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LIVE REVIEW: Wolves in the Throne Room, Loppen, 27.04.17

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Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Wolves in the Throne Room are known for their singularly long, meditative takes on the black metal genre, infused with concerns with mysticism and the moody landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. The kind of band who wouldn’t be out of place on a rainy Wednesday at Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse, or, in this case, a windy Wednesday at Loppen. Originally scheduled to play Christiania’s other larger venue, Den Grå Hal, their loss is our gain, as Loppen allows the audience to get within hair-whipping distance from the band.

We arrive just in time to catch the second opening act, Orm, whose double vocals–one a deep death metal growl, the other a higher-pitched black metal howl–would seem a little gimmicky were they not accompanied by some very tight playing. Their debut LP also has one of the gnarliest covers I’ve seen in a while, a tasteful landscape including a full moon, a stormy and kraken-infested sea, and a castle on fire. I really want that on a mug.

WITTR arrive on stage prepared to create their own atmosphere, complete with ambient soundscapes and burning incense (picture below, although that could also be the most badly-rolled blunt ever photographed). But these are just garnishes, quickly overshadowed by the intensity of the playing. As their recently re-released debut proves, what truly distinguishes the band is their ability to generate atmosphere out of distortion and obsessive double-kick drums.

Tonight, the band starts at the beginning, with “Queen of Borrowed Light”, the opening track of their debut. It’s a solid introduction to the band, and one which eschews most of the atmospherics in favour of doubled-up soaring guitar riffs. It’s odd, but the real meditative moments, that is those that focus attention, are created not by slower tempos or lower volumes, but by stretching out the most intense moments. At a certain stage the lightning-fast tremolo picking begins to sound more like a long continuous tone than many shorter ones.

As our very own Morten put it, behind all the theatrics there is an unmistakable post-rock side to WIITR, moments when they sound closer to Mogwai (but without the sarcastic song titles) than Mayhem. Which, rather than being a criticism, is actually the reason we like them in the first place.

LIVE REVIEW: Moor Mother, Jazzhouse, 06.04.17

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Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Already reportedly something of a fixture in the Philadelphia scene, Camae Ayewa’s Moor Mother project has lately brought her to wider attention with the release of her debut album, Fetish Bones. Even tonight, in a reduced-sized Jazzhouse, the audience is packed together and buzzing. The object of their enthusiasm is a confrontational mix of noise and politically-charged spoken word, dense with samples of old blues records and deafening, distorted synths. And, a little surprisingly, a theremin.

What ties this all together is what Ayewa would term “time-travelling”, a narrative of historical and contemporary black experiences in America. Like many, I’d be interested to read an exegesis of this record, and am honestly surprised I haven’t found one yet. I’m certainly not going to be the first to try: I don’t think anyone on Earth is clamouring for a middle class Italian dude’s hot takes on race.

But Moor Mother’s great strength as a project is Ayewa’s experience as a poet. The title alone of the album is a good example of her ability to bring different strands of meaning together: on the one hand we can read fetish bones as a reference to the talismans of West African Vodun traditions; but in the context of her references to police killings and systemic racism, this begins to sound more like a fetish for bones, an institutional reliance on violence.

Not that you have much time for these thoughts during Moor Mother’s set: her presence demands attention, her declamations scathing but also clearly witty (“It’s ok, the world has already ended”). Coming from a punk tradition, she throws herself at the audience, a moshpit of one, dragging and pushing people, mimicking violence but always with an astonishing degree of control. During “Deadbeat protest” she comes wheeling in to my corner of the venue, almost tripping over a stair and steadying herself by grabbing onto my jacket. Five seconds later the track ends, she rights herself, pats my back and strolls back.

Behind the often bleak soundscapes of Moor Mother, Camae Ayewa emanates positivity and an eagerness to engaging with people, which explains the initial enthusiasm from those in the audience who had clearly already encountered her. The good news for the rest of you is the promise that she will be back in July, expect updates from us when we get more information on that.

LIVE REVIEW: Moon Duo, Pumpehuset, 29.03.17

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Moon Duo live at Pumpehuset

Photos by Johannes Leszinski

 The key to Moon Duo is their simplicity: three instruments, three chords, one drum beat and 5 to 10 minutes to explore their every nuance. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t. Moon Duo have two modes, on and off. Fans of crescendos and dynamic juxtapositions had better look elsewhere.

It’s two years since the last time I saw the Duo, and the roominess of Pumpehuset is a marked difference from the sweaty shoebox that they played previously. The reason for a larger venue, quite apart from having perhaps gained greater notoriety in recent years, is made apparent as soon as the band take to the stage. A large white semicircle at the back acts as a screen for some major psychedelic eyewash, as a thick weave of multicoloured beams reaches out into the audience.

Moon Duo live at Pumpehuset

It’s one of the best combinations of light and sound I’ve caught in a while, to the extent that for long periods of the set I have absolutely no clue what song they are playing. Nodding my head, banging a long-empty bottle of water on my leg. This isn’t exactly a new experience for me, but perhaps unusual for a sober Wednesday night.

The distinctive and ridiculously massive headstock of Ripley Johnson’s signature ’59 Airline waves in time with a solo barely hovering above Sanae Yamada’s keyboards. The real unsung hero, though, has to be John Jeffries and his unerring metronomic beat. No frills, no fills. After a very tight 60 minute set, the band’s encore is an appropriately thumping version of the Stooges “No Fun”. A banger, but very far from the truth.

Moon Duo live at Pumpehuset

 

LIVE REVIEW: The Black Heart Procession Play 1, Jazzhouse, 22.03.2017

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The Black Heart Procession live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

The Black Heart Procession broke a three-year silence to mount a modest European tour celebrating 20 years since recording their debut album, the pre-search engine era 1. If you didn’t know this going into their set at Jazzhouse, then you didn’t find out until after they had made it through the album and were into the encore. They’re not a band to make a fuss or really chat all that much between songs.

Opener Sam Coomes, touring his debut solo album, brought a glitchier version of his work with Quasi. Perched on an amp in lieu of a piano bench, he’s got an analogue drum machine, loads of twiddly knobs to twist between songs, a stuffed vulture mounted on his mic stand, a rotating mannequin head with LED eyes, and more pedals underfoot than seems logistically reasonable — including an air synth, which effectively acts as a theremin he can operate with his foot. It’s more visually stimulating than you’d expect a guy at a keyboard to be.

Sam Coomes live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

It’s not a competition for obscure objects to trot out during the show, but the Black Heart Procession begin their set with frontman Pall Jenkins playing a saw. And while it’s a neat party trick, it’s also a detail that demonstrates why 1 has aged so well in 20 years. The current line-up of the band, augmented by accordion and violin as well as drums and synths, is mostly built around organic arrangements not subject to technology’s fads or evolution. It also emphasizes the band’s range of dynamics in a way that is lost on their albums: Everything on the recording always sounds very mellow and delicate, and it’s surprising just how loud a song like “Release My Heart” can be.

The encore is less orchestrated: “A Cry for Love” (because it’s curiously popular on YouTube), “The War is Over,” and the treat of an unnamed new song. The new song is introduced with a brief speech from Pall, who explains that the song is about borders and refugees and how the rhetoric in the US is uncomfortable for two guys who grew up near the Mexican border. And while the Black Heart Procession doesn’t seem like the sort of band to get political, the new song is undoubtedly one of theirs. If this marks a new direction, it won’t take fans far off course.

LIVE REVIEW: Emmy the Great, Ideal Bar, 27.03.2017

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Emmy the Great by Alex Lake

It’s an interesting choice for an artist, especially an established artist, to start a show with a cover of someone else’s song. That Emmy the Great chose to start her gig at Ideal Bar with the Cranberries’ “Dreams” in Cantonese was an interesting artistic move, a moment for everyone who recognized the tune to feel clever, and a talking point about how the hallmark of a song’s popularity in Hong Kong is the number of Chinese cover versions of it (apparently there’s a techno one of “My Heart Will Go On” that we should all either seek out or avoid like the plague).

It’s a quirky but competent beginning, one that sets the tone for Emmy (née Emma-Lee Moss) to tell stories about songs and a childhood in Hong Kong. She’s alone on stage with her guitar and a pocket-sized synth set-up, but clearly comfortable with chatting about herself in a way that’s self-deprecatingly charming, at telling you little facts about songs that meander just the right amount.

In this solo set up, it’s interesting to see how much her style has changed from her debut album, First Love — written primarily for solo acoustic guitars at a time when everyone was drooling over Bon Iver and plotting to move to a cabin in the woods. Her work since then has come with more complete band arrangements, relying less on finger-picking, and when it’s played by her solo, it’s in a stripped back form. It’s clear that she has given thought to how she would perform them — even the requests she takes from the audience (she can only play half of them — one fellow is particularly bad about choosing songs she can remember).

The evening is best represented by Moss’s latest single, “Mahal Kita,” an upbeat pop song about foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. It’s a final look at the personal history she’s shared all evening and how it radiates beyond her. It looks beyond the exploitation of workers and focuses on what they do to reclaim their senses of self. Moss is marking out a next phase, beyond the super-personal songs, beyond just guitars, toward something ever more ambitious.

Photo by Alex Lake.

LIVE REVIEW: Hamilton Leithauser, VEGA, 01.03.2017

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Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen live solo Vega Copenhagen

It is a confessedly jet-lagged Hamilton Leithauser and band that take the stage at Lille Vega, but as a performer who seems to revel in a certain rootsy journeyman-musician persona, this could turn out to be an asset for him. His latest album, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, a collaborative effort with ex-Vampire Weekender Rostam Batmanglij (present tonight in spirit only), reached a fair few ‘Best of’ lists last year, confirming Leithauser as more than simply the frontman of The Walkmen.

Judging by the impassioned singalongs in the front rows this evening, a good portion of the audience is here on the strengths of the solo work alone, and might not even be familiar with the band that gave us the perennial indie club night banger “The Rat”. The wiry texture of those Walkmen records is softened in Leithauser’s later work, which replaces their ironised distancing with more direct romanticism.

The energy this evening comes mostly from that voice, the pained howl that somehow manages to modulate into a croon or a Dylanesque sneer. The tension generated by that upwards strain can be thrilling, although perhaps an hour is just about the limit at which it can sustained. In fact my earlier characterisation is incorrect: you don’t, in fact can’t, really sing along with Hamilton Leithauser, even if you know all the words, at most you sing beneath him.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Lambchop, Lille Vega, 27.02.17

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lambchop live copenhagen lille vega

Lambchop’s FLOTUS has been acclaimed as a daring reinvention, and indeed few of us would have expected Kurt Wagner’s outfit to stray from their left-field brand of Americana into a world of autotuned vocals and, yes, even the odd trap beat. But this narrative of a reinvented band misses the fact that the band have always traced a unique and at times bizarre path. Find me another alt-country band that would, say, choose to release a concept album centred around the Nixon presidency.

The iciness of these new electronic elements lend an air of fragility, a tension that is very evident in the room as the band remain remote and quiet at the back of the stage. The vocal effects act as a mask that might allow Wagner to both indulge and play with a set of lyrics more private than usual. Slowly the thaw sets in, and soon enough the piano player is cracking ever more weird and confusing jokes. It occurs to me that Kurt Wagner may have just decided to stay silent in order to coax out of him ever more awkward sex stories.

Drummer Andy Stack, of Wye Oak, looks on in amused confusion, and though his contributions are limited, they are the most notable instance of Lambchop’s “new sound” beyond Wagner’s vocals. “Directions to the Can” in particular stands out as one of the grooviest tracks Lambchop have produced in a while, aided by a subtly filthy hip-hop-inspired bass line.

By the end of the night if Wagner is getting close to talkative, and his use of the vocal effects switches from understated to enthusiastically experimental. They announce their last song as a cover, and as people whoop at the first couple of chords Wagner laughs out loud and calls them out: “this could be any song.” In fact it is a very Lambchop-ified cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine”.

LIVE REVIEW: Future Islands, Jazzhouse, 26.02.17

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Future Islands

Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

It has been over a year since Future Islands last played a gig in Europe, which, together with a shortly to be released album and the last-minute announcement of this show, adds a heightened layer of excitement to the four-piece’s re-emergence in Copenhagen. This gap makes itself felt in the initial hiccups with the keyboards, but this ends up providing frontman Sam Herring the opportunity to begin his intense love-in with the audience.

There are few performers who are quite as obviously thrilled to be onstage as Herring. Arguably it was his idiosyncratic dance moves during their Letterman performance that attracted enough consistent attention onto the band to propel them into wide recognition, but there is more to it than an amusing dad dance. Seemingly every moment on stage is an opportunity for him to stare intensely into the eyes of every single audience member in the first three rows, point and grab for emphasis, usher them in.

Future Islands

Last time I saw them, Future Islands were vague specks on a stage a football field away from me. With that level of distance it’s easy to be dismissive of their more mawkish lyrical tendencies, but when the man is sweating, crying and singing a foot away from your face, it’s hard not to get swept up in the drama.

The new material shows that, even when inevitably many of Future Islands’ songs end up being about “the road”, they haven’t lost any of their intense, campy, melodramatic joyfulness. Until the album comes out in a few weeks’ time I won’t be able to say exactly which song made me laugh out loud, but be prepared for an instance of rather wonderful pseudo-reggae synth hilarity.

 

Noise, Love and Anarchy: Aarhus’ International Supernoise Festival


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Supernoise Festival Aarhus

“It has been an experience in insanity to organize this festival,” said Jcak, one of the organizers of the International Supernoise Festival. The second annual festival took place from February 1-7 in the Latin Quarter of Aarhus. One hundred different acts from 20 countries performed. An independent label of sorts known as Den Jyske Harsh Noise Mafia (DJHNM) has been putting on noise events since 2012, but this year’s Supernoise Festival is the biggest event they ever organized.

Luna is one of the arrangers and artists who helped the organizing team put on the festival. According to Luna, the festival had a lot more attendees this time along with more performers.

“It was taking place more than just the weekend so there was room for a lot more artists, especially international artists” she said. “This one was a lot more organized, due to it being a week long so we had to have it more organized.”

For Luna, festivals like Supernoise play a significant role as they provide a different perspective of the music scene in Aarhus, where there aren’t a lot of noise shows taking place.

“It’s nice to give this variation to the music scene and culture because it’s not always seen as music or an art form, but it is, and I hope that people took their time to go watch this event, even for just a couple of hours,” said Luna. She hopes that the festival helped open eyes and show how inspirational and artistic other forms of music culture can be that you don’t see every day.

Sometimes, getting a platform to express your art is difficult, but it is a great source of expression when you do, and Supernoise has been that platform.

supernoise festival aarhus

“When you understand it, noise becomes a language, and I don’t want to define it as a musical genre as such,” said Jcak. “I think noise is more about expanding the understanding of what music and sound can be. I consider it being much more chaotic, where the performative, the visual elements and the situation plays a huge part and where nothing is oppressed.”

Throughout the festival, organizers Jcak and Emma had a group of volunteers like Luna helping them. The sound crew in particular were responsible for keeping order in all of the chaos and controlling the schedule for the artists, who had around 20 minutes per set. SkraldeCaféen were also a big help for the organizers during the festival, setting up a kitchen at the venue and providing food for everyone. This festival was mainly a get-together of sorts for friends and family and well-wishers of all the performers. While none of the artists were paid, the money from the festival will be spent on their travel expenses.

“Being marginalised by mainstream media, the international noise scene acts like family,” Jcak and Emma explained. “For this reason as well, most of the artists who played at Supernoise are already friends of ours or friends of friends. We don’t accept oppressive attitudes – in both festivals we have rejected only two artists for being uncool,” they say, referring to sexist attitudes as what was uncool.

According to Jcak and Emma, there is a favourable audience for noise events in Aarhus and people are open and interested in experimental art forms. Even when people aren’t aware of what to expect, they show up anyway.

“Right now we need a little break and then we will see what happens, but hopefully there will be another festival, and if not we will surely make a shitload of noise again. Noise and love for anarchy,” said Jack and Emma. “We don’t know when or if there is going to be another Supernoise Festival, but if so, it will properly be a month long with 1000 artists.”
-Zahra Salah Uddin

LIVE REVIEW: Ed Harcourt, Pumpehuset, 15.02.2017

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Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset

Ed Harcourt is a versatile performer. Over the years, I’ve seen him play in dive bars and concert halls, with a full band and solo at an unstable upright piano in an old man’s pub. His set at Pumpehuset, however, removed him from notions of singer-songwriter and took the idea of one man band to another level.

Harcourt’s latest album, Furnaces, is full of dense production that doesn’t seem like it would lend itself to a solo performance without a lot of prerecorded tracks. And to be fair, he does have a number of prerecorded tracks at the ready for new songs and his back catalogue. What Harcourt also has, in a quantity I’m unable to count, is looping pedals. This means tracks are sometimes built from the drums up, but also that there are subtler shifts of multiple guitar or piano parts layered without fanfare.

It also means that no matter how familiar you are with Harcourt’s work, it’s impossible to predict what form songs will take. “Occupational Hazard” is reconstructed by drums, then guitar, then piano, and back to guitar, whereas the indie pop of “Church of No Religion” is stripped back to loop-free acoustic guitar. And we all learn a valuable lesson in etiquette: A whoop from the audience while Harcourt is trying to loop a tape played back from a Fischer-Price tape recorder gets picked up by the mic, requiring him to start again.

Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset
Photos by James Hjertholm

It’s one of many awkward but strangely endearing encounters between Harcourt and the small crowd that’s assembled. We’ve all decided to be in on the joke, whether he’s pondering aloud if he should buy a ball gag or inviting an audience member whose shirt he admires to go on a shirt pilgrimage to Milan with him. It’s why we laugh at these monologues and maybe why during “Until Tomorrow Then” Harcourt steps off the stage to serenade the crowd — a recurring schtick for this song — people hug him.

He’s already reached the two hour mark by the time he comes out for his encore, at which point the audience starts calling for older songs. He complies readily with “Music Box,” with laborious effort for “Shanghai,” and skirts a request for something from Lustre by vamping the chorus of “Haywire.” He’s nearing the end of his tour and has pointedly said that he doesn’t care how long this drags out. And quite plainly, staying past curfew to take your obscure song requests says more about how an artist feels about his audience than weird banter or even hugs ever could.

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