The idea behind Copenhagen’s Frost festival is to have Danish bands play in unusual venues while also including international artists on the bill. The international acts do work as a draw when you see names such as Wilco on the posters around the city, but the smaller local acts and particularly the location-specific gigs themselves are the real gold.
Under Byen (Under the City) were the opening night band in the Theatre Bremen. Their cinematic, ambient rock sound was played from behind a mesh screen with constant video projections from moving traffic to flames. On paper it sounds like overkill but in reality it worked extremely well, the music making a 50/50 split with the visuals for our attention and with the outrageously beautiful lead singer’s voice also becoming more of an instrument, it was only near the end we realised she was singing in Danish.
As traditional as Carlsberg is as a Danish institute, the workman’s club of Carlsberg is an institution within an institution. Gingham tablecloths and a wall of trophy cabinets in a small, square room was the unusual setting for Cph locals Ulige Numre (Odd Numbers). State arrived uncharacteristically early and were told when ordering a beer that for 20 kroner more we could go shooting. As this conversation took place in Danish we assumed there had been some error, but went to the basement with our tickets anyhow. Low and behold, there in the basement was a four-lane shooting range and a helpful gent handing out air rifles to the early arriving gig-goers. The smoking ban didn’t apply in the basement so while the support band were electro popping upstairs, we were witnessing lipsticked and high-heeled ladies shooting targets with a beer beside the bullets and a fag hanging out of their mouths. Both State representatives have seen a lot of strange things at gigs in our time, but this went straight to no. 1. Bullets and Marlboros exhausted, we went back upstairs to enjoy what was an energy-filled gig, a cut above your standard indie-rock. With some nice melodic twists to their sound, hats off to Ulige Numre for sticking to the Danish language when it’s deemed too restrictive for your audience by most local bands.
Sadly Clap Your Hands Say Yeah‘s intimate show was cancelled due to some odd bus trouble in Amsterdam but it seemed the most interesting gigs were the Danish ones and apparently Sleep Party People‘s evening amongst the stuffed apes of the Zoological Museum was a spooky and curious night.
Our next trip was to the Botanic Gardens’ Palm House for Frisk Frugt (Fresh Fruit). The ambient drone we heard on entry was in fact a miked-up palm tree making that tree the most unusual support act ever. With only 80 tickets available, and the band setting up in amongst various trees with no traditional stage-audience arrangement, people just wandered around the beautiful glass house. Beer and cocktails were available, as was access to the iron spiral staircase leading up and around the gantry at the domed roof.
Slowly the band took up their instruments, many of which seem homemade such as a fascinating wooden pipe organ. Far from traditional in arrangement, the music suited the odd setting and the audience’s wandering around and it moved between a proper rock-out to acoustic guitar songs as well as the more avant garde parts of the night which saw the musicians appearing, after a break, from all corners of the palm house playing various odd items. Wonderfully bizarre.
While Wilco were definitely a draw for the festival, tickets are on a gig-by-gig basis so in a few years perhaps the festival won’t need the bigger names in the less interesting venues. The Wilco gig was in one of the biggest concert halls in the city and was more notable for the yell from the normally polite crowd after the first song. For no apparent reason a punter roars “fuck you, Tweedy” and it seemed to set the concert on an odd angle. A drunk guy slow-dancing with himself up the front of the seated crowd took the biscuit and we left the pedestrian, seated gig.
To finish the festival, Wy Lyf played a sold-out show in the re-opened Pumpehuset – a black, sweaty room near the town hall. The five-piece play like a Vampire Weekend who’ve been beaten up by Jocks, have had all their clothes stolen or ripped and their voice box damaged. Their angular, alternative guitar pop iis notable for the gruff singing voice of Ellery Roberts who even talks like sandpaper between the songs. They begin with swagger but it very soon turns to a lazy attitude and songs are mis-started, mis-finished and generally sloppy. Nothing like some band in-joking to alienate a crowd, by the time Roberts let the mask fall and spoke to us with his perfectly smooth regular voice near the end, the goofing around had got too much and even the banger ‘We Bros’ couldn’t save them from their own arrogance.
All told, if you ever find yourself in Copenhagen during this well run and most curious of festivals be sure to seek out the Danish bands in the obscure venues. There’s some meaty, surreal gig-going to be had there.
Photos by Jakob Bekker-Hansen