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FEATURE: How Copenhagen Music Venues are Coping with COVID Closures

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Kurdish musician Mizgin performs at Alice Copenhagen as part of their summer concert series.

Sitting in the courtyard on Nørre Allé between Union and Alice on a sunny Saturday is a nice way to pass an afternoon. Mizgin is playing energetic Kurdish folk music from a small stage. People are seated comfortably in rows, clapping along, and enjoying their drinks from a bar set up in front of the entrance to Alice. 

The concert is part of a summer series of shows with an audience capacity of 50 people, spaced at a government-mandated safe distance with clear guidelines posted on every table. It’s Alice’s way of making up for what has been months of no live music — and an effort to deal with an uncertain future for live music.

“It’s a fine line of doing something that doesn’t feel awkward and doesn’t feel forced but at the same time is where you can go and enjoy yourself and engage with music and feel it’s an actual concert,” says Rasmus Steffensen, who is is responsible for PR and communications at Alice.

Since mid-March we have been wondering what post-lockdown, post-COVID life will look like. Post-lockdown, many businesses businesses around Denmark have resumed normal operations. The music industry, however, is in for a long haul struggle. 

Festivals asked attendees to keep their tickets until next year and sold support wristbands to fundraise in the short term. Bands and labels have been able to ask fans directly to buy music and merch and have released bonus material and streamed performances. But bands can’t tour right now, and concerts can only be held under very strict conditions, whether it’s the summer series approach taken by Alice, the ad hoc jazz festival held at Huset, or drive-in concerts.

What will become of local venues?

The number of people allowed to gather is being raised at regular intervals and Copenhagen venues are eyeing September with the hope of operating under normal conditions, but permissions for music venues and night clubs are still unclear.

The only thing we know right now is that we are in the Phase 4 opening,” says Ditte Sig Kramer, Head of Communications for Vega. “We don’t know what that means, basically.” 

Vega, which includes Store Vega, Lille Vega, and Ideal Bar, is trying to rebook concerts at three different room capacities without clear guidance on what those limits will be. Early drafts from the Minister of Culture have suggested standing room capacity for a concert will be about 10% of the norm, and seated capacity at 40%.

“In Store Vega, it means we would be able to accommodate 160 people,” says Kramer. “Usually we sell 1550 tickets. It’s the same in our smaller venues, in Lille Vega and Ideal Bar. It’s not the final draft we have seen, but basically, this is what we know right now. We’re not able to go through with one out of ten. It means we would have the same concert ten times in a row for the tickets we’ve already sold for everyone to get their concert. We would lose so much money.”

Alice, though a smaller venue, is uncertain as to whether they are small enough to be allowed to operate at full capacity or if social distancing rules will limit them.

“We’ve postponed some concerts and one of these shows is already sold out,” says Steffensen. “Do we have to cancel the show because it’s too popular? Do we have to move it to a bigger venue where people can sit with some distance to each other? There’s a lot of unanswered questions in this.”

Everyone we spoke to for this article accepts the importance of meeting new health standards so that concerts can continue and be safe for everyone. But a lack of clarity on what those standards will be has made all planning very tenuous.

“Of course this situation is nobody’s fault, and we are willing to share our part in taking responsibility for health, but basically, when we are out of 2020, we will have no money left. And that’s really critical,”says Kramer. “We entered 2020 in a really good state. We sold a lot of tickets already, had a really strong program for both the spring and the fall, so it’s really frustrating that by the end of this year we will not have much money left. It’s really complicated because we’re a big business and it’s a lot of money we spend on just rent and we have a lot of employees and everything that comes with running a big venue like this. So we’re just looking into some cloudy thing right now. We don’t know what will happen.”

In early March, Vega attempted to keep their shows going while adhering to restrictions by splitting concerts into two performances so that all ticket holders could see the performances they paid for. This tactic came to an abrupt end on March 11, when the lockdown took effect between sets. Big Thief, the band performing that night, played a few songs for fans who missed out on the sidewalk outside of Store Vega.

Delayed openings and gradual reopenings

For Vanløse-based venue Stairway, the lockdown has meant not only rescheduling concerts, but rescheduling their opening night: The venue was meant to open on March 27.

“It’s a life lesson in hard work to open a venue in this time,” says Jeppe Greve who books Stairway. “We have rescheduled all of the concerts we had planned. The Danish things are going to happen in the fall, and most of the international acts that we had booked will be rescheduled for 2021.”

Stairway find themselves doing the math on venue capacities even before a single set has been played on their stage.

“It’s a weird calculation because it’s hard for us to break even if we’re going to downscale the capacity,” says Greve. “The room is not that big. It can easily fit 350 people, but it’s just a square, there’s no balcony. If we are to downscale it to 50-60 people, it’s going to be really tough to do shows financially. It still costs money just to open.”

Even as venues reopen, there is still a question of whether there will be any bands to book. Though the coronavirus seems to largely be under control in Denmark, such is not the case everywhere, and international bands are facing quarantines, reluctant tour insurers, and new capacity limits that will make it harder to turn a profit.

“A lot of these bands, especially the American bands, when they come to Europe, they play maybe 20 shows,” notes Kramer. “So everyone is trying to reschedule a whole new tour and that takes a lot of work. Right now, there’s a travel ban for Americans into Europe. We don’t know about that. It looks easier within the European countries, but still, it’s really expensive to tour and right now it’s not really possible anywhere to have concerts at a capacity where it’s financially sustainable to plan a tour. So I guess we won’t be seeing any international bands really in Denmark for the rest of the year. We can of course hope that things will turn out differently, but it’s what I expect.”

Steffensen agrees. “A lot of agencies don’t want to build up a tour,” he says. “Le Guess Who? is canceled and we have a lot of spillover from events like that in the autumn because a lot of bands build up their whole tour around a few of these festivals. I think a lot of these acts we would usually get in autumn we will simply not be offered because they will not be going on tour when a festival like that is canceled.”

Though no disrespect is meant towards local talent, the consensus is that Copenhagen venues cannot survive on booking Danish bands alone — no more than Danish bands can earn a living by only playing shows in Copenhagen. 

“We are definitely rethinking how to do shows to attract people because I don’t believe that we can just go and book a Danish act and 350 people will show up,” says Greve. “Most of the acts that we reached out to already have shows in Copenhagen because they’re rescheduled. They can’t play that many shows in Copenhagen — no Danish band can do that — especially not the type of bands that we’re looking at. If we are going to climb the ladder a bit and do big shows, then the risk is relatively high, and we really need to have steady nerves to do that. At a capacity of 350, it’s an easy calculation of how much we can spend on an artist and still make money. Especially if people are already booked for Lille Vega and Pumpehuset in the fall. Not that many Danish bands can do Pumpehuset and then do Vanløse.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAzs7hlBbUD/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

“There’s a lot of talk in Denmark that now we have to be in solidarity with the Danish artists, we have to present more Danish music,” says Steffensen. “Well, that might be the case for a while, but definitely it shouldn’t affect our overall ambition to reflect a global world. We don’t take quite as huge a risk when we open the doors as a huge concert hall. We have that advantage that we are small but we have the disadvantage that we have a very international program and can’t recreate our profile with local acts in the same way some other venues might be able to do. It might change our profile for a while, we might not take quite as many risks with overseas bands, but we will try as good as we can to get back to that when we can.”

Vega, which dedicates about 60% of their programming to international bands, is optimistic about the short term prospects of an all-Danish program. 

“It feels like there is a golden era for Danish music at the moment. There’s so much good Danish music coming out in recent years,” says Kramer. “We can program a lot of Danish artists and we’re happy to do that, but in the long term, we will need bands. It’s in our DNA that we present more than half of our program as international. We’re located in the middle of Copenhagen and we feel like we are an international venue with of course a strong Danish profile also and with a lot of emerging artists from the Danish music scene. Right now we just want to be able to open and present a lot of Danish music and then let’s see when we have some international bands playing.”

Holding tickets for someday

If crowds are allowed to return to venues, the demand is there. Would-be concert goers are not only keeping their tickets for postponed dates but also buying them for future dates.

The good thing that we see, even though we’re closed, is that people are really buying tickets for when we announce shows for the late fall,” says Kramer. “I have a feeling that people are really eager to get out and see shows and really want to support live music.”

“We managed to keep a lot of the program just with new dates,” Steffensen says of Alice’s bookings. “In general the audience and the musicians have been very supportive and very understanding of the situation. I know everyone is kind of in the same boat and it’s the same everywhere around, but I think in terms of people just keeping their ticket for the show when it’s moved to a new date that people have been very nice and supportive.”

It’s heartening that fans of live music have been supporting the venues they love, but buying and keeping tickets isn’t necessarily enough to support live music in its current state. And if venues can only open and operate at a limited capacity, they will not be able to recover quickly. 

“At the moment, venues are bleeding,” says Greve. “I’m relatively sure that we’re going to survive this because we haven’t even opened yet. We didn’t have to rebook 50 shows. I could imagine that other venues really are having a hard time at the moment. There needs to be some kind of funding otherwise we’ll see that within a year some venues will be closed down.”

Kramer agrees that venues need more than help from fans. She cites the recent, successful campaign in the UK for a bailout of cultural spaces as a model to be followed in Denmark. “Of course the situation is not as critical as in the UK,” she says, “but we’re getting close.”

The Danish government has extended support to businesses that have been forced to close during lockdown in the form of salary compensation for employees and tax breaks among other things. But these measures assume that venues will be able to resume business as normal when they reopen — not reduce their paying guests by 60-90%. Even tourism, once considered the industry with the bleakest outlook, is slowly creeping back with popular attractions reopening and increasingly available flights. Live music faces many of the same challenges of travel and large gatherings that tourism does, but there has yet to be a specific package to support venues. Even the cobbled-together bailout of SAS features some support from the Danish government. Alice and Stairway both receive funding from the Copenhagen municipality among other sources. Vega also receives some amount of government funding, though it is not their primary source of revenue. 

Because audiences haven’t had many opportunities to see live music yet — and certainly not on a large scale — there is also the question of how people will initially feel about going to concerts indoors with large numbers of people.

“So far, it’s not so much a question of if we will come through this urgent crisis,” says Steffensen “but of course the big question is how will it affect the industry we work with, how will it affect the pattern of the audience and how they will go to shows in the future? I think it will have a long-term effect that we simply cannot predict at the moment. In a strange way I think we might have an advantage as a smaller venue. I think people maybe will start to look more for small scale events. But of course all of this is pure speculation. But we can see that people are definitely waiting and they’re happy to have something to look forward to, so I don’t think that people will stop appreciating going to a concert.”

Copenhangen music venue Alice during their summer concert series during the coronavirus lockdown.
Seated gig-goers, clear signposting, and a picket fence to protect the stage at Alice’s summer series.

How venues proceed will be determined by what’s allowed come September, but the consensus is that bands and venues cannot return to booking and promoting shows as they  were as recently as early March.

“I hope inside of Europe there will be a focus on a bit more of a sustainable way of touring,” says Steffensen. “There is a growing awareness that has been bigger with the corona situation that we have to think of this in a different way. Because we present music from Africa, from Asia, many other places, flying will of course still be an integrated part of the touring industry, and we have to deal with that in some way or another. It’s definitely very important for us that we can still present music from these parts of the world.”

Kramer, however, notes that while the coronavirus has rightly been the focus of public policy the last few months, it has drawn attention away from another looming crisis: Brexit.

“We don’t talk so much about it right now because of corona, but the situation is that from January 1 if they don’t find a solution or negotiate some deal, then it will be really, really difficult for the British bands to come play in the rest of Europe,” she says. “If the situation is that you need to have a visa, it gets complicated and for smaller bands who don’t have the money to get these visas, there will be a lot of bands we will not be able to see here. That’s also a problem in the ecosystem of international bands touring in Europe. It doesn’t have that much focus right now, but January 1 is coming very soon.”

How concert goers can help

While much of the future of live music in Copenhagen relies on a contained epidemic and the attention of politicians, regular gig-goers can also support the spaces they love. Everyone we spoke with agrees that keeping tickets purchased for shows that have been postponed is a huge help, as is buying tickets for upcoming gigs. Alice has their membership program and an online shop selling t-shirts and old gig posters, Vega also has merch for sale, and Loppen has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help fill gaps. But everyone we spoke to sees more public-facing, community-oriented solutions as part of venues’ long term health and survival.

There’s of course buying tickets, that is the main thing because it tells us that there is a crowd when we open up again that will come and visit,” says Kramer. “But also, speak out that venues and festivals are important to people’s everyday lives. It’s not just granted that Vega or other venues important venues in Copenhagen and the rest of Denmark are there. Speak out to politicians that venues are important to you and your everyday life.”

Greve understands how gigs and show spaces are an important part of daily life; much of Stairway’s strategy for their planned opening September 3 centers around working with existing communities.

“We’re here to do stuff with people in Copenhagen and we’re really interested in working together with different groups of people who want to do shows,” he says. “It’s the way that we’re doing shows at Underværket. We’re really getting in connection with groups that wouldn’t necessarily attend a show. It’s a bit unconventional for venues to do it that way, but to us it makes a lot of sense to work not only with agencies but also with small DIY groups who are interested in music and culture in general, because they usually are super well organized and they’re really having a lot of knowledge about certain genres and which bands to book.”

Steffensen agrees that people need to be constantly reminded of the value of music and venues, especially after having a break from them. “I think it’s super important that we keep on talking about the importance of this,” he says. He also feels that using a community to spread the word about a venue can be as valuable as buying a ticket.

“As soon as things open up, it’s cool if you buy a ticket for a show, but maybe also think about it as a present for another person,” he says. “Give them a present of live music, not only because of the money we get from it but also it’s a great way to get new people to discover a place like this. I still think Alice is a quite unknown place in Copenhagen, even for people who would theoretically be interested in the music profile, people who go to Roskilde and hear an African group or some experimental music there. 

“The support of actual music fans who talk to their friends about music is a better way to reach new people,” he continues. “In the future, we will need all the support we can get from that. I really hope that when venues like Alice can reopen that people will remember to stay curious about discovering new artists. It’s not so difficult to sell tickets to a Thurston Moore show but there are a lot of other shows that are very difficult to sell tickets to and we still think it’s super important that we keep doing these kinds of shows because that’s a part of why a place like Alice needs to be in Copenhagen. People stay curious and I think that’s the best thing to do. And they can support us, but I think they will find they can also give themselves an unexpected present.”

AUDIO: Shadow Age – ‘Shutter’

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Exciting new music hitting our inbox this Monday morning, Shadow Age, the moniker for Copenhagen based producer Benjamin Fischermann. Benjamin (the former member of electro duo Ghost Venue) has been locked away in his basement studio during the winter of 2014 developing his new sound, which leans on the dark elements of electronica. ‘Shutter’ is the debut track is released online only and is expected to feature on his EP which is set for release later in 2015.

Listen to ‘Shutter’ below:

Albums of the year 2014

in Blog by
Swans-To-Be-Kind

Swans – To Be Kind

After thirteen studio albums, Swans have not diluted their power or talent one bit. But somehow, since their rekindling in 2010, they have become more popular. To Be Kind is just as provocative and challenging as Swans’ early material, with half-an-hour-long songs like “Bring the Sun/Touissant Overture” and off-kilter oddities like “A Little God in My Hand”, but the sound and instrumentation has matured, becomings both less distorted and somehow more dissonant. As we witnessed in November, Swans are still a brutally loud and relentless live band, a constant provocation to audience and peers, and much loved because of it. – CC


 møMØ – NoMythologies To Follow

Karen Marie Ørsted is my hero. My braid swinging, ex-punk rocker, stage diving hero. I remember the first time I listened to one of MØ’s tracks, loading up Spotify and finding myself blasting ‘Pilgrim’ and ‘Let The Youth Go Mad’ for hours on end and wondering how one individual could contain quite so much effortless cool. She was the Danish alternative pop princess I’d been waiting for, ready to join a royal court populated by Björk, Kate Bush and Lana Del Rey. I waited for No Mythologies To Follow for over a year, as singles like ‘Glass’ and ‘XXX 88’ trickled out from MØ HQ. I was delighted to find that the debut album did not disappoint, as Ørsted shared something that was exciting, thematic, beautiful and most importantly, sounds fucking fantastic. From the first time I heard it, I knew that No Mythologies… was my album of the year. – HT


WhatIsThisHeartHow To Dress Well – What Is This Heart?

Tom Krell’s third album What Is This Heart touches on lighter subjects than his previous two albums Total Loss (2012) and Love Remains (2010). Not one to shy away from touching personal matters, the album starts off with ‘2 Years On (Shame Dream)’ and leads you softly into a journey that expands an extremely vivid personal dream about his family. ‘Face Again’ the stand out single along with ‘Repeat Pleasure’ work in his signature indie R&B coupled with stunning falsetto which leave you questioning how these tracks aren’t further up the charts. WITH takes a turn with grand orchestral ‘Pour Cyril’ before leading into cute power pop ballads ‘Very Best Friend’ and ‘Precious Love’ proving key changes are making a come back! – TS


 Angel OlsenAngel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

The most immediately striking thing about Angel Olsen is her voice, a voice that could easily croon country hits but instead lopes over scruffy, dampened guitars. Her voice alone should earn her and Burn Your Fire for No Witness a place in hearts and best-of lists, but what really makes Burn Your Fire… so special is that it’s wholly intuitive. Olsen’s second full length album is her first with a full band, and it’s the album her debut hinted she was capable of making. She hasn’t abandoned minimalist solo tracks, but she balances them against full-band arrangements. And it’s not just the range of her voice that’s striking but it’s incredible malleability; that it’s raw yet gentle, that it jumps from disaffected to emotive from one line to another, that it rasps and twangs with equal affect. And while she’s not too proud to pay homage to the ‘90s on “Forgiven/Forgotten” and “High and Wild,” these frazzled moments give way easily to stark folk ballads. The album comes down so slowly that by the time you’ve reached the hushed conclusion of “Windows” there’s a sense of catharsis. Burn Your Fire… doesn’t just leave you feeling satisfied, but completed. – AF


 sharon van ettenSharon Van Etten  – Are We There

Somewhere in Tennessee there is apparently an ex-boyfriend of Sharon Van Etten who, during their relationship, kept telling her that her music was terrible. There is a lesson to be learned here.
“Are We There” is one of those records that grows on you. There is something extremely vulnerable and honest about Sharon Van Etten’s song writing and performance on stage. Her voice has depth which is completed by the unique vocal harmonies with Heather Woods Broderick. As Sharon Van Etten told The New York Times when she released her previous album “Tramp”, she does not really consider them harmonies: “I just hear two notes at once — I just hear two melodies.” – MK


6) East India YouthTotal Strife Forever
7) IceagePlowing Into The Fields Of Love
8) Scott Walker and SunnO)))Soused
9) Tune-yardsNikki Nack
10) The War On DrugsLost In A Dream
11) Future IslandsSingles
12) Sleep Party PeopleFloating
13) FKA TwigsLP1
14) EagullsEagulls
15) St. VincentSt. Vincent
16) Alt-JThis Is All Yours
17) Wild BeastsPresent Tense
18) Mac DeMarcoSalad Days
19) Ice Cream CathedralSudden Anatomy
20) Lana Del ReyUltraviolence
21) Get Your GunThe Worrying Kind
22) SpoonThey Want My Soul
23) WarpaintWarpaint
24) Shiny DarklyLittle Earth
25) BeyoncéBeyoncé

Roskilde Rising 2014 | Bands to catch

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Monday 30th June

Who: Heimatt
When: 14:00

Fronted by Magnus Grilstad, Heimatt approaches indie rock through vibe of traditional English folk with its predominantly acoustic arrangements and a violin that offers not only colorful harmonies but sometimes erie textures as well. Grilstad’s throaty vocals have a deep, sensitive resonance and occasionally shade into an American country twang. Their debut EP, To The Mountain, released in February, is energetic in spite of fact that the lyrics betray a pretty constant sadness. With a majority of their tunes being upbeat, however, there is a perfect foil to all of that melancholia, or at least there’s a sense of catharsis.

Who: Get Your Gun
When: 15:30

Get Your Gun hail from the northernmost part of the Danish underground scene – Aalborg. The trio formed in 2008 by brothers Simon (drums) and Andreas Westmark (vocals/guitar) along with bassist Søren Nørgaard. The band’s sound is built around a combination of raw bursts of energy and monotonous drones. This is supported by a song universe containing noise, desperation and evil from the outmost corners. Their debut album The Worrying Kind was released this spring and has received critical acclaim across Europe.

Who: Blaue Blume
When: 17:00

Dramatic in the most theatrical sense of the word, Blaue Blume sound like they’re transmitting from another dimension. Their debut single, “Lost Sons of Boys,” out now, has hints of psychedelia to it, but many of the other tracks they’ve made available follow the darker strain running under that syncopated rhythm. Dominated by a freakishly high yet unexpectedly soulful falsetto — think Cat Stevens without anything to ground him — that offers a severe contrast to the otherwise muted, lethargic arrangements, it’s downtempo, but don’t expect to be able to chill out to these songs. In fact, it might be best to prepare for a little paranoia.

Tuesday 1st July

Who: Communions
When: 15:30

Like their big brothers, Iceage and LowerCommunions are squarely based among the Mayhem set, where waistbands are high, haircuts sharp, and screamed vocals drenched in reverb. The young quartet has gained attention by melding the typical hardcore/goth hybrid of the likes of Iceage with surf-rock melodies and one-note guitar riffs. Their first EP, Cobblestones, was naturally released by Posh Isolation back in January. The band came to the Black Tornado studios in Copenhagen to perform two songs, new track ‘Summer’s Oath’ and title track from their EP ‘Cobblestones’.

Who: My Heart The Brave
When: 18:30

Producer Caspar Hesselager’s brand of electro-pop relies on tightly syncopated rhythms and organic instrumentation. A classical pianist by training, Hesselager layers his songs with quirky riffs that encourage the listener to keep rewinding, in an attempt to prize the layers apart. The “Keep Me From It” single might seem to aspire to summer-hit status, but it’s off-kilter rhythms and steel-drum-imitating piano complicate the song and invite closer listening – which reveals a frantic bassline hidden under the heavy synth stabs. All these elements are brought together by Hesselager’s accented, low-key vocals.

Who: Förtress
When: 21:30

For those that are more hard rock inclined, look no further than the naked, tattooed torsos of Förtress. Recent single ‘Forest of the Wicked’ has all the long hair thrashing a heavy rock fan could wish for, whilst maintaining a solid melody and listenability. They keep their description on the band’s Facebook page simple: “Heavy Rock. Big Dicks. Balls of Steel.” Will their set match the male bravado?

Wednesday 2nd July

Who: Karl William
When: 14:00

Hoods, ginger locks, and the moody glance of a teenager music making teenager not to be messed with. King Krule? Try Karl William. This red head offers up rap and R&B over the simple beats on single ‘Kostumerant’, and tastefully turns his head to synth and autotune on ‘Foruden at Forgude’. Having released his four track EP 1. Sal last September, this Danish rapper looks ready to take the Roskilde rap fans by force.

Who: Narcosatanicos
When: 15:30

Narcosatanicos is a heavy name for a heavy band. The Aarhus-based sextet – including three guitarists and a saxophonist – draw from the likes of Suicide and Hawkwind to create a distinctive form of freeform, psychedelic noise-rock. The No-Wave saxophone wails, coupled with meaty basslines, make this a band that commands attention, manhandling the listener as their sonic hallucinations progress. Though one could spend several happy hours charting Narcosatanicos’ various influences, their sound is all their own, and their live performances promise to be intense and memorable experiences.

Who: Hexis
When: 21:30

Trading mostly in sludgy rhythms, rolling percussion, and lots of growling, Hexis have a sense of dynamics that gives their songs real dimension. Amongst the distortion and evil bellowing are countering shouts and unexpected cadences. The Copenhagen-based five-piece black metal outfit released their latest full length album, Abalam, in January. While their songs do have a thick, unsettling, buzzy quality to them, don’t expect endless, formless droning. They speed through most of their songs in quick, vicious succession, and Abalam clocks in at a succinct thirty five minutes — just enough time to rev you up or give you serious indigestion.

Who: The Awesome Welles
When: 23:00

Copenhagen’s newest ambassadors of brooding and theatrical indie rock may have a pun for a name, but their music is inspired by the straight-faced sincerity of bands like the National. Songs like “120” hark back to the grungy power-pop of the 90s and early 00s, whereas their newest single, “Undertaker”, – reportedly inspired by Soren Kierkegaard – sees them going for a more anthemic approach, with a very clear Scandinavian angle. Having supported the likes of Kellermensch and The Floor is Made of Lava, the Awesome Welles are poised to receive their own share of the limelight.

Roskilde Festival 2014 | Bands to catch

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Thursday 3rd July

Who: Earl Sweatshirt
Where: Avalon Stage
When: 17:30

Who: Outkast
Where: Orange Stage
When: 18:30

Who: Chance The Rapper
Where: Avalon Stage
When: 21:00

Who: The Rolling Stones
Where: Orange Stage
When: 22:00

 

Friday 4th July

Who: Connan Mockasin
Where: Pavilion Stage
When: 14:00

Who: Damon Albarn
Where: Arena Stage
When: 20:30

Who: Darkside
Where: Avalon Stage
When: 23:00

Who: Trentemøller
Where: Orange Stage
When: 01:00

Saturday 5th July

Who: Omar Souleyman
Where: Apollo Stage
When: 17:30

Who: Manu Chao
Where: Orange Stage
When: 19:30

Who: Arctic Monkeys
Where: Orange Stage
When: 22:30

Who: Interpol
Where: Arena
When: 00:00

Sunday 6th July

Who: A$AP Ferg
Where: Avalon Stage
When: 16:00

Who: Julia Holter
Where: Gloria Stage
When: 17:00

Who: Stevie Wonder
Where: Orange Stage
When: 20:30

Who: Forest Swords
Where: Gloria Stage
When: 21:00

Sleep Party People – Floating in Oakland

in Blog by

Photos by Tom Spray

May 2014: Spot Festival, the most important industry festival of the Danish music scene. Brian Batz, the man behind Sleep Party People, enters the scene. He is 32 years old, but he feels as if he is a teenager. He is nervous. In retrospect it reminds him of the first time he went on stage with Sleep Party People as support for The Antlers at The Jazz House, Copenhagen, in 2010. But a lot has happened in four years. He is onstage in Århus to perform his third album, “Floating,” from start to finish. It will be the first time the world hears it. In their hands he and his band carry the rabbit masks that have become such an important visual aspect of Sleep Party People. To Brian Batz showing his face is unusual. What is also unusual is that album that Sleep Party People are about to play for the audience was written and recorded in just one month.

 DSC_1828

A floating soul

The story begins in mid-2012, when Brian Batz receives an email from Mikael Johnston, a producer based in San Francisco or rather Oakland which is located on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Mikael Johnston wrote that he had heard Sleep Party People and that he loved it. Would Brian Batz like to make a record with Mikael Johnston and Jeff Saltzman, an old hand in the profession, whom among other things has worked with Morrissey and The Killers. It is an offer Brian Batz cannot turn down and on February 15, 2014 – approximately one and a half years later – he’s sitting in the plane on the way to San Francisco. But he has not had time to write new material.

“I had written one song and I my conscience was killing me – I actually tried to move the trip, because I thought: Fuck, I can’t go there without any material. They be expecting that I return with an album or something”.

 Nevertheless Brian Batz throws himself into it. He checks himself into a posh hotel in a run down part of Oakland and starts to work. In the daytime he works in the studio, in the evening hours he returns to his hotel room to make sketches for new material on his computer. After one and a half weeks at the hotel he moves into Mikael Johnston’s living room, and from then on he no longer has his own space. This will leave a mark on his work. He starts thinking about being in the company of others, and this inspires the lyrics, he explains:

“I was very interested in how I behave in social situations, because I was constantly pressured to be with new people – and I do not consider myself good at that; I need my own space, and it was just not possible when I slept at the couch in Mikael’s condo, where everything was just open.

I think it is interesting compared to what family you come from, and how one’s parents, for example, behave in such a situation. It is actually what many of the lyrics are about.

I also think that this is why the album is a little flighty or even psychedelic, as some people say. I believe that it comes from the fact, that if you do not really have a stand, you are a lost soul in some way – or so I felt. I had no peace. That’s probably why there are no quiet piano songs on the album – except for one, but that was written at home “

Brian Batz asked the artist Roby Dwi Antono, who also made the cover art for Sleep Party People’s second album ‘We Were Drifting On A Sad Song “, if he could illustrate precisely the feeling that he had during the process. On the cover of “Floating” is a girl who wears a rabbit mask. She hovers, apparently lifeless, in the air and out of her shoots a plant.

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The man and the rabbit

Back on stage in Aarhus, Sleep Party People put their masks on and start to play the new material. To the trained ear something else has changed. On the new album, Brian Batz’s voice is more naked, there are not so many effects.

“I’ve turned down the rabbit voice, as people call it, quite a bit. It was necessary for me to do. It’s been a sonic thing that has taken up a lot in the Sleep Party People universe, and therefore I had the need to say, “Now I’m in San Francisco to make a record, it must be quite different from what I normally do: It must be analog, it should be like a band playing”.

In an interview with When The Sun Hits from 2010, he explains how the idea of the ​​rabbit mask came as a result of the special vocal he had developed. It made him think that it was how rabbits would sound if they sang.

With the clean vocals he thought that it would be a good idea to let the mask fall in the  background; Sleep Party People will still be in rabbit masks when they play live, but the rabbit gives way a little to the man behind.

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The Bass Bomb

Floating is also the first album that Brian Batz has not produced at home in his own studio. He has limited himself 24 tracks, and thus had to move away from the rich Wall Of Sound production which he previously used.

 “I love playing with effects and let things lie at the bottom and set the mood – and I could not set the bar the same way because I can not let 24 tracks lie at the bottom, as I usually do, because I have already exhausted my quota. It has been important to me that you can hear what’s going on in the mix. I’ve really been inspired by the work under these constraints, and more forced to think about what works.”

Floating is also the first Sleep Party People album where there have been others inside the process of making the record. Brian Batz says “using their ears” and getting to concentrate 100% on playing the music, not having to place microphones and so on, has helped him a lot. And then he enjoyed the atmosphere in studio with a myriad of people hanging out. He tells a story about a girl called Lisa Light, who one night, as he is working on the song called “I See the Moon”, enters the room with half a bottle of whiskey in her hand. She sits around for a while watching Brian play his guitar, and then, out of nowhere she gets up, picks a bass, plugs it into the soundcard, goes to the computer, makes a track, and starts playing.

 “I was just thinking that I wanted to play some bass on your record. Is it cool if I just press record now and we go from there?”

Batz says yes.

“Had it been in Copenhagen, and it had been a friend of mine, my reaction would have been something like: “What the hell are you doing? I am jamming with myself, and then you just ruin it”.

But Lisa did had such a fine approach, he says, and she got her way and sings and plays bass on the track “I see the moon.” The spontaneous way the song came alive, makes it a special song to Brian Batz.

“It is a very unusual song to me, because I like to have control and that my work is well thought through. I just did not had the opportunity to work this way with this song and I think that’s very cool. “

Brian Batz flew home March 15. If you ask him what he took with him home, besides a newly written and newly recorded album, he replies that he verified that one must dare to move out into the unfamiliar and test his limits – for which he notes that he was quite nervous when he flew over. The trip home was different.

“It was quite strange because when I got into the plane, I was like “fuck, how crazy. What is it that I have made? It was two weeks before I could listen to it. I was about to hear with fresh ears, what it was I had created.”

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Concerts to catch at NorthSide 2014

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Friday 13th June

Who: Reptile Youth
When: 17:45
Where: Green Stage
Who: Mount Kimbie
When: 19:00
Where: P6 Beat Stage
Who: The National
When: 01:00
Where:  Blue Stage

Saturday 14th June

Who: Chorus Grant
When: 14:00
Where:  P6 Beat Stage
Who: Baby In Vain
When: 16:15
Where:  P6 Beat Stage
Who: Mew
When: 22:45
Where:  Green Stage
Who: Röyksopp & Robyn
When: 00:30
Where:  Blue Stage
00:30: Röyksopp and Robyn

Sunday 15th June

Who: Royal Blood
When: 14:45
Where:  Blue Stage
Who: Rhye
When: 19:25
Where:  P6 Beat Stage
Who: Arcade Fire
When: 20:35
Where:  Green Stage
Who: Wild Beasts
When: 22:30
Where:  P6 Beat Stage

Article: Ice Cream Cathedral

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About a month ago, I got on a bus to what felt like the middle of nowhere. I was taken about twenty minutes out of central Copenhagen to the industrial area, and then to the mysterious final stop, Refshaleøen Island, that looked a lot more like a set for an episode of The Killing than the venue location for the Eurovision Song Contest. After fifteen minutes of attempting to find the rehearsal space among the abandoned looking shacks, Anders, Ice Cream Cathedral‘s unexpectedly chatty drummer, let me in to a building with multiple soundproofed booths and a familiar weedy odour. The band are crammed into half a booth with notably messier neighbours, and a coffee stand and kettle in the corner. No pot in sight.

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This seems a pretty appropriate set up for the band. They’re focused, concise and at least appear to be pretty clean living. They’re also really, really nice. They sit forward as though they’re slightly nervous, but super eager to tell me all about their band and their new musical direction. Despite being one of Roskilde Rising’s most successful acts last year, and a recent US tour that involved playing SXSW, they are still tangibly humbled by the attention they receive, but they have a clear sense of self belief in their brand of airy dreampop.

Yesterday (12th May) saw the release of their second album, Sudden Anatomy, the follow up to 2013’s The Drowsy Kingdom. Arguably the biggest challenge in an artist’s career, the dreaded sophomore album can make or break you, label you as a one off, or mark you as a band that’s just warming up. But this Danish dreampop trio is young and ambitious, and are moving forward with their musical instincts. “I think we’re all really eager to explore and not stand still in a creative manner,” says Anders. “It really shines through on this new album because we’re experimenting a lot with the concept of Ice Cream Cathedral. The first album really went song by song. We were focused on the melody and a more accessible way of thinking. With the new album we wanted to keep that stuff melodically, but we wanted to do some more with textures and rhythmics. We were kind of experimenting with our own concept. When you do that, naturally you get some kind of reference to yourself. It’s a self referential album.”

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The more I talk to the band, the clearer it becomes that Sudden Anatomy is about reaction to the old form, and has a clear goal of development in mind. Anders is the first to answer when I ask about the beginnings of the new album. “The first album was written like a layer cake and recorded in the same way. It was recorded to a specific grid and template that was pre-determined electronically. The experience of transferring that rigid material made us want to transcend the feeling of the grid and play the songs more like a traditional rock band would do. That triggered the feeling of wanting to transfer back to the compositional phase. That was pretty interesting to experience; from the beginning of our gigs we said we didn’t want to play with pre-recorded stuff playing from a computer. We didn’t want a backtrack. We wanted to play live, even though we have a lot of electronics. Then from playing that way live we realised it was also fun to write that way, to have that much freedom. Even though from gig to gig things would fuck up.” Anja, the band’s vocal lead, adds: “We would’ve been quite doomed if we had used backtrack. It’s only because we didn’t that we had that possibility. It felt strange that the new way we wanted to write in was suddenly up against what we did on the old album. That was pretty hard to get around.”

Kristian, the guitarist/keys, tells me about the first ideas. “We knew that we wanted to do something different to The Drowsy Kingdom, but we didn’t exactly know what to do. We had a serious headache about what to do in the beginning. We just knew that we wanted to be more energetic. We recorded some really funny stuff in the beginning.” Anders chimes in “it really sucked,” to the nods and laughs of the others.

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And they haven’t just developed sonically either. Anja is keen to stress the changes to the lyrics that have taken place. “There’s definitely more storytelling on the new album. I’ve been experimenting more on this one; I’ve been reading about historical stuff and really concrete subjects. The last album was more abstract in a way; it had abstract universes… At the time that we started to write for the new album we were still at school in the conservatory, and I took a lot of classes in lyrics writing. I talked to a lot of poets and found inspiration for that kind of songwriting.” Anders says “The new lyrics are more in your face, whereas the old lyrics were more veiled. I don’t know if it’s more political than the old album… there’s definitely more social stuff there.” Anja nods. “Yeah you could say that. A social consciousness.”

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The new album has also seen the band’s first large scale music video release and on screen debut, for the seven minute long debut single, ‘The Swans’. Set on a spaceship, it takes the concept of “space pop” to a tongue-in-cheek level. “I think it’s very related to our old material, where we included a lot of space influences, and the visuals of the old material as well. But Carl [Marott, the Danish director of the video] really wanted to take the idea far out,” says Kristian. The video sees the band play on synthesisers and soundboards rather than a control panel. For Kristian, this made him feel at home: “You really felt in your element with the synthesisers and stuff. We had a whole day in the location with the pictures outside, and that was the main acting part. That was quite funny.”

Anders takes a more critical eye to his acting prospects. “The hardest part about acting for a camera is the facial expressions. For me, I really felt as a first timer in front of the camera that my facial expressions had to include some kind of apathy. You should look like you don’t care. If I had to show any feelings or emotions it would have sucked.” Anja is practical. “It was really cold inside the spaceship, which made the apathy thing really hard.”

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The band are all in agreement when I ask if dreampop has a naturally cinematic quality as a genre. As his bandmates nod, Anders says “it’s in the music. Dreampop tends to be dramatic in a way. If you listen to real dreampop bands like Beach House, it’s really all about the cinematic total music effect. It gets this scored, written down feeling. It has this organic feel like it’s a whole. In a lot of dreampop music, there isn’t one element standing out. It’s more like a sausage of sound.” That has got to be the best dream pop analogy I’ve heard. “I think our music is kind of a mixture; there’s a lot of things standing out sonically, but it has this cinematic feel to it because the vocal plays as big a role as the drums.”

I finish by asking the band whether the genre will be as timeless as rock and roll. The music students are quick to dissect the question to find the answer. Kristian starts. “Maybe it’s not actually a genre in itself. Maybe it is just rock music. I know what you mean, but I think the genre has developed into other things.” Anders turns the question. “It depends how you define timeless, and the definition of how music moves in time. That’s the beauty of music. It’s bounded by time, metrically and sound-wise, so I guess that if timeless is a metre of reference, as in, ‘will people still listen to Ice Cream Cathedral in twenty years’, then I would definitely say yes. Some people will. But if it’s asking whether there will be some kind of revolutionary vibe surrounding dreampop as there is around rockabilly, then I would say no, because it is in itself a hybrid of milestone genres like rock and pop, that have had their moments.”

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“I remember we said in another interview that the time of idols was over. I remember saying that I really missed Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson; social figures like that. But it’s not the time for that right now, because of the market and the way people regard music. It’s become a thing for every man, because of X Factor etc. It’s become ordinary, and that destroys the glow. That destroys everything that’s special about the people onstage. If I go to a show I don’t want to see someone like myself, or someone I can relate to. I want to see someone who I can look at and think comes from a different planet. That part of music is timeless. I hope some people see that in the stuff we do. I don’t want people to think ‘I can totally relate to the way the drummer moves’. I would really like for people to say ‘I really get inspired by the way he performs’, or the way Anja sings is like nothing else. When Kristian plays guitar it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before.’ Everything we play is bounded by time, and bounded by tradition. I guess the timelessness develops itself in the moment where you release yourself from the way society regards music today. I think the way society regards music today is destroying music. I really wish that some alien would land on the planet and do some fucked up stuff that people could understand, but not relate to.”

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It’s a slightly morbid note on which to end, but Anders makes a convincing argument, even when I ask whether Lady Gaga might be an alien (for the record, in Ice Cream Cathedral’s view at least, she’s not). In this small rehearsal space in industrial Copenhagen, I wonder about music and revolution, and whether the two go hand in hand, as this band so desperately hopes it does, even if now isn’t the best time to prove it. The band seem eager to spread something with their music, to inspire others as they’ve been inspired, and see a wealth of possibility with the power of their performance. They’re smart, driven and positive. Revolution doesn’t need to be taking to the streets or making your controversial lyrics hit the Top 40. Maybe it’s about something smaller; the desire to be inspiring. This band’s got it in heaps.

Bands to catch at SPOT Festival 2014

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Friday

Who: Broken Twin
Where: Musikhuset, Store Sal
When: 15:30 – 02.05.2014

 

Who: Disa
Where: Atlas
When: 16:30 – 02.05.2014

 

Who: Shiny Darkly
Where: SCC
When: 18:30 – 02.05.2014

 

Who: Julias Moon
Where: SCC
When: 19:30 – 02.05.2014

 

Who: Reptile Youth
Where: SCC
When: 20:45 – 02.05.2014

 

Who: Iceage/Lower/Communions/Hand Of Dust
Where: Atlas
When: 22:00 – 02.05.2014

 

Who: Sekuoia 
Where: Den Rå Hal
When: 22:00 – 02.05.2014

 

Who: Blaue Blume
Where: Musikhuset, Lille Sal
When: 22:15 – 02.05.2014

 

Who: The Woken Trees
Where: Musikhuset, Filuren
When: 00:00 – 02.05.2014

 

 

Saturday

Who: Get Your Gun
Where: Den Rå Hal
When: 15:30 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: My Heart The Brave
Where: SCC
When: 17:15 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Mont Oliver
Where: SCC
When: 19:15 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Heimatt
Where: Radar
When: 20:45 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: The New Spring
Where: Musikhuset, Filuren
When: 21:00 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Jaakko Eino Kalvei
Where: Voxhall
When: 21:00 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Sleep Party People
Where: Atlas
When: 21:15 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Schultz and Forever
Where: Musikhuset, Cafescene
When: 21:45 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Sea Change
Where: Den Rå Hal
When: 22:30 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Naomi Pilgrim
Where: Musikhuset, Rytmisk Hal
When: 22:45 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Ice Cream Cathedral 
Where: Atlas
When: 00:30 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Ring Them Bells
Where: Den Rå Hal
When: 01:00 – 03.05.2014

 

Who: Broke
Where: Atlas
When: 02:00 – 03.05.2014

Posh Isolation record store w/Loke Rahbek (Lust For Youth/Vår/Croatian Amor)

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Situated on Blågårdsgade in Nørrebro is the record store Posh Isolation run by its owner Loke Rahbek (Lust For Youth/Vår/Croatian Amor). The store is the base for the Copenhagen record label run under the same name, who in their short life span have released records from the likes of Communions, Lust For Youth, Yen Towers, Croatian Amor and a collection of bands from the same scene including Age Coin, Vår, White Void and more.

Here Today’s Ivan Boll met with Rahbek ahead of his appearance at this years CPH PIX where he’s scored the soundtrack for 1921’s silent movie The Phantom Carriage by Swedish directer Victor Sjöström. The film is based on Selma Lagerlöf’s novel Körkarlen which following the death of lead character, David Holm, he’s confronted by all the people whose lives he’s destroyed over the years, including his wife who is caught between love and obsession.

The Phantom Carriage screens on Saturday 12th April at the Grand Teatret in Copenhagen with Loke Rahbek performing the soundtrack live. Buy tickets, HERE

Photo by Ivan Boll

Loke Rahbek

Loke Rahbek

Loke Rahbek

Loke Rahbek

 

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