10:35 AM GMT 25/04/2013
From the sublime to, er, Tremolo Beer Gut: all Nordic life is found at Denmark's SPOT Festival, discovers Kieron Tyler.
SPOT Festival's mission is "to create a promotion platform for the Danish and Nordic music." Held each year over three days in May (this is its 17th year), it takes over the attractive Jutland coastal city of Aarhus, infesting it with Scandinavian bands, known and unknown. On Friday and Saturday, the main days, there are 132 separate shows and a swarm of northern European music fans.
Shows run to time, the venues - all close to or part of the city's four-hall opera house complex - are clean and hospitable, the weather is great, audiences are good natured and the sound superb, whether in an outdoor tent or the small club Voxhal. The only downer is the security - checking bags on entry is fine, but any beverage that's from outside the site is sent binwards. Including bottles of water.
As a largely hassle-free experience, focusing on the music comes easily. Amongst the temporary Aarhusians is the Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds, who played in 2009. "SPOT is about music discovery," he says. "This is the first time I've been to SPOT as a guest rather than playing."
Asked whether individual Nordic countries exhibit unique musical traits, Ólafur says "I do not think there is a huge difference. The differences are like those from town to town, or from different provinces - nothing huge. Though Denmark is unique, pop culture is bigger than the other countries. For Sweden the pop culture is what in the UK you could call indie, perhaps Norway too. Making the connection with Finland is difficult for me as it is the fartherest Nordic country from Iceland. As an insider I lose perspective. We can't really see ourselves."
For an outsider too, divining national stereotypes can be difficult. Danish quartet Tremolo Beer Gut say nothing about Scandinavia with their hackneyed Pulp Fiction-derived instros. The moody trio Turboweekend marry melancholy to soaring melody in such an a-ha-like way that they ought to be Norwegian. One of them is even called Morten. They're Danish though.
The opening night's one-off collaboration between Efterlkang and their friends Slaraffenland - billed as Slaraffenklang - goes some way towards suggesting a Danishness. As members of each band play the other's songs, the audience is palpably moved by the joy that comes from the stage. Both invoke a hymnal quality, making music that reaches out.
It's an attribute shared by Friday evening's Kissaway Trail show at the outdoor tent Officerspladsen (pictured, top). Soaring melodies envelope an audience immediately at one with the band. Earlier on at the same venue, a similar audience/stage connection is established by the bouncy Danish pop star Fallulah - born Maria Apetri (pictured, above). Her winningly jagged, guitar-driven pop is in the same field as our Florence And The Machine.
Finland showcases sharply-focused synth/vocal duo Villa Nah and instrumental quartet Shogun Kunitoki. Villa Nah's yearning songs reach out with a melodic arc that echoes Messages-era OMD. Shogun Kunitoki are unlike anything, though. Two keyboard players stab at tiny instruments on tiny wooden tables, a drummer pounds relentlessly while a percussionist doubles on Super-8 film loops. Modern yet old-sounding, it's Joe Meek gone Krautrock in the techno era. Synaestheticly building, the music conjures polygons of colour as much as sound.
For Ólafur Arnalds, the highlight is Icelandic rave-pop outfit FM Belfast. At mind-melting volume, their wall of rhythm and commanding presence has the audience crouching down on command. "They run the bar I hang out at," comments Ólafur later. "I'd seen them about ten times before, but at SPOT I discovered what they are capable of in the way they controlled the crowd."
Elsewhere, Ólafur's suggestion that the differences between each country are "nothing huge" is hard to dispute. Denmark's Kandy Kolored Tangerine and Norway's Maribel are two shades of shoegazing: the former school of Chapterhouse/Spaceman 3, the latter more Slowdive/My Bloody Valentine. Both are marvellous, but each could have been born elsewhere. Norwegian singer-songwriter's Susanne Sundfør's show is jaw-droppingly intense, and alluringly unparochial. Songs like the glacial The Brothel are so arresting it's obvious she will become more than Norway's alone if she chooses. Sweden's Miss Li is equally striking, but less harrowing. She and her band reconfigure blues and vaudeville, speeding them up to bash out songs that roam through Janis Joplin, Tom Waits and Aretha Franklin in under three minutes. Much odder is her fellow countryman, the compelling androgyne solo act Moto Boy.
"Moto Boy is so surreal," confirms Ólafur. " A guy walks up on stage in leather pants with a Flying V guitar and then - this angelic voice. He must have five octaves." The man born Oskar Humlebo has been acclaimed in Scandinavia this year, and it's a given that wherever else he plays will pay attention too.
Scandinavian music is usually seen is an indistinct, amorphous blob hailing from "up there" somewhere, and it's impossible to think of another region where performers would be as comfortable losing their immediate national boundaries (imagine "European Union Rock"). Yet exploring the whole of Scandinavia with SPOT reveals subtle changes in the landscape, differences in tone. It's the "music discovery" that's special to SPOT.
Posted by Danny_Eccleston at 12:06 PM GMT 24/06/2010