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LIVE REVIEW: Stereolab, Vega, 07.08.2019

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Stereolab live at Store Vega, Copenhagen, Denmark

Photos by Amanda Farah

Stereolab are a band that really shouldn’t need any introduction. Their two-decade long career produced ten records that brought together an encyclopaedic knowledge of both avant-garde and pop music to create something new, mesmeric and alien. Exactly 10 years since the haitus brought on by the death of singer Mary Hansen and the breakup of the main driving force of the band, Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier, Stereolab are back.

The evening opens with a set by local noise act Speaker Bite Me, who have recently had their own reunion after a ten year break. The howling guitar work and heavy drums and bass are elevated from their influences by the vocals of Signe Høirup Wille-Jørgenson, whose impassioned singing style is in marked contrast to the headliners.

Stereolab have a reputation for being more of an intellectual than an emotive band, whose lyrics are more likely to be about boom-and-bust economic cycles rather than love and breakups. But this side of them is balanced by their honed ears for 60s lounge-style melodies and driving motorik rhythms. By the end of the night my jaw is hurting by grinning all the way through the set as the band tear through crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser.

Between Sadier on vocals and Gane on guitar, at the centre of the stage keyboardist Joe Watson brings to life the heart of the Stereolab sound, a mix of dreamy Moog synths, 60s organ and semi-modular bleeps on top of which everything else is built. In a live setting the intricate looping bass lines of Xavier Muñoz Guimera are more pronounced, building the momentum alongside Andy Ramsay’s drums.

Stereolab live at Store Vega, Copenhagen, Denmark

Since the death of singer Hansen in 2002 the classic Stereolab overlapping vocals are supplied by Watson and Guimera, who do an admirable job in providing the babbling falsetto underlining Sadier’s cool delivery.

The set is carefully balanced to cover almost all of their records, with slightly more emphasis on their later , more laid-back work, although there are plenty of opportunities for some very vigorous nodding along to “French Disko” and “Ping Pong”. Tonight “Baby Lulu”, from the personally-overlooked Sound-Dust, stands out in its baroqueness, sounding like the next-door neighbour to fellow hauntologists Broadcast, and an incitement to delve ever deeper into the wonders of their catalogue.

LIVE REVIEW: Sudan Archives, Loppen, 10.07.2019

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Sudan Archives live at Loppen for Copenhagen Jazz Festival

Sudan Archives has sold out Loppen. This is impressive on its own terms, and even more so for an artist from outside of Denmark with only two EPs to her name. But there isn’t a second of her set that makes you doubt how she got to this point. Brittney Denise Parks is a performer

The set is, rather confusingly, part of Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Though Parks has cited a range of influences for Sudan Archives — hip-hop, West African rhythms, R&B — jazz isn’t an immediately obvious one. The violin isn’t generally associated with jazz, but it is central to Sudan Archives. And what she does with the instrument challenges the ideas of what it is meant to do. Aided by pre-programmed beats, Parks loops her instrument in an endless fashion, sometimes bowing it, sometime giving a solid thump, and sometimes strumming it in a way more akin to finger-picking a guitar than the traditional pizzicato. 

Parks works every angle of the stage, whether singing or playing violin, strutting in dangerously high flatform boots and getting the crowd moving in a hot, sweaty mass. Her vocals blur in such a way that it’s hard to tell what’s a backing track (like the beats) and what’s been looped, but her delivery is dynamic. She can be half-spoken and direct as on “Nont for Sale,” but she can also flatten everyone in her path by belting out a note. 

As we’ve all seen many phoney encores, a genuine one can take everyone by surprise, including the artist. Parks has left the stage following her planned (and, admittedly, appropriate) encore, but the audience is still cheering, then stomping, then chanting for her. It takes her a moment to return; again, she only has two EPs, what is there left to play? But she does treat us to a new, beat-driven song. While it doesn’t have the impact of her planned final song, “Come Meh Way,” the thrill of the collective excitement is enough to carry us all home.

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2019 Day 4, 06.07.2019

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Lizzo live at Roskilde Festival 2019

The fourth and final day of Roskilde 2019 greeted us with a one-two punch of positivity and acceptance. There’s a lot to unpack from Janelle Monáe’s set on the Orange Stage. Do you start with the visuals? The radical politics? The messages of love?

Janelle’s visual references, like her musical references, are broad. There are nods to Rhythm Nation in both costume and dance, Wakanda, plus the vagina pants from the “Pynk” video. Her walk on music is the theme from Space Odyssey and her guitarist shreds a Prince riff. She delivers heartfelt messages about want to make memories and the need to protect one another (but we have to take her claim that it’s her favorite festival with a grain of salt when she shouts “Copenhagen!” at the crowd more than once). And while so much of her message is rooted in being American — whether or not she’s calling for the impeachment of her president — the sexual and geo politics of songs like “Screwed” extend beyond any one country.

Late in the set, Janelle pulls three audience members up on stage to dance during “I Got the Juice.” One girl is so overwhelmed that she just throws her arms around the singer and cries. Janelle hugs her and gets her to dance (and the girl does dance). All three dancers from the audience are warmly cheered by the rest of the crowd and that, more than singling people out, is what makes this segment endearing. That maybe you really can encourage people to love each other, that you can make a memory, that you can fight the power while making the people dance. 

Before Janelle can finish her set, Lizzo is on stage at Apollo echoing many of the same sentiments. The hip-hop-pop artist has built an identity around body positivity and loving yourself. She’s having an easy time of things; the masses assembled for her have already been converted to the church she wants to take them to. Chants of “Lizzo!” interrupt her between songs and lead to an impromptu singalong of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name.” 

Though the enthusiasm of the crowd probably helps, Lizzo herself seems like she has energy to spare. She comes out ready to toss her hair and check her nails, shimmying with her back-up dancers, getting the crowd to sing lines back to her. She knows which songs the audience has seen on YouTube, she knows what catch phrases they’re expecting of her, and just how much she can tease while espousing her mantra.

In some ways, it’s easy to see Lizzo as a next generation Janelle, that in a few years the production budgets will catch up and she’ll be on a bigger stage with more dancers and more costume changes, still owning her own juice, still telling audiences that she loves them and they should love themselves.

Converge live at Roskilde Festival 2019

A run across the main festival area gets us to an altogether different atmosphere with Massachusetts hardcore royalty Converge. It’s getting close to twenty years since their breakthrough album, Jane Doe, but if the band is looking a little long in the tooth they are showing no signs of tiring during this set. Frontman Jacob Bannon channels that manic straight-edge energy by practically flying around the stage, occasionally tripping himself with his own mic cable only to continue hollering from the floor. Bassist Nate Newton contributes his fair share to the chaos, at one point improvising an emergency backwards roll that sees him punch the air in mock celebration before getting stuck in again. Clearly drummer Ben Koller and guitarist Kurt Ballou are playing the sensible half of the outfit, balancing the anarchic energy of their bandmates with their signature math-rock and metal inflected virtuosity.

The Comet is Coming live at Roskilde Festival 2019

Contrarians that we are, we studiously avoid the Cure at Orange Stage, preferring to conclude our Roskilde experience with a set of psychedelic acts on the literal fringes of the festival. Some might be surprised to see London-based trio The Comet is Coming playing at Apollo, a stage normally devoted to dance music. After all, isn’t saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings being called “the reigning king of British jazz”? But just as the Pharoah Sanders-esque cosmic introduction to the set concludes, the stage feels more than appropriate. Drummer Betamax moves effortlessly from wild jazz intricacy to floor-stompers, aided by the synth wizardry of Danalogue, who veers between Tangerine Dream, er, dreamscapes, and absolutely filthy basslines.

There is always abandoned vibe to the last day of Roskilde, and the Comet is Coming have perfectly tapped into it, drawing a crowd to themselves, stealing ears from the Cure with this high-energy distillation of cosmic jazz and club music.

Kikagaku Moyo continue the late night spaced out theme. The Japanese band’s 60s psychedelia is cut through with some serious noise and the occasional noise-maker to add to the percussion. Ryu Kurosawa’s sitar is interesting on a conceptual level as a nod to the band’s 60s influences, but also because it is used in such a way as to not resemble a sitar at all. In Kurosawa’s hands it more closely resembles a third electric guitar in the line-up, one that allows its player to go off on different warbling tangents.

The five members of Kikagaku Moyo have clustered together in a tight circle make the stage seem big, but it adds to a sense of unity and spontaneity, as if this all just came together rather than being carefully orchestrated. The bass sits very heavily in the mix — making the drums seem light by comparison — providing a very clear anchor for each song. The shifts from chilled out jam to hard rock feel organic and keep the mood around the band relaxed, even as the energy in the crowd picks up. The band end on a high note, walking away from a cheering audience that has been vibrating along to one of their sharper songs. They then come back on a few minutes later, sheepishly announcing that they thought their set was only 45 minutes. They are orchestrated enough to pick up immediately and play for another 20. We can forgive an accidental encore.

And so, for us at least, Roskilde ends at Avalon tent again with Gaye Su Akyol and her “peace, love and rock and roll from Istanbul”. The Turkish singer is no stranger to Denmark or Roskilde, having played at the festival for the first time in 2016, and then again at Alice last November. Each time her performance becomes a little more colourful, this time with the addition of a golden cape with which to lead her band of masked players. The rest is a blur of surf-rock, 70s Anatolian psych and garage, the backing band packing serious punch when it comes to the funked up rhythm section and squealing synths. Which is far from a bad way to end a festival.

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2019 Day 3, 05.07.2019

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wu-tang clan live at roskilde festival

As the sun shines and gives us respite from a day of chill and damp, Aldous Harding has set out to unnerve us. She plays beautiful folk music with a throwback 60s vibe, accompanied by a band of mellow players. She mostly sings in an unearthly soprano but has the vocal dexterity to sell the flat alto beloved of Nico fans. She also spends the majority of the set pulling faces and menacing her audience. From her seat with her acoustic guitar, she sneers and leers, glowering from behind her microphone with a hard, accusing look.

Aldous Harding live at Roskilde Festival 2019

Her band are all in on the joke, staring down or blankly ahead when not playing. They’re waiting for the audience to catch up with the joke, which some do with immediate laughter. It is the most engaging set by a person sitting down playing an acoustic guitar that we’ve seen in a long time. You could argue that Aldous’s performance methods detract from the beauty of her music, but quite plainly there are enough earnest singer-songwriters out there. There will never be enough weird.

Since our encounter with Sonic Boom at Alice a month or so ago we have been eagerly awaiting seeing his former Spacemen 3 bandmate Jason Pierce with his second legendary band (seems almost unfair to be allowed more than one), Spiritualized. Where Boom was minimalist Pierce is much more a maximalist, arriving on stage with a fivepiece backing band and a gospel trio on backup vocals. What emerges from this is a cathartic wall of space rock incorporating everything from Stooges-era garage to gospel and psychedelia. The noise is undercut by the fragile figure of Pierce himself, sat down hunched over his guitar, his foot nervously trembling over a wah wah pedal. It’s a captivating combination that distills 50 years of rock history into a plaintive cry that makes grown men openly sniffle as they headbang.

Spiritualized live at Roskilde Festival

We’ve had mixed success getting into Gloria this year, so we queue up early for Yves Tumor. It proves to be a good strategy; the room is packed for the artist and his band. The set is more straightforward rock than expected, with shades of glam rock (or properly eccentric hair metal) squelching out a lot of the electronics he is more commonly associated with. There’s something very Velvet Goldmine about the performance, and through the dark lighting on the stage we can see singer Sean Bowie hopping and thrashing about, his garment flowing around him. Better lighting might give us more of the effect compared to the silhouettes, but from our perch on the bleachers we can see bodies bobbing in time, sucking energy from this short set. As a festival set, it’s good, but it makes us want to see a performance that represents the full range of Yves Tumor’s catalogue.

yves tumor live at Roskilde Festival 2019

After the warmth and darkness of Gloria, the chill in the air and the brightness of the sky on the walk to Pavilion for black midi are little disorienting. black midi are a slightly mysterious, incredibly young four-piece from the UK. Until very recently they were just a name you’d hear about from the odd music journo at the Quietus, with absolutely no music online. Today at the Pavilion stage the reason for the hype becomes immediately obvious, with a blistering set of dexterity and musical exuberance. The band themselves, young as they are, are looking considerably more serious, possibly annoyed at the mixing of the vocals, but by the end, thanks to an impromptu call-and-response with the audience, they are grinning away and feel more at one with the calculated silliness that accompanies their technical proficiency. Think Don Caballero mixed with a touch of Les Claypool and you begin to get the idea. And with their debut album so recently released, it seems inevitable that black midi are going to go far indeed.

black midi live at Roskilde festival 2019

A quick run back to Orange Stage gets us to the Wu Tang Clan, a name that promises so much, possibly too much. After the puzzling introduction of the trailer for the RZA’s new movie, it’s immediately apparent that the sound is going to be absolutely dogshit for the rest of this set. The vocals are often inaudible, the samples mixed so oddly that half the time all you can hear is kick and snare. But the songs themselves are undeniable, anything from 36 Chambers is going to sweep the floor even if the sound quality is worse than an iPhone stuck down a toilet. But not wanting to have our musical memories tainted too much, we move on.

Underworld live at Roskilde Festival 2019

We move from one set of gristled veterans to another sort. Underworld are blessed with a markedly better sound at the Arena stage, which they use to its fullest to deliver their euphoric, rather campy style of house music. The tent is jam packed, lasers are flying all over the place, and the kick is powerful enough let you forget that the two people producing all this look like retired accountants. You can’t help but feel the pressure for them to end with their monument of a song, “Born Slippy”, which they milk for all its worth and deliver the almost definitional festival experience.

The energy of one dance band into another dance pop act will keep you riding high. It’s on this wave that we float over to Robyn’s headline slot on the Orange Stage. The Swedish pop queen is an old hand at festival performances, and she knows she could come out at full force with hits. She doesn’t do this. Robyn knows how to pace a show. It’s a slow build that includes a dancer and a costume change before she blasts into full Euro pop mode. She hits her stride on “Between the Lines,” shimmying and strutting and playing off of her backing dancer. The sound isn’t quite right and her vocals are too quiet, but the audience is into it, they’re warmed up, they’re in a peak festival state of mind.

We’ve been hearing “Dancing On My Own” all day. It’s come from various sound systems, out of phones, from passing groups just singing it. In many ways, this feels like the moment the entire festival is building up to. So when the opening chords of the song stream out, the crowd predictably goes nuts. Robyn silences her band and has the audience sing back the first chorus; she looks overwhelmed by the results. 

It’s kind of Robyn to bring this song out before the 2am mark, but a sign of her artistry that she doesn’t save her biggest hit for last, but rather where it fits best. Because even though the crowd thins at a faster rate when it’s done, the emotion is heightened for those who remain. Two girls shriek with joy for “Call Your Girlfriend,” and amorous couples willfully misunderstand the lyrics. But she brings us down slowly, so that when the last band member has left the stage it feels like a natural conclusion; of course we must now all drift on our own ways.

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2019 Day 2, 04.07.2019

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Every Roskilde Festival includes the weather debate. Ideal weather for a festival isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Clear skies and sunshine quickly give way to sunburn while the dry air leads to the phenomenon known as the “piss cloud” (if you don’t know what we mean, spare your imagination). 

The second day at Roskilde Festival is damp and chilly. We haven’t reached mud pit conditions, but it’s still made us grateful for every set that’s under a tent. Sharon van Etten starts off Thursday for us on the Avalon Stage. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Sharon van Etten, and in that time she’s become a fucking rock star. The band she’s assembled to play her latest album, Remind Me Tomorrow, has her performing more as a vocalist and less as a guitarist (and not at all behind keys). She spends much of the set stalking the stage and channeling Patti Smith energy; she is completely transformed from the indie rocker we saw a few years ago. Also transformed is the reception of“Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” which in the past few years has become her signature song and an out-of-left-field hit that echoes back to her from the audience. There’s also a subtle difference in how Sharon projects herself when she plays solo. Past the midway point in her set, the band clears out and she takes a seat behind her piano. She take several minutes to talk about the state of the world, her desire to be optimistic for the sake of her young son, and to explain the the cover she wants to play is still relevant, despite being written in the 80s. Her soulful rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys on Mopeds” is an early highlight for the festival.

Julien Baker exudes a different kind of confidence, perhaps better described as fortitude. She is alone on stage for much of her set at Pavilion, or accompanied by a violinist. She is also competing with the noise bleed from a Norwegian electronic duo on the Apollo Stage, but seems completely unfazed by it.

Julien is suffering from being in the wrong space. Her guitar is warmly reverberant and delicate. Every time she wants to test the intensity of her vocals, she sings off mic, which remarkably still carries through the audience and over the sub bass from the next stage. At one point, someone tells her to turn up the volume and she says, “I’m just here to deliver the message,” which is southern US speak for “shut the fuck up.” The truth is, she could blow everyone away with volume, with intensity, but she saves it for the outro of her penultimate song, “Turn Out the Lights.” And that moment is incredible swelling of beauty and emotion when it arrives. But the main takeaway from her performance is that we want to see her play again in literally any other setting.

Before we reach the madness of a headline set at Orange Stage it’s always tempting to spend some time in a more intimate setting. Tirzah’s unique brand of minimalistic rnb would seem to fit the bill just right, her 2018 debut Devotion having the soothing touch you crave for after a while in the bustle of a festival. But it was not to be: unknown to us (and presumably whoever booked her for the small confines of Gloria stage) she is a huge draw, the queue to get in stretching around the block even after the concert has begun. So we have to grudgingly tramp back to the damp fields in the heart of Roskilde Festival to await the headliner.

Orange Stage is home turf for Mø, her rightful place. To emphasize this, she begins her set among the audience, standing on the barriers in a long flowing cape that becomes a banner as she runs through the crowd up to the stage. Mixing pop expansiveness with the grounded-ness of her more DIY roots, Mø has spent the last six years building her way up from her festival debut of Roskilde Rising, move up the stages to get here, with nothing more to conquer. Which just means there is all the more reason to party. The high-pitched samples of “Kamikaze” cut right through the sheets of rain, calling the stragglers over to the head of the festival. Before too long she’s already bounded out into the crowd again, leaning back into the front rows with the joyful nonchalance of a private karaoke party with friends.

Pausing for breath in the rain-swept centre of Orange Stage field, Mø recounts her trip to see the Spice Girls reunion. Closeness to the audience is something she takes very literally, and you can sense that much of her energy comes from this empathy for what it feels like to see your favourite pop stars in a huge crowd. It is also a teaser for a reimagined cover of “Say You’ll Be There”, accompanied by her childhood friend Josefine Struckmann Pedersen and Jada, who promises to be the heir apparent of the Danish pop queen. By the end of the set confetti is falling, flames are bursting from below, and Mø can’t help but keep repeating the drop of the very appropriately titled “Final Song”.

After a performance like that, we can’t help but get more excited for the Scandinavian left-field pop godmother, Robyn, the next evening.

LIVE REVIEW: Ava Luna, Pumpehuset Byhaven, 28.06.2019

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Ava Luna live

In terms of ideal concerts venues, it’s hard to beat Pumpehuset’s Byhaven on a warm summer evening. A break from the more extreme heat makes sitting outside very enticing, and New York synth-pop group Ava Luna are the perfect band for the setting. They essentially play block part music: It’s mostly dance-y, has a decent beat, but isn’t so deafeningly loud that you can’t decipher the three-part harmonies.

But maybe the setting isn’t perfect for the music. Not if you’re a performer, anyway. The perfect summer setting of Byhaven means that loads of people who aren’t especially fussed about the music are having drinks and chatting with their friends in the shade of Pumpehuset’s main building. Ava Luna start their set off unannounced, with a song so mellow it’s hard to tell initially if they’ve started to play or are still tuning up. Few people move towards the stage, even is as it becomes clear that the show is getting going.

If the band are discouraged by the inattention, they don’t let it show. Ava Luna know how to sell a song. Singers Felicia Douglass and Rebecca Kauffman have different, energetic performing styles — Douglass bops around with a fluid energy while Kauffman has more of a rigid theatricality — but the deliver every tune like the whole garden is rapt in their attention. The performance is balanced well, switching between singers and choosing key moments to play up the harmonies; leaning more into bright, vibrant synth lines; and deliberately slowing things down. It feels like the setlist has been chosen deliberately for the audience, for people who might want to get up and dance and acquiescing to those who want pleasant background music. It’s just curious that there is courtyard full of people who don’t realize what they’re missing out on.

LIVE REVIEW: Caterina Barbieri, Alice, 06.06.2019

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Caterina Barbieri live at Alice in Copenhagen

Photo by Amanda Farah

It shouldn’t be news to anyone anymore that modular synthesizers are experiencing a huge renaissance in recent years. The instrument has evolved from the exclusive preserve of a privileged caste of electronic wizards to a viable tool for composition. We’ve seen expressed most often in Terry Riley-esque psychedelic dreamscapes (notably with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith). With her latest release, Ecstatic Computation, Caterina Barbieri’s approach to the modular synth appears to take as its reference point those 90s rave sounds so beloved of her compatriot Lorenzo Senni.

Stripped of any obvious beats, Barbieri’s music relies heavily on arpeggiation to achieve percussive effects, using generative processes to create these blissed-out emotional landscapes. As if keen to underline the literalness of this phrase, the backdrop to her set is a series of slightly warped nature scenes, at times oversaturated and at others bleakly monochrome.

On arguably her breakthrough record (at any rate the record that I happened to discover first), 2017’s Patterns of Consciousness, we hear a very cerebral, rigorous side to Barbieri. Close to minimalism, but far from its more hippieish vibes, its second side appeared to be pointing into the transposed club music we hear tonight.

The thing that really has to be stressed about the tracks on Ecstatic Computation is that they are all, without a doubt, absolutely ridiculous bangers. The fact that they have no drums is almost an afterthought, but is also key to their emotional pull: there is a yearning, borne out of the functional necessity of the styles Barbieri borrows from to reach a climax. Here the buildup is its own reward.

The five-note riff of “Bow of Perfection” blazes neon across the room and disappears, before bursting out again, and again, speeding up, the richness of its single sawtooth wave justifying the bravado of its title. Its a breathless set that speeds through work, occasionally breaking into thunderous noise and at others, for example the choral vocals on “Arrows of Time”, allowing an almost pastoral sweetness.

LIVE REVIEW: Priests, Loppen, 28.05.2019

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The band Priests live at Loppen, Copenhagen

Priests have always been an excellent specimen of where they come from: A D.C. punk band with a strong DIY ethos, political bent, and high energy live set. Their latest album, The Seduction of Kansas, shows more focused lyric writing and smoother production than their previous efforts, but thank goodness they’re still embracing the unpredictability of the unpolished live show.

While the set leans very heavily towards songs from their recently-released new album, they choose an early point in the set to introduce a cover of “Mother” by Danzig (forthcoming as a single). This is really the first moment when Katie Alice Greer’s vocal ability comes through. She really is a powerhouse, a fact that is easily downplayed on the recordings or when the reverb makes everything a little softer. 

Priests’ ability to roll with the punches also underscores their hard-won punk-professionalism. “I’m Clean” gets a stripped back performance after their drum machine breaks. It leaves drummer Daniele Daniele singing while Greer plays the drums with maracas, looking uncertain for the first and only time of the set. But there is something very authentic about saying, “our equipment is broken, but fuck it, we’re going to try anyway, but heads up it might not work” (paraphrasing, but that was the gist). And when you have a band that delivers an otherwise fully committed set, there is a strong appeal in seeing a little bit of vulnerability.

The stage lights are only working intermittently by the time they close out the set. So before the final tune, “Jesus’ Son,” Greer asks everyone to take out their phones and shine the lights at the stage. Red stage lights flash in an out, alternating between Loppen’s familiarity and a basement show feeling. Seeing the band embrace this quality, and seeing the community of the audience joining in, is just about the most punk experience there is.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

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!

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