wed 13/12/2017

SPOT Festival 2013, Aarhus, Denmark | reviews, news & interviews

SPOT Festival 2013, Aarhus, Denmark

SPOT Festival 2013, Aarhus, Denmark

A beer-enhanced taxi, bad-trip vibes, folk-inclined warmth, coal-hole quietness and Iceland’s hot tip at Denmark’s showcase of Scandinavian music

Denmark's Baby in Vain at SPOT Festival: tossing off solos that’d give any head a bummer Thomas Sørensen

“Are you thirsty? I’ve got water and beer.” The car’s trunk is opened to reveal a picnic-style plastic cooler. But this is a taxi, so in goes the case. “If you’re hungry, I’ve got liquorice.” It’s unusual hospitality, not what’s expected from a taxi driver. Even one this young, hip and, well, blonde and classically Nordic looking. It was a fine, if surprising, welcome to Denmark and smoothed the departure from Billund airport, a functional facility adjacent to the original Legoland, one of Scandinavia’s top tourist draws.

Miniature towns made of plastic bricks, rides and a small-scale reproduction of Billund airport aren’t the reason for this trip. The attraction is SPOT, the annual showcase of Denmark’s music. Held in the coastal Jutland city of Aarhus, an hour to the north-east, the festival also welcomes a hand-picked selection of other Scandinavian contenders, so the locals have to keep up their game. Especially when journalists, booking agents and labels from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and even Latvia are – like the few Brits and oodles of Scandinavians present – sniffing around.

SPOT Festival 2013The festival makes it easy with seven stages in Aarhus’ sparkling Musikhuset concert hall (pictured right, photo by Dietmar Schwenger), two in the adjacent Scandinavian Congress Center, shows at a couple of clubs a few minute’s walk away and a former railway station too. The sun’s out, the cold North Sea wind lacerates, and all’s well in Aarhus.

Immediately demonstrating that Denmark has no problem putting any other country in its place are Baby in Vain and Penny Police, opposite poles of female musicianship which both shoot any preconceptions about the sound of Scandinavia out the water. Baby in Vain are a three piece – two guitars and drums – each member seemingly about 15-years-old. The description of them as “stoner grunge” in the festival brochure sells them short. In the flesh, they’re an impactful amalgam of (yes) sludge metal and the heavy side of late-Sixties ballroom psychedelia – The Savage Resurrection or Big Brother & the Holding Company, but without Janis Joplin. Edging towards the bad-trip vibe of Blue Cheer they howl, fall to the floor and toss off solos that would give any head a bummer. Brilliant. More restrained is Copenhagen’s Penny Police, the vehicle for folk-inclined singer-songwriter Marie Fjelsted. Although a lot of performers share her territory, Fjeldsted and her band stand apart due to her combination of effortlessness and joy. Her pretty, reflective songs bath the audience in warmth.

SPOT Festival 2013 SlowolfNo such mood radiates from Slowolf (pictured left, photo by Thomas Sørensen), a quartet led by shirtless singing drummer and some-time producer Andreas Asingh. The brochure has them down as “dream pop, metal, hip hop.” Live, take some “Come as You Are” Nirvana, add the pulse of acid house, slow it down, factor in Asingh’s choir-boy vocals and bubblegum-sweet melodies and you have an oddly threatening, yet deeply compelling, result. Just as offbeat are the inanely named Cancer, who layer wandering Antony Hegarty vocals over a fidgety Tago Mago-era Can bed. Yet another Danish winner. For a less intimidating but still immersive experience, Broken Twin build on the coal-hole quietness of Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star to dramatic effect.

With all these Danish gems, visitors from elsewhere in Scandinavia have to be on top form. For ruthlessly efficient Swedish death metallers By the Patient, that’s no problem. They’d streamroller anyone into submission.

Iceland’s Ásgeir Trausti should have triumphed at SPOT. His album, Dýrð í dauðaþögn, has been a massive Icelandic seller and the air hums with anticipation before his show. He’s hot and about to go global with the seductive Dýrð í dauðaþögn ready to be issued internationally. The omens are good. Yet Trausti puts in a diffident performance, making little connection to the audience, coming over as Bon Iver-lite. Showcasing some of the new lyrics which will be heard on the forthcoming non-Icelandic, English-language version of the album, he sings “further north, the light can be so dark.” Not only is the performance surprisingly thin, this example suggests something has – literally – been lost in the translation. If possible, when he comes along, stick with the Ásgeir Trausti that Icelanders know.

Not that Denmark was too worried about that. With more than enough local delicacies at SPOT – and that's without the beer and liquorice-enhanced taxi – anyone from elsewhere in Scandinavia would do well to look over their shoulders.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Copenhagen’s Penny Police bath the audience in warmth. Slowolf though is oddly threatening, yet deeply compelling

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