Denmark’s second city, Aarhus, is a student town with a thriving music scene, busy pubs, and a huge cafe culture. But it’s small size means it often doesn’t draw the same rush of people as the likes of Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen.
To Gigwise Aarhus is a much more instantly rewarding city than the Scandinavian capitals. It’s easy to discover the best bits on foot, and the list of things to go see is diverse. From colourful half-timber framed houses restored to their original 15th century glory, to world-beating botanical gardens, an intimate Latin quarter, sophisticated modern harbour, and staggeringly beautiful Medieval churches, are just of the few off-piste experiences on offer.
It’s none the more charming than when SPOT, Scandinavia's own version of South By Southwest, casts its influence and transforms the city into the ultimate city-centre festival. Every venue, public space, throws parties that embrace the festival spirit to the fullest. The spirit is so thriving because everyone knows that SPOT has a consistent track record in booking a line-up that offers first-see opportunities for bands that will one day become universally known. Both MO and Efterklang are former finds of the festival, and this year, we’re hoping to find more like them.
SPOT may be for an industry festival, and serve as a very important stepping stone in the careers of artists, but, boy, do they know how to have fun along the way. The diversity of music on offer, and range of venues and parties ensure people of all creeds and music taste are accounted for. This in most encompassing of festivals that is easily among the coolest events in the world. Skol Spot Festival.
With this in mind, we set out to see if the quality of the programming lives up to its star-studded history. Our mission was to track down the groups and individual artists that deserve stages much bigger than the ones they’re currently circulating. Here’s what we learned along the way.
Franske Piger are a leading light for the future of Danish pop
The small-flight Copenhagen band Franske Piger (their name translates to French Girls) make 80s synth pop, that should appeal to fans of Phoenix, Super Furry Animals, and King Krule. The music is lo-fi, home-recorded, and feels positively DIY in style. At home, they form part of a music collective called Vellness Plader. In an era where the idea of a 'scene' is barely conceivable; hearing that the young Franske Piger are shunning the coldness of virtual collaboration and welcoming physical interaction, can't help but capture Gigwise's nostalgic adoration for old times. Perhaps, like the resurgence of vinyl, the new bands in Europe enjoy the romanticism and realise that change isn’t always for the better. These kids are tired of not having that sense of community that bands in the 20th century were so good at forming.
Despite a modest social media presence, little online fanfare from blogs, and a short time as a band, it seems that word of mouth and the extended musical family has had a an impact, as people hurriedly fill out the venue.
The band perform in their native Danish tongue, something that the crowd of young Danish teenagers lap up immediately. Despite their dreaminess and sweet melodic output - they also manage to sound quite urgent. Their guitarist is insistent and invigorating, and the drummer has a manner of playing that feels loose, relaxed, unhinged. Floaty synths and heavily effected guitars are the overarching blanket sound with falsetto vocals woven throughout. A surprise underdog highlight and a band very capable of gatecrashing the mainstream.
The dance world needs Code Walk’s techno-infused electronica
Electronic duos are all over the bill at SPOT, with many playing a combination of pre-recorded beats and dreamy trip-hop vocals that float over the top. But Code Walk sound like nothing else here, and aren’t afraid of doing so. They create underground dance music for the 21st century. It’s glitchy, its filthy, it’s wonderfully enticing.
Code Walk play late. Really late. Taking to the stage at Radar, it’s the lighting that gives us our first fuzzy feeling. Spying out like cats eyes in the fog are a dozen or so vertical strobe lights forming the only obvious visual on stage with the crew cut Danish men, who look like two football centre backs rather than pop stars, remaining silhouetted. It’s a grand look that outdoes what you’d expect from an underground act.
Forward-thinking festivals all around the world could do well booking these guys. They are bold, weird, and beautiful, and capable of invigorating any audience.
The Danish 'Rock Council' is a very good thing for music
“So how do you go about achieving a U.K. Number One?
“Firstly, you must be skint and on the dole. Anybody with a proper job or tied up with full time education will not have the time to devote to see it through.” (from ‘The Manual’ by KLF, circa 1988)
The above quote from Bill Drummond’s book has a good point. But fortunately Denmark part state funds the careers of its musicians, offering a special kind of benefit for those working in the creative arts, that means beneficiaries don’t have to play along with the banality of the Job Centre system practiced in the UK. By contrast, at home, crippling austerity policies are drained public funds away from the arts as fast as Hoover Dam stopped flow into the Colorado river.
Thankfully organisations like PRS are there doing what it can to offset the creative devastation but it’s no substitute and doesn’t offer anywhere near the same level of support that bands in Denmark get.
The bulk of the money comes from The Danish Arts Foundation – also commonly referred to as the rock council. The money collected comes from Danish people having to pay high taxes, and is distributed through funding and grants to individual artists in the form of scholarships, bursaries, commission honoraria and prizes.
As a result, the artists can live by Bill Drummond’s advice. Moreover, the public feel a sense of pride in knowing they’ve helped pay a part in the development of the career of the artists.It’s a form of nurture that would make Theresa May shudder, but at a festival like SPOT you can truly sense how it’s a progressive policy that helps the emotional well-being of the country. It also shows an awareness of how cultural capital can translate to GDP boosts because the cultural tourism that comes from having a thriving music scene is massive even if it’s not the easiest to quantify.
Glastonbury should envy some of the acts The Roots and Hybrid stage booked
The Roots and Hybrid stage isn’t technically a SPOT event but with it being spitting distance from the main festival hub it fits in seamlessly.
As the cousin to SPOT Festival, The Roots and Hybrid stages promote a more worldwide view of musical culture, representing music from North Africa and the Middle East. Taking place inside the 19th century red-brick Risehuset building, the interior is a studded with persian rugs and stunning deep-red drapes.
Plenty of seating areas are carved out to invoke a laid back feel and place for friends to eat together and enjoy the music. Middle Eastern meze and Turkish tea is served alongside the music. On stage an incredible Kora player named Jawda Jobarteh eases us inwards. He’s a master of his art, and sing beautifully, telling compelling story about his move from Gambia to Denmark, and his rise from humble beginnings as a street musician in Copenhagen. People gather at the foot of the stage, eyes wide in awe of his charismatic personality.
Turkish/Danish singer AySay. AySay’s joins us next. His voice is melancholic, sophisticated in its range and tells a thousand pictures in its tone. He builds mostly on classical Mixolydian scales whilst the backing band feel contemporary, the guitarist himself offering nods to Jonny Greenwood.
Later on in the Roots and Hybrid party, Turkish psych sorts Baba Zula thrill the crowd by coming with their instruments into the crowd. The lead singer has a handle bar to rival Lemmy’s and looks in the zone. Aa a lifelong ambassador for all things psychedelic, it suits his persona that he’s free thinking politically as he shows his anti-establishment colours by making an impassioned socialist speech r towards the end of a set at a time when Turkey is edging more to autocracy.
Uffe are a great live electronic band for fans of DFA, Ninja Tune, and Kompakt's roster
House music was in short supply on the whole. But by coincidence through a fondness of the name ‘Uffe’ and knowing that the Radar venue has great sound, we take our chances on some unknowns.
Within moments of walking through the door it’s obvious we’ve made the right decision nowhere else at the festival was popping as hard as the Uffe gig at 8pm on the Friday night.
The producer who sometimes plays live and other times as a DJ is centre stage with curly blonde hair and quite a concentrated but confident stare, as if he is commanding a ship. Uffe proceed to elements of house, jazz, and African poly-rhythms to create a sound to sink into - fans of Caribou, LCD Soundsystem, and BadBadNotGood et al will love this. Danish youth are already far into it despite a massive lack of online hype or social media presence. This music seems to have gained traction the old fashioned way through unstoppable live performances.
Key to proceedings is how astounding level at which they play combined with a polymath approach to sonics. Their ambition to want to experiment puts them up there as ones to watch. Early days and time for their recorded output to catch up with how supreme they are as a live band.
Iris Gold is Denmark's coolest solo artist
Enthusiastic punters form a long queue outside the 150-capacity bar that Iris Gold is playing in. Those lucky enough to be inside can share the satisfaction that comes with seeing the 70s influenced star at the very beginning of her voyage to the top of the pop world.
She looks every bit the part with her flamboyant afro and paisley two-piece suit. 70s glam-rock is at the heart of what she does - but inspirations from hook-laden pop and hip-hop combine in a seductive cocktail of sound. The set is short as Gold has the whole room in her palm as they can’t get enough of her powerful enigma.
The New Family would stop Crosby Stills and Nash in their tracks
In the hustle and bustle of a festival, taking a moment to sit down in an auditorium at 11pm isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the half full room for The New Family show depicted that. But for those who are here it’s evident that this is the right decision as there’s a stillness and sense of awe in the room towards the band.
The group, who are fronted by The April Rainers’ drummer, his sister, and cousin all walk onto the stage and start the gig with the stripped back power of their three way harmonies and gently plucked arpeggio guitar.
The endearing, goosebump inducing quality of the three part harmonies is the first thing that’s noticeable. This stripped back organic sound starts things off before the rest of the band who have a musical connection between them that is unparalleled all weekend.
The intelligence in sculpting the dynamics of their set, their lyrics, and ability to borrow from the 60s without diluting any of the potency is incredible. The highlight without a doubt is the song ‘Daddy’. It has Radiohead level poignancy, in the way the band's instrumentation moves with the lyrics.
We find out after the set it’s an ode to the singers’ lost father which makes complete sense given how much feeling was palpable in the room. If there’s any justice in the live music industry The New Family will be given bigger stages to shine from in the very near future.
Afterparties aren’t in short supply
If you’re someone who subscribes to the ‘go hard or go home’ motto then you is in luck in Aarhus. The city is stacked to the brim with places to stumble out of at sunrise. Of particularly inspiring quality is Tapetown. Held in the city's version of Hackney Wick, this Brownfield site is decorated with a club night that's thought of everything: champagne served by drag queens, ball pits, live bands, onezies, popcorn, and best of all a sense that you're far from a residential area and can make a hell of a lot of noise into the early hours with your friends without too much disturbance.
Elsewhere, the small bar venue Sway doesn't seem to ever want to close its doors and it's edging 4am and Shiny Darkly are about the fourth band of the night. They're playing in a makeshift space which looks like what must normally be the pub's kitchen. They're making fantastic use of it though and the post punk heroes of the underground attract outsider types.
Pushing things in a different direction but a no less adrenalizing one is Tape. The venue in the heart of the Latin quarter hosts some 'banging' techno with festival atmosphere deservedly getting a ten.