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LIVE REVIEW: Moor Mother, Alice, 21.02.2020

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moor mother live at alice in copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s been close to a whole three years since the last time we caught up with Moor Mother, Camae Ayewa’s solo noise and spoken word project. In the meantime Ayewa has been keeping busy, releasing records with Irreversible Entanglements, ZONAL, and last year’s Moor Mother release, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes. One thing that has very noticeably changed in the intervening years is the size of the crowd, which has doubled since that night in 2017.

The sonic pallet is still dark, twisted and pained, opening on a distorted, bassy synth drone, and accompanied a lonely, skittish violin. Ayewa’s vocals are low and urgent, more declamatory than rhythmic. “After Images” breaks into a martial kick drum, and marks the tension point between the punk confrontational part of Moor Mother and the gothic, reflective part.

Samples are also an integral part of Ayewa’s music, but they aren’t used in the looping manner of hiphop or techno. Instead the voices of the likes of Paul Robeson appear as ghostly presences that sit uncomfortably next to the noise. They could appear almost nostalgic next to the apocalyptic cacophony, if it weren’t for the obvious histories from which they speak.

The emphasis on time having stopped, of time being “held captive”, is embodied in those clips from spirituals and blues, and appears to situate Moor Mother very much in the Afro-goth tradition outlined by Leila Taylor in Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul.

But as mentioned above, there’s also a great physicality to Ayewa’s performance. Towards the end of the set she disappears into the crowd, purposefully stumbling into people, tying the crowd up in her mic cables. But that confrontational side is also tempered by empathy, a quick “are you ok?” as soon as the track draws to an end.

As if to disprove any assertions of bleak pessimism, Ayewa ends the evening by completely turning face, with a very short impromptu DJ set. Something like an exorcism at the end of this industrial séance.

LIVE REVIEW: Beak>, Loppen, 02.02.2020

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Geoff Barrow and Beak> live at Loppen Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Bristol-based, kraut-rock-revivalists Beak> have finally shipped to Copenhagen, which means Loppen is heaving on a Sunday night. Lead by Geoff Barrow (him off Portishead), Beak> combine synths, bass and drums to create occult floor-stompers, pub psych and giallo-inspired soundtracks, sounding at times like Goblin after a really hard night out, at others like Tangerine Dream on a very tight budget.

What at first looks like a huge row of amplifiers turns out to be a light display, in equal measures trippy and tongue-in-cheek, as befits the three men on stage. Opening with “The Brazilian”, with its detuned synths and mastodontic descending bassline, we are projected into a 70s Italian crime movie, before settling into the hypnotic groove of “Brean Down”.

As synth player Will Young (no, not THAT one) downs a comically large can of Faxe, Barrow and bassist Billy Fuller read out negative youtube comments for their song “Eggdogg” (the highlight: “This is literally the worst combination of sounds in the history of the world”).

Beak> live at Loppen Copenhagen

In a live setting it’s much harder to separate older and newer material, since the evolution of Beak>’s latest record, 2018’s “>>>“, lay primarily in a much increased attention to production details. But the fluttering synth in “Allé Sauvage” is ever more frenetic live, and the caveman stomp of “Wulfstan II” is more brutal than ever.

Beak> really thrive in this setting, and even if their declaration that this has been their best concert in Denmark is a joke, it’s also a demand to check back in when they are next in town.

LIVE REVIEW: Richard Dawson / Burd Ellen, Alice, 31.01.2020

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richard dawson live at alice copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Brexit day must be a strange time to be touring abroad as a British musician. From most you’d expect a bit of sheepishness (even a Leaver would feel a bit out of place, surely) and despondency. But tonight Richard Dawson and support act Burd Ellen deliver a blinder that breaks through the shackles of the present.

It’s a sold-out night at Alice, with a good proportion showing up early for Burd Ellen, in no small part buoyed by their set at Fanø Free Folk Festival last summer. The Scottish goth folk duo expand on their traditional repertoire with samplers, fiddles and DIY (and very literal) sound-sculptures. Gail Brogan (also of Pefkin) adds the eery backdrop for vocalist Debbie Armour’s fantastic voice, nowhere more clear and wrenching than in their rendition “Sweet Lemany”.

burd ellen live at alice copenhagen

Richard Dawson’s uniquely brutal fingerpicking guitar style and darkly funny lyrics have steadily gained him a substantial following since the release of his breakthrough album, Nothing Important. Since then the Newcastle-based folk singer has released a more acoustic-leaning concept album set in Northumberland after the retreat of the Roman Empire, as well as his latest record, 2020.

This is Dawson’s first concert in Denmark, so we can’t make any direct comparisons to his performances before he “went electric”, but the tracks from 2020 demonstrate a new rhythmic urgency. Accompanied by drums and bass, opener “Civil Servant” is a fuzzed-out song of complaint from the titular character, skipping work to avoid having to explain to “another poor soul/ why it is their Disability Living Allowance will be stopping shortly.”

Bleakness is everywhere in Dawson’s work, which means every little joke counts just that bit more. There is an audible chuckle at the mention of “the man in the vape shop” in “The Queen’s Head”, but the climactic moment comes with “Jogging”, starting with its Stooges-esque caveman stomp. This is Dawson at his emotionally complex core, a tale of someone suffering from anxiety who takes up jogging as a way to cope. The catharsis of the chorus matches musical euphoria with gnawing doubt: “I know I must be paranoid / but I feel the atmosphere / round here getting nastier.” The jogging might work, but that doesn’t stop the place from getting worse.

It’s a lyrical downer but physically exhilarating, and without doubt one of the best sets Alice has hosted in its two-year history. We’ll be needing a lot more Richard Dawson in the years to come.

Albums of the Year 2019

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Image result for cate le bon reward

Cate Le Bon
Reward

Having strayed from her signature guitar style into more textural, synth-based compositions, Cate Le Bon has found new ways to highlight her cool voice. Mostly down-tempo, occasionally punctuated by brass instruments, it’s a different approach but continues Le Bon’s quirky inclinations. We’re not entirely sure why this album is the album that made the world realize how wonderful she is, but are glad everyone else has caught up. 

Image result for kim gordon no home record

Kim Gordon
No Home Record

On her long-awaited solo debut, Kim Gordon taps into the Sonic Youth-style alt-rock that she built her career on. A little left-field but still catchy, Gordon calls on strong rhythms, whispered and raspy vocal deliveries, and a broader range of dynamics than much of her recent work. But when she does lean into the noise she’s so well versed in, it takes on weirdly soothing, meditative qualities.

Image result for lizzo cuz i love you album cover

Lizzo
Cuz I Love You

It was a good year for albums about the end of the world. But if you wanted an album that actually made you feel good about yourself, Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You was it. This was the album for Lizzo to lean fully into being a pop singer, and the result is full of celebration and killer hooks. Whether she’s telling a boy off, contemplating running the world, or just feeling herself for being fabulous, Lizzo’s party is the party we want to go to.

Image result for alexander tucker guild of the asbestos weaver

Alexander Tucker
Guild of the Asbestos Weaver

Anyone familiar with Tucker’s work as Grumbling Fur (together with Daniel O’Sullivan) will instantly recognise his signature kitchen-sink-sci-fi. On opener “Energy Alphas” a warm, buzzy bass drone weaves around Tucker’s plain-but-sweet chants and hissing drum machines. Formally minimalist but rich in texture (particularly with the treated strings that appear throughout the rest of the record), Guild of the Asbestos Weaver is a beautifully enigmatic haven.

Image result for jenny hval the practice of love

Jenny Hval
The Practice of Love

Jenny Hval’s latest work still features her airy, laid-back vocals and meditative synth-pop, but these are brought into a more conversational setting, juxtaposed with spoken word sections and snippets of interviews with other female artists. “High Alice” and “Ashes to Ashes” have that late night mixture of elation and anxiety previously found in “Female Vampire”, but the central and eponymous track somehow manages to achieve a similar effect by layering voices speaking over and against and through each other.

Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and nature

Fat White Family
Serfs Up!

The excesses and controversies of the Family have always overshadowed their music, but since moving out of London and playing in several off-shoot bands, they are back armed with cartloads of bangers. Opener “Feet” is pure Pet Shop Boy histrionic dance anthem with a pounding synth line and a string section, whereas “Tastes Good With the Money” shows a lighter side, with a glam stomp and Baxter Dury channelling a cockney Serge Gainsburg.

Image result for aldous harding designer

Aldous Harding
Designer

If you listen to Designer distractedly it might simply come across as pleasant, but if you have ever seen Aldous Harding play live you’ll know there is a taught energy undercutting all her work. Wide open eyes, a twitch at the edges of the mouth, something off-kilter with the laid-back vocals. You can hear it in the broken shuffle of “Designer”, and in the quiet background noises of “Damn”.

Big Thief
U.F.O.F

The first of Big Thief’s ambitious two-album release for the year, U.F.O.F. has all of the delicate qualities associated with their work. What feels significant is that frontwoman Adrienne Lenker has found a way to convey intimacy beyond fragility. Still vulnerable, but with a new sense of strength, U.F.O.F. will pull you in as close as you’ll let it.

LIVE REVIEW: Boris, Vega, 01.12.2019

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Boris live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Boris have gained cult status with their idiosyncratic take on slow, ominous waves of distorted guitars. Having collaborated with everyone from doom lords Sunn O))) and noise king Merzbow, Boris are the kind of band you bring a spare set of earplugs when you go see them. So their opening song, “Away from You”, comes as surprise: the delicate, reverb-y guitars, tasteful drumming and breathy vocals are about as far away as you can get from noise.

But Boris have never been a band that’s easy to define. With countless albums to their name, they have slowly morphed away from chugging psych band to a more genuinely experimental outfit, borrowing with ease from shoe-gaze, abstract noise and J-pop.

The confirmation of this comes with “Coma”, second track both of the set and their latest release, LOVE & EVOL: the sense of space is still there, but this time it is tackled with their signature wall of noise. Having seen Sunn O))) about a month ago it’s interesting to see that guitarists Atsuo and Wata are employing a similar live technique to Stephen O’Malley and co, slowly gesturing each chord change in order to synchronise with the ponderous tempo.

What’s so impressive about Boris in a live setting is how the trio manage to produce so much out of two guitars and a drum kit. It helps of course that Atsuo and Wata have an endless supply of pedals and pre-amps at their disposal, Atsuo supplementing his down-tuned guitar with an extra bass neck (as if Boris are ever in need of even more low end), Wata achieving the same effect electronically.

The energetic soul of the band is drummer and vocalist Takeshi, who tonight is in full stadium-goth mode, black lipstick and head mic. Boris may be experimental, but they are also fun. They nod to their origins with a cover of the Melvins’ song that gave them their name, and close with the lush, My Bloody Valentine-inspired “Farewell”. Which proves they also have a taste for appropriate titles.

LIVE REVIEW: Sarah Louise, 18.11.2019

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sarah louise live at alice copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

If your introduction to Sarah Louise was through her lush folk album Deeper Woods, or her trad Appalacian duo House and Land, you might be surprised by her current live set up: Her characteristic 12-string has been replaced by an electric, but the main elements are a sampler, synth, and pedals. On her latest release, “Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars”, she channels the cosmic music of Alice Coltrane and krautrock as she does her more traditional folk influences.

The common element throughout is Sarah Louise’s powerful voice, soaring above fingerpicked guitar and drum machines alike. The concert hall at Alice has been reduced in size by black velvet curtains, the audience huddled together at tables, and Louise’s down-to-earth presence gathers everyone together into a warm cloak against yet another wet autumn evening.

This is not Sarah Louise’s first time in Denmark, having played at Fanø Free Folk Festival in 2018 with House and Land, but it’s only fitting that this be her first trip to Copenhagen, ending the current season of Free Folk Mondays at Alice.

There is more of a DIY feel to the songs in a live settings, particularly in the charmingly unselfconscious drum presets that ring oddly beside the drones and rattles and bells. This new approach works surprisingly well with Sarah Louise’s older material as well: the sparse, electric version of “Bowman’s Root” seems to have switched seasons, from autumn to winter.

LIVE REVIEW: Church of Misery, Loppen, 22.10.2019

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church of misery live at loppen christiania, copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Japan’s seminal doom band, Church of Misery, have survived a quarter of a century and countless lineup changes (their bassist Tatsu Mikami being the only stable member) with a very simple formula: denim flares, Sabbath-worshipping stoner riffs, and songs about serial killers.

The four-piece take to the stage with little fanfare other than the standard bearing their name and logo, and from the way vocalist Hiroyuki Takano languidly introduces the band, you can tell that Church of Misery’s dedicate is exclusively to the re-creation of their most beloved music.

Take “Make Them Die Slowly” from their 2016 album And Then There Were None: that slow 4/4 kick drum, couple with the detuning at the end of the guitar riff are pure “Iron Man”, although not even Sabbath could come up with lyrics quite as gleefully tasteless as this.

church of misery live at loppen christiania, copenhagen

Church of Misery seem to aim to take things to their extremity: the most rigorously orthodox sound, the most brutal subjects possible, the most 70s flares you could imagine. Mikami’s bass is slung so low that half the time it is resting on the floor. And the end result is undeniably fun.

INTERVIEW: Peter Hvalkof from Alice talks booking and Spectacle

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Photos by Morten Aagard Krogh

Since 2017 Alice has been the home to experimental, global and electronic music in Copenhagen, guaranteed 4 years of funding from the Arts Council and Copenhagen municipality. Half way into this project, the venue is showcasing its unique cocktail of genres this month with a two day series of concerts and talks under the banner of Spectacle.

We sat down with one half of the booking team, Peter Hvalkof, in the café of the neighbouring Union cultural center to get an idea of the work that goes into producing one of the city’s most unique cultural spaces, and to get a preview of what to expect from them in the near future.

Peter started his career in concert booking in the mid 90s working with Roskilde Festival, and by now describes himself their most senior booker. “At least I’m the one who has been there the longest!” His focus has always been on bringing acts from every part of the globe to Denmark, from Malian desert rock to Brazilian tropicalia.

His work at Alices started by way of one of its predecessors, Global. Started in 2006 in the same space now occupied by Alice, Global started out by buying bookings from Roskilde Festival. Most of these were Peter’s own bookings, which made it natural for him to team up with Global. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement: Global would be something of a scouting ground for Roskilde, and as such could attract a wider variety of acts to its own venue. “For most people it’s not just a chance to discover a new band,” Peter explains, “it’s a way to discover entire genres and cultures.” 

The delight of Roskilde Festival, and what spurred Peter to get involved in the first place, was exactly this potential for stumbling across the unknown while crossing an otherwise nondescript Danish field. We’ve experienced this ourselves in our reporting on plenty of occasions, memorably encountering the Thai band Khun Narin crossing the festival with their massive soundsystem after a set earlier in the day.

Attracting audiences to unknown bands is a much easier proposition these days of course, since even the most obscure act is only a quick search away, but you still need to earn that audience and inspire them to make that discovery. “There are so many curious people out there, who trust the programming, who instead of settling for what they already know are willing to take the risk. And for some it could be the concert of a lifetime.”

Peter Hvalkof of Alice and Roskilde Festival

“It took four years at Global to gain an audience that trusted that what we were doing was something spending the money and time on.” Of course Alice can take advantage of the same symbiotic relationship with festivals like Roskilde and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, but that doesn’t mean it requires any less work : “we knew that when we merged Global and Jazzhouse into Alice we would have to start all over. It takes a while to build a reputation, but we are improving all the time.”

Aside from its regular audience, though, Alice has also seen shows completely sold-out by expat communities. The most notable instances recently have been Italian songwriter Vinicio Capossela and Turkish psych-star Gaye Su Akyol last autumn. Gaye, Peter is keen to point out, will be returning to Roskilde this summer. 

Between booking for Alice and Roskilde, Peter is clearly a busy man. In the last year at total of 316 acts have passed through the doors of Alice, with only a brief one-month window of reprieve in summer. The planning for Spectacle started in autumn, so with that and Roskilde booked it’s time for a short breather. Today, in fact, Peter is technically on holiday, but he has come over especially to greet the Mekons who are playing here later this evening.

We spend some time discussing the term “global music” and its older cousin “world music”, the topic in fact of one of the upcoming talks during Spectacle. “For me, when it comes to describing to someone what I do as a booker at Roskilde or Alice, at least the term ‘world music’ is something they understand.” But then what is global music? “It’s local music from ‘out there’, but that could just as easily be Jutland as Zanzibar!”

Focusing so much on acts from the most disparate parts of the world also entails a considerable amount of effort in terms of paperwork: “I spend so much time writing letters of invitation to make sure that artists from outside Europe are getting their visas.” But this is hardest on the artists themselves: in the case of one duo from Niger, this meant spending a week on the streets of Burkina Faso while applying for a Danish visa. “Then they had to spend give weeks in Accra to get their visas for Britain, can you imagine that?”

“When I travel, one thing that always makes be happy—but also a little ashamed when it comes to my culture—is the fact that whether I’m talking to an electronic producer of a metal bassist, they know so much about their own musical heritage. That’s hard to find in Danish musicians.” But certainly not impossible, since Spectacle will see—alongside international electronic and folk acts—local bands like psychedelic outfits Ipek Yolu and Klimaforandringer, as well as Copenhagen-based composers Sofie Birch and Xenia Xamanek.

“Spectacle is a way to add some more focus on what we are doing. We talked earlier about hating the term ‘world music’ and in fact we tried to avoid the world ‘festival’ too, but if you create a series of concerts and you end up naming it… well that is a festival.”

As well as being its own venue, Alice as a project reaches out into other spaces as well, from the Union Cultural Center we are currently sitting—which will house the talks that are part of Spectacle—, to the churches of Christians Kirke in Christianshavn and Brorsons Kirke in Nørrebro. There are talks of also hosting events in the neighbouring Sankt Johannes Kirke. 

Later in the summer Alice will also be home to shows from the likes of Nadah El Shazly and Girls in Airports as part of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and is bringing its bigger acts, such as German experimental big band Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, to the Ofelia Plads stage in the city center. 

The Alice Spectacle will take place 26 and 27 April.

LIVE REVIEW: The Mekons, Alice, 09.04.2019

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Mekons live at Alice in Copenhagen

Looking at the Mekons tonight, you might take them for the kind of band that tours English corn exchanges covering Fairport Convention and the Stranglers. The eight of them shuffle on stage good-naturedly, and almost immediately call for gaffer tape to fix an according strap. But no, almost immediately the cover is blown.

The Mekons aren’t a bunch of nice old-timers (although in fairness they do seem lovely), they are something of a living miracle: a punk band that has survived, endured and flourished for over forty years. From the classroom punk of their 1979 debut they have explored everything from sparse post-punkEnglish folk, country and western, and reggae; they have spread from Leeds to Chicago, collaborated with Kathy Acker, and continue to produce music with humour and bite.

Tonight is ample proof of this, a mix of material from their latest album, Deserted, as well some classic Mekons barnstormers. These merge well together, not because it all sounds the same, but conversely because variety has always been an essential element of the band.

Jon Langford and Sally Tims and Tom Greenhalgh share the main vocal duties amongst themselves (one of the interesting things about the Mekons is in fact how these different voices feel so consistent across their work). The folk elements are provided by Susie Honeyman on the fiddle, Rico Bell on according and Lu Edmonds (also of The Damned and Public Image Ltd) on saz duties, while Steve Goulding (hear him in Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives”!) hits the skins.

My ears are still ringing a little from standing too close to the stage, but what is a little tinnitus compared to the one-two punch of “Ghosts of American Astronauts” and “Hard to be Human Again”?

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.

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