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LIVE REVIEW: Sunn O))), Koncerthuset, 15.04.2015

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In lieu of a supporting band for their show at Koncerthuset, Sunn O))) had a fog machine for an opening act. At precisely 21:00, the fog machines switched on and gassed the first few rows of people with curiously warm smoke that smelled of cedar.

Twenty minutes later, so much smoke had filled Studie 2 that no one seemed to notice that the overhead lights had switched off. Indeed, the slow rumble of applause through the crowd as the band took the stage suggests that only context clues alerted those at the back of the room that Sunn O))) had appeared in their monastically-robed glory.

The impact of the first notes is a shock. First it’s the noise, then the sudden thud that rolls through your body and compresses your breathing. With smoke still pouring from the fog machines, I’m grateful that the emergency exits are clearly visible even through the haze.

But once the initial shock wears off, the noise is lulling in the way a thunderstorm is lulling. There is the occasional, startling crash of noise, but everything is so slow and deliberate — from the guitars to the way the band members pass around bottles of wine — as to become strangely comfortable. Even Attila Csihar’s voice, whether he is singing in a Gregorian chant style or growling, is soft, albeit sinister.

Sunn O))) BW-1585

Sunn O))) has a physical presence unchallenged by any piece of music I’ve ever experienced. The music is like a living creature breathing, shaking you clothes, making your insides vibrate and threatening to tear the room apart. Mostly it’s luring from beneath, like a volcano, but at times manic outbursts pierces through. The room becomes the instrument of Sunn O))) – the sound waves clashing and taking new shapes, the walls rattling. Imagine being a tiny insect lost on the engine of a giant truck and then suddenly the engine turns on, that is more or less how it feels to enter a Sunn O))) concert.

There is a shift just after 23:00 when Csihar, after an absence from the stage, returns not in his monastic robes but in a Hyperion-inspired, mirror-armor cloak with spike crown and purple LED lasers shooting from his hands. His movements and voice are unaltered, but now there are beams of purple light cutting through the smoke.

When the evening comes to a close, with Sunn O))) raising their hands aloft and the audience mimicking their movements, it suddenly becomes apparent how draining this show has been. At just shy of two hours, the unbroken noise is demanding for the band and demanding for the audience. It’s an unparalleled experience, but I’m reasonably certain permanent damage has been done to three of my five sense.

Sunn O)))-1565

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

PREVIEW: Sunn O))), Studio 2, DR Koncerthuset

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SUNN O))) photo by Gisele Vienne

On Saturday, August 15, Studio 2 in DR Koncerthuset will likely be the loudest place in Copenhagen. If you are open to musical experiences that are a tiny bit more demanding than [insert almost any band name here], it’s also likely to be the best place to be on Saturday. Why? At sometime around 21.00 Studio 2 will start filling up with dry-ice and when the fog thickens Sunn O))) will appear. Named after a guitar amplifier Sunn – which has the logo O))) – Sunn O))) has been rumbling the underground for 16 years with their own special breed of drone metal and released six studio albums. They are also a band of many collaborations.

Last year’s unlikely yet in some ways obvious collaboration with Scott Walker made many end of year lists (including ours). The album, Soused, was released to near universal acclaim, despite virtually non-existent promotional support on the part of the creators. Scott Walker famously hasn’t performed live since 1978 and his public appearances are close to none (in a rare interview with The Quietus, he opens up about the possibility of performing Soused live, so we’re holding our breaths, however ill-advised that might be).

There are still a few tickets left at 295kr (including fees). You can buy them here. If you’re willing to risk your eardrums (though of course we recommend earplugs), it promises to be an unforgettable evening.

Sónar Festival Day 1, Koncerthuset, 13.03.2015

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Sónar’s inaugural Copenhagen festival, cushioned within different spaces at DR Koncerthuset, ironically covers a lot of ground. There is the broad spectrum of electronica represented, from pop music to dance friendly synths to industrial to the somewhat frightening. But then there is also the balance to strike in atmosphere between festival and club night, unsure of whether it wants to be bright and shiny or evoke a warehouse feel. Where Sónar succeeds is in allowing everyone to physically move from room to room and adapt accordingly.

— Words by Amanda Farah and Alex Maenchen

Smerz — 19:30

There are two hard surfaces prominently at play as Sonar Festival kicks off its two-day residency in DR Koncerthuset: Metal and glass. Opening the program on the intimate SonarDome stage, the Norwegian duo Smerz embody the venue’s stark concrete staircases with their uncompromising brand of electronic pop. It feels like a deliberate choice to play on the basement level because here everything hits you heads up. Henriette Motzfeldt and Catharina Stoltenberg’s compositions are measured, two-part exercises in breakbeat that mix the sublime with the violent. The machine Smerz builds from it is one Stoltenberg operates with deft percussive gearshifts, throwing up gang signs like its a FUBU convention, while Motzfeldt feeds it with her porcelain vocals and melodic keys. They’re definitely tougher than they look and almost as tough as they sound—sometimes they rip it so hard that it seems like wheels are going to fall off, but then you hear the tires squeal so slow they grind. —AM

Puce Mary — 20:00

What’s most jarring about Puce Mary is the beautiful, serene expression fixed on her face even as horror movie screams of feedback rise up around her. The only time that beatific expression changes is when she sings, holding the mic close to her mouth in her fists and producing guttural, inhuman sounds. She spends her set bowing something that doesn’t appear to be a stringed instrument and eking out rhythms from pulsing industrial noise and series of stutters and clangs. Add to that the soft colored lights swirling around the room and it’s like going to prom in the third circle of Hell. —AF

Sekuoia — 20:25

Sekuoia takes the stage and won’t let you forget it. Behind him the LCD screen shows the name plastered in tall, static white letters superimposed on scenes of blue and white skies, blue and white mountains, blue and white islands in the ocean. And that’s what the proceedings feel like: static and white, and sometimes blue. Sekuoia may be the stage name of 21-year-old electro ventriloquist Patrick Alexander Bech Madsen, but considerable credit should be given to the mercenary work by his accompanying guitarist and drummer, who both look clean out of a Dorito-encrumbed sofa cushion variety Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band. While Mr. Madsen takes a swig of water mid-song, the facade of live performance is held somewhat intact by his band. It doesn’t help matters that these songs seem build proof, never committing to a thought long enough to let the non-dancers in the crowd enjoy it too. These kids should be watchmakers, you can set time to these beats. But some flourishes make the stage show entertaining, and this goes for the drummer especially, who at times looks to sprout second and third heads where his shoulders are. In Sekuoia’s world of stacked samples and resonant dins, the clash of a real high hat goes a long way. When technical issues bring the show to an anticlimactic end, it becomes clear that the music is just a blue color swatch, cut so square and flat that the most interesting thing about it is the funny name behind it: Sekuoia. —AM

Darkness Falls — 20:45

The Danish trio makes for a convincing, non-specifically 80s tribute band right down to their costumes: Their singer is wearing an amazing sequined dress with severely jutting shoulder pads that look like they could cause harm. Their performance paints them as a band with potential to be a really great pop band some day. Their programming is pretty slick — which is good, because there’s more programming than anything else despite the presence of keyboards, guitar, and drums — their energy is good even if their movements are a little awkward, and they have a cohesive direction. And based on the way their final song is received, they have at least a few hometown fans ready to go crazy over them. —AF

Vessel
Vessel

Metronomy — 22:00

Perhaps what fans find most charming about Metronomy is their unabashed approach to heartfelt indie pop, and with a frontman in Joseph Mount who seems the kind to shyly shrug when asked whether he’s got any plans on prom night, it’s difficult to think it’s all some sort of coy affectation. Whatever doubts a middling appreciation for their studio recordings may conjure, Metronomy are for real. On the big SonarClub stage, they get right to the point with “Love Letters,” a song which could run on an endless loop on a channel devoted to unrealized iPod commercials. Percussions are particularly emphasized in keeping with their dancier numbers, working to push the other instruments forward rather than snuff them out. It’s a simple but smart bit of audio engineering that has the rest of the band all jazzing hands and gesturing toward drummer Anna Prior before Gbenga Adelekan’s bass plunks in on “The Look.” Metronomy’s music is given dimension on the stage that it just doesn’t have at home, in spite of whatever high end DJ rig you may play them through. “Resevoir” bleeps and bloops while Prior and keyboardist Oscar Cash do a go-go jig, and “Corinne” is a go-nowhere song that highlights precisely what’s working for this group—an infectious conviction to hit the notes, no matter how dull they are, as square and precisely as possible that you could very well take them home to meet your mother and go out for a raucous jig on the dance floor afterwards. —AM

Kenton Slash Demon — 23:15

The Kenton Slash Demon set feels like a welcome recalibration of mood. Big beats veiled in thick synths—like a good lover, they take their time. This is a DJ set through and through, but you’re in it. Everything is prudently mixed so as to give generous room for the listener to sink into the pulse of the track. Their builds are like suspension cables pulling taut. Even the out-of-place looking lady who caught the tambourine during the Metronomy set can’t resist joining in. The bar setup ensures that beer flows one way, into the thick of the crowd, and where it isn’t flowing in, it’s keeping those not having any fun stuck to the floor. The guys on stage are all smiles as they pull onto the familiar gravel of their own driveway—big beats and emotional high notes. They fade out in a mist of reverb before they pop the clutch for one more go. —AM

Vessel — 23:35

There is something inherently violent about Vessel’s music. His set opens with searing, painful static that, when it settles into something that by comparison could only be called gentler, it’s still thick, sludgy, and metallic. It’s also so beat-heavy that people are dancing in as thrashy a way as one can before they’re technically moshing. Behind Vessels is a series of distressing film projections — even the overly sexual ones imply distress — that are mesmerizingly well synched. So mesmerizing that I failed to notice at what point he had taken off his shirt, and really, the flailing, sweaty man behind the table would have been pretty compelling on his own. —AF

Jon Hopkins — 00:30

For a man with a slight frame, Jon Hopkin’s got clout. It seems only he can open a set with extended, elliptical whirring, like the orchestral track’s been ripped from it spine and skull, and still have the crowd visibly excited for what’s coming. The images on the screen behind him are like a minimalist film, primitive graphics interspersed with hi-def photography of particles from deep space, be it that of a night sky or a fathomless ocean. Point is, he’s sending our world spinning in a surge of fragments. His beats are incisive and sharp and dampened with sonar pings of strings. Hopkins is best when he’s building these polygonal sound structures, these open marriages of percussion and synths. About twenty minutes in there appears to be technical difficulties, with the video going black. Three minutes pass as things are furiously rewired. A heartbeat. High hat. Snare. We’re back and Hopkins is more animated than ever, a mad ship’s captain whose way of fixing what’s broke is breaking it some more. One thing was always certain—he’s was never going to let us drift. —AM

Ólafur Arnalds, Koncerthuset, 13.02.2015

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Ólafur Arnalds is trapped somewhere in the worlds between modern classical composer and electronic artist, and he doesn’t really fit the profile of either. He opens the show at Koncertsalen by asking the audience to sing a note (“E flat, or D sharp, depending on what kind of person you are”) for him to record on his iPad and loop through his song, so the evening is already more interactive than most before he’s even played a note.

Accompanying him on stage is a string quartet, two French horn players, and one fellow  stood in the center of the stage penned in by stacks of synths, drum pads, and on some occasions, a trombone (he’s also the only person who has to stand all evening, so he gets a bit of sympathy). Arnalds himself sits between two pianos, his synths laid out on top of a grand piano.

With this setup, it’s striking how minimalist some of Arnalds’ music is, emphasized as he plays piano with one hand and swipes at the electronics over the keyboard with restrained flourishes from the other. When he’s only playing piano, the intense concentration melts away from his face and is overtaken by a dreamlike expression. And the minimalism in turn tends to be usurped by bigger arrangements, a swelling of atonal noise.

Forty minutes into the set Arnór Dan, who appears on Arnalds’ albums For Now I Am Winter and Broadchurch, comes out for a few songs, and it changes the atmosphere of the show. Suddenly, it’s a pop concert, and not even an especially avant-garde pop concert. The mood lighting gives way to flashes from the long fluorescent beams behind the stage. And now with a singer center stage, it’s easy to forget — in that very Nordic way — whose name is actually advertised (a sentiment aided by the fact that Dan is Danish, he is speaking Danish to the audience, and he is pleased as punch that his mother is in the audience). But Dan leaves the stage and the tone shifts back to, if not a classical concert, something out of step with the mainstream holiday we’ve taken.

And finally, it is just Arnalds on stage, playing the piano that forces him to keep his back to most of the audience. His final song is a tribute to his grandmother, the woman who “made me listen to Chopin when I wanted to listen to death metal.” The backing tracks are so faint they’re almost a figment of the imagination, and as his fingers leave the keys, it is only these fading sounds that keep us all from sitting in complete, awestruck silence.

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