Whether you count from their last studio album or from their initial reunion in 2014, we’ve been waiting on a new Slowdive album for a long time. But with their self-titled album, Slowdive have found the perfect balance between the dreamy guitars and their later electronic experiments. The results are delicate, heartbreaking, and absolutely worth the wait.
Exile in the Outer Ring
Erika M Anderson understands middle America better than most and tells her version without romance or sentimentality. Exile in the Outer Ring is a fried circuit, the narrative to our modern dystopia, and a fatalist slice of life. Lean into the noise and come away feeling completely wrecked — it’s extremely cathartic.
If All I Was Was Black
Mavis Staples recorded the greatest protest album of the year. With the help of songwriter/producer Jeff Tweedy, Staples taps into the rage, hope, empathy and plans of action that define America right now. No other album this year will uplift you and light a fire under you in the same way, regardless of how much attention you pay to the news.
Relatives in Descent
When the year of Trump is coming to an end the album to end I’ll be waving my middle finger to is Protomartyr’s brilliant fourth studio album Relatives in Descent. Unlike Mavis Staples’s If All I Was Was Black this album offers little hope or comfort; it’s bleak and angry post-punk when it’s best.
It’s strange to think of an album as dark and mysterious as Arca’s self-titled as the Venezuelan producer’s stepping into the limelight, but the revelation of his own gorgeous vocals accomplishes precisely that. This, together with his work on Björk’s Utopia, truly makes 2017 the Year of Arca.
Opening with a piano full of classic Sakamoto romanticism, async quickly tumbles into a contemplative world of soft noise, in which natural sounds merge into machine drones, organs flow into synthesizers. If you needed further proof of Sakamoto’s enduring influence, look to the accompanying remixes by everyone from Daniel Lopatin to Arca and Yves Tumor.
I came across Jane Weaver relatively late into her career, with the magical witch-glam of “Don’t Take My Soul”, but on Modern Kosmology Weaver has added a healthy dose of warm synths and motorik drum machines. Ground is left thoroughly unbroken, but this is the kind of low-key spaciness that I need at this time of year.’
The War On Drugs
A Deeper Understanding
When The War On Drugs in 2014 released their magnificent album Lost In A Dream it seemed they had perfected the sound and musical style developed on their second album Slave Ambient. It was interesting to see what direction frontman Adam Granduciel and his band would go next. The answer came this year with A Deeper Understanding, an album that takes the listener even further into the strangely familiar, yet unique musical universe of Granduciel which must be considered a great success.
Not Even Happiness
When Julie Byrne played Jazzhouse earlier this year we were impressed with how she brought the beauty and intimacy of her album Not Even Happiness to the stage. The album is centered around Julie Byrne’s incredible voice, her finger-picked guitar, some minimal orchestral arrangement and her brilliant songwriting. In the song ‘All the Land Glimmered’ there is a line that I think captures the feeling of the album: “Will I know a truer time / than when I stood alone in the snow”.
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It seems fitting that this, the end of the road for Jazzhouse, should take place in a church. The old venue in Niels Hemmingsens Gade has closed, and its requiem is being performed here, in Brorsons Kirke, by the Necks.
The Australian trio are often referred to as an improvisational jazz unit, but don’t come expecting solos: their pieces typically emerge out of an initial fragment of piano or bass, from Chris Abrahams and Lloyd Swanton respectively, underpinned by the eery jangling of bells and cymbals that crowd the feet of percussionist and drummer Tony Buck. Small alterations will start to stack up until they reach a hypnotic intensity, such that the end can feel like been snatched back home after a long and strange journey.
The setting tonight is particularly conducive to the mix of concentration and wonder that the Necks are capable of producing. The band is softly lit in the centre of the small church, surrounded by the audience in warm, candle-lit gloom. On the other side of the room I see two older women, heads resting against each other, with closed eyes and beatific smiles, while on the other side of a room a kid in a baseball cap bobs his head like he’s at an industrial techno set.
Those two reactions help explain just why its hard to talk about the Necks’ music in a convincing way. There is a layer of abstraction to it that allows this huge divergence of interpretation. Tonight they play two sets of uninterrupted music, of roughly 45 minutes each, with an intermission in between.
The first slowly develops out of a beguiling, endless series of piano arpeggios that would put Lubomyr Melnyk to shame. This has the insistency of classical minimalism, but the bass and drums rescue it from an academic exercise and inject real pathos into the piece. At the same time Abrahams’ piano mutations feel closer to a DJ performing the perfectly beat-matched transition from one track to another, by subtly changing the emphasis in a chord.
The intense crescendos of the first set are replaced by a more brooding and searching second half, much closer to what you might have heard in the first couple of tracks from their latest album, Unfold. In this comparative quietness Buck’s percussion has a change to shine through more, especially towards the end when he manages to produce some banshee sounds from his kit by dragging a small cymbal against the skins of the drums.
There is a long pause at the end of the concert, as the last strains echo around the small church. Then the dream breaks, the lights go up, a cold December night comes grasping through the doors. So long Jazzhouse, and thanks for this, your last gift.
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It may have gotten slightly lost in the noise of Sonic Youth, but Thurston Moore is, when it comes down to it, a bit of a hippie. Of course even in the heyday of Sonic Youth you had the Manson references and Carpenters covers, but it’s in his latter day solo work that the twelve-string has really come out in force. If you’re anything like me, an acoustic solo set is only marginally more desirable than an unnecessary tracheotomy, but the great advantage of being such a curmudgeon is that I get to be pleasantly surprised.
Rather than being a watered-down version of the full band versions, these acoustic renditions of tracks from his latest Rock n Roll Consciousness benefit from being stripped down to a metallic simplicity. Thurston strides onto the stage with a goofy grin and the air of someone playing to friends at a dinner party, but his affability quickly transmutes as he gets stuck into playing.
Although its main association is with 60s folk-rock, the 12-string guitar can sound positively evil if played with sufficient force. Leadbelly, of course, had already proved this in 1935 with his Dead Letter Blues, the first 20 seconds or so of which sound like Sonic Youth half a century before Kim and Co had even cast an eye on a guitar. Not only do the doubled-up strings produce a considerably higher volume than a normal six-string, the slight differences in the tunings create phasing and resonance effects that can sound at turns like a sitar or a sack full of bells.
Not one to turn down an opportunity to create interesting noise, Thurston exploits this to its full potential in his playing, and it is the instrumental sections, culminating in a 10 minute feedback jam, that are the most interesting to me. Clearly though, I myself am a little out of phase with the audience.
Jazzhouse is sold out, the audience composed of die-hard fans who lap up every Thurston witticism and frequently shout out requests. To his credit, he rolls with these, indulging them to the degree that even though it is clear he has forgotten half the words to Psychic Hearts, the woman who keeps requesting it is earnest enough that he finishes the set by fishing out his laptop and looking up the lyrics.
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It has been a topic of conversation for weeks, even months. LCD Soundsystem’s three night affair at Vega finally puts an end to one of the dullest summers in recent memory with an explosion of colour and disco-balls. Half an hour before the beginning of their Friday night set, those who attended the previous night’s concert are being eagerly quizzed about what songs to expect. The response is always the same: no matter what they play, expect one of the most fun shows you’ll see all year.
There’s a lot of fake outrage when a band reunites, a sense that they are desecrating their own past in order to satisfy their ego, wallet, or rapidly eroding sense of self. In the case of James Murphy and co, these concerns were laid to rest during their reunion tour last year, and the acclaim around their fourth album, American Dream, further cements the notion that they must just be physiologically incapable of producing anything bad.
You can see their painstaking attention to detail in almost any aspect of the evening. From the fact they begin at a chronometrically-precise 9pm, with drummer Pat Mahoney taking the beat from the end of Shit Robot’s DJ set, to the perfect oldies/newies balanced structure of setlist, the dedication LCD Soundsystem demonstrate in their live shows cannot fail but to engender fanatical devotion in the audience.
The enthusiasm starts on stage, in the way Murphy interacts with Mahoney during their percussion sessions, the general wine-swilling bonhomie of friends who have honed their enjoyment over two decades. With the kind of empathy for the audience that only comes from years of fandom, Murphy is almost apologetic for playing newer material, but he needn’t be, as a fair number are singing along word-for-word to new singles like Tonite and Call the Police. And realistically, any band who can dispense with their most well-known song ten minutes into their set has to be confident in the quantity and quality of their output.
Towards the end of the evening, the Friday after-work booze-up is starting to make its boisterous presence felt, with beer flying around the room during the breakdown of Dance Yrself Clean (the irony is not lost on me or my Tuborg-drenched shirt). But there is also some time for subtlety, a much appreciated addition being the presence of Gavin Russom at the centre of the stage, producing some fantastic drones from the middle of her fort of modular synths.
“We will now play three songs. Then we will go downstairs, come back, and play four more songs.” It sounds parodic but this is more or less how James Murphy speaks, with a refreshing absence of any bullshit. Sentimentality is something you’ll have to inject into the songs yourself, but as the boards creek under the weight of All My Friends, it looks like most people here don’t have much trouble with that.
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With the disappearance of Trailer Park and Vanguard, Copenhagen has been missing a localised music festival that caters to more than just electronic music. On the face of it, this year’s Haven Festival is here to fill that void. Located in the post-industrial landscape of Refshaleøen on the outer edges of Copenhagen harbour, the festival is spread over a field (or Meadow, as they would have it) and former docks. The fetishised grittiness of the crumbling warehouses is juxtaposed by the view across the water, of the cruise ships at Langelinie, the Little Mermaid, and the custard-coloured Royal Yacht moored nearby.
The food and drink has been as much a part of the conversation in anticipation of the festival as the music, if not more so. Provided by mostly by Mikkeller and Meyers bakery, you can get all the microbrewed beer and organic barbecue you want, provided you are willing to cough up, queue for an hour and get lectured on the evils of supermarket bacon by a man in a leather apron. With a lineup including The National, Bon Iver, Feist and Iggy Pop, Haven is very consciously catering to an older, more moneyed crowd than most other Danish festivals.
With a unique and visually interesting setting, some of the most talked-about food in town and some big names, the worst you would expect to say about Haven is that it is expensive and a little on the dull, safe side. Unfortunately it ended up being a victim both of the weather and its own success. Funnelling crowds through a single bridge that connects the main field with the food court is hardly great crowd management, and failing to provide any shelter from the rain on Sunday hardly helped matters. This will get chalked down to inexperience, and is unlikely to do much to damage their ticket sales next year.
Friday’s lineup starts on a relatively mellow note, with folk-tinged indie from Conor Oberst and Lisa Hannigan, but in fairness all pales when compared to the main course of the entire festival, our main reason for being here at all: Iggy Pop. I have genuinely never witnessed a human being spread quite as much joy to a crowd as Professor Ignatius Pop himself, who very literally runs on stage, does a few odd pirouettes and hollers as mangled series of “fuckfuckffuckmotherfuckeerrrr” before launching into I Wanna Be Your Dog. It’s a ballsy move to have the Passenger within the first four songs of your set, but then again it’s ballsy to have not worn a shirt in about half a century. Everyone around me is sporting a perma-grin for the entire set.
The next day feels like a comedown from Iggy, and is certainly not improved by the rain that peppers Feist (light drizzle), Perfume Genius (moderate), and Liss (absolute fucking downpour). Feist makes the most effort to repel the weather, sometimes by claiming to see sun (sheer optimism) but mostly via her infectious good nature. Changing lyrics to celebrate three girls in the front row who are singing along to every line, or to recommend that people don’t take her words too literally (at the line “I would leave any party for you”), she almost succeeds in making us forget the rain. Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius has increased both his profile and the size of his backing band since we last saw him at Roskilde Festival, and Liss are sounding smoother than ever.
Sets at the two main stages are staggered in such a way that every hour and a half the entire festival decamps across the bridge in one direction or the other, and our only change to eat is by missing Bon Iver entirely. The shiitake okonomiyaki is worth that omission. Unsurprisingly, the National’s closing set is all bells and whistles and guest appearances. The band’s musical core, brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, are the cofounders of the festival alongside Claus Meyer and Mikkel Borg Bergsø, so naturally theirs is meant to be the crowning set of the festival. Joined on stage by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, This is the Kit and Kwami Liv on “I Need My Girl”, the National manage to sum up the day with the blessed absence of rain.
Photos by Amanda Farah
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Circuit des Yeux’s only Danish shows before today were in Copenhagen and have only been at Jazzhouse (she gives them a nod of gratitude toward the end of the set). So it’s pleasantly surprising to see how many people have turned up for her set at Gloria, given that the rain has stopped as well. We’ve been taken with her tenor-range alto since the first time we saw her, but it was exciting to see her performing with a band instead of solo. She is bolstered by a drummer and violist (and a bit of programming), turning her sinister folk somewhere between rocking and terrifyingly demonic. She closed the set with a new song, so we hope this means she’ll be back again soon.
It doesn’t matter how many times we see Jenny Hval, if she’s playing live we’ll be there. The main reason is that we know that no matter how recently we’ve seen her, the performance itself is going to be different from the last time. A festival stage is a very different setting from a small club, but she compensated with her own take on volume, namely billowing sheets of plastic.
In addition to her usual person behind the control panel, she had another synth player/vocalist and a tuba player, both whom were occasionally called upon to abandon their instruments and leap around the stage while Jenny sang as though none of it was happening around her. It takes tremendous commitment to an idea to jump to the rhythm of an odd ball song while swinging around a big fuck off sheet of plastic like it’s a normal activity.
Slowdive have played Roskilde fairly recently, but not surprisingly their 2014 set at 02:30 wasn’t very highly attended. Not the case at their set at Avalon at what they refer to as a more reasonable hour of 18:00. Then they were riding on reunion buzz, but now they’re supporting a new album. They’ve balanced their set well, weaving in new songs with their back catalogue and still seemingly genuinely excited that they’re performing. Whether it’s Avalon’s sound system or the band’s own mixing choice, there’s a lot of bass in this performance, and it’s melodic and driving enough that we don’t mind that it matches the guitars in volume at all. Interestingly, it’s the new singles “Star Roving” and “Sugar for the Pill” that elicit the biggest cheers. It seems Slowdive have succeeded in introducing themselves to a completely new audience.
Some bands appear to have been specially designed and cultivated in a B-movie laboratory in order to headline a festival, and Arcade Fire are without a doubt one of the prime examples of this. The massive hooks and singalongs that sound more than a little bombastic on record make perfect sense in this massive muddy field. Opening with “Wake Up”, the band do just that, warming up the audience in record time, to the degree that it’s only a few minutes into the set that Win Butler has managed to jump on top of our very own Morten Aagard Krogh in the photo pit. New material from their soon-to-be-released fifth album, Everything Now, is carefully sandwiched between some of their more dance and electronica-leaning work, with the transition between “The Sprawl II” and “Reflektor” being particularly pleasing in its smoothness. Having whipped themselves up with an obvious closer like “Rebellion (Lies)”, Win insists on returning to the stage for one last goodbye, with “Neon Bible”.
It feels like a natural quiet ending, but ance outfit Moderat – a hybrid of Berlin electronica acts Apparat (Sasha Ring) and dance duo Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) – have other plans. The after-midnight gig lasted three hours (at the tail-end of a rainy festival, even our hardiest reviewer only lasted one) and cemented why the outfit has been much-hyped as the ultimate electronica live act. Pounding beats were accompanied by a visually-intricate light show, oscillating from pulsating singles with frenetic drums before moving into mid-tempo ambient tracks. The festival setting meant the volume was higher than any club, leaving a lasting impression of a powerful show for festival-goers to trudge home to.
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Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for sorting out the foolish from the prepared. Tramping around the festival site has become something of an adventure for the properly shod, and a nightmare for anyone in trainers.
Because some of us have grown up with the Foo Fighters forever in our sphere, and never make a great effort to change the station if one of their songs comes on the radio, we thought they should at least be worthy of half an hour of our time. Much of this half hour seemed to be devoted to Dave Grohl just shouting, introducing his band, and recalling the time he played Roskilde with Nirvana on the day that Denmark won the Euro Cup (though he didn’t mention Nirvana by name). They did play a couple of songs as well, but as their particular songwriting formula doesn’t allow for a whole lot of variation, we couldn’t tell you exactly which ones.
This hasn’t been a festival of many obvious clashes for us. One of the few was choosing between Lorde and the Avalanches. Lorde was clearly the hot act of the night — she probably should have been given an Orange stage slot. The crowd packed under the Arena tent, spilled several rows beyond that, and across the paved path with people finding slightly elevated spots near the urinals that gave them a decent vantage point. That’s the appeal of Lorde: People are willing to stand near piss troughs to see her.
Before she strode onto Arena stage, the audience was teased and tantalised with the opening bars of Kate Bush’s “Running up That Hill” – heralding a set built on the presence of an enigmatic performer (and unique, quirky dance moves). With a show bookended by her beloved hit “Tennis Court” and culminating in the pulsating, raw single “Green Light,” each song was met with roaring enthusiasm and energy from the crowd.
While some of the tracks lacked punch in the live setting – Lorde’s trademark mezzo soprano occasionally disappeared a little under the instrumentals and backing vocals – her presence filled the room so powerfully she had need for little else beyond her minimalist, pared-down set. In contrast to her lyrics, which often make jibes about fame and pretension, Lorde’s onstage banter felt carefully crafted to seduce the audience. “Did you know I’m a witch?” she coos playfully. “I made the rain stop.”
She didn’t really. But a spell was certainly cast over Roskilde Festival Friday night.
Some of us only stayed for four or five songs, simply because we expect Lorde to be around for a while, but there’s no guarantee that the Avalanches won’t disappear again for another 15 years. The Australian duo first came into prominence with their debut Since I Left You, a technicolor riot of samples that meshed hiphop with lush orchestrations. This time round, with Wildflower, the Avalanches have turned up the swagger.
Tonight they have Spank Rock rapping for them, as if they needed more solid credentials, and Eliza Wolfgramm, who provides most of the sung vocals, has a pliable, soulful voice that is exactly what you want delivering “Since I Left You.” The fact that she does so while wielding a baseball bat makes it all the better.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to base a sizable portion of a set on samples from the Beach Boys and the Who, but the Avalanches have the skill and the conviction to fully pull it off. Behind them are projected clips of everything from the Big Lebowski to Jean Reno in Luc Besson’s wonderfully oddball 1985 Subway, as if to confirm that that the Avalanches have truly mastered the art of crowdpleasing. At their best, they can levitate you out of the mud.
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It’s still early in the festival, but having a gentle way of easing into the day is still welcome. Julia Jacklin kicks things off at noon, and there’s a surprisingly large crowd assembled for her that early in the day. The Australian artist’s take on Americana is soothing and lilting, equal parts naive and clear. Her countrified warmth and twangy vocal would make her an ideal opener for Angel Olsen. And if nothing else, she made worked the weird strain out of the Strokes’ “Someday” and turned it into a sweet, wistful song.
Prompted by the large red circle backdrop, people are asking if Solange is from Japan, which means that they don’t know the one detail about Solange that I thought was a given (she’s Beyoncé’s sister, FYI). Solange’s set ranges from soulful R&B to Whitney Houston-style pop songs, and it’s choreographed from beginning to end in a subtle Hal Hartley kind of way. Even the backing band are in on it. The moment when she lets go of the choreography is during “F.U.B.U.,” when she walks into the pit and sings directly to an audience member. The woman hugs Solange and bursts into tears. It’s a really beautiful moment that melted at least one icy heart.
At the Orange stage, The XX inaugurate the first first salvo in the bout of downpours promised for the next two days. Despite the weather, and being mostly known for their rather mopey, minimal take on RnB, and the trio manage an upbeat set replete with earnest crowd-work and popstar shapes from bassist Oliver Sims. Jamie xx lurks in the background doing what a friend informs me is some top-notch mixing, although I can’t say I’m a fan of any of his drum samples. Any interest and warmth comes from the chumminess of Oliver and Romy, and from the familiarity of the tunes. They might all sound the same but a field during a downpour is not a place for subtlety. The trademark vulnerability embedded in XX lyrics – spinning collective tales of falling shyly in love and feeling cripplingly insecure about it – was enhanced by the onstage confession from Romy Madley that she was dumped at Roskilde Festival at age 16: “But everything happens for a reason, right? And now I’m here with you, and you are way more fun than she was.” Judging by the cheers and the veritable sea of dancing, it seems the feeling was mutual.
It’s the focus on ambient sounds that threatens to derail Nicholas Jaar’s set at the Apollo stage. A beatless ten minutes of baritone saxophone and feedback is not most people’s idea of prime festival fodder. Scheduled for the late-night 12:30 slot on a rainy evening at the festival’s furthest (and uncovered) stage, the performance from Chilean-American producer was expected to be a “drop-in” affair. However the throngs who stayed were generously rewarded with a slow build that escalated into a dense, satisfying performance that lingered for hours afterward.
The rain has stopped, but it has also stopped people from queuing. It’s only as Nas takes the stage that people start to pack in. It’s 1:30am and chilly and Nas does not seem to give a shit about any of that; he’s here to do this thing. From the word go, he’s zipping around the stage, giving lessons on old school hip-hop, and declaring that Beethoven is hip-hop. I’m surrounded by white boys trying to mimic the way he waves his arm to the beat while I dance the way aging indie rock kids dance (i.e. bobbing my head as a full-body movement). Our photographer, Morten, commented that he worried watching Nas would make him want to do pushups, as Illmatic is one of his go-to workout albums. I get it. I wonder why I never thought of that before.
I walk away from his set around the time he started leading the crowd in a tribute chant to the recently departed Prodigy. Somewhere around the foodcourt the bass from Nas gives way to a fuzziness and dead thump of kick drum.
The last time the Jesus and Mary Chain took to the Roskilde stage was 19 years ago, and the Scottish shoegaze legends proved that they could deliver tracks from their genre-defining album Psychocandy with the same lush charm as when they were first recorded 30 years ago. Guitarist William Reid ensured the show – which traversed a fair stretch of JAMC’s decade-spanning repertoire rather than tossing in a few classics among their comeback content was, quite literally, painfully loud. This reviewer had to retreat beyond Roskilde’s Arena tent for the sake of her eardrums – a roaring sound that felt somehow amplified by the fact that the band members themselves were obscured by heavy-duty smoke effects for the majority of the show. Perhaps, one cynically wonders, to obscure the passage of time.
But unlike many of the anniversary tours restoring the 80s and 90s britpop heyday to festival stages since the 2010s, Jesus and Mary Chain have nothing to hide – the indie rockers owned their past glories and proved the old hits still endure.
Words by Charlie Cassarino, Lena Rutkowski, and Amanda Farah
Solange photo by Betina Garcia
Julia Jacklin photo by Morten Aargaard Krogh