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Helen Thomas has 24 articles published.

LIVE REVIEW: MS MR, Rust, Copenhagen, 28.08.2013

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RUST is not a big venue. The concert tonight is sold out, and so the audience, many of whom are female, is crammed close. The crowd is very hip, but then again, so is the band. The Brooklyn pop duo have remixed MØ and have been remixed by CHVRCHES, were fallen for by the blogosphere, oh, and she has colourful hair. So far, so somewhat predictable.

However, as the concert begins, and singer Lizzie Plapinger releases the low, sultry tones of “Bones” upon the audience, I start to think there might be more to this band than comes across on their debut album, ‘Secondhand Rapture’.

Mid-way through the concert, Max Hershenow, Plapinger’s partner, producer and keyboard player, explains, “Lizzie and I started MS MR three years ago now, in my bedroom, or cupboard turned studio. I didn’t know I could produce and Lizzie didn’t know she could sing, so when we first started we thought it would be easier to do a cover.” The duo then performed Patrick Wolf’s “Time of My Life”, as they had done three years ago. Those comments come as a surprise upon hearing Plapinger’s voice, which has been on top form all night. It’s great on record, but a bit too girlie. Live, it’s more raw and real, underneath echoey vocal effects. They follow the Wolf cover with “Fantasy”, aptly chosen to co-ordinate with Plapinger declaring the Danes have “lived up to your stereotype” of being “so sexy!”

The most striking observation to make about the concert is how incredibly likeable the band are. Plapinger’s focused, but there’s an innocence and excitement that radiates from her onstage. By “Salty”, the third track of the night, she’s warmed up and confident, and has shaken off some of the awkward if charming nerves. Between songs, and sometimes during them, she cannot help but beam in disbelief. There are few seamless transitions; before “BTSK” for instance, Plapinger says “It’s really hot, I hope you’re well lubricated,” before screwing her face, giggling and adding “take that as you will.” But even the awkward stage banter and audience interaction is engaging. There’s something of the good girl trying to be rebellious as she climbs onto the drum set for “Head Is Not My Home” towards the end of the set. Of course, she’s been supported by Hershenow’s killer keyboard skills, which he’s on occasion employed to fill and complement the clunky gaps between songs. “We’ll all wait whilst you drink some water, Lizzie,” Max teases. It’s obvious that the chemistry between the two is at the heart of this band, from the dizzy sidelong looks to the samba dancing intervals.

Unsurprisingly, the final song is “Hurricane”. Plapinger’s voice is getting tired, she’s missing notes, and the focus is waning, but the enthusiasm and energy is infectious. As the curtain is drawn and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” fills RUST’s speakers, the audience continues to dance. The concert was not flawless, but it was the imperfections that made it great.


INTERVIEW: Julia Holter

in Blog/Uncategorized by

Here Today: You recently released your third album, ‘Loud City Song’. Where did this record begin?

Julia Holter: There was a song that I was going to put on ‘Ekstasis’ that didn’t really work, and I decided that it needed to have a whole new record behind it, and that was what ‘Loud City Song’ became. That song is now called “Maxim’s II” and I made this new record for it.


HT: So is “Maxim’s II” the centrepiece of the album?

JH: Not necessarily, but if people are looking for some sort of centrepiece conceptually, which I don’t think you have to, then I guess it could be, but I wanted to make a record that didn’t have to be about the concept, and could just be a record to listen to and experience, and make your own judgements about.


HT: Was it difficult to go from writing in your room by yourself to having an ensemble of musicians around you?

JH: No, it was really great. It was way better than doing it alone because I was able to get help doing the things that I don’t know how to do very well, like recording drums for instance. People who have years of experience doing that do it so well. It makes a huge different having players play the parts, instead of just me playing everything on keyboard.

Julia Holter live

HT: When I listened to the record I got a sense that it was about feelings of intimidation in the city. Was that intentional?

JH: Yes, it’s kind of like the individual feeling bombarded by society.

HT: Is the city an intimidating place to be then?

JH: For me it’s not, I love the city, but it was more abstract. The city was a way to physically place society.

HT: Like a metaphor?

JH: Yeah exactly. The record’s more a story than a political commentary. It’s sort of like a coming of age story. There are elements of contemporary celebrity culture, like on “Maxim’s II”. I think that’s a kind of a tangent, but I do think that’s a way to look at it. So it’s not specifically anything about society, it’s not like I made a record about the problems of society, it’s more just a coming of age story about an individual in society making different decisions, like running away from society or staying in it. You can interpret it any way you want. In Gigi’s case, she’s expected to become a courtesan by her family, and she doesn’t want to do that. It could be anything; in the record there are different hints about what it could be, like being chased by paparazzi, or you could be a celebrity that’s always being spied on.


HT: There are lots of different emotions, atmospheres and sounds on the record. Why did you choose to put them all on one album?

JH: I don’t think I thought much about it. I basically had a story, and I let myself go free with whatever music fit each song. I wasn’t thinking, “well this song is going to be jazzy, and this one will be a soaring, dream experience song.” I have an idea of what’s going on in the song, and the music emerges out of that. It was all in my demos. Everything you hear atmosphere-wise was present in my demos when I made them at home, in a much cruder form than they are now. So it just sort of comes out of you and you don’t have a way of explaining it. I get people asking me “why is it jazzy?” and I have no explanation. It was like that in the demos; it’s not as if I got jazz players and it suddenly became jazzy, it just was. It wasn’t a conscious decision or style.


HT: So the story is what really guides you when you’re writing the music?

JH: Yeah, a lot of times it is, whether it’s for the album, or even on ‘Ekstasis’, which doesn’t have a concept, it’s just a collection of different songs, united by certain general things, each song has something of a story or a situation between characters. I build off that and don’t think about the musical genres.

HT: Do you think you get a better song if it’s naturally crafted?

JH: I think it’s the only way I can write. I don’t think about, “is this the right way?” it’s just the only way for me. I mean, there are always exceptions. I can probably think of a some times when I listened to a piece of music and then wanted to work off some musical ideas. “Maxim’s I” for instance was more complicated. When I wrote it I already had “Maxim’s II” which was then just “Maxim’s”, and then one day I was playing the keyboard and I really liked some chords that I was playing. It just came to me that he lyrics for “Maxim’s” could work for those chords as well. So sometimes it does just start with the music and the music creates the story itself.


HT: And do you have a favourite song in particular from the album?

JH: I don’t have one favourite, it changes. Recently it’s been “Maxim’s I”. It’s a really tricky one, and it took a long time to make, to mix and produce because the interaction between the acoustic instruments and the electronic was really tricky to master. Not literally, but figuratively, to get them balanced.


HT: Do you always write your music in the same frame of mind?

JH: Generally I just have to be really clear headed. If I’m being very creative I like the mornings, but if I want to get some technical stuff done the nighttime is good because I get kind of obsessive. But I do write in front of the computer sometimes, and I get distracted. I shift back and forth and walk around outside. It’s not like I’m sitting there for hours and hours.  But I can’t be drunk when I write, whereas I like having one drink when I perform.

Julia Holter live

HT: So I hear you used to do tutoring part time.

JH: Yeah, it was a job and I worked in High Schools. So many high school students today are so hip, they’re into all different types of music. It was very inspiring to work with some of them on music, recording etc.


HT: Did they ever ask you for advice?

JH: Yeah definitely. It takes a long time to get their trust, but when my music first started to get attention, it was really inspiring to them. They actually respected me more after that, which was funny. I think I was more of a mentor than a teacher. A tutor is always in that awkward, in-between place. College applications or life questions, homework, I helped them with that. Or even showing them cool music to listen to, and writing music.


HT: Did they ever inspire your writing?

JH: Well I didn’t write songs about them, but like everything in my life, it comes through somehow, indirectly. You have emotions and interactions in life, and that’s the only way you can be a writer. To draw on those experiences.


Loud City Song is out now on Domino Records. (Photos by Tom Spray)

LIVE REVIEW: Wasn’t Born To Follow, Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, 11.08.13

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Wasn’t Born to Follow saw Pumpehuset open it’s doors to independent and underground artists from Denmark and North America. Music fans enjoyed outdoor concerts all afternoon in the venue’s ‘byhave’, before moving indoors for a post-punk tinted evening of more traditional shows.


Danish band Nobody started the festivities, with a snazzy synth fest in the garden. Built around three keyboards and a soundboard, Nobody proceeded to experiment with the electronic sounds, and showed flashes of brilliant mixing from behind the sound desks. However, the band, which consists of different musicians from various Danish indie projects, and is led by popular Danish DJ Kim Las, appeared unprepared and unrehearsed, and it quickly seemed as though the group were just having fun messing about on the keyboards. That’s not so fun for the audience. [1/5]


The day started to look up when Danish red head Emma Acs, and her band, The Inbred Family, played their set. This was Acs’ first full concert in a while, and the singer was at moments hesitant. Nevertheless, Acs’ delivered her signature twee vocals with style and competency, and lived up to her reputation as a big Danish talent. Helping the artist to achieve her rich signature pop sound was the sitar player Atusa Zamani, who played the jangly riffs of “Green Stars and an Orange Sun” and “Fever” from 2011’s Champagne with artistry and confidence. Acs also debuted some new material from her second record, which she’s currently working on. [3/5]


“Hello Copenhagen, it’s really nice to see you all. It’s a beautiful day,” chimes a smiley Matt Monandile from the log cabin stage. Ducktails, playing the final outdoor show, banished the cold wind of Copenhagen with a warm, sympathetic and summery show. Popular chilled out tracks like “Killin’ the Vibe” matched the laid back atmosphere of Pumpehuset’s byhave perfectly, and towards the end of the show, the band played all new tracks. Ducktails proved that whatever the weather, if you’ve got a good vibe, you can generate a cosy atmosphere. Mind you, despite frontman Matt Monandile’s obvious eagerness and focus, I couldn’t help feeling that guitarist Alex Craig’s enthusiasm was really lacking, which distracted from the music, and, in a small way, broke the hypnotic effect this lo-fi group have on record. [4/5]


Some people have a problem with Merchandise. An indie pop group posing as a post-punk band, some feel. Maybe this is because charismatic frontman Carson Cox writes interesting yet attainable melodies, accompanied by beautiful, tortured, killer vocals; to some, a punk faux pas. Personally, I think the genre ambiguity is a plus.

If, however, punk is about energy, sweat, jumping offstage to collide with audience members and collecting a group of dedicated pogoing Danes at the front of your audience, rather than just being different for the sake of it, then Merchandise may as well have mohawks. After a lively rendition of “Anxiety’s Door” from 2013′s five track release Totale Night, Cox addressed the token couple of freestyling fans at the front: “Oh! We’ve got a couple of dancers now. Before I was worried you weren’t gonna dance.” “Become What You Are” closed the show, guided through by distortion and “1,2”s hummed into the microphone. Both Cox and guitarist David Vassalotti dropped to the floor to shred, for exactly the right length of time before it would have become annoying. He wrapped things up with a few push and shoves into some audience members, delivered in a quasi-affectionate manner, of course. “And that’s it!” he said, before shuffling offstage.

With a capitalist name like Merchandise for a post-punk band, there’s got to be some irony at work. [4/5]


The Dirty Beaches live show is a physical as well as musical workout. Whilst some artists may dabble with dancing onstage, Alex Zhang Hungtai, the mastermind behind Dirty Beaches, performs a full physical workout during his set. The show started by watching the warm up; Hungtai punching the air to feel the beat of the hazy synth laden soundscape created by his bandmates, starting small, and then with increased power. And so, he gets in the zone. Then we come to training. We hear a mixture of crooning and shouting through the effected microphone, pulling fists in, as well as pushing them out. He’s building the energy. And then suddenly, we’re at a boxing match, as Alex pulls out a mass of passion, strength and spirit for “I Dream in Neon” and “Casino Lisboa”, accompanied by a pair of big, black, austere leather gloves, and blue and red boxing lights. Hungtai’s not distracted by audience interaction, or cables, or prettiness, when he’s feeling his music. All together, a pretty amazing spectacle.

But one small nag. “Why is no one dancing? This place should be like a rave! He looks like he’s having fun, why is no one moving?” was my internal reaction. It’s strange watching someone exert themselves and pour so much energy into a live show of what was in many ways, dance music, and not dance yourself. I feel like Hungtai might have been cheated out of audience participation because it was a Sunday night. Or maybe the spectacle was just too hypnotic? One thing is for certain. On stage, Hungtai is an intense guy. [4/5]


It’s pretty clear from Lower’s gig, that the assumption that Copenhagen is the new home of punk music, is right. This proper, hardcore, rough and tough punk music is making the crowd proud to be Danish, and those who aren’t, like me, a bit jealous. The band are playing tracks from their Walk on Heads EP, full of crashing and painful sounds. On the back of Iceage’s success, Danish band Lower have made a name for themselves in Copenhagen’s community of post-punk fans. Surrounded by bowl haircuts, upturned drainpipe jeans, Joy Division t-shirts and Doc Martens in the crowd, I find the “just stepped out of the pub” look of Lower remarkably refreshing. They’re in running shoes, Jeremy Clarkson jeans and fleeces. The bassist even has a Newcastle scarf.

Pretty predictable, but seriously enjoyable gig; lively, lots of people throwing themselves about, purposefully rugged vocals, oh and a shout-out to Merchandise: “This next one’s for Merchandise.” Merchandise had declared “This next one’s for Lower”, during their set. Carson Cox was right at the front to join in the group of pogoers. [3/5]


Mikal Cronin ended the mini festival with his hard rock tinted pop music. It was a merry ending to the day, and the gig appeared especially popular with the younger audience members. From Cronin’s 2013 sophomore album MCII, he played the upbeat likes of “Shout it Out”, and “Situation” and “Apathy” from the self titled debut of 2011.

Wasn’t Born To Follow finally came to an end as Cronin delivered an encore performance of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” to the Danish fans. With a good stage presence and audience rapport, the singer songwriter finished the day off with a head bang, and brought a positive vibe to the dark venue and end to a brilliant, diverse day of live music. [3/5]


LIVE REVIEW: The Smashing Pumpkins, Falconer Salen, Copenhagen, 31.07.2013

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“This is going to be the best concert in Denmark this year!” The audience in Falconer Salen is waiting for the gig to begin, and I’ve been accosted by a super-fan. He’s been seeing them since the nineties. I’m a Pumpkins’ concert virgin. A year after the release of ‘Oceania’, the band’s eighth studio album, Billy Corgan is back in Denmark, and as this faithful disciple demonstrated, expectations are high.

As Corgan took to the mic to give a rendition of ‘Quasar’, the line “God, right on!” suddenly made a lot more sense. He thinks he can provide approval to God because he thinks he is God. Standing at the front of the stage, staring intensely into the audience, a straight faced Corgan is living up to his reputation, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so irritating. The band reached ‘Disarm’ after a no pause blend of opening songs, and I was hoping that the intensity that had accompanied the frontman’s stares would be channelled into this track. I was disappointed. It was a competent rendition, but by no means special. There was something lacking in his performance, and the same went for ‘Tonight, Tonight’ that followed.

Corgan didn’t speak in the first half, with the exception of telling his fans “you can cheer later.” Then, the silence was broken: “We were saying today that the American sense of humor is very ironic, but the Danes don’t get irony,” at which the frontman was booed. So began a long ramble by Corgan, who admitted “the reason I’m talking is because I’m sick and I’m trying to waste time.” That really made me feel special.

If one thing could be said for the rant, it’s that it got some more enthusiasm out of Corgan. However, as the highly self indulgent extended endings, and guitar solos set in (repeatedly), I sort of wished I could have Lacklustre Billy back. Some of us had Metro night buses to catch. In fact, I felt the highlight of the night came in the form of the first encore track, Billy and Nicole’s acoustic performance of ‘The Celestials’. Finally, I heard Corgan’s daemons.


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