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Visit From a Blackstar – David Bowie’s Final Works One Year Later

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David Bowie

David Bowie died a year ago today. This was the first of several mornings in 2016 that began in complete disbelief. At the heart of each one of those shocks was the richness of detail with which one could visualise each successive failed future: defeated Brixiteers loudly priding themselves on the fact that almost half of Britain dislike the EU, clamouring for a second referendum; Trump supporters denouncing the presidency as satanic; op-eds everywhere detailing just how close we got to Armageddon.

With Blackstar, Bowie had proved the efficacy and productivity of his late self-imposed obscurity. How many more of his albums would have suddenly revealed themselves over the coming years?

He would have been 70 on Sunday, but he won’t need the conveniences of calendars to be remembered. Blackstar managed to survive a year of thinkpieces, in part because its connection to the loss that immediately followed it meant that every mention of that album is a veiled or overt act of mourning and memorialising. It was without any doubt the album that defined that year for us, and each time we hear it, it reenacts the surprise of first hearing it, and the surprise of waking up two days later.

It’s an album of great conviction, that still baffles. We will analyze and over-analyze it for a generation, and every time we think we’ll have reached a conclusion, some new Easter egg in the artwork will be discovered and we’ll begin again.

The newly-released No Plan EP is little more than a teasing of what might have been. There was obviously no time to create something as fully realized as his final complete album. Will we search these final few songs for answers the way we scraped Blackstar? No, we’ll just happily accept any scraps that try to piece together what we lost. We’ll force ourselves to be content with Blackstar as the perfect farewell it has become, whether or not it was intended to be.

DFI Musikfilm Festival 2016: Our Picks

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Copenhagen’s Cinemateket is back with another edition of Musikfilm Festival, a film festival dedicated to music documentaries, rockumenatries, gigumentaries and more neologisms we can’t be bothered to come up with right now. It’s a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes of the music world, as well as a celluloid window into some of the most mythical concerts of the last half century. Behold, our picks for the coming week:

Daft Punk Unchained (Saturday, 16:30)

The festival opens with the (free!) showing of Daft Punk’s odyssey from the brash kings of ‘French touch’ to the robot-headed, disco overlords of today. Expect lots of teasing about “the men behind the masks”, hordes of celebrities quite rightly, if self-servingly, gushing over them, and the burgeoning realization that Homework is still the best thing they ever did. CC.

Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You: A Concert for Kate McGarrigle (Sunday, 17:30)

Kate McGarrigle’s death in 2010 was a major loss for folk music, and the musical family she left behind. Her children, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, have McGarrigle’s influence written all over their careers (sorry Loudon), which they drive home with this tribute concert from 2011. Brace yourself for added emotional intensity from personal photographs and anecdotes, and because no one does emotional intensity quite like the Wainwright/McGarrigle family. AF.

Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay (Tuesday, 21:30)

It’s all in the name, really. If you’re into brutalist architecture, the clanging of metal, and that peculiarly British sense of liberation through grimness, this is the film for you. Starting with industrial legends like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, the film looks at the influences and influence of the genre that bridged the gap between pop music, avant-garde art and post-modern theory. CC.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (Tuesday, 21:45 and Sunday, 19:15)

If you’re still feeling sad about Bowie, you can find one of a million rips of Cracked Actor on YouTube, or you can sit in on one of these screenings with a room full of other people sharing your feelings. This classic 1973 concert film is young Bowie in all of his technicolor splendor and still offers the right amount of weird more than 40 years later. We’re not saying we’ll cry during “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” but we’d appreciate it if you’d avert your eyes. AF.

The Possibilities Are Endless (Wednesday, 19:00)

Edwyn Collins is the former Orange Juice frontman, Postcard Records founder, and the guy behind “A Girl Like You,” which his been licensed a million times. His role as respected indie stalwart was nearly destroyed after a brain hemorrhage left him paralyzed down his right side and only able to say “yes,” “no,” his wife’s name, and “the possibilities are endless.” Yet Edwyn is still writing and recording music today, and this is the story of how. AF.

Mavis! (Thursday, 19:15)

Mavis Staples is surely one of the perfect subjects for a documentary film: a lifetime of music, civil-rights activism, and a never-ending string of collaborations with the great and the good in American music (her latest album includes songs written for her by Nick Cave, Neko Case and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon). Take a gander and find out just why everyone wants to work with Mavis, and why Bob Dylan wanted to marry her. CC.

Hot Sugar’s Cold World (Thursday, 21:15)

After splitting up with his girlfriend, field-recording musician Hot Sugar goes hunting for new sounds in Paris. It sounds more like a Tao Lin novel than a music documentary, but if you didn’t convulse with rage while reading Taipei you can probably take this too. But I will admit that this film first sparked my interest because I was not expecting to read the names of both Jim Jarmusch and Neil deGrasse Tyson in the blurb. CC.

The Amazing Nina Simone (Friday, 19:15)

Look, the forthcoming Nina Simone biopic is a trash fire that’s already started smoldering. Forget it exists and look instead to this  semi-authorized documentary about Simone’s incredible work as a jazz singer, a protest singer, and a civil rights activist. It won’t downplay the controversy the music or the person; Simone was a complex character of the sort Americans could take inspiration from in an election year. Let’s not let that be upstaged by a controversial casting decision. AF.

INTRODUCING: We Like We

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We Like We produce experimental chamber pieces that manage to allude to the works of minimalist composers like Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich while retaining the spirit of independent music. The Copenhagen-based quartet, consisting of violin, cello, vocals and percussions, meld the technical virtuosity of their respective classical backgrounds with a good ear for harmonics, dissonance and rhythmic dexterity, wonderfully captured on their debut release “a new Age of Sensibility”, released by The Being Music.

Though recently formed, We Like We are no strangers to the Danish music scene, having played their first live performance alongside Efterklang at Frost Festival in 2013. The release concert for their album will take place at Københavns Musikteater on December 16.

Get Your Gun | Roskilde Rising, 30.06.2014

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

Get Your Gun (Photo by Tom Spray)

Get Your Gun (Photo by Tom Spray)

Get Your Gun (Photo by Tom Spray)

Get Your Gun (Photo by Tom Spray)

Get Your Gun (Photo by Tom Spray)

Get Your Gun (Photo by Tom Spray)

Get Your Gun (Photo by Tom Spray)

Win tickets to Porcelain Raft in Copenhagen

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Porcelain Raft is set to play a concert at Beta, Copenhagen on October 30th and we’ve got tickets to give-away for the show.

To enter the contest simply submit your first & last names along with your email address below, winners will be selected at random. The contest closes on October 28th and winners will be notified via email. 

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED!

INTERVIEW: Factory Floor

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I caught up with Dom, Gabe and Nik of Factory Floor just before their very first gig in Copenhagen, drinking whiskey and ginger with Will Doyle (East India Youth), their support act for the tour. All four of them are welcoming and chatty long before the interview begins, Will recommending his favourite music journalists, Gabe pouring drinks, and Nik attempting to unplug the fridge to reduce the noise.

The interview is longer than usual, but it has remained unedited, since it captures the thought and passion the trio put into their music, both live and recorded. Behind their easy-going nature there is an energy constantly bubbling up to the surface as we discuss artistic development, North London, and collaborations with their favourite visual artists and musicians.

 

Here Today: You have been around in various guises since 2005, with singles, EPs, and so on, but what finally convinced you to make an album?

Nik: The three of us have been together since 2009… Well I can’t really speak for you two, because I joined you.

Gabriel: But I think that Factory Floor, before that, was just pissing about.

Dominic: It was a different band.

G: Yeah it was, just under the same name. I know all that history comes into it, but it only really started when us three got into a room together.

D: There was a lot of development, a lot of gigs…

G: We didn’t want to go, “Ah, there’s a bit of interest in us, so lets just do an album and disappear.” I think we wanted to make those steps really carefully.

D: We had releases in between, they just weren’t albums: EPs, singles, collaborations, they were all informing what the album was going to be like.

G: It was a big learning curve, the album, recording it, writing it as we went along, it did take a long time. But you have to go through those processes. You can’t get to a point where you’re totally happy with something until you go through that real process of development and learning. It’s very lengthy.

HT: Is that process more about refining composition, or is technical as well?

D: I think composition is a big thing. The way we work together is a hands-on, quite creative, artistic approach. We wouldn’t sit down and write music, it’s more about recognising something when it’s working, instinctively, between the three of us. When you are playing live, it’s great because you are expressing yourself in a certain way and it happens in real time. But when you have to capture it in a recording studio…

N: We built our own studio. We aren’t producers or engineers, so we had to learn how to record ourselves, because we wanted to recapture what we did live, but we also wanted to produce a record that was different from our live performance, that was more stripped down, clearer, more focused.

HT: You’ve collaborated with all kinds of people, musicians and artists, but it sounds like your recording process is much more insular.

D: When you’re working with other people, they inform your own practice, and what we got from that really came back in when we came together as the three of us again. So it’s not like we separate them, but we made a conscious decision on this album that, because it was our first document, our first LP, it was important that it should just be us.

N: We had engineers coming in, we worked with Stephen Morris as a producer, which was great, but we end up rerecording parts and manipulating them to the extent that it felt easier if we just did it ourselves and had a more hands-on approach. You experience all these creative accidents; it’s just a more creative way or recognising what we’re doing. I think fifty percent of what we do is to get these tools and work it out, as opposed to making tracks with lyrics about falling out with a friend. It’s about sound. We were working in this place in North London, where we were using the building to make our sound as well, and dismissing that idea of being in a studio, which is quite daunting. We knew we needed a place where we have all our stuff set up, and we can just walk away from it and come back the next day with it still set up.

D: You feel more relaxed in your own space. If you’re in someone’s studio you’re worried about scratching stuff or knocking a microphone over.

G: It’s a love and hate relationship, I’d miss it if it weren’t there.

D: It might well not be there, they’ve knocked the whole street down.

G: The street’s being developed, it’s all getting knocked down. It’s not far from Stoke Newington and Shoreditch, all that area, and it’s the last bit of London that’s going to be gentrified. It’s going and we can feel it on our doorstep.

D: We’ve got a Costa on the corner…

G: I don’t think there are going to be any places like that… It did influence us, but it was a massive distraction as well, but I think it needed to be there. And there’s a good drum sound if you mic it up in the toilet.

HT: So do you think that the area informed the album in some way?

G: It’s an isolated area of North London…

D: It was quite a strange time, though, because there were the riots while we were recording. There were massive things happening around, which I’m sure had some kind of unconscious influence. We were sandwiched between two Nigerian churches that would go on until the early morning. It’s an agitated area of London, there are so many things colliding. Not in a bad way, in a really creative way.

N: It felt really raw and real. And then you’ve got high volume Factory Floor music coming through the warehouse. It was an intense couple of years.

D: It’s quite weird that when we finished the album, that’s when the change started to happen. We were quite lucky really. I think we would have spent all our time in Costa…

G: I think the day the album came out in the UK, they started drilling next door to knock the building down. It’s been like that for two months, it’s bizarre and horrible.

HT: You were talking about your drum sound earlier. This album comes out on DFA records, who are known for quite a distinctive sound in terms of their drum and synths. How do you see yourself in relation to the other artists on their roster?

D: We were going to build a massive cowbell and wheel it on stage in a Tesco trolley, but someone had done that before…

G: I think we all love the New York, pre-dance stuff. It was more about organic instruments producing dance music, as opposed to digital plugins or whatever, which we aren’t against at all, but it changes the humanistic element of it.

D: DFA felt like a gateway to New York, in a weird way.

G: It’s a weird escapism. I’m in New York, but I’m in Seven Sisters, but I’m not…

N: It’s the same as moving to North London, which is away from all the scenes happening in London, because it’s the uncool part of the city. It’s nice to have that distance, so we can do our own thing.

HT: I think the use of live drums might be the thing that connects you most to that DFA sound.

D: The live drums and guitar really shift what we do from being – I know sound like I’m putting myself down – mediocre. You hear so many programmed dance outfits, but because we’re doing it live, we’re feeding off each other, it’s a very instinctive live set. It falls into improvisation at points, then it comes back.

G: You can’t really do that with a laptop. We like going against the pre-programmed stuff.

D: We push to get off that grid.

HT: Do you think of yourselves as mainly a live band?

In unison: Yes!

G: You’ve got to have that physicality. Instead of pressing one button to get that sound, press five buttons to eventually get to that sound. It’s good to think about it to get that humanistic DIY. That feeds through to the sound you’re creating. You’ve got to be hands-on with it to get to that point.

N: And if you hit the wrong one, hit it twice, so it looks on purpose.

G: Or do it for half and hour. But we all play, and I think that’s really apparent in the shows, that you can see points where it isn’t working. That doesn’t matter to us, we’re not precious about the shows being the same. There are points where it drifts into the unknown, where it starts to fall apart. It’s the trying to get it back from that where new things happen, new ideas and discoveries.

HT: This is a bit left-field, but I was interested to hear that the album was recorded on the same mix desk that the Eurythmics used. Is that coincidence?

D: We spotted it on ebay, I don’t know if we looked through the list [of previous owners] before we bought it.

G: It’s just a big volume control. It’s got some nice EQs on it, and the powerplug on it is quite nice as well, but that’s about it.

D: When did we discover that?

G: Jaki Liebezeit of Can, they were involved. But it was made in 1982, and I was born in 1982, so we were born the same day.

HT: But you have worked with a lot of your heroes and influences (Stephen Morris, Throbbing Gristle).

G: I think the mutual thing between these people and us is that they have the same approach to music. They go into a room with no preconceptions of what they are doing, and they just go with it. It’s an amazing thing. That’s why we do different live shows all the time, because we would get bored. They are from the same angle.

D: If you think a lot of the music industry is based on youth, it’s nice to meet people who are still as sharp as they have ever been; they are still inquisitive about their art.

N: They’re still transgressive …

G: Yeah, they’re not just one genre, not packaged into one thing.

D: It’s inspiring for us, to realise that hopefully in twenty years time we’ll still have that.

G: Still be in the warehouse…

HT: It’s interesting that, with your deep affection and relationship with certain periods in music history, the album sounds completely current.

G: But I just started ripping people off.

N: [To Gabe] That’s not true!

D: Some music when you’re growing up really impacts on you. I know that when I first heard “Atmosphere” it had a massive impact on my taste, whether it was the Velvet Underground or people like that. I think there is a point when you are starting when you need those seeds, but then you make your own language.

G: You’ve got to learn and progress into your own thing.

D: There was a lot of interest in the post punk era at that point. But we made complete strides away from that, didn’t we?

G: Everything happens for a reason; members are there or not there for a reason. If it’s meant to happen, it will. People come in and out of it, until you get the chemistry.

HT: You’ve worked with many visual artists, at the ICA, the Tate Modern. How did that come about?

D: We’re all from art backgrounds, we’ve all studied art up to a certain level. I think of Factory Floor as my artistic career. It’s my output at the moment.

N: It’s really important to mix art and music in the same box, it’s the same creativity. The ICA asked us to do a one-year residency after a show. The history of the ICA has always been about merging art and music, so it seemed inevitable that it would be a really good fit. We were allowed to use the space and make our show specific in terms of rearranging the space, using quadraphonic sound and different visuals. There’s one show where I’m out of it –Simon Fisher Turner’s taken my place –doing the visual for that, and Peter Gordon brought along Kit Fitzgerald, his life-long partner, who’s always looked at visuals and music in relation to each other. And Hannah Sawtell, we worked within her exhibition.

D: It’s only the industry that brings in the separation. You buy a record for fifteen quid, but you buy a piece of art for two million. That’s what separates it, the artists themselves don’t see any kind of division. Look at the Chapman brothers, they are making records, and they’re really good.

HT: And do the visuals influence the way you play?

G: For me, when we’re playing live, because I’m on the side I can see it, but it’s quite different for you [Dom], because you’re facing the audience. So they make you play, they create a mask in a way. You play along with them, when the audience is going mad, or when they’re not, it affects the show.

N: We’re driven by instinct, and it’s just another instinct. If the screen goes to green, I’ll hit my guitar, it’s really simple.

D: When you have patterns revolving, it doesn’t take long for whatever part of your consciousness to join them. Those connections are quite rewarding as an audience or an artist playing. You start to make these connections, which feels good and helps this escapism.

HT: You’ve used this word, escapism, quite a few times. But you’ve also spoken about how your environment has influenced you. So what does escapism mean for you?

N: The live element is enabling the audience to detach themselves from their every day lives. Because we have this repetition, and the lyrics are really simplified, there isn’t any narrative content there, it leaves space for the person listening to make up their own mind and respond in their own instinctive way.

D: It’s not very often you get a lot of people in a space who are able to escape from their reality and share that experience. If you go to an art gallery, you’re by yourself. You look at a picture and have your escapism. But there’s something about a performance that’s different. You’re with a group of people and you’re all sharing this dialogue between the artists and the audience.

N: That’s why it was really important for us to set up base, living in a space and being in our own bubble. It’s having that gang mentality, thinking about the same things and having the same vision. You want put that out to the people you play in front of, so they are all experiencing this sound and feeling it, losing themselves.

HT: Have you had any surprising reactions to your performances?

D: At the Tate Modern…

N: People taking off their clothes!

D: We set it up as a three-hour rehearsal, where people could come in, like an open studio. It was such an incredible reaction, because it was such a long period of time to play, it unravelled differently. People reacted quite profoundly, I think.

Win tickets to Majical Cloudz concert in Copenhagen

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Montreal duo Majical Cloudz are set to play the Copenhagen Jazzhouse as part of the CPH:DOX AUDIO:VISUAL series and we’ve got 2 x 2 tickets to give-away for the show.

To enter the contest simply submit your first & last names along with your email address below, winners will be selected at random. The contest closes on October 17th and winners will be notified via email. 

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED!

INTERVIEW: Editors

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I sat down with Ed and Russell, respectively drummer and bassist in Editors, on the first night of their new tour. When I wasn’t trying to explain the plot of This is Spinal Tap to them, we chatted about their latest album, The Weight of Your Love, as well as lineup changes and football anthems.

Hi guys, so how are you keeping sane on tour?

Ed: It’s just about getting rolling when you’re on tour, so you know the routine: you know exactly what time soundcheck is, interviews, dinner. You have to have some order in your life, you know.

Russell:  Each city is varies, but we try to head to a park each morning for a run, try and keep healthy. I went to one left and left from here, by the Carlsberg brewery.

You seem to know Copenhagen pretty well, but then it is your second time here this year.

R: Yeah, we were here really recently, at the Tivoli, which we just walked past. They had it all decked out for Halloween, which should be nice.

How was Tivoli?

E: It was a bit strange, because it’s open both to those who have bought tickets and people who have the family tickets, so you get old grandparents with their children, poking their nose round to see what’s going on. But we had a great reaction, it was a really thought out thing to do, thoroughly enjoyable, like a fete.

I think we did our job really well, people stuck around for the end of it, that’s all you can ask for, isn’t it?

Editors (Photo by Tom Spray)

I heard Tom [singer] talking about the difference between the UK and Europe, do you think there’s a difference in mentality?

E: Definitely, there seems to be more an attitude of “oh, we like that band, lets see what they do next”, rather than “ok, so what’s new?” [In the uk] there seems to be such a hunger for what’s big. We were on the right end of it when we first came out, as one of the bands they were really pushing, and we built a career kind of on the back of that initial promotion. So we can’t hate it too much, though it’s quite distressing.

So how do you keep momentum?

E: We recorded the second album very quickly pretty much as soon as we got off tour we went into the studio. If you’re on a hot streak you have to keep on it. Then we slowed down a bit.

The original four of you were music technology students, did that influence your approach to music?

R: Not really, we all met because we wanted to do music, but the course wasn’t very good. It wasn’t what I thought it would be and it didn’t teach you much, glossed over a variety of things in the music and business world. It doesn’t teach you how to mix a record, or how to fix frequencies between a kick drum and a snare together.

E: [Playing live] you just develop, and you don’t notice it. I’ve noticed changes in Tom over the years, he’s coming out as a front man far more than he ever used to. He’s more of the focal point, when in the past he used to hide behind with the band a bit more.

Editors (Photo by Tom Spray)

Has the new lineup changed your position in the band?

E: I would say that ever since the band changed we all felt we have more of a voice in how things are run and how songs are put together. It’s the most collaborative record we’ve ever made, I think me and Russell’s involvement is a lot greater than it had been on previous albums.

It’s quite a bass-lead album, isn’t it?

R: The mix on it is quite different from previous albums, which were a bit more chocked. I think this one lets the speakers do the work, there’s a lot more space in it. Obviously some fans might like that, might want it always noisy, but we get tired of that and move on.

R: Playing in a five-piece band, you have to know your place a lot more. You have to know where everything is going to sit and make sure they suit the songs.

We didn’t really have a direction when Chris was with us, we had a few songs that were around at the time, but none of us were really into it. Chris was well bored with the band and we were well bored with him.

E: We weren’t very good at talking about [song ideas] until about a year and half ago. We got into a situation where everyone knew things weren’t working, but no one wanted to talk about it. So to be able to speak freely in the band is refreshing. It’s probably something we did when we were just starting out, but as time goes on you get stuck in certain situations.

People like to compare you to certain bands from the 80s, are there influences of yours that might seem unexpected?

R: I don’t think we’ve referenced a band in a while, directly. We’ve all got big musical tastes and knowledge. We know about a lot of popular music. People think you’re limited because we like 80s bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy division, but we have very broad taste. This record is quite different. It’s a bit out of time, I think all our records have been out of time. You listen to someone like Chvrches now, and I don’t really like her. I don’t like the production, the sound, so it’s not a route we would go down.

You’ve spoken about feeling quite liberated, but there’s a pattern in the song titles: “The Weight of Your Love”, “The Weight of the World”, “A Ton of Love”. So where does this heaviness come from?

E: We’ve always written songs about the dark side of life. And Tom has been far more ambiguous on previous album. Here he’s let his storytelling side out a bit more, talks about specific events. But even the good stuff is wrapped up in some sort of counter, some sadness or depth which you wouldn’t get in a happy song. It’s the way we like to write songs, it keeps us interested.

Do you have any lighthearted songs hidden away somewhere?

E: Yeah, “Back of the Net”, our football theme we made in rehearsals, about the time of the Euros last year. It might come out for the next World Cup.

You should, it could be the next “World in Motion” [New Order’s World Cup theme].

E: It wasn’t as cool as the New Order one…

INTERVIEW: Dirty Beaches

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In August, Dirty Beaches, along with an impressive selection of bands played mini festival Wasn’t Born To Follow at the Pumpehuset in Copenhagen. We caught up with Alex Zhang Hungtai (Dirty Beaches) to talk about his new album Drifters/Love Is The Devil, benefits of the internet for independent artists, the DIY music scene and more.

View the interview below:

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