“IT WAS LIKE THE VOICE of The Little Prince, a voice from another solar system,” said Jac Holzman of hearing Tim Buckley for the first time. The comparison of the ethereal singer-songwriter with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s interplanetary traveller was an apt one. The legendary Elektra Records founder had stumbled upon an artist who instantly stood apart.
Holzman was speaking to MOJO’s Sylvie Simmons before an audience at ARoS, the modern art museum of Denmark’s second city Aarhus. The interview was one of the jewels of last month’s Aarhus Festival – or Aarhus Festuge for you Danish speakers – a celebration of the arts in all their forms which, naturally, featured a series of prime musical delights.
In the city hall, the country’s own Efterklang (pictured, top) performed their opera LEAVES for the first time outside Copenhagen. Björk collaborator Tanya Tagaq stunned with her passion and power. Daniel Lanois played the tiny VoxHall. And Howe Gelb gathered his friends for an epic 30th anniversary Giant Sand show [read about this monumental congregation in December’s MOJO magazine].
Tagaq, a Canadian Inuk throat singer, underlined Aarhus’ reputation for showcasing the extraordinary as she launched listeners into an aural cement mixer. Throat singing implies a connection with the traditional, but this assault conjured Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Grunting and crouching, shrieking and crawling, Tagaq really did seem possessed. Shell shock was the only possible reaction.
“I was always looking for something I had never heard before.”
Although an unknown quantity for non-residents of Copenhagen, Efterklang’s LEAVES was not so traumatising. Written with composer Karsten Fundal, the piece obliquely tells a sci-fi story of a subterranean people with eternal life. On stage, the band’s core line-up is supplemented by four singers and other instrumentalists, but it’s not opera as such; it’s song-based, with musical nods to Philip Glass’s ambient minimalism and their own progressive pop past, and potential wide appeal.
Ambient music of a different kind reared up during Daniel Lanois’s VoxHall concert. Once the surprise of seeing him in a shoebox venue passes, onlookers were struck by his restlessness. One moment he was playing the sensitive I Love You and peeling off ringing guitar solos which would make his countryman Neil Young take stock. The next he fiddled with a console to cook up a Balearic pulse that might soundtrack a tundra travelogue. It helped confirm that what he brings as a producer to albums like Young’s Le Noise is the sound of space, of the open environment.
Something Jac Holzman said during his free-wheeling 90 minute interview sprang to mind. He had revealed his original strategy for Elektra: “I was always looking for something I had never heard before”. It’s a philosophy that works just as well for Aarhus. The mavericks corralled for 2015’s festival could have been booked by Holzman himself.
PHOTOS: Martin Dam Kristensen