Denmark's SPOT Festival

Clash SPOTlights the bands that shone
I Got You On Tape at the SPOT Festival
Situated on the east side of the peninsula of Jutland, some 200 miles from Copenhagen and with a local airport not exactly within spitting distance, Aarhus is not an obvious travel destination for the foreign visitor - it wasn’t at least until last week for the author. But all of this has changed now. The reason? Denmark’s charming second-largest city is home to SPOT Festival, a showcase/music convention that combines the diversity of Oslo’s by:Larm - but admittedly in much friendlier weather conditions - with the compactness and practicality of another Nordic favourite, Iceland Airwaves.

Aimed at industry professionals and music lovers alike, it maintains an exceedingly humane character. "As a principle we don’t’ have any VIP areas at SPOT. Everyone should be able to go anywhere on the site. The energy lies in the fact that people meet openly in the communal areas", its organiser Gunnar Madsen proudly boasts. Egalitarian Scandinavian values applied! If you’re into discovering new exciting music SPOT Festival is a small sonic-Disneyland with a bill consisting of approximately 140 well-chosen acts. Apart from an evident Danish and Nordic focus, SPOT is also slowly developing its international character by having over a handful of bands from various countries such as New Zealand, Switzerland or the US in a separate new section called InterSPOT. In the course of the festival Clash also discovered that - contrary to expectations - the Danes were an incredibly friendly and extremely chatty, beautiful lot.

Survival-kit vocabulary for the weekend:
Thank you = Tak
Cheers! = Skål!
A pint of beer please = En fadøl tak
What is this band called? = Hvad heder det band?
I think I lost my way to the hotel... = Jeg tror jeg er faret vild, på vej til hotellet…
Will you marry me? = Vild du gifte dig med mig?

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And this year’s Clash hot-tips are...

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I Got You On Tape Ridehuset, Friday

The driving force behind IGYOT is Jacob Bellens, a big Danish chap with the voice of Michael Stipe capable of writing songs that bear the sincerity of Elbow and the dry wit of Jarvis Cocker. Seated idly behind a Fender Rhodes keyboard throughout the set, he came across - to my surprise – as remarkably convincing. Ample emotion with disarming immediacy and a tight band with a very mature sound.

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Ghost Society Musikhuset Århus, Rytmisk Sal, Friday

Ghost Society are made up from members of four different bands: People Press Play, Blue Foundation, Choir of Young Believers and Lake Placid. Their music is a mixture of shoegaze/noise-pop and gloomy rock along the lines of Cure’s legacy and enhanced by Tobias Wilner and Sara Savery taking turns on the vocals. Their Friday night show didn’t come without some weak and tedious moments. Nonetheless, Ghost Society’s great strength - their truly beautiful compositions – don’t go unnoticed and hint at some great potential. Let’s see what the future holds for them.

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Maribel Musikhuset Århus, Rytmisk Sal, Friday

Maribel’s SPOT performance was a long-awaited one. Following the release of their brilliant 2009 debut Aesthetics (co-produced by Serena-Maneesh's Emil Nikolaisen), this was their first live appearance in seven months. And it was well worth the wait. Obvious influences from My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Slowdive (isn’t referencing to those bands the whole point anyway?) didn’t get into the way of what came to be an intense, feedback-laden sonic experience hinting at a very exciting follow-up. Looking forward to it.

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FM Belfast Voxhall, Saturday

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of an FM Belfast gig you should become so right now. Essentially FM Belfast are anything between 5 and 25 folks jumping up and down on stage and doing killer-covers of rock anthems like ‘Killing In The Name Of’ and ‘Welcome To The Jungle’. Their own Scissor-Sisters-meets-Hot-Chip-in- Reykjavík material is quite good too. Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson does all the electronics. The rest of the lot spends all of its energy on being lunatic and Icelandic. What else do you want? The Aarhus crowd – along with Clash - gave in immediately.

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Bodebrixen Studenterhuset Århus, SPOT afterparty, Saturday

Last time I saw Bodebrixen was about 2 years ago at a rather unmemorable gig. Apparently, Aske Bode and Andreas Brixen have progressed light-years ever since: they hired an additional ginger-haired gorgeous female singer, called in their hyperactive friends, rehearsed manically, re-recorded their material and started paying attention to their sartorial elegance. A Danish ABBA on speed, an invasion of melodic hooks, trombones and trumpets, and a highly-developed sense of Scandinavian cool – confetti included. Pop bliss at its best.

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Additional festival highlights include the multi-talented, DYI electro-experimentalist Mat Riviere (check him out this Saturday at Brainlove Festival at Brixton Windmill), the soothing Americana of CODY, the filled-with-Danish-courtesy Arcade Fire-esque Alcoholic Faith Mission, and finally the compelling vocal delivery of Cæcilie Trier of Chimes & Bells.

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Nordic anorak Clash news editor Si Hawkins made his way to SPOT too... Chatty as ever he spoke at a panel about the US live industry along with Tom Windish, founder of the Windish Agency and responsible for booking acts like Hot Chip, The xx and Fever Ray.

Here are his SPOT favourites:

Efterklang, Slaraffenland (and Simona Abdallah) Musikhuset, Thursday

Billed as Slaraffenklang, this opening night extravaganza featured the combined talents of a couple of fine Danish outfits, who sported different, er, outfits but seemed to have an absolute hoot messing about with each other’s tunes. ‘Klang leader Casper Clausen then beckoned support act Abdallah onstage for their final song, adding a little percussive Arabic accompaniment to the euphoric soundclash and bringing the house down, despite his bandmates knowing nothing about it, apparently.

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FILM Fatter Eskil, Thursday

At least poor beleaguered Greece isn’t creatively bankrupt too. FILM are a rare export from their indie rock scene, journeying to Denmark due to the new InterSPOT international mini-festival that now rounds off the opening night. A good fist they made of it too, pummelling a busy bar with their pleasingly atmospheric post-pop shudder, and boasting a frontwoman who is, as my Grandad would put it, “not un-comely.” Which is always handy.

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MIMAS Pickup Scenen, Saturday

Based in Aarhus but blessed with a smattering of Icelandic blood, Mimas could easily be a new addition to that fruitful seam of harmony-shouting North American collectives, if you didn’t know better. Actually, the hairiness is a giveaway. Hints of Arcade Fire and Pavement abound, plus riffs that regularly wander off like a toddler in a supermarket. Splendid.

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Shogun Kunitoki Voxhall, Saturday

A Finnish four-piece named after an old computer-game ninja, with a novel live set-up. Sitting stage-front with his back to the audience is a combined percussionist and visuals man (rocking a Super 8). Facing each other stage right and left are a bald skinny chap and his hairy counterpart, both playing splendid old analogue keyboards on kiddy tables, and behind them is a drummer banging away like a bastard. The sound is even better. Look ‘em up.

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First Aid Kit Radisson Hotel Car Park, Saturday

The final weary walk from hotel to festival site is suddenly enlivened by something rather lovely. Swedish sisters First Aid Kit have already made an international splash but aren’t resting on the laurels: a few minutes before their proper SPOT performance they’re perched behind a car, between bits of half-unpacked equipment, working on – presumably - a new song? “We’ve not even finished it yet,” explained the shorter, fringier one. “We’re not sure what to do with it. It’s about six minutes and we‘ve never done one that long before...” They looked deeply flummoxed but the small audience – just me – enjoyed it immensely.

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Words by Vasilis Panagiotopoulos and Si Hawkins
Photos by Vasilis Panagiotopoulos

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