In November one of world’s best documentary film festivals emerges in Copenhagen, CPH:DOX. Over the last number of years it has broadened it’s reach to encompass elements beyond its own remit, tying in one-off music performances as a sort of live documenting of things, and often bringing both film and performance together. There is a vast amount of documentaries on all over the city and this year they have the added bonus for music fans of a section devoted to music docs as well as the many live music tie-ins. State caught a flavour of the festival over five days of their 11 day-long programme.
First up for us, local irreverent skate and culture mag Bitchslap have set up a party and screening of Our Vinyl Ways a Ton, the Stones Throw Records story. An exceptionally well made film which came from a Kickstarter campaign, it charts a perfect story arc from some friends goofing around with cassettes as kids, the move into creating a true independent label and the spinning off the axis following the tragic death of first a founder (Charizma) and then their biggest icon, J. Dilla. The footage is great, the talking heads, cut from their own catalogue include Kanye and as you’d expect, the soundtrack is gold, but never takes over from the telling of the story. Emerging to the bar afterwards and the Irishman running the RBMA studio in Copenhagen, Fergus Murphy, is spinning a vinyl-only selection from Stones Throw. Unquestionably the perfect way to see the night in after such a film.
The doc about The National that’s not really about The National at all but more about one lost man and how his brother found his talent for him, Mistaken For Strangers, is compelling in a car-crash type of way. The film maker accidentally makes a story about himself, so much more interesting than any story about his brother, Tom Berringer’s, band. It is an engaging unearthing of talent often hidden in every person you know literally and metaphorically living in their mom’s basement and at the end of it all, this film itself becomes the golden fleece.
The only Irish film in the programme is Broken Song, an ensemble view of a capella rapping on the Northside of Dublin and the support structure this community have made for themselves to encourage others. The film reveals some serious talent within the communities, often hamstrung by their own circumstance or by their own self-destructive hand. The latter seems to be the case with soul singer Willa, who could be another Sam Smith but seems to keep fucking up opportunities to progress.
The twist on live performances range from a Disclosure gig to Jenny Wilson’s return to live performing after illness but the one we manage to see is When Saint Go Machine’s one-off event in the National Theatre, not normally the home of gigs like this. On arrival to the seated hall there are what looks like three layers of stages built on top of each other. First of two support slots begin with electronica, Age Coin playing on eye level in what looks like a created yard on stage, in something like a cloister. As their set closes the entire stage starts dropping and above them a spoken word/avant garde group, Caast, descend to eye level. 30 minutes later as they (thankfully) close, they too descend into the floor and the main stage lowers into place, Saints appearing amongst layers of hanging 20 meter-long silver ribbon.
In the seated reverence, this one-off stage setting works as a perfect Sunday afternoon contrast to the souped-up electro rock, blowing cobwebs away in visual opulence. As the final track chaotically closes, hidden industrial fans bust to life and the streaming silver strands blow out over the audience, framing the band. A stunning and unforgettable bespoke live music experience.
It’s so easy to gorge on thought-provoking films. Wandering around the city, we stumbled upon screenings on Google’s audacious books project (Google and the World Brain) and the deliciously simple ‘Manakamana’, a solitary camera filming people on their way up and down a 30 minute cable car ride to an Nepalese temple. We were certainly expecting to be lead into another realm by David Attenborough and Björk’s ‘The Nature of Music’ but alas Attenborough merely plays the role of fanboy. For all the talk of Bjork’s ambitions Bilophilia project where she lets nature dictate the design of music, we get practically no insight into its construction. It’s as if the act of Attenborough telling us how ambitious it is, with some shots of volcanoes and basalt beaches, would be enough.
Last word to the most fascinating catch of all. Finnish film ‘My Stuff’ begins with a materialistic middle-class Finn bottoming out after a break up and deciding to put every single item he owns into storage and allow himself to collect just one item per day for a year. Beginning with him naked in a completely empty apartment, we follow as he weighs up what is most essential day-by-day. It becomes so easy to slip our lives and items into his and also question what we surround ourselves with. The closing credits list the 365 items he retrieved in order and it’s practically as interesting as the film before it.
Lighting up the plunge into winter in Copenhagen, this festival’s broadening remit and table of offerings is worth timing a trip to the Danish capitol with. Cinematic and musical riches are spread across every district of the city sprouting parties and other happenings, and it’s a direct line below the skin of this city.