I joke that the first band tonight are Canada’s finest Faust cover band. In fact, the four multi-instrumentalists of Absolutely Free, while remaining strictly faithful to their krautrock forebears, have the energy to break free of their influences and keep an audience fixed in the present. I say “an audience”, because this one is having none of it. More fool them.
Like fellow chillwavers (kill me now) Washed Out, Youth Lagoon have moved away from the cold, laidback synth shoegaze they are known for, into some kind of hippie folk/prog mess. Front man Trevor Powers has also followed Washed Out in employing Ben H. Allen as producer for Wondrous Bughouse, purportedly resulting in a more bottom-heavy record. But whereas Washed Out’s Earnest Greene has a charm and sense of fun that shines in a live setting, Trevor Powers has somehow managed to become even more snotty. His high, nasal voice makes me back off to the other side of the room, and no promises of “making this night special” are going to win me over.
The faux naïveté of “Dropla”, while a definite crowd-pleaser, proves that lullabies and nursery rhymes are much more complex than they might appear, and Powers isn’t going to get any closer to that complexity by singing like a neonate. I’ve turned into Will Self out of rage.
Several songs result in some extended jam sessions, which have quite the opposite effect of Absolutely Free’s long-form songs. When Youth Lagoon employ repetition, it feels like a lack of ideas. It might also have something to do with genre. Chillwave replied on one specific sound, rather than songwriting, and in moving away from that sound, Youth Lagoon appear as a very generic indie band. Absoultely Free, however, can rely on a genre whose conventions are both powerful and liberating. The motorik beat effectively divides the listener into two separate time zones of attention: the urgent present, and the long-scale form of the song as a developing pattern. That’s how the pleasure in repetition works. But as Youth Lagoon drone on, I would prefer my self to be divided into somewhere far from this.
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Amager Bio is close to full this evening, people travelling here from Gothenburg to witness Volcano Choir’s first gig in Denmark, and first tour in Europe. As expected at any event concerning Justin Vernon, the beards are out in force.
One of the most locally well-known beards belongs to Cody, opening tonight with a solo acoustic set. Without his six companions, his 20-minute set is squarely folk, with the easy charm of someone on home turf.
The seven-piece begin with “Tiderays”, the opener from their latest album, Repave, and already the dynamic of the band is established. Justin stands centre stage, behind a podium, a preacher largely mute in between songs. Stage banter is left to guitarist Chris Rosenau, who enthuses about Copenhagen and the audience at every opportunity. The rest of the band remains nondescript, beneath a textured backdrop that, under red lighting, appropriately mimics lava.
The band unveil two new songs, which sit at either end of the spectrum of styles and genres Volcano Choir swim in, with some post-hardcore basslines and a verse so reminiscent of Animal Collective’s “Also Frightened” that I find myself singing along to the Collective rather than the Choir. This isn’t, in and of itself, a criticism, but for every great rendition of “Acetate” or “Byegone”, there are moments when things do not completely coalesce, as if Volcano Choir are still struggling to move away from being a Vernon™ project.
“Still”, a deconstruction of “Woods” from the band’s first album, ironically is one of the strongest demonstrations of what they are capable of as a unit. The layering of vocal samples cleverly anticipates the phrasings by a beat or two, as if to show how precise Bon Iver’s sound really is, precisely tied to specific frasings and chords. The song is also an example of Justin’s role within the live setup: not simply “lead singer”, but a musician working with the modulations of his own voice.
Whatever stylistic reservations I have, and however allergic to earnestness I may be, the intensity is undeniable, and the pulsating “Almanac” shows a band that can pretty much do and play whatever they like.
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Four months ago, The National sold out Loppen. Capacity: 400. This evening, they sold out Forum, reputedly their biggest venue to date. According to the website, Forum can hold 8500 people. Though this is obviously a considerable milestone for the band, something is lost in a venue this size. Despite the name, the National, even in their most grandiose moments, have always channelled their power with intense intimacy.
Openers This Is the Kit are the first victims to the room. The volume is too low, and the band has to fight against the chatter from the back with nothing more than banjo, bass and guitar. This doesn’t seem to faze lead singer Kate Stables at all, as her voice slowly starts to fill the place with impressive power and delicacy. “Earthquake” in particular has a great groove that thumbs its nose at the stupidly big venue.
The introduction to the National is a giant projection, a live-stream of the band hanging out in the dressing room, before casually strolling towards the stage. I’m not sure if this is cleverly self-deprecating or insulting the audience, who impatiently look on as lead singer Matt Berninger checks his phone.
This is a gig of two distinct parts. The first half left me cold, partly because I am not a fan of their latest album, Trouble Will Find Me, but certainly also due to the weirdness, which the band openly acknowledge, of playing in Forum. Opener “I Should Live in Salt” has people singing along, but it feels diluted, like another band trying to write a National song. But the evening picks up rapidly as they move on to material from Boxer and High Violet, and as Berninger downs more and more wine. Everything centres on him, and it becomes apparent that he has decided on a way to counteract the lack of intimacy, and it involves broken screaming and liberal misuse of liquids.
I’ve been waiting most of the evening to hear “England”. It is probably the most suited to the surroundings, a heavy burden of a song, which takes flight thanks to a small brass section. A string quartet lurks in the back, inaudible, for which I am thankful. Towards the end Berninger, still singing, takes a walk among the crowd, followed by a cameraman and some guy from security awkwardly trying to drag the seemingly endless mic cable. You have to hand it to Matt, for all his moody walking to and fro on stage, he understands how to overcome any barriers with his audience.
As the band closes with an acoustic rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” (“This is probably the largest venue we’ve ever tried this at”), the strangeness of the concert is at its most apparent, but so is its ultimate success. The National are a good band. One slightly boring album and one huge venue won’t change that.
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Let me premise this by saying that I began the evening by walking headfirst into a glass wall. That made me unhappy bunny in a crowd of smiling rodents. Nursing a red forehead, I look around and notice that half the audience seems to be made up of men with glasses and beards. Is this what the bearded listen to, Chvrches?
As the opening act begin to play I realise that Thumpers, sadly, are probably not one of the all time top ten bands named after Disney characters. The duo are joined by two keyboardist and a very enthusiastic backing vocalist and trumpeter, but I can’t help thinking that when they first formed, the drummer must have just said “I’m going to play the drum bits from Adam and the Ants songs, and you do whatever you like over it.”
As Chvrches’ lead singer Lauren Mayberry points out, this is the first headlining gig the band have played in Copenhagen since the release of their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe. Their warm reception here is unsurprising, given icy grip that synthpop has held over Scandinavia since Erik the Red first declared war on Mick Hucknall. The show is sold-out, and I can barely make out a giant LCD triangle on stage, and the bobbing head of some guy who has, for reasons unknown, decided this is the right place and decade to pogo.
It is uncanny when a live band manage to sound exactly like their records, and though this should be a compliment to Mayberry’s distinctively shrill vocals, I can’t help wondering what’s the point of aiming for that kind of perfection. But this is what Chvrches fans want to hear, and as Mayberry advises us to keep hydrated in the tropical climate of Lille Vega, I’m slightly ashamed at my cynicism and wonder if, on a day when I don’t career into transparent walls, I too could enjoy listening to a hyper-faithful rendition of “Gun” or “The Mother We Share”. Well no, let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen.
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I caught up with Dom, Gabe and Nik of Factory Floor just before their very first gig in Copenhagen, drinking whiskey and ginger with Will Doyle (East India Youth), their support act for the tour. All four of them are welcoming and chatty long before the interview begins, Will recommending his favourite music journalists, Gabe pouring drinks, and Nik attempting to unplug the fridge to reduce the noise.
The interview is longer than usual, but it has remained unedited, since it captures the thought and passion the trio put into their music, both live and recorded. Behind their easy-going nature there is an energy constantly bubbling up to the surface as we discuss artistic development, North London, and collaborations with their favourite visual artists and musicians.
Here Today: You have been around in various guises since 2005, with singles, EPs, and so on, but what finally convinced you to make an album?
Nik: The three of us have been together since 2009… Well I can’t really speak for you two, because I joined you.
Gabriel: But I think that Factory Floor, before that, was just pissing about.
Dominic: It was a different band.
G: Yeah it was, just under the same name. I know all that history comes into it, but it only really started when us three got into a room together.
D: There was a lot of development, a lot of gigs…
G: We didn’t want to go, “Ah, there’s a bit of interest in us, so lets just do an album and disappear.” I think we wanted to make those steps really carefully.
D: We had releases in between, they just weren’t albums: EPs, singles, collaborations, they were all informing what the album was going to be like.
G: It was a big learning curve, the album, recording it, writing it as we went along, it did take a long time. But you have to go through those processes. You can’t get to a point where you’re totally happy with something until you go through that real process of development and learning. It’s very lengthy.
HT: Is that process more about refining composition, or is technical as well?
D: I think composition is a big thing. The way we work together is a hands-on, quite creative, artistic approach. We wouldn’t sit down and write music, it’s more about recognising something when it’s working, instinctively, between the three of us. When you are playing live, it’s great because you are expressing yourself in a certain way and it happens in real time. But when you have to capture it in a recording studio…
N: We built our own studio. We aren’t producers or engineers, so we had to learn how to record ourselves, because we wanted to recapture what we did live, but we also wanted to produce a record that was different from our live performance, that was more stripped down, clearer, more focused.
HT: You’ve collaborated with all kinds of people, musicians and artists, but it sounds like your recording process is much more insular.
D: When you’re working with other people, they inform your own practice, and what we got from that really came back in when we came together as the three of us again. So it’s not like we separate them, but we made a conscious decision on this album that, because it was our first document, our first LP, it was important that it should just be us.
N: We had engineers coming in, we worked with Stephen Morris as a producer, which was great, but we end up rerecording parts and manipulating them to the extent that it felt easier if we just did it ourselves and had a more hands-on approach. You experience all these creative accidents; it’s just a more creative way or recognising what we’re doing. I think fifty percent of what we do is to get these tools and work it out, as opposed to making tracks with lyrics about falling out with a friend. It’s about sound. We were working in this place in North London, where we were using the building to make our sound as well, and dismissing that idea of being in a studio, which is quite daunting. We knew we needed a place where we have all our stuff set up, and we can just walk away from it and come back the next day with it still set up.
D: You feel more relaxed in your own space. If you’re in someone’s studio you’re worried about scratching stuff or knocking a microphone over.
G: It’s a love and hate relationship, I’d miss it if it weren’t there.
D: It might well not be there, they’ve knocked the whole street down.
G: The street’s being developed, it’s all getting knocked down. It’s not far from Stoke Newington and Shoreditch, all that area, and it’s the last bit of London that’s going to be gentrified. It’s going and we can feel it on our doorstep.
D: We’ve got a Costa on the corner…
G: I don’t think there are going to be any places like that… It did influence us, but it was a massive distraction as well, but I think it needed to be there. And there’s a good drum sound if you mic it up in the toilet.
HT: So do you think that the area informed the album in some way?
G: It’s an isolated area of North London…
D: It was quite a strange time, though, because there were the riots while we were recording. There were massive things happening around, which I’m sure had some kind of unconscious influence. We were sandwiched between two Nigerian churches that would go on until the early morning. It’s an agitated area of London, there are so many things colliding. Not in a bad way, in a really creative way.
N: It felt really raw and real. And then you’ve got high volume Factory Floor music coming through the warehouse. It was an intense couple of years.
D: It’s quite weird that when we finished the album, that’s when the change started to happen. We were quite lucky really. I think we would have spent all our time in Costa…
G: I think the day the album came out in the UK, they started drilling next door to knock the building down. It’s been like that for two months, it’s bizarre and horrible.
HT: You were talking about your drum sound earlier. This album comes out on DFA records, who are known for quite a distinctive sound in terms of their drum and synths. How do you see yourself in relation to the other artists on their roster?
D: We were going to build a massive cowbell and wheel it on stage in a Tesco trolley, but someone had done that before…
G: I think we all love the New York, pre-dance stuff. It was more about organic instruments producing dance music, as opposed to digital plugins or whatever, which we aren’t against at all, but it changes the humanistic element of it.
D: DFA felt like a gateway to New York, in a weird way.
G: It’s a weird escapism. I’m in New York, but I’m in Seven Sisters, but I’m not…
N: It’s the same as moving to North London, which is away from all the scenes happening in London, because it’s the uncool part of the city. It’s nice to have that distance, so we can do our own thing.
HT: I think the use of live drums might be the thing that connects you most to that DFA sound.
D: The live drums and guitar really shift what we do from being – I know sound like I’m putting myself down – mediocre. You hear so many programmed dance outfits, but because we’re doing it live, we’re feeding off each other, it’s a very instinctive live set. It falls into improvisation at points, then it comes back.
G: You can’t really do that with a laptop. We like going against the pre-programmed stuff.
D: We push to get off that grid.
HT: Do you think of yourselves as mainly a live band?
In unison: Yes!
G: You’ve got to have that physicality. Instead of pressing one button to get that sound, press five buttons to eventually get to that sound. It’s good to think about it to get that humanistic DIY. That feeds through to the sound you’re creating. You’ve got to be hands-on with it to get to that point.
N: And if you hit the wrong one, hit it twice, so it looks on purpose.
G: Or do it for half and hour. But we all play, and I think that’s really apparent in the shows, that you can see points where it isn’t working. That doesn’t matter to us, we’re not precious about the shows being the same. There are points where it drifts into the unknown, where it starts to fall apart. It’s the trying to get it back from that where new things happen, new ideas and discoveries.
HT: This is a bit left-field, but I was interested to hear that the album was recorded on the same mix desk that the Eurythmics used. Is that coincidence?
D: We spotted it on ebay, I don’t know if we looked through the list [of previous owners] before we bought it.
G: It’s just a big volume control. It’s got some nice EQs on it, and the powerplug on it is quite nice as well, but that’s about it.
D: When did we discover that?
G: Jaki Liebezeit of Can, they were involved. But it was made in 1982, and I was born in 1982, so we were born the same day.
HT: But you have worked with a lot of your heroes and influences (Stephen Morris, Throbbing Gristle).
G: I think the mutual thing between these people and us is that they have the same approach to music. They go into a room with no preconceptions of what they are doing, and they just go with it. It’s an amazing thing. That’s why we do different live shows all the time, because we would get bored. They are from the same angle.
D: If you think a lot of the music industry is based on youth, it’s nice to meet people who are still as sharp as they have ever been; they are still inquisitive about their art.
N: They’re still transgressive …
G: Yeah, they’re not just one genre, not packaged into one thing.
D: It’s inspiring for us, to realise that hopefully in twenty years time we’ll still have that.
G: Still be in the warehouse…
HT: It’s interesting that, with your deep affection and relationship with certain periods in music history, the album sounds completely current.
G: But I just started ripping people off.
N: [To Gabe] That’s not true!
D: Some music when you’re growing up really impacts on you. I know that when I first heard “Atmosphere” it had a massive impact on my taste, whether it was the Velvet Underground or people like that. I think there is a point when you are starting when you need those seeds, but then you make your own language.
G: You’ve got to learn and progress into your own thing.
D: There was a lot of interest in the post punk era at that point. But we made complete strides away from that, didn’t we?
G: Everything happens for a reason; members are there or not there for a reason. If it’s meant to happen, it will. People come in and out of it, until you get the chemistry.
HT: You’ve worked with many visual artists, at the ICA, the Tate Modern. How did that come about?
D: We’re all from art backgrounds, we’ve all studied art up to a certain level. I think of Factory Floor as my artistic career. It’s my output at the moment.
N: It’s really important to mix art and music in the same box, it’s the same creativity. The ICA asked us to do a one-year residency after a show. The history of the ICA has always been about merging art and music, so it seemed inevitable that it would be a really good fit. We were allowed to use the space and make our show specific in terms of rearranging the space, using quadraphonic sound and different visuals. There’s one show where I’m out of it –Simon Fisher Turner’s taken my place –doing the visual for that, and Peter Gordon brought along Kit Fitzgerald, his life-long partner, who’s always looked at visuals and music in relation to each other. And Hannah Sawtell, we worked within her exhibition.
D: It’s only the industry that brings in the separation. You buy a record for fifteen quid, but you buy a piece of art for two million. That’s what separates it, the artists themselves don’t see any kind of division. Look at the Chapman brothers, they are making records, and they’re really good.
HT: And do the visuals influence the way you play?
G: For me, when we’re playing live, because I’m on the side I can see it, but it’s quite different for you [Dom], because you’re facing the audience. So they make you play, they create a mask in a way. You play along with them, when the audience is going mad, or when they’re not, it affects the show.
N: We’re driven by instinct, and it’s just another instinct. If the screen goes to green, I’ll hit my guitar, it’s really simple.
D: When you have patterns revolving, it doesn’t take long for whatever part of your consciousness to join them. Those connections are quite rewarding as an audience or an artist playing. You start to make these connections, which feels good and helps this escapism.
HT: You’ve used this word, escapism, quite a few times. But you’ve also spoken about how your environment has influenced you. So what does escapism mean for you?
N: The live element is enabling the audience to detach themselves from their every day lives. Because we have this repetition, and the lyrics are really simplified, there isn’t any narrative content there, it leaves space for the person listening to make up their own mind and respond in their own instinctive way.
D: It’s not very often you get a lot of people in a space who are able to escape from their reality and share that experience. If you go to an art gallery, you’re by yourself. You look at a picture and have your escapism. But there’s something about a performance that’s different. You’re with a group of people and you’re all sharing this dialogue between the artists and the audience.
N: That’s why it was really important for us to set up base, living in a space and being in our own bubble. It’s having that gang mentality, thinking about the same things and having the same vision. You want put that out to the people you play in front of, so they are all experiencing this sound and feeling it, losing themselves.
HT: Have you had any surprising reactions to your performances?
D: At the Tate Modern…
N: People taking off their clothes!
D: We set it up as a three-hour rehearsal, where people could come in, like an open studio. It was such an incredible reaction, because it was such a long period of time to play, it unravelled differently. People reacted quite profoundly, I think.
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Copenhagen, I love you, but you’re bringing me down.
In the best of all possible worlds, I wouldn’t have to write this review. The city would have crammed into the smaller of the Vega siblings, and I could simply write the words “Factory Floor” and “East India Youth” for people to knowingly nod their heads and synchronise their inner bpm.
As it is, only the select few, the knowing or the fortunate, stick to the walls as Will Doyle, or East India Youth, poured waves of synth into the room. It feels like a scene from a film or tv, like Durutti Column playing in 24 Hour Party People, or even Julee Cruise stuck in that red bar in Twin Peaks. His set is constantly shimmering from one song to the next, full of brilliant melancholy and brash crescendos. Dom and Gabe from Factory Floor are listening in the middle of the room. “Pretty good, eh?”
Statistically, few of you readers will have seen him, so go buy Hostel, his latest EP, which as well as being a great record, also distinguishes itself for having been released by a strange new animal known as The Quietus Phonographic Corporation.
The yellow and blue glitch projections, as well programmes scattered around the place, are evidence of another in a long line of Factory Floor’s collaborations with visual artists. Tonight Dan Tombs is providing the sights, as part of CPH:DOX, the International Documentary Film Festival. In the middle of the oscillating images, the band begin the same way their record does, with “Turn It Up”, which in this case is a direct order to the sound man.
I often misuse the word hypnotic, applying more or less to anything vaguely repetitive or psychedelic, but Factory Floor definitely induce some sort of altered state. The volume is fantastic, and Dom’s short loops gain urgency as they slowly modulate, blending into Gabe’s drumming, which manages to add an afro-beat flavour to the post-punk and disco beats. Singer and guitarist Nik lays on heavily effected vocals, unintelligible words, and harsh guitar stabs. It sounds rather ridiculous when described, but the discord of a guitar hit with a drum stick is given some sort of structure by the bassline, so that I start to imagine chords where chords are impossible.
Though I’m able to recognise the main synth line or sample from most of the album tracks, we are hearing something entirely different. It’s not that song structures are substantially altered, or that the band is improvising on the themes, but rather that each song consists of certain elements that, when played live, are allowed the space to enter and exit as instinct dictates. This is a band that has spent years crafting these sounds, and is able to fit them together each night in a way that is always different, but always the same, to paraphrase John Peel. When I interviewed them, they talked about wanting to keep the human element in electronic music, and it is that mix of perfectionism and human error that creates a concert like no other.
So get on the next boat to Oslo and catch up with them, or pick up the album, but for god’s sake, do something.
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I am always surprised at the way people seem to suddenly materialise at Danish concerts when I have my back turned. Are they all given a secret timetable? Five minutes after wondering where the hell everyone was, and as Sekuoia begin the evening in a moody fog, I turn round and see the room is already half full.
These were evidently those in the know, as Sekuoia is reveal to be a careful and compelling layering of drones, beats and samples. A minimalist project from producer Patrick Alexander Bech Madsen, Sekuoia snatches vocals samples, one-note guitar riffs, even the odd Dr Dre inspired keyboard line. It’s music to sway to, all high-end glitches and deep keyboards, but I keep expecting or wanting something to punch me from the mid-section. Someone suggests a grime artist. I’ve heard worse ideas.
The crowd thickens out, and I noticed one of the greatest concentrations of pretty girls at any concert I’ve been to. I’d imagined it more as a snotty indie boy affair. Well, who knew that Washed Out were a fun band? No matter how much hate was heaped onto the term “chillwave”, I’ve always had a soft spot for them and Small Black, but I thought of it as essentially 2011’s version of shoegaze. And no one has ever accused shoegaze of being fun. But behind the hazy vocals there is a frontman full of charm and enthusiasm.
Best known for the heavy synth layerings of Within and Without, it looks odd to see Ernest Green playing an acoustic guitar. Consider that the guitar is also decorated with a red flower on the head, and he is grinning like it’s his birthday, I can’t help but think of Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. Certainly, Washed Out’s newest album, Paracosm, dabbles heavily in psychedelia, and it is sometimes odd to hear new songs mixed with the old. The five-piece band are making all the right moves, and even the strange juxtapositions of songs are ironed over by a sense of general goodwill. There is even a cover, eerily precise, of Small Black’s “Despicable Dogs”.
The best thing about live music, and probably the only reason for going to see a gig in general, is to hear the recorded music transformed. If there was a noticeable difference between Washed Out’s previous albums and Paracosm, it is made completely obvious live. A song like “Don’t Give Up” might have sounded not too dissimilar to “Feel It All Around”, but to get any idea of their live direction, you have to go to “It All Feels Right”. The dreamy vocals are still there, but where the synths would be dominating, we find guitars. If there was something slightly icy about chillwave, it has been warmed up.
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I sat down with Ed and Russell, respectively drummer and bassist in Editors, on the first night of their new tour. When I wasn’t trying to explain the plot of This is Spinal Tap to them, we chatted about their latest album, The Weight of Your Love, as well as lineup changes and football anthems.
Hi guys, so how are you keeping sane on tour?
Ed: It’s just about getting rolling when you’re on tour, so you know the routine: you know exactly what time soundcheck is, interviews, dinner. You have to have some order in your life, you know.
Russell: Each city is varies, but we try to head to a park each morning for a run, try and keep healthy. I went to one left and left from here, by the Carlsberg brewery.
You seem to know Copenhagen pretty well, but then it is your second time here this year.
R: Yeah, we were here really recently, at the Tivoli, which we just walked past. They had it all decked out for Halloween, which should be nice.
How was Tivoli?
E: It was a bit strange, because it’s open both to those who have bought tickets and people who have the family tickets, so you get old grandparents with their children, poking their nose round to see what’s going on. But we had a great reaction, it was a really thought out thing to do, thoroughly enjoyable, like a fete.
I think we did our job really well, people stuck around for the end of it, that’s all you can ask for, isn’t it?
I heard Tom [singer] talking about the difference between the UK and Europe, do you think there’s a difference in mentality?
E: Definitely, there seems to be more an attitude of “oh, we like that band, lets see what they do next”, rather than “ok, so what’s new?” [In the uk] there seems to be such a hunger for what’s big. We were on the right end of it when we first came out, as one of the bands they were really pushing, and we built a career kind of on the back of that initial promotion. So we can’t hate it too much, though it’s quite distressing.
So how do you keep momentum?
E: We recorded the second album very quickly pretty much as soon as we got off tour we went into the studio. If you’re on a hot streak you have to keep on it. Then we slowed down a bit.
The original four of you were music technology students, did that influence your approach to music?
R: Not really, we all met because we wanted to do music, but the course wasn’t very good. It wasn’t what I thought it would be and it didn’t teach you much, glossed over a variety of things in the music and business world. It doesn’t teach you how to mix a record, or how to fix frequencies between a kick drum and a snare together.
E: [Playing live] you just develop, and you don’t notice it. I’ve noticed changes in Tom over the years, he’s coming out as a front man far more than he ever used to. He’s more of the focal point, when in the past he used to hide behind with the band a bit more.
Has the new lineup changed your position in the band?
E: I would say that ever since the band changed we all felt we have more of a voice in how things are run and how songs are put together. It’s the most collaborative record we’ve ever made, I think me and Russell’s involvement is a lot greater than it had been on previous albums.
It’s quite a bass-lead album, isn’t it?
R: The mix on it is quite different from previous albums, which were a bit more chocked. I think this one lets the speakers do the work, there’s a lot more space in it. Obviously some fans might like that, might want it always noisy, but we get tired of that and move on.
R: Playing in a five-piece band, you have to know your place a lot more. You have to know where everything is going to sit and make sure they suit the songs.
We didn’t really have a direction when Chris was with us, we had a few songs that were around at the time, but none of us were really into it. Chris was well bored with the band and we were well bored with him.
E: We weren’t very good at talking about [song ideas] until about a year and half ago. We got into a situation where everyone knew things weren’t working, but no one wanted to talk about it. So to be able to speak freely in the band is refreshing. It’s probably something we did when we were just starting out, but as time goes on you get stuck in certain situations.
People like to compare you to certain bands from the 80s, are there influences of yours that might seem unexpected?
R: I don’t think we’ve referenced a band in a while, directly. We’ve all got big musical tastes and knowledge. We know about a lot of popular music. People think you’re limited because we like 80s bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy division, but we have very broad taste. This record is quite different. It’s a bit out of time, I think all our records have been out of time. You listen to someone like Chvrches now, and I don’t really like her. I don’t like the production, the sound, so it’s not a route we would go down.
You’ve spoken about feeling quite liberated, but there’s a pattern in the song titles: “The Weight of Your Love”, “The Weight of the World”, “A Ton of Love”. So where does this heaviness come from?
E: We’ve always written songs about the dark side of life. And Tom has been far more ambiguous on previous album. Here he’s let his storytelling side out a bit more, talks about specific events. But even the good stuff is wrapped up in some sort of counter, some sadness or depth which you wouldn’t get in a happy song. It’s the way we like to write songs, it keeps us interested.
Do you have any lighthearted songs hidden away somewhere?
E: Yeah, “Back of the Net”, our football theme we made in rehearsals, about the time of the Euros last year. It might come out for the next World Cup.
You should, it could be the next “World in Motion” [New Order’s World Cup theme].
E: It wasn’t as cool as the New Order one…
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Against unbelievable odds (an awful PA, miniscule room and a career largely built on one song), CSS managed to prevail. The Brazilian quintet played a short, 50 minute set, bringing a large quantity of punk brashness and wild enthusiasm to their particular brand of electro-rock. Singer Lovefoxxx made up for the shitty PA, which would have disgraced a 5-year-old’s birthday party, by inciting the crowd, sharing oddball linguistic insights (the main one being that “tak” is too short a word to express gratitude), and generally being very loveable. Chatting to her after the gig, next to the drawing of a slow loris riding a Christiania bike, I realized I’d spent the set trying to like the music as much as I liked the people making it. In a way CSS seem to run solely on an enthusiasm. No one can deny that even such a short set was full of some very unremarkable and very similar songs, but it’s hard to care about that. They appear amateur in a refreshing way, happy to be doing what they are doing.
I’ll be honest: I went to hear one song, and one song only. And when CSS played “Lets Make Love and Listen to Death from Above”, I was ready to forgive any inconvenience. Like Editors the night previous, they do rely heavily on certain musical styles and tropes, but CSS do so without cynicism. They are brash and, when considered soberly, almost irrelevant musically. But they are a party band, no one has to consider them soberly.
The few early birds at Store Vega are greeted with five Belgians singing in eerie harmony over a sparse rhythm section. Balthazar are a puzzling band. A naysayer would call them derivative, unoriginal, erratic. They seem to pinch from everyone and everywhere: the odd poppy bassline, occasional spaghetti western guitars, Bob Dylan-drenched lead vocals, chimes, a violin, big group choruses, tremolo picked guitars. On paper it sounds like awful cliché. But no matter how highly you choose to prize originality, Balthazar have an undeniable if elusive idiosyncrasy, and more importantly, a fantastic live sound. Songs that on record seem rather unremarkable, like “Sinking Ship”, completely transform on stage, in this case into a thundering, Bruce Springsteen chorus. Another name, another influence, I know, but certainly not a criticism. They are constantly surprising, veering in unexpected directions, always simple, but never facile or boring. Even with five people on stage, and countless musical influences, they are able to leave enough space in their sound for every instrument to be distinct and vital. They are, in this sense, quite the opposite of Editors, who will spend the next hour and a half filling up every space they possibly can.
Not that the audience is exactly filling the place. The balcony section has been closed off due to low ticket sales, and the back of the room is less than packed. Perhaps the casual concert-goers were already satisfied with Editors’ performance only a few months ago in Tivoli. What the crowd lacks in numbers it makes up for in enthusiasm, as the cute-couple contingent at the front and the back-rows of post-punk veterans/old farts hail the headline act’s opener, “Sugar”. The ice machines and backlighting give the place a churchy feel, and I feel an infidel among the faithful. People around me are beaming, singing along, awkwardly trying to dance, fist-pumping, or being arseholes with their camera phones. Admittedly the band have a swagger I would never have expected from them, with Tom, the singer, making witchy hand gestures and bassist Russ constantly climbing onto the drum podium. And they do manage to make each song sound exactly like the album recordings. There is just something I’m just not getting.
It’s strange. After all, I was the perfect age when The Back Room first brought Editors to international fame. I used to mouth the words. These songs should make me nostalgic. This is the first gig of their new tour, and after having toured The Weight of Your Love extensively, this is a chance for the band to dip into their four albums at will. Indeed I get a twitch at the beginning of “Munich”, a slight tingle at “Bullets”, and I have the impression, probably wholly incorrect, that the rest of the audience reacts most strongly to the songs from the debut album. But I am constantly held back, no stage theatrics or sing-alongs carry me into the same state as the people around me.
Halfway through the concert I move back to the old farts’ section, losing in sound quality, but making up for it with the sight of overweight, 60-year old men in New Model Army t-shirts making strange arm gestures at the blatant Echo and the Bunnymen ripoff opening riff to “A Ton of Love”. My god, they must have been my age when Ocean Rain was first released.
Why is it that I can defend Balthazar while being completely baffled by people’s love of Editors? It has nothing to do with considerations of originality, or even stealing sounds, but rather that the sounds Editors chose turned out to the ones I find least interesting about those post-punk bands we enjoy. There is no surprise, no subversion. Editors are a band guided by emotion, but evidently not one I happen to share. But it was exactly what a couple of hundred people in Vega wanted, so who can fault them that?