to garble the lyrics into a twisted baby-speak.

Swans

Though Swans are certainly uncompromising, they have a perversely playful side. Percussionist Thor Harris’s appearance is a Spinal-Tap-esque imitation of a caveman, bearded and bare-chested. The mercurial Michael Gira appears to be in a good mood, referring to the audience as “beautiful children” and making fun of the “language of dark sorrow” in a generic Scandinavian accent. One brief scuffle with someone in the front row amounts to nothing more than a stern reprimand, and our photographer remains unmolested.

There is no doubting that this is a test of endurance. The weaker elements of the audience (or those who have work in the morning) start leaving after an hour and a half, and so Gira’s request that the house lights be raised in order to see the audience has the appearance of an appraisal of our strength. The final bows and the promise of kisses at the merch booth are like being offered tea after being punched in the face, and masochists that we are, we lap it up.

Swans live at Vega
Swans live at Vega, Copenhagen 2014

VIEW THE LIVE PHOTO GALLERY HERE

 

 

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