Savages may have marked the last date of their tour with little fanfare, but a crowded main floor of Vega is a testament to success they have enjoyed since the release of Silence Yourself, their debut album on Sacred Bones Records. Proving that I’m not the only one to find the taste of Copenhageners unpredictable, the organisers were forced to move the gig from Lille to Store Vega after a surge in public interest.
One satisfaction is the amount of people gathered around the stage for the opening act; the other is the act itself. Joining Savages all the way from Australia, A Dead Forest Index produce beautiful music under an awful name. Borrowing both from the icy folk-songs of Nico (whose album, The Marble Index, probably explains part of the band’s moniker) and the guitar-and-drums minimalism of Low, these two boys create intense atmospheres through the use of layered vocals, canny guitar effects, and unpredictable drum fills.
Savages saunter on stage like they’ve just finished beating up some skinny indie boyband in a back alley. With no more ceremony than a single “Hi” from lead singer Jehnny, the band launch into “I Am Here”. Emerging out of the slide and sustain noise from Gemma Thompson’s guitar, the verse has that bass-lead bounce that made post-punk almost the only genre I listened to in high school, while the chorus showcases Jehnny’s vocal abilities, as precise as they are wild. The bounce isn’t a complete fabrication of mine, as I see drummer Fay Milton jumping up and down on her seat in time with the kick-drum.
Jehnny prowls about with intense blue eyes and an Ian Curtis haircut (well, that isn’t going to help against the comparison-brigade). She doesn’t so much talk to the crowd as recite short monologues. It is an inescapable fact that Savages are a very serious-minded band, but no one needs jokes or witty anecdotes when confronted with a band that can play songs like “Husbands”, which puts to shame most ‘original’ or ‘authentic’ post-punk bands.
The other benefit of the band’s seriousness is their strict and often-repeated policy on phones and cameras. Plastered all around the place are posters reminding people that constantly taking pictures during the show will probably get you a black eye. Some bastard close by me keeps snapping away, until one heroic guy behind him swatted the phone out of his hands.
The set is a short one, barely an hour, but then their only album, Silence Yourself, is less than 40 minutes in length. Savages close with their longest song, as yet unrecorded, and generally referred to as “Fuckers”. It doesn’t contain the most profound or interesting lyrics ever (“don’t let those fuckers get you down”), but it gives a chance for the band to stretch out and play with the dynamics of a song. It’s a good ending to what must have been a wild year for the band, and as people shuffle out of the venue and into Ideal Bar next door to hear Jehnny’s DJ set, you can’t help wondering what comes next.
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After two albums and two EPs, Copenhageners CODY return to our collective ear holes with Windshield (February 2014), a ten-track album bent on redefining the band as a sophisticated and urbane chamber-pop septemvirate.
Frontman and songwriter Kaspar Kaae would be the first to admit that, despite the collective nature of the band, previous recordings have tended to centre on him as singer-songwriter: “In the beginning it was just me, but then I added a ton of people, because that was part of the whole philosophy. We started to be the seven piece that we are now a couple of years ago, but we continued to add horns and singers.”
This propensity for folk-inspired maximalism has not transferred onto Windshield, perhaps in part due to Kaspar sharing composition duties with guitar player David.
“Usually I arrange and record the demos, but this time we did it together, which was a challenge. Suddenly he had a say in things. For example, there are no horns on this album, because he hates it. I love it, but I thought ‘All right, lets try without them, because we’ve had them on every album since the beginning.’”
The addition of another writer paradoxically lead to a much more stripped sound, with a lot more punch that one would have anticipated. The opener, the eponymous “Windshield” has a bouncy rhythm section supporting the guitar and organ lines. Kaspar describes it as more “extrovert and simple” thanks to the “new blood”, and indeed for every melancholy acoustic number (“Rotterdam” or “Arms Around”) there are three or four that vary from the anthemic (“The Medic Blues”) to the almost shoe-gaze of “Midnight”.
“I feel like we took a hundred steps away from the last album. For you it might sound like ten.”
Talking in his Nørrebro apartment, it is clear that Kaspar is sometimes divided between enthusiasm and a propensity for self-effacement, but the result is a thoughtfulness that is clearly present in his music and lyrics.
“The whole ‘man with his guitar’ thing, we’ve done that for so many years. It was important to have other parts of the music as the structure. The first song, Windshield, it’s really the organ that is the main instrument. It’s hard to remember ‘no guitar in the middle’, but we wanted something more fresh and open. We were pretty focused on saying ‘What if we moved these chords from the accordion to the flute or the piano.’ But I’m not really ready to leave the guitar yet; it comes back and takes its power.”
One of the pleasures of interviewing musicians is simply talking about mutual likes and dislikes. Some bands are almost ashamed of their influences, perhaps feeling that they will be found wanting in comparison to their heroes. On this topic Kaspar is perhaps at his most enthusiastic. He riffles through his vinyl collection, stopping to point out a local band or something relatively obscure or surprising. I notice that there aren’t nearly as many folk or roots records as I might have expected:
“What I listen to is French pop music, Swedish indie music, and a lot of Danish bands. A lot of the vinyl over there [gestures to the pile] is from up and coming Danish bands. I listen to Phoenix or Yan Tiersen, and I can snatch parts of it, this atmosphere, this violin part. You pull stuff out. I get way more out of listening to Lykke Li than Fleetfoxes. I find it more interesting listening to pop music and then trying to take the parts I like, make them sound like a folk band.”
I latch on to the Yann Tiersen reference, since Kaspar has composed the soundtrack for the 2014 Norwegian thriller In Order of Disappearance. With a Scandinavian all-star cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård and Borgen’s Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, the film’s trailer promises a mix of Americana and Baltic references when it comes to music. I ask how this compares to writing music for CODY:
“It’s the total opposite of writing songs and releasing them. One of my friends who writes scores told me: ‘You need to take your ego, put it in a basement and lock the door.’ You are the tool. It’s still really fun because you collaborate with people who don’t write music, but relate to it and use it. Satisfying the director is really difficult, and sometimes you wonder ‘How can you not like this?’ It’s an interesting way to work. A lot of people put the film on the screen and play [referring to Neil Young on Dead Man]. The film wasn’t finished at all, but we had two and a half hours of movie we could work with. It was fun to see these beautiful pictures. When you see snowy mountains you can almost make anything.”
What with the film score and other projects, Kaspar confides that without David’s input, it is doubtful Windshields would have been ready by now. The rest of the band come in at a later stage, but they still have a vital say in matters, including the lyrics. By now many of them are parents, which complicates matters during a tour, but Kaspar assures me these aren’t problems, “only challenges”. Their Spring Tour has just begun to wind its way around Jutland before passing through Odense, ending back home in Copenhagen at the Bremen Theatre on March 15.
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We need to talk about Sohn. No, let me rephrase that, why are we talking about Sohn?
With a discography that consists of a whopping two singles and one EP, this London-born, Vienna-based producer has managed to sell out Pumpehuset. Depending on your opinion of his music, this is either an impressive feat or another instance of the insane rush with which the press and the music industry try to keep ahead of the curve.
Local boys and girls Gabriel open the evening. By turns low-key or melodramatic, the five-piece, including piano and cello, are rather at odds with the buzz of the room. In another venue it might be possible to hear the subtleties of the different instruments and appreciate the vocal gymnastics, but here they are lost.
When Sohn finally arrives on stage, dressed in what appears to be a black monk’s cassock, the room explodes. Again, how excited can anyone possibly be, on the basis of five songs on Spotify? I let this doubt pass, and for the first three songs there are enough interesting beats and samples to keep us going. Behind me, someone who will later tell me they loved the show, jokes that in the first fifteen minutes Sohn has played all the songs he has released so far.
But there is a definite moment, just after this comment, when something changes. Stuck behind a group of annoyingly tall people, it takes me a few seconds to figure this out: is he now playing a fucking acoustic guitar? Yes, readers, he is. Now it all makes sense: signing to 4AD, the high-pitched vocals, the guy in the corner noodling around on a keyboard like he’s Rick Wakeman, the acoustic guitar. Sohn just wants to be the electronic Bon Iver, doesn’t he?
Thankfully, after one song, the guitar disappears. Rick Wakeman continues with the bloody arpeggios, and everyone is loving it. Almost everyone. Later on, in the middle of the song, Sohn reaches behind as a roadie hands him another acoustic. Lord, why?
I can’t focus; every bit of the music is distracting me away from the rest. Suddenly it stops. I can just make out some movement onstage over someone’s shoulder. Then this: “I need your energy for this last one.” This last one? It’s a quarter to eleven, you’ve played 45 minutes, this is the last one? Don’t tire yourself out, mate.
Ladies and Gentlemen, whether you happen to like Sohn or not, this is ridiculous. Copenhagen cannot collectively lose its shit over this man’s 50 minute set. Sure, they are all ahead of the curve, and probably being part of Frost Festival will have helped with the ticket sales. No doubt this is the year Sohn makes it big. Whether he deserves to it altogether is another matter.
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It is always a pleasant surprise when most of the audience show up in time to see the opening act. The Jazzhouse is almost full when local hero Sekuoia hits the stage to deliver an hour-long set of warm, minimalist electronica. This evening he is playing without the assistance of drummer and guitarist, but if anything his performance is more energized than usual. “Rituals” still stands out as his most recognizable and catchy beat, but it is a rare privilege to be able to hear such an extended set from him.
Under a black and white projection of abstract dancing figures, Forest Swords materialize as producer Matthew Barnes and trusty anonymous bassist. Apart from being a chance to experience his doom-laden dub in an intense and intimate setting, the performance also functions as an explanation of the record, Engravings. Samples and live instruments, which on the album are often undistinguishable, become evident live.
Make no mistake, Forest Swords is pure, Lee Scratch Perry-approved dub (Perry even remixed FS’s “Thor’s Stone”). That is not to say that Barnes isn’t innovative, but rather that his music has a very strong grounding, evidenced by the organic quality of his samples. Though often associated with James Blake or Burial, Forest Swords seems to have more in common with the austere sonic explorations of These New Puritans.
Though for the most part the nature of songs is contemplative, the crowd is onboard, swaying and nodding along. Barnes doesn’t engage in much banter in between songs, presumably so as to not spoil the mood. When he does, it’s to enquire as to the quality of the sound to stage left. A couple of speakers, which had already been slightly distorting the bass during Sekuoia’s set, are starting to malfunction. What follows is a silent quarter of an hour during which Barnes, bassist and sound engineer fret over cables trying to solve the problem.
Although the frustration onstage is evident, the audience is mercifully understanding, and before too long the sound is sorted. The set has had to be cut short, but there are still some surprises. “Irby Tremor” features Barnes channelling spaghetti westerns on guitar, while the drum samples are crisp, almost koto-inspired. I am also convinced that “The Weight of Gold” is somehow secretly borrowing from Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold”, but have little evidence to back that up. The mood that Forest Swords inspires manages to ride between these contemplative analyses and produce an undeniable physical response that waves these moments away.
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Sat directly underneath the main concert hall of DR’s Koncerthuset, “Studie 1” is not so much a music venue as a faithful recreation of a rather swish regional airport. In one sense this befits Moderat, the fusion of Berlin “legends” and “pioneers” (hack-speak for “bands people have heard of”) Apparat and Modeselektor, whose latest album, II, sees them tackle a broad and accessible range of electronica. Like the album itself, the venue is very clean and tasteful, but I keep expecting songs to be interrupted by a distorted voice saying “Final call for passengers on the SAS flight to Gdansk…”
Stuck behind the four inter-crossing panels that form Moderat’s backdrop, opener and fellow Berliner Anstam is visible as little more than a backlit shadow. Unperturbed, he jitters around, explaining that the next song is about Terry Gilliam. Cinematic references are obvious in the music, as grandiose themes are dismantled under pounding drums and noises bleeding into the mix. Only when his set ends to I realize I’ve spent the entirety of it trying to come up with anagrams of Anstam (spoiler: turns out there are none).
I am trying to deal with this personal crisis as Moderat shuffle on stage. Not by any means the most charismatic of musicians, they do seem in good spirits as Sascha Ring attempts some of the worst stage banter I have ever heard in my life (excerpt: “We are finally in Copenhagen. I hope you will like that fact.”). Three men behind workstations, like a mutilated Kraftwerk, the band relies on multiple layers of lights and projections behind them to give some visual life to the music.
Unsurprisingly, the setlist consists mainly of tracks from their second album, but the live interpretation of these tracks has a different set of values. In such a large space many of the more subtle or quiet sections of the album are completely lost, and throughout the set they are steadily eliminated in favour of straightforward club beats. This isn’t so much music for dancing as it is for standing-awkwardly-with-phone-in-one-hand-and-other-hand-punching-the-air.
Sasha Ring is also allowed much more space for vocals, which on the album generally signal the least interesting tracks. Live, however, they seem to garner the greatest response from the audience, perhaps because they provide the most palpable connection between band and audience. The evening is sold out, but most people in the crowd seem to be spending more time taking pictures of each other than listening to the music. Once again, during the break before the encore, I snap back into reality and discover I have spent the last hour looking at the ceiling and making a mental list of thing I have to do next week.
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Traams’ debut Grin cemented 2013 as the year the UK got post-punk right. As bands like Savages and Factory Floor looked to the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Throbbing Gristle for drive and inspiration, Traams managed to amalgam the best of British post-punk with US noise rock, and have received a justifiable amount of recognition for it.
I need precise telephonic instructions to find KB18 among the snowy streets of Kødbyen. The weather has not been kind to us. The Copenhagen curse dictates that the most interesting bands are often all but ignored. So be it, I will continue to berate you readers until this town learns to appreciate the talent that passes it by every week.
After a few beers and what seems like most of David Bowie’s hits on the PA, Communions hit the stage. Tonight they are supposed to be inaugurating their new seven-inch, Cobblestones, released by Posh Isolation. Not that you would ever know it, since there isn’t a whiff of their vinyl or cassettes anywhere. A pity, since Communions stand out among their peers for embracing some West-coast surf riffs to lighten up the Danish gloom. The eponymous single closes the set, and stands out for its use of melody and noise.
To their complete credit, Traams don’t seem to care how many people were put off by the snow and wind, and inject some much-needed adrenalin. Songs like “Red” and “Low” showcase their rhythmic prowess, spinning riffs on their head and thrashing out intense duels between Stuart Hopkins’ guitar squeals and Leigh Padley’s melodic bass lines.
A real departure from post-punk etiquette can be found in the guitar solos in “Sleep”. They scream out of Hopkins’ abused guitar, testifying that this is no revival bullshit. This is mirrored by Padley’s own bass solo in “Loose”, a reminder that the bass as a lead instrument did not die with New Order. Driving these two contesting forces is Adam Stock’s tight drumming, moving seamlessly from drum rolls to 4 on the floor motorik beats.
The closer, “Flowers”, is Traams in a nutshell, driving forward without remorse. Padley later reveals that it is their oldest song from the set. The band are hopping around, shaming an audience either too polite or too wrapped up in the ennui of existence to display any kind of involvement. The Chichester trio are way ahead, so put on a coat and keep up.
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Like their big brothers, Iceage and Lower, Communions are squarely based among the Mayhem set, where waistbands are high, haircuts sharp, and screamed vocals drenched in reverb. The young quartet has gained attention by melding the typical hardcore/goth hybrid of the likes of Iceage with surf-rock melodies and one-note guitar riffs. Today, marks the release of their first EP, Cobblestones, naturally released by Posh Isolation. The title track features the band at their catchiest, and “Children” sees a battle between some jaded vocal drawls and a very involved drum kit thrust far back in the mix.
For those who didn’t manage to get their hands on a copy of Dokument #1, the 500 or so copies of Cobblestones provide a rare chance to access a band that has so far shunned any kind of online presence.
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Patrick Alexander Bech Madsen, the almost annoyingly-young Danish producer recording under the name Sekuoia, embodies electronica in its most internationalist form. Düsseldorf, Detroit and Denmark are distilled into concentrated, mid-tempo pieces that give plenty of space to a rich intertwining of analogue instruments, record hiss and broken vocal samples. The imperfections are what give depth to the laid-back vibe of a track like “Rituals”, from his split 12” with Rain Dog, released by Berlin’s Project: Mooncircle.
Though he played a set at Roskilde 2013, our first live encounter with Sekuoia is described in the review of Washed Out’s gig from last October, at which Sekuoia opened. Joined by a guitarist and drummer, the live act acquires a lower, more threatening tone, which made for the main topic of discussion after the gig had ended.
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Readers, I am an idiot. Every month or so a band pops up in Copenhagen and I think “Oh, I had no idea [whatever] were still around, it might be a laugh.” Nothing but insane optimism or a perverse desire to see the idols of my teenage years destroyed could explain this recurring lapse of judgement (not for nothing it has been observed that Greek tragedy operates in eternal cycles).
So here I am, Ithacan king returned from a warring decade, hoping to find comfort in the sounds of home, which in this case consist of the nasal musings of a Belgian midget. Like any tragic hero, I witness all the signs of impending doom, but choose to ignore them: Placebo have released a new album (bad sign, this means new material), Falconer salen is looking as edgy as a British Airways airport lounge, and all around me are 30-somethings who quite clearly have not being to a concert in fifteen years.
As we listen to London psychedelic openers, Toy, the augury of a fellow music journalist: “they have a new song about how much they hate social media.” I let this shocker skip lightly over my head the way Toy’s music is contemporaneously doing.
I am saying all this not simply because I am a bored and self-indulgent pseudo-journo, but to illustrate how much the odds were stacked against me enjoying a minute of a Placebo concert in 2013. But as is so often the case, the numbers are against me. Although Falconer is not exactly packed, three quarters of the room yell and woop with appreciation at the new material, and double this for the old hits. A glimmer of recognition hits me, when after 30 seconds I realise the band is playing “Every Me and Every You”. I expected to think back to that flatulent film version of Les Liaisons dangereuses, Cruel Intentions. Fortunately, this isn’t the case, but the reason for it is the utterly bland veneer that the band have pasted over everything. Brian Molko’s vocals are distinctive as every, but the guitars sound processed (as in, processed meat, pink slime, etc) to the point where all they can really contribute is a general white noise surrounding the bass and drums.
Consider also that in the first hour the band have said nothing between songs except for a token “Hello, we are Placebo.” Thanks, we’d noticed. The effect has evidently gripped most of the audience, but frankly I’d take the real thing over a placebo any day. I have faced the tragic climax, conscious that this will not serve as any kind of lesson for the future.
Forum is already half-full when Band of Skulls open with Southampton’s answer to blues rock. They are clearly from a generation whose influences are dominated by Queens of the Stone Age. A great band for a smoke-saturated dive bar, the trio hold their own on the huge stage, thanks to a focus on riffs that doesn’t degenerate into self-indulgent soloing. Perhaps not the most inventive take on the genre, but they can sure warm up a crowd.
Much as I would like to, I cannot, in good conscience, give Queens of the Stone Age five stars. Certainly this isn’t due to the material, or the band’s ability, both having being cemented long ago as titanic. Forum is sadly up to its old tricks, messing up the sound so that Josh Homme’s vocals are near inaudible, and midway through the second song, “My God is the Sun”, the sound cuts out altogether. For the first half hour the band looks tired, with barely a word uttered between songs apart from a half-arsed “’sup”. Eventually, Josh admits that the tour has ground them down, but after a few beers and a smoke, he perks up, and next thing you know the band is really there, egged on by the crowd.
Queens of the Stone Age take us all back to being teenagers. It’s not simply because many of the songs are part of the eternal soundtrack of those times, but because their energy and simplicity lets listeners of any age experience again the physiological explosion music causes in adolescence. This is true of mental “Little Sister” as it is of “Make it wit chu” (“this is a song about fucking”) or “If I had a Tail” (“the song we have most fun playing”). It’s been worth all the technical glitches, the moodiness and reticence to get to this point.
“I’m happy and drunk,” exclaims Josh Homme. An hour in, he has reached his comfort zone, and takes the time to introduce the members of the band. Jon Theodor, ex-Mars Volta drummer, gets a well-deserved roar from the crowd.
The encore sees Josh on piano for “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”, before concluding with some heavy, some might say indulgent, jams of some of their louder tracks. I take the time during these moments to observe the animations behind the band, a bloody tableau worthy of FX cartoon Metalocalypse. It’s impossible to think of Queens of the Stone Age without a sense of fun, and their humour is obvious. Thank the infernal deities that they are able to recover that sense even in their most trying moments.