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LIVE REVIEW: Factory Floor, Lille Vega, 14.10.2013

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Factory Floor Lille Vega

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.

LIVE REVIEW: Washed Out, Lille Vega, 09.10.2013

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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.

Sekuoia - Photo by Tom Spray

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.

Washed Out - Photo by Tom Spray (www.tom-spray.com)

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”.

Washed Out - Photo by Tom Spray (www.tom-spray.com)

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.

VIEW THE LIVE PHOTO GALLERY HERE

INTERVIEW: Editors

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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?

Editors (Photo by Tom Spray)

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.

Editors (Photo by Tom Spray)

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…

LIVE REVIEW: CSS, Rust, 27.09.2013

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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.

LIVE REVIEW: Editors, Store Vega, 26.09.2013

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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.

Editors (Photo by Tom Spray)

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.

Editors (Photo by Tom Spray)

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?

VIEW THE PHOTO GALLERY HERE

LIVE REVIEW: Matthew E. White, Store Vega, Copenhagen 10.09.2013

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It’s raining on a Monday evening in September. Alice Boman is singing soft clichés into a half-empty room. On an other occasion, I might say her songs have a naïve fragility, but as I have already mentioned, it’s Monday, and I’m wet from the rain.  The crowd needs warming.

Having listened to Big Inner, Matthew E. White’s debut album, early in the day, I’m expecting more low-key Americana, but from the opening riffs and wild steel guitar of “Big Love”, it is clear we are in for something quite different. Live, White and band are warm and intense. The rain is forgotten. By the second number, “Steady Pace”, the band have transformed the break after the second chorus into a drinking game, downing beers and performing coordinated dance routines. They are one of the most immediately likeable bands I’ve ever encountered.

Matthew E. White (Photo by Jen Tse)

The energy of the room amplifies the rhythmic elements of White’s songs, punctured by a precise, Afrobeat-style horn section. On paper, it should be very easy to describe the band’s sound, but in practice it feels ridiculous. You can throw names at it: Curtis Mayfield, Randy Newman, at times even Devendra Banhardt (a facile comparison, White is superior by far). The best analogy I can muster is the Band: instantly recognisable, but not tied down to a particular genre.

It turns out, however, that Randy Newman isn’t such a stupid comparison. White recounts a time when he tracked down Newman’s house in the Hollywood Hills, trying to hand him his record and contact details. He follows this story with a stripped-down cover of “Sail Away”. The song also showcases the half-whispered vocal style that is more familiar to listeners who have only heard White on headphones.

Matthew E. White (Photo by Jen Tse)

No matter how good White is on his own, it is obvious that he is most comfortable around his band. The classic R’n’B rhythm section is aided by steel guitar and a keyboardist who looks like Seth Rogen’s brother, adding a psychedelic edge to the evening. Joined by a local horn section, the band layer on top of each other, building up songs like “One of These Days” into explosive crescendos.

Having showcased two new songs, “Signature Move” and “Human Style”, White begins his encore with “Hot Toddies”, which provides the perfect metaphor for the evening: warming against the oncoming winter, sweet and inebriating. The whole of Vega is nodding along to the groove, Monday is redeemed.

VIEW THE LIVE PHOTO GALLERY HERE

ARTICLE: The many voices of Justin Vernon

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It comes as a shock to think that Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was released only six years ago. The album that launched Justin Vernon into a muddled collective unconscious was notably bare and intimate, wintry landscape, inspired by the solitary Wisconsin cabin in which it was conceived. It could have been a rugged example of American frontierism, but instead “Skinny Love” became stock music for TV teenage angst. A lesser man would have left it at that or cashed in quick.

Instead, buoyed by a series of apparently unlikely collaborations with Kanye West, Vernon released a Bon Iver album that utterly did away with the lo-fi insularity of its predecessor. Bon Iver, featured a much higher level of production, instrumentation and arrangements, and songs like “Hinnom, TX” seem to indicate that West ended up having some influence upon Vernon’s sound, however indirectly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilgdqrqWWB8

Listening to Bon Iver in chronological order, it becomes apparent that Vernon’s recent choice to tank the project is completely logical, with “Flume” and “Beth / Rest” as bookends. “Beth / Rest” always stuck out from the sophomore album as an oddly cheesy track, with Chariots of Fire-style synths and 80s saxophone. It is an experiment in tone that we have to respect, a divisive track that harkens back to Leonard Cohen’s 80s albums, the way the soul of a song permeates through the kitsch instrumentation.

Vernon is most often associated either with the “Skinny Love” sound or that of his Kanye collaborations, yet a quick look at his back catalogue is proof not only of the breadth of genres and sounds he has explored over his career, but also the number of people he has worked with. Not quite the solitary man in a cabin we once imagined.

Pre-Bon Iver, Justin was part of DeYarmond Edison, which, after his departure, became Megafaun. It’s always interesting hearing him harmonise with other people (as opposed to himself, as in “Woods”), and one of the best examples is in the Crosby, Stills and Nashe inspired tracks of DeYarmond Edison.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find him wearing Blues Brothers glasses, playing blues-rock and singing in a manner unlike anything we’ve heard him sing before with his other-other band The Shouting Matches. It is a timely reminder that there is definitely a light sight to Vernon, and that he has always operated on the margins of what can loosely be defined “Americana”, though the term does him a disservice.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBnpCR2Hm_E

Though there is likely to be no end to Vernon’s appearances on the most disparate albums imaginable, it is perhaps Volcano Choir that promises to be the successor to Bon Iver, since Volcano Choir’s new album also shows signs of a departure in sound, echoing those from Vernon’s previous band. Unmap had a certain wintry feel, but also featured higher production than the debut Bon Iver album, as well as relying much more heavily on cyclic guitar riffs and harmonized vocals. Some of the folk elements of the debut have been eliminated from the follow-up, Repave, and replaced with a more traditional rock instrumentation and touches of the anthemic.

It is tempting to draw up a timeline for Vernon’s career, tracing some kind of linear musical evolution. But what the selection presented here proves is that these different sounds, groups and voices have largely coexisted side by side. Whether he is playing on a Blind Boys of Alabama record or singing backing vocals for Kathleen Edwards or Megafaun, the evidence is that, Bon Iver or no Bon Iver, Justin Vernon will be around for quite some time.

LIVE REVIEW: Iceage, Jazzhouse, Copenhagen, 24.08.2013

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I returned home bruised. Earlier that evening, from outside the venue, I can hear Communions beginning their set. The ground floor of Jazzhouse is all curtains and jazz, smells of citrus and evaporated alcohol. Below, the Copenhagen band is thrashing around a mix of surf-rock riffs and jangle with a hardcore rhythm section. The singer’s voice is already dead, the band have Beach Boys haircuts, it works. The crowd is all there, swaying and nodding. There are still two hours to go before the headline act.

People rush outside at the end of the 45 minute set, spilling onto the street. Two cigarettes later, some trickle back in for Femminielli. Possibly the revelation of the evening, the Montreal one-man band strolls on stage like a latino Zach Galifianakis. Leather jacket, black shirt, sunglasses, massive beard. He thanks us like he’s receiving an Oscar, hits the keyboard and turns into sweaty sex-beast. Drawn out, repetitive beats, slowly evolving, writhe under Spanish-language monologues. I catch something about love and vampires, then he calls us “putos”, but this is a crowd that welcomes that kind of thing. After the second song, someone shouts: “Vamos a la playa!” Femminielli smiles, “you don’t want to be on the same beach as me.”

Another break. Shorter, more impatient. I find a place by the stage, determined to report from the front. I’m a journalist, damn it, I go where the story is! As the rest begin to amass around me, I get stuck next to a Bostonian politics student who tries to convince me there is more to Massachusetts than the Modern Lovers and Mission of Burma. I remain unconvinced. He asks me if people mosh here. I look around the room: pretty hipster girls, guys with cameras, 30-something web designers with close-cropped hair and awful glasses. I tell him it’s unlikely. I am wrong, very wrong.

Let me be clear: if anyone remembers the full Iceage setlist, they were standing in the wrong place. As the band enter the stage, white shirts, black pants, drunken Jehova’s witnesses, the mood tenses. Elias, the singer, looks like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries. They begin their set with songs from their sophomore album, You’re Nothing. On headphones, the album sounds more fleshed out than their urgent debut, New Brigade. But live, even a slow, thudding song like “Morals” is pushed to its limits, urging the crowd into a slow-motion mosh, incited by a speeded up chorus. The bass pops and chuggs, guitar cranked up to a tinny, black metal screech. Drums roll, elbows fly.

Between songs, I see the Boston kid getting up from the ground. He shows me his bloody hand, happy. During “Coalition”, the album highlight, I find myself elbowing Femminielli out of the way as Elias lunges at people with fist and microphone. He’s screaming: “Excess, excess”. All of a sudden I feel drained. They play “Ecstasy” – fast guitar, weird disco drum beats and Nick Cave-style vocals – , and then disappear. It seems stupid asking for a encore. Looking at the time as I leave the venue, I see that the whole Iceage set lasted less than an hour. Unsurprising, really, given that both their albums combined clock in at half an hour each. It has been both a long and a short evening. Iceage depart victorious, the audience leaves dazed.

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