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Forest Swords

Roskilde Festival 2014, Sunday 6th July

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Deerhunter

After several days of stage theatrics and moody band introductions, it’s a surprise and a pleasure to see Deerhunter conducting their own soundcheck. Frontman Bradford Cox’s awkward charm does more to connect with the audience than any set of laser displays or smoke machines. As the band launch into “Agoraphobia”, the refrain of “comfort me” seems particularly apt, a love letter to the warmth and comfort of the shoegaze bands that inspire it. But Deerhunter replace the ethereal quality of bands like Slowdive with a certain degree of quirkiness which is clear in Cox’s stage banter as much as in his music. After regaling us with a description of a 4th of July celebration chez Deerhunter, the band launch into “Nothing Ever Happened”, drawing out its motorik energy until it starts to melt into a cover of Patti Smith’s “Horses”. A moment of brilliant free-association genius, and a great begging to Sunday at Roskilde.

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(Roskilde Festival 2014)

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh

Julia Holter

The warmth and energy of Deerhunter are replaced with an almost unbearable heat and humidity inside Gloria, where we wait for Julia Holter. But that same discomfort put this reviewer into a mind frame that perfectly suited the David Lynchian-quality of Holter’s music. The avant-garde singer-songwriter is accompanied by a drummer, a cellist, a violist, and a tenor-saxophonist. The effect is altogether different than that of her latest record, Loud City Song: the noise, reverb and general swirliness of the album are replaced with a crisp, stripped-back sound, as intimate as it is unsettling. “Maxim’s I” is transformed from the kind of song you’d expect to be heard in a Twin Peaks road bar into something closer to jazz or minimalist classical music. The intimacy is helped by Holter’s approach to her audience: offhand questions about what wine people in the front are drinking turn the affair into a secluded, friendly if off-kilter microcosm.

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Julia Holter (Roskilde Festival 2014)

(Roskilde Festival 2014)

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh

Kasabian

I have this image in my mind of Kasabian sitting around a few weeks before a tour or album release. Guitarist Sergio Pizzorno turns to frontman Tom Meighan and says “mate, why are we still doing this? We’re not even that great.” Meighan puts his hand on Pizzorno’s shoulder and says “Serge, it’s because we’re massive LADS!” They then discuss ‘banter’ or something. At Roskilde, the vision becomes reality as Meighan makes exactly the same motions with his (relatively sparse) audience. It’s about half an hour before their set is due to start, and they’ve summoned only a few dozen to wait in line for the pit. This is the same band who closed Glastonbury. Why have they failed to crack Denmark? The majority of the small group waiting are all British. The lone Dane standing next to me says his friends didn’t even want to come with him to watch. Maybe Danes don’t really go for lead singers who look like Eye Ball Paul from Kevin And Perry Go Large, but it’s entirely their loss.

Meighan is unashamedly confident and cocky, but he justifies his behaviour onstage, introducing the band as ‘The Mighty Kasabian’. He engages with the audience by pointing and waving his tongue at them, and between songs stands pouting triumphantly on the edge of the stage, beckoning the crowd to shower him and his band with all the woops and claps they can muster. Basking in praise comes naturally, he relishes it, and shows enough vitality in everything he does to make it work. Who gives a fuck if his audience is only half full; as long as a few people are enjoying it, he can hype them up enough to adequately rub his ego.

From opening track ‘Bumble Bee’ taken from new album 48:13, to closing number ‘Fire’, which is extended and dedicated to Leicester, the performance is unfailing. The final track sees Meighan and Pizzorno telling everyone to bounce on the ground for the guitar riff, before jumping incessantly for the rip roaring chorus line. It’s got even more energy than the actions for ‘Vlad the Impaler’, which followed a similar routine. As the rest of the band depart, Meighan sings, surprisingly well, the chorus line from ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ a capella. A few punters are still screaming the riff from ‘Fire’ after the band have left and the hosts have stepped on. The only disappointment is the lack of encore.

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Kasabian (Photo by Tom Spray)

Photo by Tom Spray

Kasabian (Photo by Tom Spray)

Photo by Tom Spray

 

MØ: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love your plait and scrunchie combo. I love the tennis skirt and dirty trainers you’re wearing. I love your complete disregard for the ‘No Crowdsurfing’ rule. From kangaroo jumps three feet in the air to sprawling onto the ground and singing from the floor, watching MØ perform is a visual spectacle. It’s tiring just looking at her, as sweat drips from her forehead. Always in control, her voice never once falters or fails; it stays completely powerful and enchanting, as she accompanies herself with looped “huh”s and high pitched “ow”s. She’s a beautiful clash of soft feeling and urban style, both in look and sound.

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MØ (Roskilde Festival 2014)

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh

MØ (Photo by Tom Spray)

Photo by Tom Spray

Stevie Wonder

If there’s a place for legends, the Orange Stage is it. From The Rolling Stones on Thursday, to Stevie Wonder on Sunday, it was the performance space for two entirely different but well loved acts, and the latter’s evening set brought the festival to a joyous end before a few thousand punters stayed on for Jack White. Wonder’s band is so extensive it takes several minutes to credit them all. For the entirety of the two hour set, the singer remains enthusiastic, engaging and encouraging of the audience to partake in his soul celebration. He introduces all his tracks with an invitation to “sing this”. The chorus forms the base of a hit track for him to sing over. This is not Wonder’s show alone; he ensures it belongs to the tens of thousands of tired, dirty spectators too. As he moves into ‘Ebony and Ivory’, the musician asks the crowd: “can you imagine how much people have missed out on because of the prejudices we have in this world?” and once again beckons for Roskilde to join him. “If you agree with me, sing… You can’t just talk about it, you have to be about it.” Whether the subject matter is love, adultery or racism, for Stevie Wonder, music is the channel through which people should come together and reach greatness, solidarity and power.

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Stevie Wonder (Photo by Tom Spray)

Photo by Tom Spray

Forest Swords

If Forest Swords’ Matt Barnes feels hard-done-by in his allocated slot—playing Gloria at the same time that Stevie Wonder and Moderat are playing the Orange Stage and Arena—he certainly doesn’t show it. The space that isn’t occupied by the scattered but enthralled audience is instead filled up with the Liverpool-based producer’s approach to dub music: lung-fizzling bass, unsettling samples, sharp keyboards and even the odd spaghetti-western-influenced guitars. Barnes is accompanied by a bassist, and divides his time brooding over the sampler, hunching over the keyboard or swaying around with his guitar. Tracks like “Thor’s Stone” and “The Weight of Gold” from his debut Engravings are without doubt some of the standout electronic songs of 2013, and are even more effective live.

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Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Photo by Tom Spray

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Photo by Tom Spray

Jack White

Those of us who watched clips from Jack White’s set at Glastonbury last week knew what to expect for this, the concluding set at the Orange Stage: an expansive retrospective of his work, from the White Stripes to the Raconteurs and his solo work. His band band, including a fiddle-player and a lap-steel-guitarist, help to reinvent as much as they reproduce the sounds from his back-catalogue, adding a certain amount of country twang to the overdriven swagger of much of his later work. A slight hint of reserve blends in with the excitement as White begins his set with a drawn out jam of the White Stripes’ “Icky Thump”: is this going to be a display of utter indulgence, an artist at the height of his success revelling in his apparent freedom to do whatever he likes? That reserve is also to be found in White himself, who largely refrains from talking much in between songs except to get a little annoyed when the crowd doesn’t seem to know the lyrics to “Hotel Yorba”. “You guys speak English, right?” This is going south fast, but a split-second later White recovers by making some quip about his own level of English. Thankfully, the experience seems to humble him enough to really begin engaging with the crowd, rather than taking their adulation for granted. The extended jams end, and are replaced by a quick series of White Stripes medleys that drive the audience forward through slower songs from Lazaretto.

Throughout White pays tribute to fellow Detroit-native and predecessor on the stage, Stevie Wonder, and even makes the odd joke about sharing his doctor with Drake. It is clear in these moments that Jack White’s ability as an entertainer take precedence over his sometimes rather insular and self-aggrandizing approach to his “art”, and that on stage he is able to fully embrace that. A festival crowd might not know the lyrics to all his White Stripes songs, but they can end Roskilde on a jumping high with set closers “Steady as She Goes” and the obligatory, perennial “Seven Nation Army”. But even in this last instance, White doesn’t rest on his laurels, but reworks the song in such as way as to work best with a band of six rather than one of two. We can only apologize to poor Londoners, from whom apparently we snatched him at the last moment. Such is the power of Roskilde.

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(Roskilde Festival 2014)

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh

(Roskilde Festival 2014)

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh

Forest Swords | Roskilde Festival, 06.07.2014

in Photos by

Photos by Tom Spray (www.tom-spray.com)

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Roskilde Festival 2014 | Bands to catch

in Blog by

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

LIVE REVIEW: Forest Swords, Jazzhouse, 22.02.2014

in Live Reviews by

It is always a pleasant surprise when most of the audience show up in time to see the opening act. The Jazzhouse is almost full when local hero Sekuoia hits the stage to deliver an hour-long set of warm, minimalist electronica. This evening he is playing without the assistance of drummer and guitarist, but if anything his performance is more energized than usual. “Rituals” still stands out as his most recognizable and catchy beat, but it is a rare privilege to be able to hear such an extended set from him.

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Under a black and white projection of abstract dancing figures, Forest Swords materialize as producer Matthew Barnes and trusty anonymous bassist. Apart from being a chance to experience his doom-laden dub in an intense and intimate setting, the performance also functions as an explanation of the record, Engravings. Samples and live instruments, which on the album are often undistinguishable, become evident live.

Make no mistake, Forest Swords is pure, Lee Scratch Perry-approved dub (Perry even remixed FS’s “Thor’s Stone”). That is not to say that Barnes isn’t innovative, but rather that his music has a very strong grounding, evidenced by the organic quality of his samples. Though often associated with James Blake or Burial, Forest Swords seems to have more in common with the austere sonic explorations of These New Puritans.

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Though for the most part the nature of songs is contemplative, the crowd is onboard, swaying and nodding along. Barnes doesn’t engage in much banter in between songs, presumably so as to not spoil the mood. When he does, it’s to enquire as to the quality of the sound to stage left. A couple of speakers, which had already been slightly distorting the bass during Sekuoia’s set, are starting to malfunction. What follows is a silent quarter of an hour during which Barnes, bassist and sound engineer fret over cables trying to solve the problem.

Although the frustration onstage is evident, the audience is mercifully understanding, and before too long the sound is sorted. The set has had to be cut short, but there are still some surprises. “Irby Tremor” features Barnes channelling spaghetti westerns on guitar, while the drum samples are crisp, almost koto-inspired. I am also convinced that “The Weight of Gold” is somehow secretly  borrowing from Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold”, but have little evidence to back that up. The mood that Forest Swords inspires manages to ride between these contemplative analyses and produce an undeniable physical response that waves these moments away.

INTERVIEW: Forest Swords

in Blog by

So, it’s your first concert in Denmark, what do you expect from it? Have you got an indication of how large your fanbase is here? 

I’ve played quite a few shows across Europe but for some reason I’ve never quite managed to get to Denmark. I’m looking forward to it – I never have any idea of how popular I am as it really varies from country to country. Some countries you really have to tour hard to get known properly, whereas other countries have more curious concert-goers who will turn up anyway because they’ve heard something online.

 

A lot of musicians have to quit playing live when falling ill with tinnitus. Do you take any specific precautions when playing live to nurse your tinnitus?

I wear earplugs, and I don’t have my monitors very loud. I don’t want to risk any more damage. That’s not to say it’s not loud out in the audience, but for me my on-stage sound has to be at a tolerable level. Some musicians love to hear their music loud when they’re playing but I’d rather not. Hearing is very precious, I won’t be able to make music without it.

 

Have you been able to use your tinnitus musically? Can you use it as a somewhat creative counterforce?

It certainly pushes you in different directions – for example, I don’t make very very noisy, dense music because I could never stand to listen to it over and over again while I’m creating it. So I’m perhaps attracted to less abrasive sounds nowadays. I’ve learnt how to use space a lot more, and on a practical level I know my physical limit for how long I can sit at my studio, or watching a band, before it becomes dangerous for me.

How do you think your upbringing on the Wirral Peninsula comes across in your music? 

Where I live has very different landscapes – it’s part coastal, part woodland, with Liverpool – a big city – very close. So all those elements have fed into the music I’m making and the aesthetics of the visuals I create too. It can be very exposed here, very windy and rainy in winter and beautiful in the summer. It’s a real balance, so I suppose in some ways that affects the music that I’m making. It’s interesting to be located just outside a city – I can dip in and out of the music and arts scene there, but still exist in my own space. It’s made me a lot more focused, I think, because I don’t have many distractions.

 

From where and who do you draw your inspiration, musically and artistically?

I listened to a lot of punk and metal bands when I was younger – bands like Fugazi, Deftones, Bikini Kill. So I grew up with a kind of DIY outlook on everything. I’ve carried that through to the decisions I make and what I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to. It taught me to be strong, I guess, and a little bit stubborn too. I studied graphic design at art school, and I’ve been interested in art since I was a child, so there’s lots of different visual influences that inspire what I’m doing with Forest Swords too. The last exhibition I went to was Jake and Dinos Chapman in London, which was incredible. But I try not to be actively, obviously inspired by other artists – I prefer to just immerse myself in lots of different things and just soak up influences in a natural way. It’s perhaps why people have trouble categorising the type of music I make, because it doesn’t really fit in anywhere and doesn’t particularly sound like anyone else. I like it that way.

 

What do you see as the main drivers behind the recent years’ wave of dark-toned and introspective electronic music from the UK (Kwes, James Blake, Mount Kimbie, Lapalux, The Haxan Cloak etc.)? Do you think there is a British distinction to it or is it mere serendipity?

Interesting question. I think nowadays it has something to do with the current economic situation across Europe, perhaps. People in their twenties and thirties have a lot less options than they did 10 years ago. There’s not much positivity. So I’m not surprised that this feeling has filtered down into the music people are making. But I think the UK has always had a very melancholy way of making music, especially in electronic music. Bands like Depeche Mode in the 80s, or Massive Attack in the 90s, for instance.

You also work as a graphic designer. How would you describe your working process when producing music in comparison to making art? Do you visualize music in the same way as you do with art?

It’s a fairly similar process – because I create music on my computer, I can build songs in blocks and with different textures – it’s not so different from working in Photoshop on a collage. It’s a very visual way to make music. The type of software I use means I can label things by colour, build up layers, and so on. Music is just a different form of design in a way: it’s about where you place things, the space you use, what message you want to communicate.

 

How does the audience respond to your music in a live setting? Are they different from various crowds across countries, type of venue, time of the gig, etc.?

It’s something that varies from place to place. Some countries – Poland, for instance – have connected with the music in a very surprising and strong way, so the crowds there have been very loud the past couple of times we’ve played. Some cities are a lot more reserved and respectful. It depends on the venue, too – if I’m playing in an art gallery, for instance, the crowd are generally more cautious than in a normal concert venue. That’s the fun of playing shows, I suppose – you’re never guaranteed the same reaction every night.

 

How’s the ratio between acoustic and electronic elements in your music?

It’s about 70% electronic, I’d say. I sample a lot of acoustic instruments, but they’re processed and edited digitally, so I guess they’re a mixture of both acoustic and electronic. I am very connected to my guitar, and that appears in quite a few songs. I’m not really attracted to music that is all electronic, and synthetic. Sometimes it feels very cold. It’s very difficult to convey emotion like that. Live, I have a bass player who plays with me too which gives a lot more of a human element to the show and adds a different dynamic.

The response to ‘Engravings’ has been overwhelmingly positive. Do you regard it as the hitherto redemption of your career? How do you plan to follow it up?

No, I don’t see it as intimidating for the future really. I’m pleased with the response, it was better than I could have ever hoped for, but I don’t really feel any pressure to follow it up. It’s great that people are connecting to the music like that because it’s almost like a stamp of approval to keep on going forward – hopefully people that are interested in ‘Engravings’ now will be interested in what I am doing in two, three or four years time. Electronic music fans especially are very loyal. It’s great to play festivals and see artists in their 50s or 60s still playing to fans. But I am really excited about starting new music and seeing where it takes me, regardless of if it is popular or not.

 

Whats your plans for 2014?

I’m playing shows and festivals up until the summer, and then I’ll be starting work on new music in the second half of the year. Whether that is going to be an album or not, I am not sure yet. This year I’ll also hopefully be starting to produce and work with other artists, too, which will be fun.

 

Forest Swords is set to play Jazzhouse, Copenhagen on February 22nd 2014, to buy tickets to the show click HERE or catch them at Atlas, Aarhus on February 21st 2014 for tickets click HERE

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