Live Report: WhoMadeWho – The Forum, Copenhagen

A show that’s big in every sense of the word…

The evening before WhoMadeWho’s performance at the Forum, we ask drummer Tomas Barfod how the tour’s been so far. He smiles and explains that it’s not really a tour, though they might call it that to the outside world: rather than a compressed set of nightly or almost-nightly gigs, the Danish band has paced themselves into a schedule that often has just one set a week, with enough time between to take stock and prepare properly. Watching them perform at Copenhagen’s Forum the next night, the reasons for that approach quickly become apparent.

WhoMadeWho has spent two decades carefully crafting their musical identity, moving from nervy, art-student indie music to an ever-bigger sound – and ever-better songs. The sheer enormity of tonight’s gig reflects that trajectory: “big” is the word here, whether it’s the Richter scale of the beats, the size of the giant globe overhanging the stage (six metres, which we’re told is a metre and a half larger than it used to be), or the 4,500-strong crowd packing the venue. As if to hammer the point home, they’ve even commissioned Bjarke Ingels Group as stage designers – the Danish architecture firm whose acronym is “BIG”.

The result is a radically different experience from listening to WhoMadeWho’s records. In the studio, they create music that’s warm and comfortingly major-key, at once dreamlike and anthemic. Tonight at the Forum, the same tracks become club floor-fillers: songs like ‘Dynasty’ sound less funky and more punchy, less poppy and more forceful. That kind of approach runs the risk of compromising musicality in favour of sheer volume, but here it works because the band leans into the mayhem – vocalist Tomas Høffding in particular looks like he’s having the time of his life, running around like an excited schoolkid and playing every instrument he can lay his hands on, offering the mic to the crowd before snatching it away again as though suddenly thinking of something we’d enjoy more. It’s a thrill to watch.

That physicality is just one of many signs that the music is just one part of the whole here, and that what we’re taking part in is carefully planned as a multisensory experience, not just a gig. The visuals are certainly impressive, but the team behind this show have gone much further than CGI jellyfish and stars. When flames erupt from the stage partway through the show, you can literally feel the heat on your face; during ‘Never Alone’ a flurry of confetti bursts from above, followed by silver balloons for the distorted bass climax of ‘Closer’ a few songs later. (The combination of balloons and flames seems like an obvious mistake, but at least the audience has fun playing exploding volleyball for a bit.)

It’s not unusual for bands to throw the kitchen sink at gigs like this, especially with music that’s designed to create a sense of cosmic space. What’s surprising about WhoMadeWho’s performance is that it’s lovably human, too: it never feels overrehearsed, allowing the personalities of each musician to shine through. When guitarist Jeppe Kjellberg faces the crowd with his arms uplifted during ‘Closer’, it’s no footballer’s party trick: this is the spontaneous celebration of a fan, just another person enjoying the night in the same way as everyone else. The content of the stage banter might go over our heads (it’s in Danish), but the context is clear. This is a band who feels connected with their audience, and that only serves to make the performance more immersive. Little wonder that we feel exhausted by the end: we, like the band, might need a week off after this one.

Words: Tom Kingsley
Photography: Polina Vinogradova

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