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LIVE REVIEW: Eiko Ishibashi with Joe Talia, Alice, 22.05.2019

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Eiko Ishibashi live at Alice Copenhagen

There is no disputing that Eiko Ishibashi is an experimental musician. Her compositions span electronic manipulations, found sounds, recitations of train stations. But she has also toyed with something akin to pop music, songs that are vaguely catchy and you could sing along to. Her set at Alice with Joe Talia, however, throws all conventional song structures out the window. 

She does not sing over the course of the evening. Instead she eschews beginnings and endings, creating one long, fluid movement of echoing sounds. In a predominantly electronic set, Ishibashi brings in piano and flute. The staccato piano is usually backed by Talia’s  cascading percussion while her flute lines are looped and manipulated, segueing from one suggestion of song to another. The organic/electronic elements of the set twist around one another until they are almost indistinguishable; the pitch shifting of the flute to make it sound like a French horn is as electronic as the weedy, pointedly machine-like sounds, but the flute sample feels much less digitized.

Towards the end of the set, Talia brings in a soft thudding percussion that sounds at first like thunder but later is unmistakably a muffled gunfire. The mood instantly shifts from soothing to sinister, strangely muted but still very aggressive. But as suddenly as it’s faded in, it’s faded out again, leaving only the sentiment behind.

While we went into the gig expecting to hear more familiar selections from Ishibashi’s catalogue, there’s no denying that the set did justice to her talents and creativity. So no, this isn’t necessarily what we were expecting from the evening. But it can be wonderful to be surprised.

LIVE REVIEW: Spectrum, Alice, 09.05.2019

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Pete Sonic Boom Kemper live as Spectrum at Alice in Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s been a great few months to catch up with some lowkey musical legends like (This Is Not) This Heat, the Mekons, and Charlemagne Palestine, which makes the inclusion of Spectrum all the sweeter. Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember first began to stitch together the seemingly incompatible worlds of drone and pop music as guitarist in Spacemen 3, the ultimate British stoner band of the 80s, before embarking on his own solo voyages as Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research.

Tonight Kember steers a course through his more song-oriented work towards his more far-out, drone work. Although he has become known for his production work and interest in modular synths, his setup is very simple. Accompanied by a guitarist dishing out slow bluesy slide riffs, he has a couple of samplers, a Yamaha keyboard which according to my research he must have had knocking around for decades, and a strange little synth whose gentle burbling accompanies the entire evening.

For a few minutes it almost seems like the evening isn’t going to start at all, thanks to a faulty sampler. In the memoir of his one-time bandmate Will Carruthers there is a story about the performance and recording of Spacemen 3’s Dreamweapon: A Night of Contemporary Sitar Music, in which everything seems to go wrong: the gig is in the foyer of a cinema where most of the audience is just waiting to see Wings of Desire, they are under orders from Kember to play no more than a single note for the entire set, and after the ordeal, Carruthers realises his bass amp had been switched off for the entire set. Which is to say, Kember knows a thing or two about adversity, and isn’t going to let that stop him.

As the signature one-note synth riff of “Lord I Don’t Even Know My Name” begins, all is well. Even on a sampler the sound bounces straight into the diaphragm with its warm buzz, cutting through the sweet up and down of the two-chord refrain. Kember has made a career of cutting out as much as possible out of his music, but as the reaction of the crowd testifies, always to great effect.

But these days it seems like it is in the longer, instrumental pieces that Kember feels most at home, with his back to the multicoloured psychedelic light. A standout section is one that features a spoken word piece by Kember, a characteristically repetitive string of associations (“like fire, like sound, like…”), played and broken up by the sampler over a sea of his distinctive synth bubbling. I can’t find a recording anywhere, so get in touch with us if you have any leads!

LIVE REVIEW: Spectacle, Alice, 27.04.2019

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Anna & Elizabeth are something of a millennial Shirley Collins, working on bringing traditional American folk songs into a modern context. The duo have been collecting songs, in their words, “from archives and old people” — though admittedly some of those old people were found on YouTube. All of their songs from this set are immigrant songs, tales of coming to America, as an effort to remind their countrymen of their roots even as they try to punish those who follow their ancestors’ examples. While there’s a decided traditional tinge to their banjo-and-guitar-based songs, subtle electronics feed into the background. Exactly how modern their interpretations are is really only apparent once they hold a laptop up to the microphone to play a recording of Margaret Shipman’s “Jeano and Jeanette.” The duo then repeat the song back with their own smooth-out harmonies. 

anna and elizabeth live at alice in copenhagen for spectacle

The highlight of Anna & Elizabeth’s set is definitely their scrolls. The two-foot-tall paper scrolls are created by the duo to illustrate their songs. For the occasion, they’ve brought a painted seascape, lit from the front, and a backlit paper cut collage detailing life next door to a warm-hearted and musically talented neighbor. The scrolls are turned manually by Elizabeth, who sings while hiding behind them, the accompaniment often quiet enough that you can hear the soothing hum of the mechanism.

Heather Leigh’s music, however, is at the opposite end of this aural spectrum, though superficially it appears she comes from a similar tradition. Pedal steel is often associated with Americana, but Leigh’s performance is dense and droning, a world away from the instrument’s familiar warble. In Leigh’s hands, the pedal steel sometimes chimes and sometimes sounds like an approximation of 80s hair metal guitar. Her accompanist on electronics and violin (which again is distorted beyond its usual self) only adds to the density of the performance. Leigh’s dazzling soprano is a defiant strike against the heaviness of her arrangements. She sustains high notes that many singers would use to punctuate a song, and with a force that many could only aspire to. She’s found a space adjacent to but still a fair distance from the familiar.

Spectacle more than earns its name in the rich interior of Sankt Johannes Kirke, just across the road from Alice itself. Local sound artist Sofie Birch sits at the end of the nave, emanating warm waves and rivulets of synth sounds. This is a far cry from the punk posturing of the noise scene, combining Birch’s production abilities with a careful ear for composition, particularly when she uses her own voice. Layering vocal loops to create harmonies is certainly a common technique in the scene, but what makes tonight’s example so interesting is how these accretions slowly change the nature as well as the texture of the melodies, how these evolve in an almost classical sense.

To our backs in the church a much larger synth lies in wait: Sankt Johannes’s organ, ready to be taken through its paces by an artist of a considerably more venerable vintage. Charlemagne Palestine made a name for himself in similarly hallowed surroundings as a carilloneur in Manhattan’s Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in the 60s, having made his way through the banjo, accordion, and singing in synagogue. He has often referred in interviews to the concept of “playing a building”, of considering both the bells and the organ as part of the larger synthesizer of the church itself, and tonight he gives ample proof of it.

The piece starts off with relatively soft (relatively for a massive organ, of course), pad-like drones of two or three notes, variously modifying and slowly building on one another. The sound starts to bulk out and fluctuate, you can start to hear the harmonics of a simple three note chord, played of the course of several minutes, collide with each other. The wall of sound becomes dizzying as your attention hops up and down the frequency spectrum, trying to land somewhere. With no melody to follow, no clear demarcations of time, the air of the church gets denser. Keen on showing us the full potential of the instrument, Palestine pulls out the stops (are rare case when the phrase can be used literally) to cut the texture with a buzzing saw of a chord.

The notes start to thin out again, allowing Charlemagne Palestine to break out into another one of his talents, a spectacular chant, the technique of which was taught to him by Indian classical singer and scholar Pandit Pran Nath. Without any technological amplification, his arms raised to the heavens, Palestine’s voice reaches into the deepest recess of the building, bouncing off the walls alternately booming and plaintive. A long silence follows the end of the piece, after which Palestine invites us to praise the instrument: “The organ is still the most complete synthesizer in the world. It can sound like Bach, but it can also sound like Schmach!”

LIVE REVIEW: Cherry Glazerr, Ideal Bar, 11.04.2019

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Clementine Creevy of Cherry Glazerr live at Ideal Bar in Copenhagen

The dreams of the 90s are alive at Ideal Bar for Cherry Glazerr. The LA band, playing as a trio, are at the vanguard of 90s alt-rock revivalism. The audience are playing along, kitted out in a confusing assortment of retro fashions including but not limited to camisole dresses over t-shirts, hoop earrings in one ear, platform shoes, and pleather. 

The show was downsized from Lille Vega, which is only evident in the six-foot inflatable cherries stuffed at the back of the stage out of range of the lights. But this space feels right; there is a row of university-aged women lining the stage, losing their minds, dancing and singing throughout the set. The costuming of the audience further lends itself to the idea that this was somehow a secret, that only the kids from the counter-culture knew to come out for.

But it isn’t so esoteric as all that. Cherry Glazerr are a high energy rock band and they’re fun. Central to this fact is that frontwoman Clementine Creevy is a damn rockstar. She’s tossing her feathered blonde hair around, evoking the Runaway’s Cherie Currie. She bops and dinosaur walks around the stage throughout the set, feeding off the energy locked in around her.

The only time the band slow enough to catch their breath is to play “Grilled Cheese” and “Teenage Girl” from their debut album. While these older songs demonstrate how much tighter Creevy’s songwriting has gotten, the fact that the old songs are being played means the devotees in the front row are going crazy.

The one drawback of the evening is that Creevy’s vocals are almost non-existent. It’s not as though they dominate her albums, they are swallowed up despite the fact that the band isn’t playing especially loud. Creevy seems unbothered by this, so we can conclude that it’s a conscious if curious choice — she is, after all, a talented lyricist.

This choice does, however, work well for “Stupid Fish,” the end of the main set. The thin vocals from the album are swamped by the chugging rhythm of the song, which gets dragged out and mutated over the minutes. It’s more interesting for being a product of its environment, letting a song with heavy tone also get swept up in the fun of the evening.

LIVE REVIEW: Laura Gibson, Ideal Bar, 03.04.2019

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Laura Gibon live at Ideal Bar Copenhagen

Of the many ways we can pigeonhole singer-songwriters — as country artists, hippies, coffee shop folkies — Laura Gibson manages to just skirt around all of them. The folk base of most of her songs is, on the albums, often mitigated by arrangements of varying complexity. When playing live, she makes her efforts to maintain that thoughtfulness by backing up her acoustic guitar or electric piano with a backing vocalist/violinist/pianist. 

But it’s who Gibson is between songs that defines her as a performer. She teases about her songs being melancholic. She tells long stories about train rides and her failed high school musical theatre career. She drinks from a yellow metal water bottle and then informs the audience, “I just made some music for this water bottle company. I’m pretty happy with the swag I got.”

Her personality is a wonderful counterpoint to the seriousness of her songs, the heartbreak, the feelings of alienation. She isn’t overly precious about her work, and it makes her all the easier to identify with. But when she describes the title track of her latest album, Goners, as having started life as a show tune, it doesn’t make it less lovely or wistful. 

Gibson proves how captivating she can be as she leads the audience in singing a gentle “ooh ooh” as a backing track to her own a cappella — a moment somewhat marred by the gig in Store Vega making the bottles on the shelves behind the bar rattle. But when the average artist struggles to get an odd chorus out of an audience, never mind a half-filled club, sustaining a singalong for a whole song is quite a feat. And joining the ranks of those who resist phoney encores, she sets us up in advance to know that we should make our singalong count; touching on the hippie, the coffee shop, but through and through, she’s a performer.

LIVE REVIEW: Tashi Wada Group with Man Forever, Alice, 27.03.2019

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Tashi Wada Group with Julia Holter and Corey Fogel, live at Alice Copenhagen

There is a level of unpredictability when going to see any performance that could be described as “avant garde” or fall into the category of drone. And while Tashi Wada is a composer and his group are playing the songs of his latest album, Nue, there is still a healthy amount of the unexpected throughout the evening.

The evening opens with the fortuitous last-minute addition of Man Forever. Kid Millions — also of Oneida and myriad other projects — uses his solo outing to tell the story of the car accident he was in a year ago. The spoken word portion of the set is fitted between drum fills and leads into his song “A Clear Realization.” For someone who sustained two broken ribs, a chipped vertebra in his neck, and an impact injury to his lower back, his playing is not only as mesmerizing as ever, it’s absolutely extraordinary.

Man Forever live at Alice in Copenhagen

Wada is joined by the powerhouse backing band of Julia Holter on piano, synths, and vocals and Corey Fogel on drums and an assortment of bells, gongs, and chimes. Fogel is a master of restraint throughout the set; most of the drums and gongs are hit with mallets, sending a muffled rumble coursing through the songs.

Holter is also more subdued than we are accustomed to seeing her as a solo performer. Her piano lines are often a whisper and her vocals are muted and wordless, mostly there to soften the mechanical whine they float over. It isn’t a wonder that, with such reserve from the band, the audience is dead quiet, not even daring to applaud between the abrupt shifts in songs.

It is surprising that, in a set in which personalities are withholding, Wada has become the dominant personality from his post in the shadows. Wada makes himself known in his haunted house synths and the way he makes bagpipes buzzy rather than whiny. The weird universe he has created around himself for the evening is peaceful and maybe a little camp, but it’s a step away from the familiar. It’s a recontextualization of familiar faces and familiar sounds. It’s lightness and stimulus tumbling over each other in between the silences. 

LIVE REVIEW: Steve Gunn, Loppen, 22.03.2019

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Steve Gunn live at Loppen, Copenhagen

Steve Gunn is an incredibly prolific singer-songwriter and guitarist who straddles a hazy dividing line between indie rock and the American primitivism of John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Sandy Bull.

He first came to my attention in 2016 with Eyes on the Lines, particularly in the driving opener “Ancient Jules”, which has that rare mix of rock instrumentation with folk riffs in the vein of Richard Thompson’s “Roll Over Vaughan Williams”. But Gunn has been producing a steady album per year since 2007. This last one though, The Unseen in Between, comes with a delay of almost three years, which might account for the crowd and air of anticipation in Loppen tonight.

Known mainly for his fingerpicking style, Gunn is joined on stage by a full band, including a lead guitarist with a deep attachment to his fuzz pedal, which brings out the more psych-rock elements of the music, particularly in their closing jam.

“New Moon” has a dreamy, 60s shimmer to it, although its resemblance to Them’s cover of “It’s All Over, Baby Blue” ends up reminding me much more of Beck’s “Jackass”. There is less overt post-modernism to Steve Gunn’s approach to Americana, but he is equally unconcerned with sounding overtly “vintage”.

That being said, the standout moment will probably remain Gunn’s solo acoustic piece that opens his encore, a moment of fingerpicking mastery that will more than suffice for those of us far too young to have heard the masters on anything other than mp3s.

LIVE REVIEW: This Is Not This Heat, Alice, 06.03.2019

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This is Not This Heat live at Alice Copenhagen for CPH:DOX

Over the years the years we’ve seen a few bands we never expected to be able to see live, but few have been quite as unexpected as This Heat. But that’s not quite right, as the poster proudly proclaims: this, in fact, is This Is Not This Heat. Or is it? Of the six people crammed together on stage, only two represent the original line-up, bassist (and, according to his obituary, Rough Guide author) Gareth Williams having passed away in 2001.

This is the first of two nights at Alice, the first dedicated to the recordings of This Heat, and the second to soundtrack work. Tonight guitarist Charles Bullen and drummer Charles Hayward are joined by Daniel O’Sullivan (of Grumbling Fur, Laniakea, Guapo, Æthenor, etc. etc) on bass and synths, looking remarkably youthful next to his gaunt elders, as well as an extra drummer, guitarist and a distorted clarinet (for Roxy Music kudos).

The first portion of the set is pretty much the exact tracklist from their self-titled debut, full of sparse, cold instrumentation and plaintive chants. It almost makes you wonder for a while why two drumkits are necessary. But the songs from Deceit answer that question with proto-industrial fervour. At the first frantic chord of “SPQR” a group of teenagers in the first row cheer and do shots, which is as baffling as it is cute.

Although This Heat are often lumped together with post-punk, you can clearly hear a lot of Robert Wyatt in the plaintive vocals of “Not Waving” and “The Fall of Siam”, a certain weird Englishness that reveals in the influence of The Soft Machine and Gabriel-era Genesis under the obvious Krautrock and musique-concrete references.

It is these moments of detached weirdness, more than the guitar-driven noise, that make This Heat a band still worth listening to and seeing after all these years.

LIVE REVIEW: Aïsha Devi, Alice, 08.02.2019

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Aïsha Devi live at Alice Copenhagen

Although some might have first heard of Swiss-Nepalese producer Aïsha Devi because of the trippy video to 2015’s “Mazdâ”, for most of us it has been the buzz surrounding last year’s DNA Feelings that has propelled her to the attention of the world outside of experimental electronics.

Aïsha Devi live at Alice Copenhagen

Relying on relatively sparse and cold synth backgrounds and her own slightly eery, high-pitched vocals, Aïsha Devi’s music has many of the qualities of artists who have broken through into much wider recognition, particularly Arca. But it remains to be see whether the kitschy approach to spirituality that is on display in her visuals will be ultimately seen as a calling card or a gimmick.

Aïsha Devi live at Alice Copenhagen

One thing that’s certain in a live setting is that Devi’s music has a much louder, confrontational quality than what you’ll hear in her recordings. Paradoxically though, her own stage persona, as testified in the pictures above, is completely joyful.

Aïsha Devi live at Alice Copenhagen

This evening at Alice she is joined by the US-based DJ bod [包家巷], whose angry reaction to the lack of dancing at 9pm is made all the more hilarious by the ambient music that follows the initial trap tracks. Concluding the evening are local boys, inexplicably-named Age Coin.

LIVE REVIEW: Alasdair Roberts + Völvur, Alice, 09.02.2019

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Alasdair Roberts and Völvur live at Christianshavn Beboerhus in Copenhagen

Scottish folk singer Alasdair Roberts has been recording music for two decades now. A quick look at his back-catalogue proves Roberts’s dedication to the traditions of British folk music (his takes on “A Lyke Wake Dirge”, “Lord Ronald” and Shirley Collins’s ” A Blacksmith Courted Me” are all well worth a listen), but it also reveals his willingness to use collaboration as a way of repurposing this material.

Most of these collaborations so far have been with one or two people, the most recent being last year’s much-acclaimed What News, alongside producer Amble Skuse and pianist David McGuiness. But tonight, in the cozy surroundings of Christianshavns Beboerhus, Roberts is joined by five Norwegian improvisational musicians, headed by violinist Hans Kjorstad.

Although all very young, this group has a respectable pedigree of its own in Norway, playing in a frankly intimidating number of ensembles and collaborations in everything from folk to noise music. Tonight they are bringing strings, clarinets, guitars, a double bass, electronics and a lot of percussion to Roberts’s typically more sparse music.

The result can be at times incredibly warm and lush, especially the woodwinds on “Wormwood and Gall”, and at others, for example “A Lyke Wake Dirge”, darkly hypnotic. Alasdair Roberts’s simple but beguiling vocal delivery cuts through the instrumentation and makes sure we remain grounded in the words of the songs.

Due to the cancellation on the part of the opening act, the band agree to play two sets, much to the delight of the audience lazing on mats strewn around the theatre floor. Although most of both sets is taken from Roberts’s own catalogue, we are also treated to a new composition by the entire group, “Actors”, as well as covers from the Incredible String Band’s “My Name is Death” and “Chinese White”.

The final flourish is a solo vocal rendition of a Robert Burns song, a final farewell before Alasdair and the band conclude their short Scandinavian tour on the island of Fanø.

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