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LIVE REVIEW: tUnE-yArDs, Vega, 13.11.2014

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tUnE-yArDs (Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (

Tune-Yards, as those of us too lazy to keep pressing the shift key refer to them, have reached a level of critical acclaim that might be surprising for a band whose first album was created using a hand-held voice recorder. Frontwoman Merrill Garbus’s lo-fi origins are still evident in her skillful use of loop pedals to create beautifully intricate layers of drums and vocals, and the overwhelming passion that has brought her this far is on clear display tonight.

The enthusiasm with which Tune-Yards are greeted onto Lille Vega’s stage is evidence that this is an audience composed principally of dedicated fans, rather than casual listeners following hype. There are countless reasons for being attracted to this band’s work, from the infectious danceability of tracks like “Sink-O” to the R’n’B melancholy of “Wait for a Minute”, but the true reason to be here is that they are one of the very best live acts around.

tUnE-yArDs (Lille Vega, Copenhagen)
tUnE-yArDs (Lille Vega, Copenhagen)

The latest record, nikki nack, replaces the saxophones of Tune-Yards’ sophomore effort with backing vocals, and it is unsurprising that most of the set is comprised of material from the former. Exceptions are “Gangsta”, in which the vocals play a much bigger part than the original saxophones. For all the talent of her backing musicians (particularly evident on the delicately complexity of “Bizness”, in which the backing vocalists manage to recreate the synth line perfectly), it is Garbus’s talent and energy that are centre stage throughout. Her vocals can be soulfully raw or quirky, but they are always arresting.

There are several similarities between Garbus and St Vincent’s Annie Clark. Both are supremely talented women who have managed to recapture a musical energy which has largely been spent in the last 20 years, and twist that energy into something new and unique. But where Annie Clark’s sense of theatricality is predicated on a sense of cold alienation, Garbus is all warmth. Before launching into the encore, she invites questions from the audience, and in return offers the story of the Myspace origins of the strange capitalization of the band’s name.

There bands whose talent is almost off-putting, but in the case of Tune-Yards I would not be surprised if half the audience left wanting to get their hands on a loop pedal, a dictaphone and some drum sticks. I can assure you I did.

tUnE-yArDs (Lille Vega, Copenhagen)
tUnE-yArDs (Lille Vega, Copenhagen)



LIVE REVIEW: St Vincent, Store Vega, 05.11.2014

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St. Vincent live at Vega, Copenhagen, 2014 (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)

 Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (

When you start to attend gigs with any kind of regularity, you start to encounter moments when, no matter how much you might like the band, you can’t help wishing you were listening to this on your headphones at home. I might not be completely allergic to sincerity, but there are only so many “soulful” and “stripped-back” sets I can deal with. Which is why I am delighted by St Vincent’s carefully choreographed appearance on stage. Scuttling across the stage like a short-circuited Stepford wife, front-woman Annie Clark embodies a sense of manic, joyful alienation.

Her latest and eponymous album deals with issues of identity in relation to technology, as evident in the lyrics to “Digital Witness” (“Digital witness/ what’s the point of even sleeping?/ If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me/ what’s the point of doing anything?”). Whereas in previous albums her angular guitar-playing worked as a brutal counterpoint to the prettiness of her voice and lush backing tracks (see “Cruel”), her newer material shifts the emphasis. Relying much more heavily on cold synth sounds, St Vincent sees the guitar transform into an expression of rebellion against the rigid structure imposed by digital music.

St. Vincent (2014)


It should be no surprise, given the effort Annie and her backing band have made in coming up with choreographed routines, that the performance is beautifully precise (minus a few front-of-house issues towards the end of the set). You begin to truly believe that Annie must have some cybernetic implants when you consider how she manages to sing, play intricate guitar lines and dance in high heels flawlessly and contemporaneously.

Though the set consists mainly of material from the latest album, there is enough diversity within those songs to maintain rapt attention. The manic angularity of “Born in Reverse” gives way to “Huey Newton”, which sounds almost like a Dr. Dre track. On a couple of occasions Annie pauses to recite little monologues which are witty enough not to sound too cutesy. These too are obviously rehearsed, but if one is searching for spontaneity and sincerity, it is enough to see her expression of delight at the close of the set. The effort and talent on display are a sure testament to the dedication St Vincent has for her audience.

St. Vincent (2014)


LIVE REVIEW: Amen Dunes, Huset, 14.09.2014

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A Sunday night in Huset, remarkably sold-out, is a slightly surreal affair. The weight of the upcoming week, added to severe lack of sleep and some very cheap ear plugs, give the effect of viewing a gig through a fishbowl. This might not be the best set of circumstances, but they find their match in the acoustic psychedelia of Amen Dunes. Damon McMahon’s “anti-love songs” work well as anti-lullabies from the Land of Reverb, aided by a drummer and ambient guitarist/keyboard player.

Love, Amen Dune’s latest release, is a little sweeter and more lush than the noisy negativity of Through Donkey Jaw, but Damon’s onstage presence shows that dark irony lingering just behind the surface of his otherwise laid-back attitude. He does the very singer-songwriter-y thing of introducing several songs, but these are welcome forays into his approach to his music, rather than indulgent ramblings. This evening he reveals the origin of “Ethio Song”, claiming it to be a cover of a piece of unknown Ethiopian music coming through the walls from his neighbour’s apartment. Tonight’s version of the song sounds very un-Ethiopian, with none of the trebly guitar lines from the record, but this is but one instance of a general impression: Love, more than previous efforts, is the closest thing to what Amen Dunes sound like in the flesh.


Standing right in front of Damon allows the audience to the clean acoustic sound of the guitar behind all the effects, adding some meat to the live sound. The vocals are incredibly high in the mix, cutting through everything else with ease, as if to confirm that Damon’s freak-folk tinged vibrato is the sine qua non around which everything else revolves. There are, of course, exceptions: “Rocket Flair”‘s picking style and low-key, driving drums, is the closest Amen Dunes get to 60s psychedelia as most would recognize it.

Throughout the evening, it is revealing to observe Damon McMahon offstage. Is commitment to music, not just his own, is clear in the intent look on his face as he quibbles with the sound engineer during the opening act, Xander Duell (ah yes, nepotism’s black tentacles reach far into the music industry). He nods along to the second act, Hand of Dust, and leaps to the merch booth the second the Amen Dunes set ends. It’s been a long evening, but a musician’s job never stops. Fortunately, that is not the case for a music reviewer.


LIVE REVIEW: Blonde Redhead, Vega, 13.09.2014

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Blonde Redhead have spent almost two decades doing their very best to attract opposite descriptors: stripped-back and baroque, chaotic and elegant. As John Peel said of the Fall, they are always different, and always the same. Always eager to follow an album with its diametrical opposite, the band exhibit a fearlessness which is matched by the dedication of its fans. Their latest effort, Barragán, was released less than two weeks ago, yet songs like “Dripping” and “No More Honey” are greeted with enthusiasm from the outset.

The venue is sold out, and spirits are high, egged on by local boys Cancer. Fronted by the respective singers of When Saints Go Machine (only 7th in the top 10 worst band names in Denmark) and Chorus Grant, Cancer is all Antony Hegarty-mimicking vocals and elaborate guitar lines, a combination that clearly resonates with this lot.


The stage curtains part as Amedeo Pace (born in Milan like yours truly, and therefore automatically better than most people before he even picks up a guitar) finger-picks the instrumental “Barragán”. But the introspection of this and “Lady M”, and of the new album in general, is here transformed. Simone Pace’s drums sound positively gigantic, emphasising the rhythmic bones of even the quietest Blonde Redhead songs. The surprising beefiness of their live sound is emphasised in “Falling Man”, which cranks up the melodrama and distortion, as if to remind the audience that the noise band of La Mia Vita Violenta and Fake Can Be Just as Good still lurks among us.

Most of the set, naturally enough, is concentrated around material from Barragán, the rest of the songs coming mainly from 23 and Misery is a Butterfly. Nothing at all from their penultimate release, Penny Sparkle, perhaps because the low key electronica of that album is a little at odds with the rest of the band’s back catalogue. The trio have to rely quite heavily on pre-recorded and programmed tracks for their more maximalist songs, but this does nothing to water down the likes of “Spring and By Summer Fall”. Amedeo’s guitars and Simone’s drums occupy so much space that Kazu Makino easily fills in the gaps with bass, keyboards or extra guitars.

A technical failure during “Melody”—Kazu’s keyboards sounding like a 16-bit videogame soundtrack—is an opportunity to witness the degree to which fans hold the band in affection, cheering them on and asking them to start again. But the real crowd-pleaser is left for last, with a thunderous rendition of “23”, causing the crowd to completely obscure the stage with waving arms and air punches.

With a band as long-lived as Blonde Redhead, one spends half the time making a mental list of all the songs they don’t play (the bass-tastic “Equus”, “Misery is a Butterfly”, “Melody of Certain Three”), but this is wilful masochism. Never will you hear a critical comment towards Blonde Redhead from me. I’m sure I have plenty of bile for another day, another band.



LIVE REVIEW: Lower, Jazzhouse, 29.08.2014

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“This is a strange set-up for a punk concert.” So says our dear photographer Morten, and to some extent he is right. I didn’t quite expect the poetry readings and the hour-long performance piece that lead up to Lower. Half an hour into the slow-burning piece, in which some blond guy shyly and ploddingly gave out lighting instructions, the mood becomes restless. But it is really a testament to the tolerance of Copenhagen audiences that they last that long. But the second part of Morten’s statement, that this is a punk gig, is the one I have problems with.

At some point the international press has to stop talking about the Danish “punk” scene. Whatever the influences of Iceage, Lower, Communions et al. might be, the sounds that emerge from these bands have quite specific reference points: the baroque post-punk of the Chameleons and the Comsat Angels, and the twisted Americana of the Bad Seeds and the Gun Club. Even the standard uniform (baggy, buttoned-up-to-the-collar shirts and waist-high jeans) is more reminiscent of 80s goth and new wave. Black Flag this ain’t.

Lower (Jazzhouse, Copenhagen)

Though their music has as much dramatic flair as any of those previously mentioned bands, something in the demeanor of Lower indicates that, however emotional or personal their music might be, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Halfway through the set guitarist Simon Formann serves the whole band, including an extra percussionist and a pianist/cellist, cocktails. The sight of frontman Adrian Toubro singing while holding a pink concoction in a lowball glass harks back to the decadent crooners of the 60s and 70s (also referenced by Iceage in their Mina-inspired “Morals” and in the video for “The Lord’s Favourite”).

Lower’s debut album, Seek Warmer Climes, is full of chiming and wiry guitars, the mid-range vocal crooning favoured by 80s darkwave bands, and drums that sound like they are falling down several flights of stairs. The rhythmic chaos of songs like “Lost Weight, Perfect Skin” are enhanced in the live setting by the extra percussionist, whose tom and snare work almost takes the band into Adam Ant territory. The added cello and piano are a clear attempt to push Lower into different territory, though by now it has almost become standard in Copenhagen, with Shiny Darkly and Iceage using classical instruments to greater or lesser degrees.

Lower (Jazzhouse, Copenhagen)

Among all ruckus of drums and guitar, Lower have a melodic heart in Tourbro’s vocal delivery, particularly evident in the glorious chorus of “Soft Option”, the standout track from their debut. It is almost impossible for me to write about Copenhagen bands without making a very long list of references (often very obvious ones), but that is not to dismiss these acts as carbon-copies of their heroes. Perhaps none of them would fit well in a chronological chart of the “progress” of pop music, but they are a reminder that the important thing is not to create a sound that has never been heard before, but to make the music sound new.

View the photos from Lowers concert here

LIVE REVIEW: Deafheaven, BETA 11.08.2014

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It is appropriate to the band playing tonight that the audience arriving at Beta are greeted by a food stall, a children’s blow-up pool and a dj booth playing a mix of Sonic Youth and metal tunes. Deafheaven is one of those bands that reviewers and music journalists love to adorn with baroque epithets (“blackgaze”, “post-black-metal-shoegaze”, bla bla), but one thing we can state with certainty is that the band’s diversity of influences has brought them appeal that spans far wider than any other contemporary American metal band.

To say that the venue is sold-out is a little misleading, given Beta’s limited dimensions, but the small size brings with it a select and dedicated audience, ready to bliss out or rock hard, whatever the evening requires. Different reactions to the music give a good idea of the mindset of the listener: the obvious metalheads headbang in time with the black metal-inspired double kick drum, whereas those of us with leanings towards shoegaze and post-rock tend to nod along at half-time, focusing more on the waves of alternately distorted and reverb-laden guitars.

Deafheaven (Photo by Tom Spray)

Coming at the end of a long summer tour, there is a touch of uncharacteristic tiredness to the band, and frontman George Clarke’s wide-eyed intensity comes off as a little contrived. But this criticism is limited: one has to remember that Deafheaven do not have thick layers of corpse-paint to hide behind. For all its elegant album covers and posters, the band does not indulge in myth-making outside of its music, and even in the cramped conditions of Beta, and muffled by much-needed earplugs, the long form majesty of it is undeniable. Standing so close to the band, I am mesmerized by Daniel Tracy’s impeccable drumming. Even in the hectic intensity of a song like “The Pecan Tree”, it manages to flow with a paradoxically light precision. And that is not something you will ever get at a traditional shoegaze concert.

Deafheaven (Photo by Tom Spray)

The only moment of doubt comes with new track “From the Kettle Onto the Coil”, which for my tastes engages too much in the clichés of metal rather than subverting them (the breakdown in the middle being a particularly flagrant example of this), before essentially morphing into a cover of Slowdive’s “Alison”. The song sounds like a parody of Deafheaven, an attempt to replicate their music by a band who has only heard of them through clunky music press prose (“like a cross between Mayhem and Chapterhouse.” That one, thankfully, is made up). If anything, though, it serves to prove how, in Sunbather, Deafheaven are normally able to transcend the awkward juxtapositions of genre.

The set is short both in terms of time (just under an hour) and number of songs (five), but the decision to keep things brief, given the length of the actual songs, is a good one. No band can maintain this kind of mood for much longer without watering it down. And given the strange territories that other black-metal-influenced bands in the US are venturing into (Wolves in the Throne Room’s Celestite being a prime example), we must hope Deafheaven never go down the road to dilution.

Deafheaven (Photo by Tom Spray)

LIVE REVIEW: Neutral Milk Hotel, Store Vega, Copenhagen 07.08.2014

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Instruments sans players, Neutral Milk Hotel, Store Vega. Photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh

Having long been confused and surprised by the concerts that Copenhageners seem to completely ignore, there is some satisfaction in finally coming across one that people have come in droves to see. It is cult 90s folk-rockers Neutral Milk Hotel, favourite band of Parks and Recreation’s April Ludgate, that drive an already frenzied audience to distraction by revisiting their tiny, if influential, discography.

There are no two ways about this, this is a reunion tour, but it is not exactly a nostalgia-fest. The material focuses very heavily on songs from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but it is a testament to the quality of the material that nothing sounds remotely dated. Which is not to say that this reviewer was instantly taken in by this set. The posters banning photographs are both welcome (countless gigs have been ruined by a sea of screen occluding the actual band) and at the same time worryingly earnest and serious. It turns out that this ban is extended to professional photographers, which explains the absence of pictures accompanying this review.

As frontman Jeff Magnum takes the stage alone and opens with “The King of Carrot Flowers Part 1” the atmosphere of erupting anticipation is infectious. Justifiably so, since the band’s 15 year hiatus means that for the younger members of the audience this is the first time they have ever had the opportunity to see them live. This is a concert that to some extent cannot possibly go wrong: the material is so familiar to even the casual listener, and the band is made up of musicians who have all had their separate prolific careers. And for the most part it is indeed a complete success, though the man at the sound desk managed to completely fudge up the mix on “Holland, 1945”, which should earn him 13 life-time’s worth of bad luck.

Even in their recordings, Neutral Milk Hotel have always had a ramshackle quality, teetering on the edge between disaster and brilliance. Though time has not mellowed them, the sense of risk is not quite as evident. Instead the drones of brass instruments, distorted acoustic guitar, and the bowed banjo and musical saw of the pixie-like Julian Koster, all merge and swirl wonderfully with Magnum’s nasal singing. This is, effectively, acoustic noise-pop. From this perspective, even moments of solo acoustic guitar share in this tone, driven by Magnum’s voice and the slow chord changes. No matter how revered their recordings are, they are a poor substitute for the band in their living, panting presence.

Though there is almost no talk between songs, except for a couple of brief thank-yous from Koster, the sense of engagement with the audience and the music is undeniable. Whenever Scott Spillane isn’t busting his lungs into one of a myriad of different horn instruments he is chanting along, vigorously though inaudibly, and Koster himself spends entire songs jumping clockwise like a whirling Dervish. From Magnum we only get a few bows, but in the absence of anything else, they feel genuine enough.

Trailerpark Festival report

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Arriving early at a concert in Copenhagen is tremendously unfashionable, and at a festival doubly so. The benefit of being at Trailerpark in the afternoon is being able to explore the various tents, trailers and assorted installations before they are covered under a mass of pretty people. The festival focuses as much on constructing creative and comfortable spaces as it does on the music, and this year is no exception. As well as the eponymous trailers—one made up to look like a Lynchian crime scene, complete with smoke machine and eerie music, another a Tinder-sponsored shag-shack—there are swings made of recycled pallets, surrealist plush sculptures, rum cabañas and a tent devoted to what can only be described as audio-visual terrorism.

The Tinder-trailer during a quite moment.

Fans of poor decision-making are welcome to try a spot of tattoo roulette—quite literally spinning a wheel to decide what image will be indelibly etched onto your skin—and in the wilder hours of Friday even an over-cautious curmudgeon like yours truly has to exercise a significant amount of self-restraint to avoid it. Those in search of less permanent damage can get a lopsided haircut and a single leg shaved by a bunch of clowns in bondage gear. Pretty standard fare, really.


There is perhaps no better place than here to take stock of the quality and diversity of the Danish scene, the line-up consisting almost entirely of homegrown talent. This, however, is the only constant. One can wander away from a hip hop act at Royal stage and suddenly come across an emissary of the Mayhem/Posh Isolation scene at Outdoor stage. Throughout, DJs and smaller electronic acts are blasting away in the intimate enclave of Rebel stage.


The day starts relatively peacefully with Alice Boman’s wistful folk pop, which transitions neatly into the music of CODY, Copenhagen’s post-folk collective and arguably one of the most talented groups of musicians in the city. Drawing primarily on material from Windshield, their latest album, the six-piece (but depending on the day there could just as easily be eight people on stage, or even just the one) manage to work their wealth of instruments into a beautifully simple whole.

The rest of the day is devoted mainly to electronic acts. Among the most promising newer artists are Mont Oliver, who add a touch of Madchester swagger to their performance (seriously, the guy at the keyboards is even wearing one of those floppy 90s fishing hats). Later on, Ice Cream Cathedral filled Outdoor stage with their pop pyschedelia, followed by a mesmeric Sekuoia.

Ice Cream Cathedral
Ice Cream Cathedral

Baby In Vain did their best to convert the crowd to Satan, before Julias Moon could do is darndest to become the Danish equivalent of Michael Jackson.


Though every day at Trailerpark has its moments, Friday is the one that does its best to physically and mentally destroy festival-goers. In the most positive sense of the phrase, naturally. Hand Of Dust and Get Your Gun bring a dark and twisted version of Americana to town, though their early slots mean that only a handful of the most dedicated are able to witness any of it.

The tone for the rest of the evening is set by New York rapper Le1f. Preceded by a brief display from an acrobat in bondage gear (a phrase I don’t get to use enough), Khalif Diouf exudes equal parts sexuality (consider that barely an hour later will see a DJ set from someone called DJ Cockwhore) and flighty exuberance.  Cutting songs short when he gets tired of them, Le1f makes it clear that he is here to have as much fun as the audience.


Though Sleep Party People’s mix of lullabies and post-rock is both a visually and aurally captivating experience, the true energy of the evening is found with two bands:  Reptile Youth and Broke. Though the former is considerably more famous, the two share similarities in sound and attitude, guitar-led dance music and physicality. I can personally attest to having had Reptile Youth’s frontman Mads Damsgaard Kristiansen land on my head twice during improperly announced stage dives, and Broke’s frontman developed a liking for humping one of the central tent poles of Outdoor stage.

Reptile Youth
Reptile Youth

All this can only be topped by the utter perfection (in the eyes and ears of this reviewer at least) of The Felines, who bring wide smiles and awkward attempts at the twist to the 4am crowd.


Fans of Danish “pop sensations” and hip hop acts must forgive me, but the real stars of the final day of Trailerpark are all at Outdoor stage. First Hate are possibly the dorkiest duo I have ever seen, which automatically makes them cooler than anyone in this tremendously well-dressed audience. It helps that they almost flawlessly channel Speak and Spell-era Depeche Mode, down to the Dave Gahan-esque vocals and dance moves. It’s pure and unabashed synth-pop, and it instantly converts all those present.

If prizes were being awarded, one would have to go to Communions, who have transformed into a much more mature band in the intervening months since our last encounter with them. The punk attitude is still there, but it no longer has a stranglehold over their sound, and finally they devote themselves to the wiry jangle-pop that was always lurking underneath the discordant tone and shambolic compositions. Those of us who spent the bike-ride to Enghave listening exclusively to Felt (or is that just me?) are in for a very pleasant surprise.


As people gather to watch Shiny Darkly, it is evident that they are precisely the same hand-picked audience that attended First Hate and Communions. Apparently I have become a stereotype, though what that might be is unclear. Though perhaps the most obviously post-punk oriented of all the acts at Trailerpark, Shiny Darkly do not simply emulate their elders and betters. The raw riffs and chanted vocals are driven by a spartan and effective rhythm section, and on occasion even joined by a violinist or a trumpet player. The extra instruments are used with an ear for noise and harmonics as much as they add an extra layer of melody to the songs. At any rate they bespeak a level of ambition that is the mark of a healthy music scene. The likes of S!vas and Christopher might bring in the punters, but visitors looking for the true energy of the city should follow the leather jackets.

Shiny Darkly

 View  the galleries from Trailerpark Festival here:




All days

Thanks to Sony for letting us try the new Sony a7S camera.

All photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (

LIVE REVIEW: Ratking, Ideal Bar, 17.05.2014

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Photos by Tom Spray

If Ideal Bar is feeling a little too chill and empty for a gig on a Saturday evening, Ratking make it their business to get the room working for them. The New York hip hop-trio—MCs Wiki and Hak, and producer Sporting Life (which, until proven wrong, I insist is a Gershwin reference)—are touring Europe, promoting their debut album, So It Goes. On record they sound punchy and fresh, full of strange samples and clever wordplay, and feature guest-spots from the likes of King Krule.

This being an often tricky genre to pull off live, and with contemporaneous gigs going on in both Vega’s larger venues, it’s impressive to see Wiki and Hak scrap together a good crowd out of the initially scattered audience. Right from the beginning you can observe their dynamics, the way Hak will gentle coerce people at the back to stand up, while Wiki positively vibrates at the other side of the stage, tensed for the hook to hit. Ratking work by feeding off each other’s differences: Wiki’s exuberance and aggression, Hak’s laid-back reserve, Sporting Life’s obvious intensity and focus. The scruffiness of the sound ends up making them more endearing, three punky kids elated to be playing around the world.

Ratking (Photo by Tom Spray)

Tracks like “Snow Beach” are great to pick apart, layers upon layers of tropicalia, shoegaze wash and cheap drum samples. It almost sounds like an Animal Collective remix, until a saxophone appears from nowhere. And the lyrics are grounded, explorations of New York, utterly devoid of obnoxious posturing. The sound is that of a thoroughly internet-immersed generation (the names Wiki and Hak should make that clear enough), for whom genres are nothing more than tags on, rather than the rigid, tribal boundaries they once were.

It’s a short set, the length you might expect from a hardcore act, but Ratking release us back into the streets of Copenhagen vibrating at a slightly higher pitch, somehow a little less cynical.


LIVE REVIEW: Nine Inch Nails, Forum, 13.05.2014

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Photo by Tom Spray

As Tom and I remark again on the oddity that Nine Inch Nails, one of the biggest names in rock music of any description, somehow can’t fill up Forum in Copenhagen (seriously guys, the main guy on the poster outside the venue is Cliff Richard), we are greeted by the anachronism that is Cold Cave. I sense a common feeling of nostalgia towards the bombastic and cheap-sounding synths, the Robert Smith-inspired vocals, the leather jacked, black shades and shitty hair. If you squint your eyes, and find a way of doing something similar to your ears, you might just be transported back to the not so distant past when everyone on the message board collectively lost their shit over Crystal Castles. But squinting is annoying, and in the end, so are Cold Cave.

By the time Nine Inch Nails are about to begin their set, the venue’s insistence on not opening up the back section means we’re all squeezed together like cockroaches. The screen that spans the entire stage has obscured most of the tech set up, so it’s almost a surprise when the lights suddenly cut out and ‘The Eater of Dreams” starts playing over the PA. The band arrive on stage with little fanfare, apart from the roar greeting Trent Reznor, whose intensity has certainly not diminished in time. Initially the stage looks very minimalist, with nothing but three keyboards and a low-hanging lighting rig. It fits perfectly with opener “Copy of a”, from the band’s latest effort, Hesitation Marks. This is classic NIN dark but danceable minimalism, all drum machines and fast synth arpeggios.

NIN (Photo by Tom Spray)

But Trent and co. have fooled us: as “The Beginning of the End” starts up, with its prehistoric drum-beat, a gigantic black curtain falls to the ground, revealing one drum kit, and one giant lighting rig. The rig, together with the projections that from time to time appear on a ascending and descending screen, are by far the best visual show I have witnessed at a concert in a very long time. They are intense, but never bombastic or silly, a perfectly constructed accompaniment to the music.

Tonight NIN are showing off their fastest, heaviest side, and predominantly dipping into their earlier records: “March of the Pigs” rips through neural connections, knocking you off balance with its completely out-of-the-blue switch to major chords on the piano for a chorus. It’s like punching someone repeatedly in the face and then giving them a hug. Scary as hell. It seems like all the time spent on scoring films such as The Social Network and the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, together with the How to Destroy Angels side-project, have not only reinvigorated Trent, but also pushed him to rediscover his more guitar-orientated side.

NIN (Photo by Tom Spray)

The only negative thing to say about the gig is that it simply didn’t last long enough. An hour and a half for a band that has been around for a quarter of a century is just not enough, and I for one would not have minded hearing some more songs from Hesitation Marks, particularly oddities like the funky “All Time Low” and freakishly uplifting “Everything”. Reznor instead gives us the classics, closing with “Closer” and “Hurt”, which are nothing if not crowd-pleasers. Not great songs to be singing along to on the train home, though.


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