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Sónar Festival Day 2, Koncerthuset, 14.03.2015

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Night two of Sónar is a very different experience from the first night. If the opening night was experimental music with a lot of physical breathing room for the audience, then night two is closer to a rave with wall-to-wall people wanting to dance. In some ways it’s more of a festival — longer queues for drinks and to get into rooms to the see different acts — but there’s also just the feel of it being a Saturday night, and of everyone abandoning themselves to whatever consequences will come Sunday morning.

 Words by Amanda Farah and Alex Maenchen.

October Dance — 19:30

The ‘80s were kind of cool, you guys. It’s a secret that everyone knows and it’s the basic ethos by which the fresh-faced youngsters from October Dance live and die. Stuck in the early 19:30 slot on the SonarDome stage Saturday night and fronted by Michael Cera’s mustache from Youth in Revolt, these guys have no right being as good as they are. The Danish trio, supported by rhythm keys and bongos, serve up big art pop straight out of the Peter Gabriel school of sledgehammer synths, with frequent, feverish detours into back alleys in search of manhole covers that gush out the most steam. After the fourth modulated keyboard solo in as many songs, however, a lyric by Echo and the Bunnymen comes to mind: “First I’m gonna make it/then I’m gonna break it/till it falls apart.” It’s dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Alternately, you can put on a headband and watch a tennis ball machine spit balls at a wall for 40 minutes and you get the same effect. —AM

Kwamie Liv — 20:00

Kwamie Liv’s set is a lot like 5 a.m. The stage is washed in an opaque, bluish light and someone’s left it to the iTunes visualizer to run the show. It feels like the wrong time to show up, but there’s a sizable crowd. Liv is barely a silhouette in the fog, which suits her just fine. The soulful opener is almost heightened by it, which she sings solo. As she breaks into “Lost in the Girl,” the keyboardist and drummer make their presence known. It’s a big number, and the minimal setup really doesn’t do it justice. But Liv prefers to saunter through her songs. “All I want to do is just take you a little higher,” she sings on “Higher.” And she does, a little. And yes, Kwamie Liv has a song called “5 a.m.” but even George Michael knew not to take “Careless Whisper” so literally. —AM

Taragana Pyjarama — 20:25

There isn’t yet a name for the electronic equivalent of surf rock, but there’s plenty of the summery, breezy music to go around. Taragana Pyjarama is tapped into those sunshiny, sparkling feelings that make them kindred spirits of Brooklyn’s Blondes. The mood of the songs is heavily dictated by the drums, which either are really chill electronic beats or heart-pounding smashes, both of which give an unwitting shape to the more ambient songs. There are some live, super-vocoded vocals, and a handful of pre-recorded vocals that hint at some pop ambitions. Pop or ambient, they manage to bring a sense of spontaneity to a set with a lot of samples. —AF

Factory Floor by James Hjertholm
Factory Floor by James Hjertholm

Factory Floor — 21:30

We’re big fans of Factory Floor, but their Sónar set was not the best we’ve seen from them. Reduced to a duo without live drums, guitars or vocals, there was something definitely missing. Their hypnotic beats still attracted a huge crowd of furious dancers, far more than when we saw them at Lille Vega at the end of 2013, and there was plenty to love and recognize in their metallic beats. But while you can recreate drums and guitars from samples, there is no substitute for Nik Void’s distinctive, atonal voice. Give the girl back her microphone and it would make all the difference in the world. —AF

AV AV AV — 22:05

There’s a line out the door at the tightly packed SonarDome to see ELOQ, UNKWON, and DJ E.D.D.E.H bring some domestic, name-brand electronica for their first ever show together as AV AV AV. Their set highlights a slick mix of glossy melodic productions à la Purity Ring and stomping club beats. Amazingly, each contributing component retains its identity in the performance. The gorilla’s unmasked in DJ E.D.D.E.H., who gets the crowd going with a nice bit of run and rip showmanship, while ELOQ and UKNWON look to be cooking with as much focus and intent as Jesse Pinkman and Walter White. Some songs turn out to be little more than monochromatic shapes built to show the integrity of their design. Still, AV AV AV know how to please a crowd, and they’re not shy to let us have it, so it’s “All Good”.  —AM

Brynjolfur — 23:10

Copenhagen’s Brynjolfur stood center stage surrounded by synths and a laptop on three sides. His bright dance music has a very 80s, New Order feel to it, a vibe aided by the live drums and guitar. There were pleasant, predictable patterns throughout the set:  Slow descents into lulling valleys that freeze with seconds of surface tension and then erupt into massive banging beats. The ecstatic reaction that follows every time is just as pleasantly predictable. Brynjolfur maybe lacks some of the direct engagement of a pop star, but he’s still highly recommended if you ever wonder what “Blue Monday” would sound like if it was written today. —AF

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

PLAYLIST: Here Today’s Concerts

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The month of March will not only be treating us with some exciting concerts, but also Sonar Festival (March 13-14). We have updated our “Here Today Concerts” playlist with a few selected artists that you might want to spend a night listening to. Among them are Dean Blunt, Jessica Pratt, Yung (tonight with Total Heels), Ex Hex and Wounded Kings.

Yung + Total Heels (Stengade, 04.03.2015)

As the music scene centered around Mayhem is becoming more widely known, you might be fooled into thinking that it is the only place to go underground in Denmark. That is not the case, though, as Aarhus has it’s own very lively scene. Yung is one of the most promising bands that have emerged from there in the last few years. Tonight (March 4. 2015) they will be playing Stengade along with another great band: Total Heels. Didn’t make it to any of Iceage’s sold out shows at Jazzhouse last week? Well don’t worry, good times are waiting at Stengade. [Link to event.]

Ex Hex (Loppen, 05.03.2015)

According to The Guardian’s 5 star review of Ex Hex’s 2014 album, Rips, the band “sit somewhere near the middle of a Go-gos/Ramones/Sleater-Kinney Venn diagram, and join latterday power-pop aces like Warm Soda, the Love Triangle and Sheer Mag in making some of the most endlessly repeat-listenable should-be-hits of recent years.”

What else is there to say, sounds fun, right? [Link to event.]

Dean Blunt (Jazzhouse, 20.03.2015)

Dean Blunt, who plays Jazzhouse on the 20th of March, is an interesting new breed of experimental lo-fi R&B, dub and electronica. Last year he released the album Black Metal to great critical acclaim.

Dean Blunt is also one half of Hype Williams. [Link to event.]

Jessica Pratt (Stengade, 28.03.2015)

San Fransisco born singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt has just released her second album, On Your Own Love Again. Forget laptop wall-of-sound productions, Jessica Pratt made her album on an analogue 4-track recorder with little more than a guitar and her voice. As Pitchfork writes, it worked out really well: “Its warm, home-recorded atmosphere is more dramatic and distinctive than Jessica Pratt [her debut album]: finger-picked psychedelia, lucidly layered harmonies, hissy tape effects, an overcast haze. But Pratt’s songwriting is more cohesive and concise, her whispered secrets more alluring”. [Link to event.]

Wounded Kings (Loppen, 18.03.2015)

Life can not always be expressed in freak-folk and “repeat-listenable should-be-hits”. Sometimes you need a bit of doom metal and this is where The Wounded Kings enter the scene. Their latest album Consolamentum has received great praise among reviewers. If you sometimes find yourself nodding along to Black Sabbath, Wounded Kings are worth considering. [Link to event]

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