You may find yourself in a club full of people smoking cigarettes and dancing to deep house.
You may find yourself watching an Icelandic should-be pop star singing about imposter syndrome and dating douchebags.
You may find yourself at a hard-techno set with the DJ surrounded by houseplants.
You may ask yourself, how did I get here?
The literal answer is “by a couple a couple of flights and a train from Copenhagen to Aarhus.” But SPOT Festival at times can really feel like something out of this world. After the abbreviated first day of the festival, we’d have numerous moments that’d catch us off guard, throw us through a loop, and make us freak out with excitement. “How did we get here?” is a thought that’d cross my mind nearly 10 times a day, in the most positive of ways.
Downing coffees and (regrettably) energy drinks, we’d try and catch as much as possible but still feel like we were only scratching the surface. We’d find ourselves in bumping clubs, recording studios with headphones to control our own mixes, converted movie theaters, and sometimes even good ol’ fashion music venues.
SPOT positions itself as a celebration of Nordic music but has come to be something even more than that. While Nordic artists certainly get the heaviest representation, it wasn’t uncommon to find artists from the UK or West Africa among the massive lineup. It’s an ideal music discovery experience, just don’t expect to get much sleep.
Staying out late and getting up early, we had to push our coverage of the last two days out and collect them together just so we could find time to experience it all. It’s a good problem to have! If there’s one regret from SPOT, it’s that we couldn’t clone ourselves to see everything happening all of the time. That said, we’re heading back to Seattle with a wealth of new music that we look forward to diving into even more when we get back home. Until then, we humbly present the rest of our findings from day two and three of the SPOT Festival. Takk! - Dusty Henry
As I walked into the angular arts space Godsbanen, I had no idea what to expect. The night previously we’d seen 47Soul fire up a crowd, having the whole room dancing incessantly to their Shamstep rhythms. Today there was still a massive crowd, yet most of them were sitting – rapt in the performance of West African musician Dawda Jobarteh.
A semi-circle of empty space was open in front of the stage, outlined by a permitter of chairs and people sitting criss-cross the stacks of large, lavish rugs. Dawda and his two backing musicians were creating celestial tones as he masterfully played his kora – a 22-string lute-bridge-harp, an instrument native to his home country.
The instrument sounds whimsical and elegant on its own and looks to be a feat to play as intricately as Jobareth does. Yet, he managed to take it even a step further. With a drummer and bass guitarist behind him, he’d run his kora through a pedal board. The results were blissful, enveloping soundscapes that would also veer into full-on shredding.
Let it be known, Jobarteh can rip as hard, if not harder, than your favorite guitarist. As the son of the legendary kora player Bai Konté, he’s come by his immense talent naturally. Long trills of melodies would dash rapidly as his fingers moved expertly from string to string, Jobarteh beaming and smiling the whole way through. The audience was rightfully in awe, grinning right along with him. - DH
Iceland's Special-K put out an album earlier this year called I Thought I'd Be More Famous Now and after seeing her set I wondered myself, how is she not famous? Everything about her performance felt iconic. Standing center stage in a shimmering tulle dress with nothing but her keyboard, laptop, and video projections, she had to crowd rapt in her set of brutally honest and cheekily clever songwriting.
To be upfront about your insecurities and self-doubt is something great artists have mastered and Special-K's willingness to let her guard down with sparse drum loops and piano chords felt equally vulnerable as it was relatable. She'd sing about her childhood dreams of being the next Beyonce and wanting the approval of her parents. Her videos showcased her laying on stacks of puffin dolls, climbing mountains, and talking shit with her best friend. Being candid about imposter syndrome and anxiety is tough. Her songs feel like generational anthems in the making, with just the right amount of bite and tenderness. - DH
The best hooks I heard all weekend came courtesy of Pish. The Norwegian songwriter had lounge singer fashion sense with club-ready energy, hyping up the crowd with his sugary sweet pop tunes. Throughout the rest of the trip, I'd have his bouncy track "Crime" stuck in my head. The propulsive tunes are just so undeniable, and he had the charisma to match and back it up. - DH
Okay, so Efterklang was exactly a music discovery for us at SPOT Festival. But seeing that the renowned Danish group would be giving a special performance alongside the traditional Belgian ensemble B.O.X. playing century-old baroque instruments, how could we not want to witness this?
The performance did not disappoint (duh). Vocalist Casper Clausen radiated warmth as he stood center stage, surrounded by his bandmates Mads Brauer and Rasmus Stolberg as well as harpists, horns, drums, and all sorts of wondrous instrumentation. The pairing is all too obvious in retrospect. Efterklang’s timeless, dreamy sound carries a kinship with the music of the bygone era from which B.O.X.’s instruments came from.
The blending of the old with the new – when are you ever going to see a synthesizer next to a vintage harp? – was just as glorious and inventive as we could’ve hoped for. - DH
While Denmark’s Elisha’s studio recordings are brimming with pristine production and delectable pop flourishes, his live sets transform the R&B singer’s work into a visceral, raw, and incredibly fun affair. Elisha was incredibly charming, greeting the crowd in Japanese and Italian numerous times throughout the set (he said it made him sound “more profound”) and made multiple outfit changes while on stage. His vocal performance only got stronger throughout the set, turning into powerful, anthem-ready howls. The crowd was clearly responding too, dancing and throwing their hands up any change they got. - DH
I had absolutely zero expectations coming into Birds ov Paradise at the A-Huset stage when we walked in at 12:30 a.m. It was an impulse decision – and if I’m being brutally honest, I was most compelled by the oblique glitch-artwork used as the artist photo on the Spot Festival app. Turns out it was one of the best decisions I’d make all week.
The moniker of Swedish producer and multimedia artist David Sabel, Birds ov Paradise immersed the crowd in lush and expansive deep techno beats. The rhythms felt endless, amplifying the haziness in the room from the smoke machines and cigarette smoke. In fact, it took a while before I could even find Sabel as he was completely covered in the smoke clouds.
Good deep techno and house music won’t just hypnotize you. It will put you in a trance, then slap you across the face from some unexpected left turn. Sabel struck this balance perfectly, weaving in the occasional vocal sample or audio glitch at precisely the right time. I wouldn’t have complained if this had gone on forever. At the moment, it really felt like it could. But all good things transition into something equally great, like the next artist we saw…. - DH
As Birds Ov Paradise began the wrap-up, he brought in the next act Sofus Forsberg next to him. The two crafted beats side-by-side, with Forsberg accentuating Sabel’s rhythms with his enveloping modular synth work. It was the ideal way to bridge the gap between sets, making it so the beats never end. Just going to throw out to the cosmos that if Forsberg and Sabel ever do a collaborative LP, I’m ready to pre-order or donate to a Kickstarter or whatever needs to happen to make it happen. They just sound so excellent together.
As Sabel stepped aside, Forsberg began his set in earnest. I was mesmerized standing and swaying (the best I can do, my dancing is something worse than terrible) upfront while Forsberg tinkered with knobs, wires, and beat machines to create his wondrous sound. His set was a continuous build. Multiple times I thought there was nowhere more climactic he could go, and again and again, he proved me wrong. My feelings were best expressed by a bearded man who kept coming up to Forsberg and yelling “YES!” and throwing up the devil horns. It was like watching someone play the most radical guitar solo of your life, except that it goes on until infinity. - DH
Rounding out our trio of electronic music sets for the evening (well, morning at this point as it was approaching 3 a.m.), we found ourselves in the powerful bombast of hard techno courtesy of Courtesy. The moniker of Najaaraq Vestbirk, she is also the owner of Danish techno label Kulor. A fixture of the Copenhagen scene, it was a privilege to see her close to her hometown. Plus, she came with some of the most hard-hitting, rattling beats we'd hear the whole festival.
Surrounded by houseplants around her DJ decks, Courtesy couldn't have been more zen – even as the tracks boomed through the speakers like an earthquake. During a festival where people have been running around all day, I imagine it can be hard to keep a crowd of tired music lovers engaged. Yet, she did so with ease. How could you want to leave when you know she might turn around some left-field, mind-bender at any second? - DH
Tapetown is a tiny studio located at the end of walled in the patio of Tuborg beer and cigarettes that is beautifully littered with worn rugs, various recording gear, a fallen lit lamp, and Oslo’s own Dark Times. Around twenty of us squished into the small space wearing headphones that could adjust our listening experience with or without vocals. Dark Times vigorously ripped into their set with two young girls staring at each other in awe of the loud, fast noise-punk rippling through. The trio’s chemistry allows the high-stakes pace to never falter. - AG
While doing some preliminary research and listening heading into SPOT, Shikoswe immediately stood out as something I needed to see. The moniker of Norwegian songwriter Nora Shikoswe Hougsnæsm hails from the small town of Ås but has since relocated to Copenhagen where she’s been writing new music for the past three years. The move has been fruitful – producing her EP The Hour of the Body and slew of expertly crafted, dream-pop and indie rock.
On all fronts, Shikoswe delivered. While her EP was more piano-driven, her recent work finds her embracing the hazy reverb of the electric guitar. Feeling delirious and exhausted, watching her set felt something like self-care – a moment of peace during a fun but busy festival. She cooly stood center stage with her band behind her.
I certainly can’t speak for everyone else in the room, but at least from my perspective, it felt like a much-needed respite. Her lush guitar tones and daydream vocals washed across the room in blissful waves. Her pop-like melodies merged with an introspective feeling and tone as she’d sing about finding and wishing for love and seeking her own personal truths.
If I had to pick a reference point, Jay Som comes to mind but Shikoswe also feels like something entirely her own. Whenever her full-length debut comes out, expect to hear more buzz around her name. Shikoswe is just too undeniable. - DH
The fact that the first song on Boundaries’s self-titled album is “Push” is just way too apt. Sonically, they’re a band that thrives on extremes. The loud rumble of a dirty bass line, distorted riffs, and dark, punchy vocals that sound like both a rallying cry as well as a foreboding warning of trouble yet to come. But maybe their biggest extreme is how they take all these elements and wrap them in with surprisingly catchy songwriting. It’s like if you took the best parts of IDLES and New Order and threw them in a blender.
There was palpable hype for the band’s performance, fans eagerly packing into the theatre space to immerse themselves in the brooding atmosphere. As musical mayhem piled on behind him, their towering lead vocalist would stoically walk across the stage in his Lees jacket.
While his singing would boast post-punk intensity, he’d keep a blank face the whole time. Sure, the music could warrant onstage freakouts and antics. Instead, it felt as if he was looking at death in the face and not blinking. And really, what’s more punk rock than that? - DH
There was something comforting about watching Alcabean perform a set of blissed out pop-rock. With dazzling hooks and infectious enthusiasm. The band’s sound would fit comfortably on the Captured Tracks catalog alongside Wild Nothing and DIIV – allowing themselves to indulge in the wondrous reverb tones with a healthy dose of teenage rebellion. - DH
One of my most anticipated sets of Saturday night included Norway’s Linn Koch-Emmery. She has dropped a couple of EPs and a handful of singles with yearning anthems that are indented by her slightly scuffed vocals “always wanting more” on her track, ‘Waves’. Emmery live in action is an unfurling of energy that races in with accentuated percussion and whirring guitars that crescendo with purpose. - AG
Shoegaze and avant-garde spirit collided during Collider’s set. Pedalboards were ablaze as they’d rip through their layers of noise with healthy doses of psych – even throwing in some saxophone for good measure. This all may sound heady written out, but live it was much looser and just plain fun – the band beaming as they’d change aesthetics mid-track and constantly diverting expectations. - DH
We walked back to Tapetown only to discover that we had the wrong venue for our last show of the night. As we attempted to power walk towards the correct location, a taxi drove down our quiet street as if it was meant to make sure we did not miss out on Copenhagen’s own Deadpan. I’m really glad we didn’t. The tiny room was filled with long coats, slicked hair, pierced ears, and distant stares that you would only find in a Wim Wenders film.
Lead singer, Arsene Survie thrashes forward with his microphone encapsulated by thin black tassels that whip about wildly with the rest of the crowd. In a short span of time, Deadpan paved new terrains of dance-punk, industrial rhythms, and galloping hooks that recall the experimental nature of groups like, The Birthday Party and A Certain Ratio.- AG
KEXP is venturing out to the SPOT Festival in Aarhus, Denmark on May 2-4. While we won’t be broadcasting this time around, KEXP has been invited as guests from our previous initiatives and will be on the scene exploring all the Danish and Nordic music we can handle.