Clash heads to Aarhus, Denmark, for the annual Spot Festival, held May 21-24…
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It's 1am on a stormy night in Denmark’s second-largest city and I'm being kidnapped by a German rock band and driven to the harbour. “Let’s sail to Russia!” shouts the driver as a large ship emerges on the horizon and I realise that he’s the guy who’d been necking numerous free shots a few minutes earlier. “If we get stopped by the police,” counsels the chap next to me in the back seat, “tell them you’re English and you don’t know what’s going on.” Well, that shouldn’t be too hard.
Spot, in the lovely city of Aarhus, is awash with such splendid randomness. This two-day (but more like four-day) showcase of Danish music and choice international acts is like a musical Narnia: around every corner and behind every tent-flap an eye-opening new discovery awaits.
Many of those on the bill are small, quirky and hold down proper jobs; but bursts of mighty ambition also spurt forth. The launch night’s opening concert, for example, is one of the grandest spectacles you’re ever likely to see at a rock fest: the enormous Odense Symphony Orchestra backed up by the Herning Boys Choir and, nestled in amongst them, a band called Ave.
Given that even the Danes here don’t seem to know who Ave are, they certainly rise to the occasion, riffing and howling in a suitably hall-filling fashion whenever the conductor gestures in their general direction. It’s an aural and visual feast.
Braving a crazy downpour later on we head off-site and catch the UK’s sole representatives Dead Kids, who slag off the sponsor’s product and spit lager over the audience – Brits abroad, eh? Then it’s time for that hair-raising drive across town, piloted by the German outfit Estuar who aren’t even playing the festival but thrust an (actually rather good) album at your correspondent anyway, ply him with free spirits, bundle him into a car and set off toward the sea, thankfully turning off at the last minute and falling into another venue. There the aptly-monikered Absynth Minded wind things down with some jazzy, funky rock action. After that? I haven’t the foggiest.
A bleary-eyed Saturday morning and with wallet, phone and passport still miraculously intact we kick off with Le Corps Mince de Francoise, a feisty female trio who aren’t French at all. Cue the first of many outings for a gag that, hey, just never gets tired. Q: “Are they Finnish?” A: “No, they’ve just started!” Comedy gold.
On a bit early perhaps, Le Corps are playing to a half-empty room but plough on regardless, bombing through their CSS-meets-Chicks on Speed shtick with some gusto, despite their synth going kaput halfway through. “We should get samplers but we haven’t got any money,” admits the lead Mince, “so please give us some.”
A lot less feisty and having attracted an enormous crowd to one of the outdoor tents, Bodebrixen are one of the festival’s bigger success stories. They revel in the title of “the biggest unknown band in Denmark” and are a bit like Alphabeat crossed with The Whitest Boy Alive – although these guys are even whiter. Clad in cheesy white t-shirts and clearly delighted to be here, they keep the audience in similarly high spirits with a bag of songs more hook-laden than a Norwegian whaling boat.
Having failed to get into the already heaving Taxi Taxi and Car Park North gigs - motoring-related bands must be the big new thing in these parts - it’s off to catch Faroe Islanders Orka instead, who make instruments from bits of old wood, welding equipment and the like. They’re joined by French composer Yann Tiersen and a wailing (rather than whaling) Icelandic frontwoman who proceeds to whack stuff with sticks while souped-up folk songs clank away underneath. They do things differently in the Faroes.
The much-discussed Diefenbach are a more traditional outfit but seem a bit staid after the wailing, wood-walloping Faroese. White Pony, on the other hand, are a Diefenbach side-project who probably have little international appeal but rock the place anyway. It’s madcap-rap by bolshy Danish dudes plus one bewildered French-looking bloke with a sensible haircut who seems to have wandered onto the wrong stage entirely. Perhaps he won a competition.
Rounding things off in fine style there’s the Fagget Fairys, a lesbian techno act with an unfortunate name but a rocking live show and one enormous single, ‘Feed the Horse,’ which bounds in on the memorable line: “I love my horse, I want to ride it, I want to make love to it too”. Now I’m no expert on the Sapphic arts – more an enthusiastic fan - but this is a new one. Further research required.
Is there any better way to start your day than watching three attractive young ladies sing jaunty electro-pop songs with tiny lit-up houses strapped to their heads? That’ll be Oh Land then, led by the striking Nanna Oland Fabricius who also sports some spiky glowing shoulder-pads: think Santigold’s live dynamic, with a blonde Danish twist, at Christmas. As for the songs, they’re catchy and chorus-driven but underpinned by some splendidly glitchy beats: a fine package.
Yin to Oh Land’s Yang, over in the excellent Voxhall bar, the hotly tipped Kellermensch have made an effort. Suited and booted, with waistcoats buttoned and a string section poised, they look like an outfit you could introduce your mum to… until the noise begins. It’s a mighty racket complete with a growly grindcore bloke, but also highly accomplished, and you can’t help but be impressed. They could be on the cover of one of our heavier competitors within the year.
Time for a quick sprint back to the site for the similarly intense Murmansk, a Finnish outfit with a shoegazing bent. The few punters who’ve left the sun to head inside are well rewarded by a raucous guitar attack and a tiny but powerful front woman in Laura Soininen: the girl’s a star. I Was a King then attract a larger crowd in the same venue, but they’re an accessible bunch, following that jangly tradition from Big Star to Teenage Fanclub with a promising grasp of the songwriting craft.
And then it’s time for Spot’s unexpected highlight: Norway’s Mr Sex. Now, Jarle Bernhoff doesn’t look like Mr Sex, being a little chap with big glasses, a couple of guitars and a stool, but by crikey he’s got a voice on him. From that Erland Øye-like frame emerges a soulful croon that makes the girls in attendance audibly swoon, then dance in the aisles, and it’s evident that this probably shouldn’t have been hosted in a seated venue. They’ll have to dry-clean the ladies’ seats (Ewww – Ed).
As dusk falls Denmark’s own grime MC Lucy Love does a decent set and draws a hefty crowd outside, but Clash heads back in for excellent Norwegian outfit Low Frequency in Stereo, who mix up experimental instrumentals with hugely likeable anthems. More of an acquired taste, however, are hotly-tipped show-closers Oh No Ono, who’ve troubled the Danish charts already but also trouble many of the international members in the packed-out concert hall.
This eclectic, folky outfit make an interesting noise, but have a couple of curly frontmen who sing in a nasal falsetto throughout – more helium rock than stadium rock – which gives them the air of an over-ambitious Christian rock band. Perhaps they’re a few octaves lower in the studio.
Day Four – The Iceland Invasion
Actually there is no day four officially, but an extra event has been arranged out in Aarhus’s outskirts. The Nordic countries have spent much of the past 1,000 years taking over bits of each other’s countries and an Icelandic delegation have now set up a Danish base camp in an old farmhouse. It’s now a very plush recording studio, built in just four months and staging a one-off outdoor concert today, which perturbs the neighbours somewhat. “They thought this was how noisy every session would be,” laughs one of the studio owners, who appeased them with beer.
Four Icelandic artists are on the bill, with the lovely Disa kicking us off. She’s the daughter of two famous Icelandic popstars, mum having also fronted long-forgotten trip-hop types Ragga and the Jack Magic Orchestra. Disa’s own stuff, in collaboration with guitarist Mads Mouritz, is folky electronic pop with some intriguing twists along the way: gargling, for instance. A distinctive, diverting talent.
For a Minor Reflection are playing London soon and should be well worth checking if this short set is any indication – think Mogwai without the misery – and the onlooking Disa purrs as they build to a tumultuous climax. Next, MIMAS are actually Danish but have one Icelandic member, plus the son of the farmhouse owner. That isn’t entirely why they’re playing here though: they’ve got a big record deal and a fine grasp of rock ‘n’ roll dynamics, with a nice mournful snatch of trumpet late on.
And rounding the whole festival off in languid style, the impossibly youthful laptop-and-piano purveyor Olafur Arnalds and his string quartet provide a perfect soundtrack as the crops sway in the sun and we stagger back to the car, bound for the airport.
It’s Finnish? Not quite, but very nearly.
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Find the official Spot website HERE.