Can you spot the future? If so, you needed to look no further than the next crop of musical hopefuls and troublemakers who gathered in Aarhus for the annual SPOT weekend showcase.
Its ranks were swelled with artists from Denmark, as well as Norway and Sweden. Encouragingly, the future sounded great. And what makes this musical exchange so extraordinary is that, spread over its 20 stages and 300 gigs of last year’s European Capital of Culture, the best new musicians could ply their trade to eager audiences and create links between artists, labels, promoters and managers.
Way outside the business of the festival reside the brightest stars of the Danish musical scene. Based in its major city of Copenhagen, they’re the second generation of bands who formed in the wake of the abrasive rockers Iceage, who have now clearly improved upon the formula of anger + art. Specifically, it’s Pardans (who supported Iceage at their Scala show in early May) as well as their peers in Collider, Realism and Himmelrum which are setting the pace.
Pardans took pride of place at SPOT with their 1am finale set on Sunday (May 12). Just when two sun-drenched days of pilsner-induced euphoria were beginning to evaporate, the curtains parted to reveal the five-strong band and their infernal racket. Led by the towering Gustav Berntsen, it didn’t take long before their twisted combination of rock, noise and jazz – think the bastard child of Soft Machine and The Descendents – was unleashed.
For 40 minutes, their taut and explosive sound offered little respite as the band rattled through their set, complete with the deep-voiced Gustav bounding across the stage like an energetic metronome. He made two excursions into the crowd. The first to lasso up unsuspecting fans with his microphone cable without skipping a beat. The second is to try and incite a riot. The worried venue manager looked on from the stage with a nervous smile as Gustav shouted – amidst the chaos of pushing and shoving – two prophetic lines: ‘WE ARE THE FUTURE’ and ‘YOU WANT YOUR MONEY BACK’.
Collider – their Copenhagen colleagues – also turned heads over two distinctly different SPOT sets. One memorable late Friday session at the gritty dive bar TAPE saw the crowd respond to the quartet’s surreal explorations. Led by singer/flautist/saxophonist Marie Nyhus Janssen, the band ploughed a bizarre furrow through the soil of shoegazers Ride and Swervedriver, as well as the pastoral ambience of Talk Talk. They barely blinked when deploying yet another time signature as they still managed to maintain the chug of their angular rock. And not even the clinical setting of their part-seated theatre gig that followed on Saturday could tame their potency.
Throw in the charming Himmelrum, who provided a messy trip through the sounds of Seventies-era afrojazz or the sublimely aloof ethno-lounge guitar mojo of Realism and these were – hands down – the most compelling and visceral gig at the festival. Extra points were awarded for the frozen daiquiris at TAPE which were of truly biblical strength.
Sure. Lots of other acts left an impression on SPOT. There were plenty of other high points to a spectacularly well run and programmed festival – just keep reading. But it’s undeniable that the Copenhagen scene that spawned these bands is both deceptively deep in talent as it is voracious in its musical tastes.
Another young Danish band in the festival’s spotlight is Baest. The Aarhus-based brutal death metal crew proved just why Century Media Records have recently signed them. And if there was any doubt about their mettle, their two gigs quickly silenced any doubters thanks to their hard-hitting sound. They were joined by fellow Danish metal bad-asses Slaegt, the all-female headbangers of Konvent and the powerful Deftones-influenced Unseen Faith in representing a very fertile corner of the country’s musical identity.
If guitars were your thing, SPOT offered plenty more fresh faces. Blistering back-to-back daytime sets from Denmark’s Fright Eye and Norway’s Wet Dreams helped kick off the weekend with hefty slabs of hardcore punk. They were followed by Sweden’s Topplock, who channelled Black Sabbath’s unholy Seventies dark metal with a smile. While Gothenburg’s rocking trio of Bottlecap impressed with their blues-drenched energetic stage show, and duo Salvia’s charming and earthy White Stripes bar room stomp attracted a gaggle of curious onlookers.
For melody lovers, SPOT offered its fair share of charming ditties. The psychedelic swirl of Luster gave the urgent bounce of The Police a facelift, while Norway’s Hajk charmed with their disarming tales of lust and love.
Meanwhile soul fans would have revelled in the big energy show of Danish singer Iris Gold. The self-proclaimed ‘hippie-hop’ singer grew up in a commune in Copenhagen’s autonomous Christiana neighbourhood. Among the over-sized sunflowers, she offered a bevy of positive thoughts to the largely female crowd. While her voice was strong and the show was well choreographed – costume changes and all – regrettably the music held few surprises.
Iris was followed by fellow precious metallers RoseGold, the London-born brothers who moved to Denmark a few years ago. Their act was as follows: some fly moves, call-and-response singing and some banging beats. The former London lads alternate between RnB and simple and effective hip hop to get heads nodding. Elsewhere, Ea Kaya sang her fresh-faced Euro pop with aplomb, while Tilde Hjelm & The Desert Orchids offered a tonic of woozy country rock complete with sublime pedal steel guitar playing.
It might require going out of your way to visit Aarhus and SPOT. But it’s both a charming friendly city with a host of incredible venues, as well as a compelling festival. Both are underrated and say something relevant about the future of music in Europe. Take a listen.
Photos by Allan Niss