Wasn’t Born to Follow, a celebration of all things progressively out-of-step in music, took over a day at Pumpehuset with a strangely diverse but suitable line-up. An earlier, free portion of the day included a set from the Garden, a duo consisting of drummer an bassist, invoking a goth image, playing stuttering punk, with the exception of a hip-hop interlude. The pair tumbled around the stage pulling ridiculous faces, often shouting absurd lyrics about rainbows. It’s intentionally ridiculous, but undeniably entertaining, if for the wrong reasons.
After a break for some rock ‘n’ roll bingo, the main portion of the event begins with Chelsea Wolfe. She walks on stage to a drone of bowed bass and viola, which immediately silences for her to perform a wordless vocal loop. She’s an enigmatic performer, a single muttering of “thanks” is her only audience interaction, but she’s still mesmerizing. There are minimalist moments when the noise breaks, when her guitar is prevalent, when keyboards provide atmosphere, but it slides back into droning for her departure from the stage. It’s also necessary to mention that her drummer is incredible. There are times when you’d swear it was a preprogrammed track if you weren’t watching him play. Even then, there’s a cognitive dissonance.
There’s a huge shift in pace to Big Ups, a New York hardcore punk band bringing a completely different kind of noise. In between songs their singer talks about how excited they are to be playing the show and makes self deprecating comments about the band’s technical skills. While they do embody certain DIY ethos, they are also more tuneful than an amateur hardcore band, and at least embrace dynamics between the singer’s quiet, half-talk singing style and his full on screaming. It’s youthful and angsty and satisfying in the way that sets that expend their performer’s energy are.
Compare that with the youthful energy of Canadian indie rockers Ought, who end up being the most pleasant surprise of the evening. They play bouncy, jangling pop music, delivered by a singer affecting Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes while he moon walks in his socked feet. While his bandmates serenely bob up and down, he’s flailing his arms around and breaking the strings on his guitar, and then on the guitar he kept in reserve in case he breaks any strings.
Alternating between the two stages at Pumpehuset, there are times when the main room feels too big, and other, such as when Lust For Youth play, that the smaller stage feels way too small. The space is packed for the Danish representatives of the evening, and there are a lot of familiar faces dancing along to their dreamy, New Wave-inspired set. Everyone is swaying into one another, and in the moment it feels like they should be in the other room. But everything runs to schedule with enough time in between to get a drink, so there isn’t much to complain about.
Back upstairs for Perfect Pussy, the room is mostly empty for the DC-inspired punk group. Singer Meredith Graves channels no one as much as Henry Rollins, straining her voice and her muscles, and posing a very real threat of a boot to the face to those down in front. Any of ideas of having seen energy or flailing limbs in the course of the evening are completely mistaken when compared to Grave’s wild kicks and lunges across the stage. The problem, however, is that for all of her straining, her voice cannot be heard over the crunch and drone of her bandmates. Even when she asks the sound man for more vocals, there’s no improvement. It’s a shame, but a technical problems aside, there is the feeling that those who skipped this set really missed out.