thu 14/12/2017

theartsdesk in Aarhus: SPOT Festival 2014 | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk in Aarhus: SPOT Festival 2014

theartsdesk in Aarhus: SPOT Festival 2014

A thrill-packed, home-grown antidote to the Denmark-hosted Eurovision 2014

Get Your Gun's Andreas Westmark at SPOT Festival: more malcontent Viking than satisfied Danish nativeRasmus Lydersen Vester

At last night’s Eurovision Song Contest, host country Denmark submitted “Cliché Love Song”, a weedy Bruno Mars-a-like designed to ensure they did not win for a second year running. It came ninth. While understandable that Danish national broadcaster DR would try to duck the expense of staging the extravaganza in Copenhagen again in 2015, they could have displayed some imagination by choosing an entrant that was certainly not a winner but had some worth. Instead of Basim wth his paper-thin “Cliché Love Song”, Aalborg’s Get Your Gun would have made a grand choice to showcase Denmark in fine style.

During their appearance in Denmark’s second city Aarhus last weekend at SPOT Festival, Andreas Westmark, the front man of these rising Danes, biffed his microphone stand over while roaring “you can call me rage”. Above the nail-it-to-the floor drums and bass, he tossed off hunks of distorted guitar while thundering about blackness, sorrow and worry. Drawing from Nick Cave, Get Your Gun subverted last autumn’s World Happiness Report which declared Denmark the world’s happiest nation. Westmark seemed more malcontent Viking throwback than satisfied native.

SPOT festival 2014Naturally, back gardens aren’t eternally rosy and with this bulldozer of a performance Get Your Gun were saying that things aren’t always what they seem (watch the video for Get Your Gun’s “Black Book” overleaf). That’s probably a message anyone involved in Eurovision would eradicate were it to pop into their heads, but during its 20th-anniversary outing SPOT more than made up for Denmark's poor choice for Eurovision and Europe’s television screens. (pictured right: SPOT Festival takes over Aarhus, with Denmark's ubiquitous bicycles and art museum ARoS looming in the background

According to its website, SPOT is to “to create a promotion platform for the Danish and Nordic music… to support new bands and artists that are of a quality to succeed internationally. The line-up comprises both debutants as well as more established artists.” Although expressed dryly, this is what SPOT succeeds at. The past couple of years had some hiccups due to access problems and building issues with venues new to the festival, but this year everything ran with a smoothness akin to the fur on a kitten’s head. It also helped that the region’s usually changeable weather – Aarhus is coastal and half-way up the east side of the Jutland peninsula – was in abeyance. The rain held off and there was only a cold and cutting wind to contend with.

Although Get Your Gun were just one of the arresting acts given a platform (watch videos from other SPOT 2104 highlights overleaf), their power and ferocity – and look – were appropriate to Aarhus as it was an important Viking-era settlement. In the basement of a branch of Nordea bank north of the city centre a museum reveals where the city lay in north Europe’s territorial and trade networks The in-situ remains (including a 10th-century pit house) displayed date from the dawn of Aarhus, around 770AD. Ramparts were built in the 10th century to deter raiders as it became an important market town worth plundering. During the 11th century, after the adoption of Christianity, a cathedral was built outside the fortifications as the city’s economy and population had grown. Through trade, direct links were made with Germany and Norway.

SPOT2014_Den Gamle ByFurther evidence for how Aarhus prospered comes with a visit to Den Gamle By (the old town) an open-air museum south-west of the modern city centre. A collection of reconstructed, relocated and restored old buildings, it was the world’s first such museum, founded in 1909. (pictured left: the scene at Den Gamle By)

Den Gamle By is an extraordinary place and iamongst ts jewels are the massive complex built for Aarhus’s mayor in 1597, Denmark’s best-preserved such structure. The rooms of the multi-storey, timber-framed building are stuffed with grand interiors, fine objects and furniture. There are also, importantly, trading counters.

SPOT could be held elsewhere in Denmark, but the festival’s mission to bring together the best of the Nordic region’s music and show it off makes it utterly appropriate for this city, one with so tangible a history of trade and links with the outside world.

Overleaf: Get Your Gun's fellow SPOT 2014 highlights

Bringing both Danish and music from the wider Nordic world to Aarhus, SPOT sets the bar high for locals. Bands and solo performers are here from countries across the region. A sense of competition is in the air, but thankfully no one invades stages occupied by performers from other nations.

SPOT2014_Treefight for SunlightDenmark though doesn’t have anything to worry about. Not only is most of what’s on offer Danish, but when the locals hit home they really do so. Fossils are just a bass player and a drummer. Their music is instrumental. It’s something like metal and also has roots in the fusion of The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever but they’re out there on their own. More easily assimilated are the young-looking pop group Quick Quick Obey. Although hampered by intrusive programming which their drummer tries to keep up with, their sunny songs are toe-tappers. Schultz and Forever are fully formed and marry Donovan’s wobbly "Hurdy Gurdy Man" vocals to a Connan Mockasin-style underwater psychedelia. They work better live with an electric line up rather their usual acoustic configuration for the studio. The uplifting Treefight for Sunlight are at SPOT promoting their so-far Denmark-only third album (watch the video for Treefight For Sunlight’s “Come Closer” overleaf). Their new songs have moved along to such a degree that one is a portmanteau piece wedding spectral harmonies to a structure nodding towards experimental Americans The United States of America. (pictured right: Treefight For Sunlight at SPOT 2014)

SPOT2104_BrokenTwinWhile Treefight For Sunlight were performing songs which hadn’t yet been heard outside Denmark , Broken Twin was playing SPOT the weekend after the international release of debut album May. It was the stage debut of Majke Voss Romme, who operates as Broken Twin, with her new band. An important concert, it consummately captured the album’s sombre and spare mood despite the additional instrumentation which may have swamped these stately songs. Whatever the darkness of the songs, the future looks bright for Broken Twin. (pictured left: Broken Twin at SPOT 2104, photo by Jesper Hedemann)

Also trying something new is Copenhagen-based singer-songwriter Penny Police whose specially-written orchestral piece Join Forces is collaboration between Marie Fjeldsted (aka Penny Police) and classical writer/arranger Signe Lykke. Join Forces set the words of Danish philosopher and theologian Knud Ejler Løgstrup to strings, keyboards and a brass section. Although performed in Danish, this brave work on togetherness affected.

SPOT2014_byrtaCommunion was not a theme explicitly stated by Faroese electro-pop outfit BYRTA (beer-ta), their anthemic, idiosyncratic rave-inclined pop got an audience clapping along to music most had never heard before (watch the peculiar video for BYRTA’s “Norðlýsið” overleaf). This was a particular triumph as BYRTA sing in their own language, resulting in a music with unfamiliar progressions and rhythms. Nonetheless, they made the connection. (pictured right: BYRTA at SPOT 2014, photo by Rene Eraijmaekers)

A connection of a different sort came from Iceland’s extraordinary Grísalappalísa, a literally in-your-face septet with two frontmen proclaiming in Icelandic over a Killing Joke take on Can (watch the video for Grísalappalísa’s “Hver er ég” overleaf). With lyrics by their Baldur Baldursson, a poet, they draw members from other long-running Icelandic bands. Their wonky unhingedness suggests they’re the overdue natural heir to The Sugarcubes.

SPOT 2014 Elin KåvenJust as far out, but more instantly accessible is north Norway’s Elin Kåven. Nominally folk-based, she is Sami and draws inspiration from her region (watch the video for Elin Kåven’s “Lihkku Niehku” overleaf). With antlers on her head and the fragmented post-rock guitar of Juhani Silvola, she conjured the exotic essence of her sparsely populated and remote region from the air. Her presence manifested the soundtrack of somewhere alien yet her sinuous songs beguile. (pictured left: Elin Kåven at SPOT 2014, photo by Thorsten Iversen)

Similarly hypnotic is Sweden’s Sumie, the sister of Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano. The sibling’s music couldn't be further apart. There are no band and no electronics for Sumie (watch the video for Sumie’s “Show Talked Windows” overleaf). She is one person with an acoustic guitar and intense songs of reflection. The simple and direct rarely has this strength. Sumie's single-minded focus brought that forcefulness.

SPOT2014_TrulsAnother solo act was a bolt from the blue. Norway’s Truls used to front Lukestar, a quirky band with roots in – appropriately for the setting – Denmark’s Mew. Now solo, he has embraced pop with a distinct modern R&B edge (watch the disturbing video for Truls’s “Out Of Yourself” overleaf). An unlikely looking fellow, he has the stature and dress sense of darts player Jocky Wilson. But when he begins prowling the stage and opens his mouth, it’s instantly clear he is a performer of rare intensity. His voice is high. It’s not an adopted style like, say, Jimmy Somerville but instead is from within and instantly transmits emotion like soul giant Russell Thompkins Jr of The Stylistics. In person and on stage, Truls is exceptionally powerful. His recorded works do not yet capture this, but he has to be seen. (pictured right: Truls at SPOT 2014)

Luckily, SPOT is not a competition like Eurovision. It would be unfair to choose a winner as there were too many highlights and too many singular visions. The festival does though celebrate Denmark’s openness to music more positively than their Eurovision 2014 entry. And the less said about the song sung by the Danish presenters before voting commenced last night the better. Denmark is lucky to have SPOT.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Overleaf: watch videos from SPOT 2104 highlights Get Your Gun, Treefight For Sunlight, BYRTA, Grísalappalísa, Elin Kåven, Sumie and Truls

Watch the video for Get Your Gun’s “Black Book”

Watch the video for Treefight For Sunlight’s “Come Closer”

Watch the video for BYRTA’s “Norðlýsið”

Watch the video for Grísalappalísa’s “Hver er ég”

Watch the video for Elin Kåven’s “Lihkku Niehku”

Watch the video for Sumie’s “Show Talked Windows”

Watch the video for Truls’s “Out Of Yourself”

 

Norway’s Truls looks like darts player Jocky Wilson but is a performer of rare intensity and transmits emotion like soul giant Russell Thompkins Jr of The Stylistics

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