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INTERVIEW: Jenny Hval Talks About Her Solo Work and Her New Lost Girls Project

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Jenny Hval live at Jazzhouse in Copenhagen

Jenny Hval has wowed us again and again with her inventive approaches to pop music and her ever-evolving live show. Her music builds multi-faceted compositions of subtle electronics, spoken word, and ambushes with soaring vocals. Her lyrics are an intelligent and humorous look at life, death, capitalism, and the roles of women in a weird and unpredictable world. Though she’s low key about it, she is also incredibly prolific, with the EP, The Long Sleep, released in May, a 12 inch single out as half of Lost Girls, and a new novel out in the fall.

Jenny talked to us on the day between a set at Roskilde with Lost Girls, her side project with long time collaborator Håvard Volden, and a set at Brorsons Kirke as part of Jazz Fest. She answered some questions for us over the phone while walking through Christiania (“I’ve actually never been here before. I’m walking around a bit, it’s really nice. I don’t know if actually saw the entrance. I just came in through some back roads.”) and shared her thoughts on touring as an income, the different aspects of productivity, and how both collaborators and visas have influenced her work.

What do you have planned while you’re in Copenhagen?

I haven’t been that much in Copenhagen. I don’t think I’ve ever had a day to go anywhere to see anything before. I’m always just playing and then going somewhere far away the next day. This time I’m here for a few days because we’re doing several things, so we have a day off. It’s really nice. Just seeing things and rehearing a bit for tomorrow.

We were playing a Roskilde set and then also playing a set with my band. It’s just a lot of preparation because they’re not so dissimilar but the band is a five-piece band instead of a duo when we play Jenny Hval concerts at the moment. It’s super exciting for me because I have a trumpet player and a saxophone player. I’ve never had that kind of band before. It’s really exciting but we haven’t been able to rehearse because everyone’s away on summer holiday. It’s going to be a little intense tomorrow, but it’s going to be great.

Is this the first time this band is playing together?

It’s only the second time because we had a show in Oslo originally, but it was new. Then we had some shows that were booked before I knew that this band was happening. We’ve done so many different things, actually, and this always happens. I wish I had a way to figure out how to book things so that we could do something that’s a little more stable, but things are kind of falling out of the sky a bit. Some shows are booked six months in advance, some shows are booked a year in advance, some shows are booked two weeks. And then the band changes all the time. We’ve done shows with a choreographer and dancer who is now seven months pregnant, so she is now resting. But she was with us and then I needed to find someone else. So it keeps changing, and it’s really nice, but sometimes it’s then also creating this weird sudden changes in line-up and what we do. And that can be eccentric. But eventually it’s always great. Just sometimes it’s a little too fast for me and we have to think for a bit. But it’s been really good.

I tell people to go see you live specifically because the show is always so different. A friend of mine saw you play in New York and then I saw you play two weeks later in Denmark and it was completely different.

It’s kind of come together that way because of visa problems. Originally we couldn’t bring a band over to the US because — this was several years ago — the band didn’t have visas. It’s very hard. It’s even harder now, actually, to get visas to the US. So I started working with some Americans that I also worked with for music videos. For a while we had this strange, completely different way of arranging a show when we were in America and when we were in Europe. It was just a practical movement but it ended up being very educational and really wonderful for me. I’ve brought the American artists over to Europe, that’s much easier with visas. I’ve tried to make people see both versions over the past three years, but it’s really weird how very practical situations make for huge changes in the art sometimes. I’m really grateful for that. Thanks American visa situations!

That might be the only time anyone ever says that.

Yeah, and I’m not really saying it. But I’m very grateful for the artists and friends I’ve been able to work with. They influence the show greatly. Everyone I work with will change the show. It’s not really about me changing things, it’s the situation changing. Maybe I’ve made the concept of what a concert is pretty open so that I’m able to allow other people to change it. Hopefully I’m contributing to that. To me, it feels like sometimes I’m doing the same show until we start playing and I realize, “Oh, these other people are now changing things so I can do new things.” It really is very much about what other people do for me. Credit to them.

Related to how people change the performance, the Lost Girls was a very different experience seeing you perform. Has the project performed much?

We’ve done quite a few shows and also we’ve done many of my shows as a duo, as well. Sometimes because we’ve been on a long tour in the US and we couldn’t bring anybody because we couldn’t afford it. Sometimes because people were doing other projects. That’s kind of the core of my show as well, with different material and a different set up.

My project and the Lost Girls we don’t really see as something we need to separate so much from each other because when we play shows on the Friday and on the Sunday in the two different formats, it’s really quite ridiculous to try to force a separation. What you’ll see on Sunday will sometimes be very related. We’re playing a couple of the same songs, too, but hopefully the experience of the full performance will be different or at least a new experience, rewarding in its way.

How do the songs present themselves in the recording process as belonging in one place or another?

They don’t. I think we’ve worked together for so long that the thought process just needs to be within the music. We haven’t actually recorded anything knowing we’re Lost Girls ever. We recorded two songs for the 12 inch we released, but they’re so old. When we recorded Håvard’s track, we didn’t even know it was going to be a collaboration. Originally he was going to release it under his name.

I had a track that was like a third of my show for two or three years, it kept changing a lot, but it was this moment in a concert that was very, very, very much a part of my solo project, but only as a live version. We couldn’t make it fit on any of my albums. It was just too old and to different, I guess, from the albums I was making. These two tracks were just lying around and we finally got to finish them and we realized it should be a collaboration because we’ve contributed to each others’ work so much that it’s more of a collaboration than a solo thing for very different reasons. I still think they made a really nice combination on the 12 inch.

We’ve never recorded anything while we’ve been consciously aware of having a project. This will happen hopefully in the future. Not sure when. But it might or might not contain any of the stuff we’re doing now. We still haven’t figured out quite how we exist in a recording type thing.

You’ve created so much work in the last few years and it seems like you’re always on tour. What is your process that allows you to produce as much as you do while touring?

The reason why I can be productive is partly because of Norwegian funding. Because I can afford to do the touring. People say that the touring is an income, but it’s not for me and a lot of other artists unless you scale things down a lot to the bare bones or you have some kind of security net, which I do have, because I’m so lucky I’m Norwegian and I’ve been able to get touring grants and other grants for my work. That’s how I can focus on working. I don’t have to go back to a day job when I come back from a tour to fund the next tour.

But I think that I’m productive because I feel like I have to tour. I love playing shows but I’m very much of two minds about the need to be so visible. I think I have to compensate by producing a lot of stuff when I don’t tour because otherwise I’ll just die in a sea of visibility. My main work is not the traveling, my main work has always felt like the writing. When I’m on stage for that one hour when I am on tour, I feel like that’s the writing process. But the rest of it can be very difficult and tiresome.

That’s how I get energy also when I’m at home: I need to have a project and so I make a lot a new stuff. And I collaborate probably with the most productive person I’ve ever met. It’s very easy to get energy from other people’s constant ideas. It’s not about producing a lot of work, it’s more about this hunger for ideas and to engage with the world that I get from other people that I work with. The ideas and writing world around me is pretty rich, so I can join in on that energy also. I think for me it’s been easy. I also work really fast.

In terms of how you write or how you record?

I write pretty fast. For good and bad.

When I do write fiction, I’m fast but also slow. I’m fast to write a load of first draft stuff. Then it takes me a long time to expand and go really deeply into what I’m trying to say and create the rest — because I usually write down stuff and think, “It’s all here.” Then I realize, “No, it’s all here if I’m inside my head.” I need to go into an editing processes to make other people read what I heard in my head. And that takes a long time.

I envy a lot of people who do less. I think that there’s always a danger that being productive could also just be fitting in nicely with currently capitalist trends. The more you produce, the more you can be visible. At least for me it’s a way to be visible without compromise because — well, there’s always compromise — but at least then I have something that I’m proud to allow other to read or listen to instead of just being visible by having a scandalous Instagram. Some people are good at that, but I’m not. I struggle with the general visibility and accessibility. It’s easier for me to write and present new work than it is to tweet.

I know so many writers who put so much of their energy into social media because they feel like they have to even if they don’t want to.

I think that I probably would have produced a lot more and maybe bigger things if I didn’t have to do things like accounting and all the practical things. I probably do spend 50% of my time doing those things. Even if I seem productive, I’m also very productive — like everyone has to be — with all the stuff you just have to do. Because artists are forced into being freelancers and having our so-called businesses, a commercial business. Which means you’re trying to fit into something you don’t fit into. They’re very frustrating. But thankfully you can return to your art sometimes and get some other energy.

Just as you were saying touring isn’t the income source people think it is, there’s that whole unglamorous layer that people who receive regular paychecks don’t have a concept of.

Some artists, when they write about money, it’s amazing how much they know. I’m following a few and they write really great stuff about money because they know so much about the tax system, the interest rates, various loans you can get, the structures of how ideologies exist in the world. Sometimes that’s because of very unfortunate happenings, when you’re forced into being your own business and somethings goes wrong and blah blah blah blah.

So grant applications must be both a positive of that but also a different kind of time suck.

For sure. Also, in a country with a lot of grants, there will be some artists who do amazing work but they can’t write applications. Or they didn’t have the right education, so they struggle with being recognized. That’s a whole separate economy and world of recognition. It’s not like all Norwegian artists get those grants. Au contraire.

Back to what you were saying about writing fiction, do you think your novels influence the thematic nature of your albums? Or does your music influence your fiction?

I don’t know. I didn’t write Blood Bitch or Apocalypse, Girl in relation to any work of other writing. I didn’t write between 2012 and 2016 at all aside from music, and I also didn’t write those two albums thinking of themes at all. The themes were something I made long after I’d finished the album. But concepts and themes are not always something that’s planned. Sometimes the creative process is pretty independent. It’s unconscious. It seems so well planned afterwards because everyone reads the press release and the press release makes everything seem like it was planned. But don’t be fooled by a press release! It’s a treacherous little document.

All photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Jenny Hval, Alice, 08.07.2018

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As any of our readers might have guessed by now, Jenny Hval is one of Here Today’s favourite performers. We’ll brave anything, including the post-Roskilde blues to catch her live. Tonight in the intimate environment of Brorsons Kirke we had one of the best opportunities to see her up close, her conceptual theatrics brought into a more personal sphere. Her latest EP, The Long Sleep, sees her taking a more expansive, Pharoah Sanders approach to her music, complete with a horn section.

Tonight Jenny Hval has brought a stripped down horn section, trumpet and saxophone, to rework some of her previous material as well. “Conceptual Romance” begins by eschewing synths altogether, before gradually being joined by a Korg Minilogue and eventually a drum machine. But perhaps “stripped down” is not really the right term for a performance that involves abstract visuals and a member of the band distributing candyfloss from an ornate wooden box.

Of course the saxophone and trumpet really come into their own on “Spells”, where they weave with each other in an expansive, dreamy mood. This song also has the great virtue of showcasing Jenny’s vocal abilities, often obscured in her more spoken-word based work. From a low whisper she climbs up to the refrain’s heady, piercing notes that abandon conceptualism for something a little wilder and riskier.

Although there is a lot of thought and calculation in Jenny Hval’s work, including abstruse references to critical theory, there is also an immediacy to it. Nowhere is this more typified than in the smartphone suite that marks the middle of the performance. It is not unusual for Jenny Hval live sets to involve the band taking selfies and videos of the audience, but tonight they are using the phones for the music itself. Generating tones from an app, the band wave their phones in front of a microphone to produce varying layers of drones. It’s a pretty good summation of her approach to music: thoughtful, funny and beautiful at the same time.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2018, Day 4, 07.07.2018

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Juana Molina live at Roskilde Festival 2018

“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” If you don’t mind getting biblical, it feels appropriate. After four very dry days at Roskilde Festival, the dust has taken root in every pore and people are covering their faces with bandanas and construction masks that are bringing some Occupy-Wall-Street-meets-bird-flu-epidemic vibes. While we didn’t let it ruin our fun, some of those strange vibes did carry over to the bands we saw.

Juana Molina
“We are ready for war,” says Juana Molina when she and her band take the stage. “I will tell you later.”

As many artists are making political statements or getting caught on the wrong side of visa applications, the mind goes in many different directions. But what’s happened is that the band’s gear got lost en route from Argentina. Molina sang us a song about running to make a plane and then having to borrow gear in Roskilde.

This endearing approach to explaining their preoccupation during the set is helpful, because the band are definitely preoccupied. They’re uncertain of what songs to perform, Molina herself is annoyed at her guitar pedals, and they’re all deeply suspicious of the borrowed Moog synthesizer that never gets used.

So it’s likely not the most representative set of her career. Things veer more towards the South American folk side than the electronica side, making it all more groovy than moody. The set ends on a positive note with the audience providing backing vocals for “Un día.” Maybe it wasn’t a war, but it was good of the band to soldier through.

Mogwai
Mogwai is keeping us waiting. There’s a problem with their gear, and this is one band that won’t work without their pedals. Twenty minutes behind schedule, they emerge with “Mogwai Fear Satan,” four-part guitars and additional drumming from Honeyblood’s Cat Meyers.

The songs come out more dreamy than spiky, big washes of guitar rather than noise that feels absent of aggression despite volume or clever titles. By the time they hit “Remurdered,” there are smiles across all of the bands’ faces, whether from the joy of the mathematical rhythm or simply relief that nothing has broken down mid set.

They close with the sprawling “My Father My King,” coming in at under 20 minutes, allowing them to exit on a massive amount of feedback. Nothing skimped on, nothing trampled over. It was one of those cases where they had to keep us waiting if it was going to work at all. — AF

Gorillaz live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Gorillaz
This set feels like it’s divided into parts. The first part feels very much like a Damon Albarn solo show. Their new album, The Now Now, seems designed for performing without worrying about coordinating schedules or using prerecorded tracks. Albarn is more than capable of holding the stage on his own, and with singles like “Tomorrow Comes Today” and “Melancholy Hill” sprinkled in, the audience is in familiar territory. But Albarn’s speech about his affection for Roskilde, and his clambering up to the rail — something he would previously not done while performing with Gorillaz — underscore the solo show feeling.

The second part of the set, when the guests begin to emerge, feels like a shot in the arm. De La Soul’s appearance for “Superfast Jellyfish” is a portent of what’s to come, and people predictably lose their minds over “Feel Good Inc” later in the set. The energy completely changes as Little Simz and Moonchild Sanelly take the stage and “Stylo” gets new life with Pevene Everrett taking over for the late Bobby Womack. The tour for Plastic Beach had conditioned audiences to expect something spectacular all the time, but this approach of winnowing the set down to what can be performed by the house band and then only including collaborations where they can be found (as opposed to with prerecorded audio and video) is a more solid, sustainable concept.

That being said, the night ends on a very weird note. Closing out the Orange Stage for the whole of the festival with “Clint Eastwood,” what’s guaranteed to be a massive sing along, should be great. Del the Funky Homosapien, who provided the original vocals, comes on stage and delivers the line, “Finally, Damon let me out of my cage,” and then falls off the stage and out of view. The cameras pan over to a confused Albarn, who dashes over to where Del should be. The band continues playing for another 30 seconds, then stops as it’s announced that Del has hurt himself and the set is now over. The festival organizers, who less than two hours earlier were emoting about how lovely the festival has been, how many people have watching sets on the Orange Stage, what a great friend to the festival Damon Albarn is, have now come on to send everyone on their way. See you next year indeed. — AF

Mercy played both Friday and Saturday. Here they are on Friday

M€RCY
M€RCY closed out the Klub Rå program this year in the most perfect way. I was worried their 1 AM time slot (after Gorillaz on Orange stage and competing with Anderson.Paak nearby at Arena) would be ill-attended in the small, stuffy room. When I arrived, a mass of happy people were bouncing and swaying on the grass and the duo (Esben Valløe and Tim Panduro) had set up their mass of electronics in the DJ booth between the tent and the bar. M€RCY’s dark techno provided the perfect energy for the crowd so obviously running on their last fumes. Carefully crafted textures float and swirl around propulsive rhythms full of detail and nuance. Valløe and Panduro’s strength was in the restraint they showed, keeping the tempo at a manageable groove instead of trying to gratuitously hype up the crowd. Seeing an act reading and responding to the audience during a techno set is a rare thing, and M€RCY were dead on without needing to be bombastic. — MT

Words by Mikael Tobias and Amanda Farah. Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2018 Day 3, 06.07.2018

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David Byrne live at Roskilde Festival 2018

With the sun back in full force, Day 3 of Roskilde Festival 2018 was one for indoor sets. Klub Rå and Gloria provided us with much needed respite as well as moving electronic beats. We were ready for rock music outdoors by the time the sun started going down. Here’s how we paced our day:

The Lost Girls
Jenny Hval’s side project with long time collaborator Håvard Volden is an amalgam of the experimental for the sake of being experimental and pop songs that sound like they’ve been skimmed out of her catalogue. There are weird vocal loops and Norwegian spoken word, but then there’s Volden’s guitar helping him produce the kind of tracks that indie rock bands wish they could dream up for their adventurous electronica crossover albums. It’s also clear that this is a way for Hval to play with vocals and not necessarily follow strict song structures, which it’s only become apparent she does follow in comparison.

Having seen Hval, and by extension, Volden, perform together on several occasions under her name, seeing them positioned across a table from each other without props or costumes or backup dancers is a totally different experience. It feels like getting insight into something not fully fledged, something we a privileged few have been allowed to hear. — AF

Laurel Halo live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Laurel Halo
Laurel Halo’s impressionistic electronic music is not for everyone. She challenges the listener with oddly structured songs and unsettling vocals devoid of traditional pop hooks. Her effected spoken-word breakdowns are long enough to make you wonder when the payoff will come, and then… it doesn’t. But if you’re adventurous enough to succumb and allow yourself to be drawn into her world, it’s full of distorted beauty, musical precision and good old club music bliss. Halo’s set started with her unique avant-pop musings but quickly developed into a dance-floor friendly techno set combining Latin percussion grooves, FM pads, vocal samples as well as her live keyboard playing. Ultimately, Halo’s originality seemed lost on the crowd inside Gloria, but those who were eager to dance were certainly not disappointed. — MT

Bisse live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Bisse
Danish art rocker, Bisse (née Thorbjørn Radisch Bredkjær), whose catapulting stardom has as much to do with his eccentricity as his prolific recorded output (8 albums since 2015), brought an electric energy to his performance on the Avalon stage. Flanked by two incredibly tight drummers up front while his guitarist and keyboard player shredded behind him, Bisse sauntered around the stage with the same confidence as Mick Jagger or Freddie Mercury. Through multiple costume changes and an elaborate scenography with a mirrored telephone booth style box in the centre, his playful attitude and outward sexuality blended with the raw power of his vocals to provide an engrossing experience. Bisse honours his Danish heritage by singing in his native language instead of crossing over to the more commercial English. Yet, he is poised to be one of the defining artists of our generation based entirely on the strength of artistic contributions. — MT

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
There is no ceremony when Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds arrive on the Orange Stage, there is just the deafening wail of “Jesus Alone.” It’s an instant command of the situation, demand for attention, an establishment of dominance.

So the contrast of Cave climbing the rail to the crowd, allowing them to grasp his hands and paw at him, is immediate. He’ll end up in this place, on and off, for what amounts to half the set. It’s physically giving himself (and on some occasions, his microphone) over to people, whether making himself vulnerable as on the heartbreaking piano arrangement for “Magneto,” or simply trusting them as when he conducts their handclaps for “The Weeping Song.”

There is also sheer ferocity in the band on the whole: Warren Ellis is shockingly cruel to his violin on “From Her to Eternity,” making an unholy noise in the process; someone is forever having to deal with Cave looming over him at the piano; and “Jubilee Street” built to an explosive end that many performers would have found difficult to continue after.

Ultimately, the Nick Cave song everyone knows is “Into My Arms,” and Cave takes this opportunity to orchestrate a sing along. It brings levity to it everything, and is admittedly the least weird song for there to be a sing along to. It was a beautiful moment amongst the murder ballads. — AF

David Byrne live at Roskilde Festival 2018

David Byrne
David Byrne appears on stage sitting behind a long table, holding a plastic model of a human brain. This is the most boring thing to happen all set, because singing to a plastic model of a human brain pales in comparison to an 11-piece backing band, bare footed in matching gray suits, jumping around like an outsider artist marching band.

Byrne’s set is built around songs that focus on the barely-there silver linings of his back catalogue and desperate search for positivity in his new album, American Utopia, best evidenced by the perfect pairing of “Everybody’s Coming to My House” segueing into “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” He and his band are perfectly choreographed from the subtle hand flicks of his backing singers to arranged warrior poses full formation drum lines.

And if the collectivist rising evades you, if the lyrics to “Slippery People” don’t resonate as they should, he closes out the set with a  cover of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.” I don’t know how a song about police brutality in the United States translates for a European audience, but it felt very important to a transplanted American. It’s tying everything up with the heaviest moment, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this performance is an absolute joy.

Words by Mikael Tobias and Amanda Farah. Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2018 Day 2, 05.07.2018

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Boris live with Merzbow at Roskilde Festival 2018

Every festival has its highlights and hot tips, but it’s rare that you actually get locked out of seeing a band. The hottest ticket of this year’s Roskilde Festival wasn’t one of the headliners, but weirdo pop collective Superorganism. We attempted to catch their set on the Gloria stage, but half an hour before they were set to go on, the queues snaked around the building and into the Food Court. We’re among the many that missed out, so feast your eyes on what we did manage to catch. But if anyone actually did get to hear them, we want to know if they lived up to the hype.

Smerz live at Roskilde Festival 2018

Smerz
Smerz drag you into their murky musical world with no remorse and no second thoughts. But not in a devious way, more so with their nonchalant “we don’t really give a fuck, we’re going to do our thing regardless” attitude. And their thing is somewhat difficult to explain which is why they are so fascinating. Their heavy beats, twisted synths and dry mantra-like vocals pin them as electronic experimenters who are so serious about their art. On the other hand, they bring a sense of humour to their stage show that is somewhat out of place, yet they stand behind it completely unabashed. Their first two guests were two topless muscular men doing chin-ups on workout gear in the background (for only one song). Then their stage became a runway for a fashion show which was so ironic and serious that it was…not actually ironic. Check out their video for “Worth It” for further reference. Smerz delivered a flawless performance showcasing their inventive production, post-pop songwriting and a though-provoking aesthetic that left you guessing what exactly it was you just felt. — MT

Yangze
Jakob Littauer’s solo project is firmly rooted in electronic pop with clubby beats and groovy keyboard progressions, and it’s clear that he’s a talented producer with a solid musical background from the way his songs are crafted. The hooks are interesting and catchy, and the arrangements are unpredictable yet flow naturally. And damn, this dude can sing! Yangze is really all about the vocals and his pitched-up or vocoded lyrics cut through and complete his sound in a novel way without needing to hide behind clouds of reverb. Yangze captivated the crowd at Klub Rå and strung us all along with every note.

Boris live with Merzbow at Roskilde Festival 2018

Boris with Merzbow

There is something irresistible about this Japanese noise rock power coupling. Merzbow a godfather of noise rock. Boris are somewhere between glamorous, beautiful goths and super cheesy; while their guitarist and bassist pose elegantly, their drummer is conducting the audience from behind his kit with his drum sticks and manages to elicit a genuine horns up moment.

While the drummer is not about subtlety — something I love him for every time he bashes the gong behind him because gongs should not be about subtlety — there is something quite nuanced about the way songs shift from lurching rock to dark and dreamy to the spiky punk of Pink. Merzbow is hidden off to the side behind a table with his electronics, and it’s a little hard to make out what he’s doing until the last two minutes of the performance when Boris go quiet and his noise is finally distinguishable from their noise. But this set is a reminder of how textual and varied noise rock can be. — AF

My Bloody Valentine

There are some rumors about My Bloody Valentine’s live show that continue to hold true: They are loud (but not playing as loudly as their initial reunion tour 10 years ago), even when compared to Boris and Merzbow in the same night. The vocals are buried, but, as on the three-part female harmony of “New You,” can be unexpectedly beautiful. The visuals are a little 90s Windows PC screensaver, but after being blinded by Nine Inch Nails, it feels right, warm rather than harsh.

But there is no getting away from the abrasiveness that comes with the beauty. While Loveless and m b v songs have added synthesizers to brighten them, earlier songs have a car crash quality no harmony can take the edge off of. Par for the course, the band don’t engage with the audience, so we can only intuit that the emphasis on the burned film guitar sound over the synthy sparkle on “To Here Knows When” isn’t intentional by the annoyed way Kevin Shields looks at his guitar. This tentativeness is what throws things off, likely a nuance only he can hear, the fabled perfectionism that causes the band to disappear for years at a time.

In the end, there is “You Made Me Realise” to cap everything off, ecstatic cheers to the noise interlude, and ecstatic cheers for the final chorus. Metaphorically one would usually say that the dust settled, but in reality, as we stumble away from the stage, the dust swirled around us. It probably looks lovely from a distance, but in the midst of it, there’s an abrasiveness you can’t escape. — AF

Words by Mikael Tobias and Amanda Farah. Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Copenhell Festival, 20-23.06.2018

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copenhell logo

Beneath the swathes of denim jackets, bullet belts and Iron Maiden back-patches, Copenhell is a pleasingly diverse gem of an alternative musical festival that refuses to cater solely to the metal old guard. Of course, some of this year’s big names are cornerstones of the heavy world — from Avenged Sevenfold to W.A.S.P. and Ozzy — but the meaty line-up is pitted with artists that draw on everything from EDM to opera.

Even before the festival kicks off in earnest — on the inadequately titled ‘warm-up’ night — Copenhell makes a bruising statement of intent by hosting the grandfathers of post-metal, Neurosis. With only the festival’s smallest stage open to them, Neurosis work through a set made up of swaggering slabs of riffs and passages that wind to dead ends. The band’s tone is thick and cloying, almost claustrophobic — the sort usually reserved for small sweatboxes— but sounding satisfyingly heavy outdoors thanks to some deft sound-work.

In the harsh light of the festival’s official first day, Copenhell reveals its true bounty. The standard festival fare of food and merch stalls and bizarre sideshows are well put-together, but it’s Refshaleøen’s harsh industrial backdrop that really sets the mood. The 2000 metre2 unfaltering gaze of Fenrisulven — the Copenhagen wolf — watches over the weekend’s proceedings as 23,000 alternative music fans flood into the festival.

On paper, the opening day looks the weakest. The business end of Thursday hosts the likes of symphonic stalwarts Nightwish and bro-metallers Avenged Sevenfold, big crowd-pleasing acts that lack something in the way of nuance.

Lower down the bill, buried in the line-up, there’s much more to be had if the in-your-face stuff isn’t really your bag. While Parkway Drive are hardly subtle, their eco-metal manages both aggression and poignance. As the opening act on the main stage, Helviti, they have the dubious honour of setting the pace for the rest of the weekend and they do so with fiery aplomb.

Over on the smaller stage, gospel-cum-black metal act Zeal & Ardor are a different beast altogether. Their records have created a bit of a stir, so it’s gratifying to see their mix of spiritual chants from slave-era America and frosty screams land so well in the middle of the day. In less able hands, their Satan-fuelled ritualistic chants might seem trite or forced but a few songs in, the band have the crowd caught up in their thrall and chanting along.

Another black metal act, Danish born Møl, don’t quite summon the same trance-like state. As last minute replacements for bottled energy merchants Skindred, something gets lost in the mix. Their sensational new album, Jord, relies so much on high-end guitar to offset the grinding backdrop but it’s far too quiet and loses the flourishes that sets them apart from less by-the-book black metal acts.

Friday is an absolutely creaking with the prowess of its line-up so after inhaling all the caffeine and painkillers, we dive in.

Copenhell’s tendency to open the main stage with brutally high-energy acts continues. Nu-metal darlings Deftones could be a bit of an odd fit for this fairly traditional crowd, but they whip up a chaotic whirlpool in front of the stage with the likes of ‘Shove It’, ‘Rocket Skates’ and dripping-with-groove ‘Swerve City’. Chino is on masterly form, flinging himself around the stage and genuinely seeming to enjoy his crowd’s frenetic reception.

Yet more displays of kineticism comes from Japanese electronicore outfit Crossfaith. In front of a hard-drinking Danish crowd, their weird mash-up of EDM, blast beats and songs called things like ‘Jagerbomb’ goes off like a bomb.

After two back-to-back sweat-sets, Alice in Chains bring a pleasing and much-needed change of pace. The endless debates over Will Duvall’s suitability to replace deceased vocalist Layne Staley have finally — thankfully — seemed to abated. Duvall is a gold-standard frontman, easily as comfortable getting the crowd to bounce along to pulsing classic ‘Man in a Box’, wrenching heartstrings with the stripped-back ‘Nutshell’ or calling on the crowd to sing-along to new-era favourites like ‘Stone’.

The focal point of the weekend, Ozzy Osbourne, easily draws the biggest crowd. The man himself is on fantastic form, thundering around the stage and looking far more lively than he has in years, his live performances tempered to perfection by Black Sabbath’s wide-ranging The End tour last year.

Perhaps the biggest joy of the weekend comes from the addition of Zakk Wylde to Ozzy’s line-up. Wylde is a decidedly unsubtle guitarist, inserting pinch-harmonics into the least likely — and sometimes least appropriate — riffs and always on the cusp of dropping into a roaring solo. A big presence on stage, he isn’t eclipsed by the main man and intermittently steps forward and let’s rip.

The set is pretty close to spot on too, with three Black Sabbath covers — including the unexpected ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ — and packed with fist-pumping, cheesy classics that have defined Ozzy’s career.

Saturday is no less eclectic in its variety, and caters to all manner of tastes; whether you’re into experimental French avant-garde breakcore (Igorrr), cock-rock (Steel Panther) or even swashbuckling pirate metal (Alestorm), the final day of the festival is a veritable smorgasbord of heaviness.

The anticipation of the festival’s main stage closing act, Ghost, has built to fever pitch by the time frontman Cardinal Copia and his unnamed ghouls and ghulehs take to the stage, which is mocked up, fittingly, like a cathedral.

When Ghost started out they were a bit of sideshow, with fans as interested in the band’s Satanic garb as their music. Recent albums have completely overturned this misconception; Copia is undoubtedly theatrical but their musical content is bold and has hooks for days.

Songs like ‘Square Hammer’, ‘He Is’ and ‘Faith’ could comfortably be delivered by globe-straddling pop stars were the lyrics not about giving souls over to Satan. But when you think they are at risk of taking themselves too seriously, they escort out some geriatric black mass bishop to deliver the sax solo in ‘Miasma’.

The whole set is uplifting, amusing and mesmerising, in a way that only these Swedish rockers can be. A fitting end to a festival that refuses to be painted into a box.

LIVE REVIEW: The Dead C, Alice, 07.06.2018

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The Dead C live at Alice, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Dead C are considered a bit of an anomaly in the New Zealand music scene. While their contemporaries were engaging in the jangly pop-punk associated with the Flying Nun label, the trio were honing noise-scapes both brash and thoughtful. Three decades later, Bruce Russell, Michael Morley and Robbie Yeats are still going strong as a fiercely independent improvisational act.

Walking on stage to a sound collage of crackling voices and noises, the trio slowly start to disclose their separate functions, distinct enough to that you could tell, knowing nothing of them, that they’re dynamics have been honed over decades of playing together. Morley’s guitar is washed in reverb, delay, looping in on itself, a rough seascape over which his chants are occasionally just loud enough to cut through. In stark juxtaposition to this are the heavily distorted wails, drones and bleeps from Russell. His tiny amp has a pickup taped to the speaker, a technique I vaguely recall being used by Dead C fan Thurston Moore.

The drums follow the guitars rather than vice versa, their rudimentary rhythms there to enhance the chaos of Yeat’s bandmates. The impossibility of the task to impose a structure seems a premeditated satire of the idea of structure itself, couple with a distant, romantic reminder that at their heart the Dead C are a rock band.

You see this in Russell’s increasingly convoluted guitar techniques, as he abandons his strap to drag the instrument upside down on the floor, grating the strings with a beer can or abandoning it altogether to fiddle with his pedals. Because of that extra pickup taped to the amp itself the signal chain is so odd that the most improbable sounds start to emerge. Apparently satisfied with his latest effort, Russell turns to Morley with an obvious look of “I’ve done my part, let’s bugger off”, and after a few more truculent loops from his bandmate, eventually they do.

LIVE REVIEW: Çiğdem Aslan, Alice, 01.06.2018

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Çiğdem Aslan live at Alice in Copenhagen, Denmark

Istanbul-born performer Çiğdem Aslan stands at the centre of a whirl of cultures, languages and musical traditions. Her solo work focuses on the rebetiko tradition that grew out of cities in modern day Greece and Turkey during the Ottoman period, and as such featurues songs in both languages. These are songs of love and vice, full of drama and, if the exegeses to the songs are to go by, a certain amount of rebellious humour.

Tonight Çiğdem Aslan is accompanied by double bass, percussion and the kanun (or kanonaki for Greek fans)—a harp-like instrument played horizontally across the lap—a reduced set of instruments compared to her recorded material, but more than enough to summon the passion and melodrama of rebetiko. The double bass adds a touch of jazz to the sound, and the kanun moves from dreamy glissandos to tempestuous trills. Çiğdem summons the character of the mortissa, after which her first album is named—the rebellious barfly and chanteuse of the Aegean.

As dramatic and controlled as she is a performer, Çiğdem is also an enthusiastic storyteller, providing the audience with brief translated summaries of the songs. There’s something for everyone, from tales of a jilted wife hooking up with a young butcher in Smyrne, to reveries of hashish-induced bouzouki jams. A particular favourite of mine seems to sum up the quintessentially Mediterranean experience: a woman asks her lover to let her sleep over, promising him his mother won’t find out.

Slowly over the evening the audience is coaxed out of its nordic reticence, with girls from a local dance class twirling wildly in front of the stage, and people singing along in both Greek and Turkish. The atmosphere is contagious and before long you would be forgiven for thinking you could hear the sea lapping against the shore of some Cycladic island just outside.

LIVE REVIEW: Pere Ubu, Hotel Cecil, 29.05.2018

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Pere Ubu live at Hotel Cecil, Copenhagen, Denmark

In the 40 years since they began their career, Pere Ubu have never been worried about making their audiences comfortable. Their music is harsh, their lyrics are often grotesque, and singer David Thomas has cultivated a voice that is unsettling to its very core.

But what is most discomfiting about Pere Ubu’s performance at Hotel Cecil is Thomas’s own obvious discomfort. There is no way to not acknowledge this: Thomas has trouble getting up the stairs to the stage, getting across the stage, getting settled on his stool. There is a chuckle in the audience as he repositions himself with the help of his bandmate, and as the music starts he spits back at the crowd, “I really appreciate you laughing at me, asshole.” And though there is fire and life in his retort, there is still a pall over the first part of the set.

Once Thomas is back in storytelling mode between songs, the mood in the room shifts back to the weird: Thomas intones that “…one out of two songs is about monkeys. I’m sure it makes some kind of sense, it makes sense to me,” before the band play “Monkey Bizness” followed by “Carnival.” Robert Wheeler, responsible for electronics and theremin, has what is either a toy ray gun hooked up to a contact mic for glitchy sound effects, or an instrument that looks remarkably like a toy ray gun hooked up to a contact mic (he seems delighted with it, whatever it is). Darryl Boon serves as a wonderful reminder that a clarinet can sound weird as fuck when taken out of context and is probably under-utilized by bands opting instead for more electronics.

It all strikes exactly the right tenor of the strange post-punk band that, despite a few pop tricks up their sleeves, is still just a strange post-punk band. But then there comes the awkwardness of the end of the show; it seems that, despite Thomas’s mobility issues and the stage not being optimally accessible, the convention of an encore is going to be met. And the crowd are appreciative, never halting their applause for a second until the band return and cheering anew when Thomas comes on stage a minute after the rest of the band starts up. It doesn’t seem like gratitude enough, though, for this unnecessary cruelty for what is ultimately only one song. But the band are to be admired and appreciated. Touring is hard on performers that are younger and more mobile. We should count ourselves lucky that Pere Ubu are still willing to do this.

LIVE REVIEW: Tomaga, Alice, 25.05.2018

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Tomaga live at Alice, Copenhagen, Denmark

Taking their cues from the minimalism of Reich and Riley as well as free jazz and psychedelia, even on paper the British/Italian duo Tomaga tick all the right far-out boxes. The result of two musicians taking the term DnB very literally, their most recent work, Memory in Vitro Exposure, starts with a very Reich-ian pattern of mallets, destabilised by a descending bassline, before moving in more atmospheric directions. But the duo’s involvement in projects as diverse as psych outfit The Oscillation and the dark post-punk of Raime is an indication of the breadth of their outlook. What side will we see tonight, the meditative or the free-er, more off-kilter?

This is the second date in Tomaga’s Alice-sponsored mini tour of Denmark, with shows in Aarhus, Copenhagen and Odense. Tonight the opener are local boys Erna, who engage in a very energetic set of drums and effected percussions, winning over an audience through sweat and the intricacy of their interlocked rhythms.

Tomaga begin their set in a deep ambient cloud of electronics and the screeching of metal on cymbals. But it is not long before this gives way to a percussion-heavy thrill ride. And it would be a crime not to give space to Valentina Magaletti’s drumming in a live setting, where there is less space for effects but more for her creativity and energy. In the meantime Tom Relleen juggles bass, synths, mixers and samplers, laying down the foundational mood on which the rhythm develops.

Apart from the occasional use of some Korg Volca leads, the electronics and samples have a raw edge to them, at times metallic and at others more organic, the interlocking of Magaletti and Relleen producing a multiplication of elements both cerebral and physical. Add to that the occasional dub-tinged bassline and you have something way groovier than any of the fancy name-checking above would have you believe.

 

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