Ah, the joys of flying to an unknown city in an unknown country to discover an unknown festival made up of (mostly) unknown bands! But how could I be ready for what I was about to witness in Aarhus, the city that has been home to Spot Festival?
The sun shined bright for the two days that I attended the event. The programming has been expanding in its line-up and duration, but the time that I got there already felt like an overdose of music goodness. The hours spent digging its programming, trying to select one of the many concerts going on at the same time, was a delightfully frustrating task. Also impressive is the number of bands that are on the following list that hail from Aarhus. If one of the festival’s aims is to promote the local scene, they’re doing it right. I let my ears guide me through the process of selecting which bands to see, and which to write about — that included ignoring a lot of emails from promoters on the days before the festival (sorry, guys!). It was all worth it, once I got there I came across a festival like I hadn’t experienced in a while.
Devoid of corporate over-sponsoring, Spot Festival was charming in its different moods: Aarhus Volume venue felt like a normal outdoor setting; VoxHall provided an indoor medium concert venue scene; the Scandinavian Congress Center was the big-name location. I could go on and on about the places I visited, but the truth is that there were stage sizes of all kinds and all moods. What was even more impressive was that none of them was left forgotten; by the time I got to any venue, there was always a crowd ready to see the artist. Here’s the shocker, the crowd wasn’t noisy, and I rarely saw phones out. It was so weird and natural that I didn’t even notice it initially. Everyone standing in front of the stage was paying attention to the music.
A feast for the senses, heart and mind? Absolutely. And that is how I turned into an outspoken fan of Spot Festival. I feel that it might have spoiled me for future showcase events. The sheer level of musicianship that was exhibited by almost all acts that I saw left me floored, even if they haven’t made it into this list. Now, let me give something back by presenting you the acts that should be part of your life.
Athletic Progression (INSTRUMENTAL HIP-HOP / JAZZ)
After about 6 hours of flights, vans and cabs, I finally made it to the outdoor Aarhus Volume venue. The hip-hop trio was a great companion to the intense sun as they played in a way that would make you think that Flying Lotus formed a live band and flew out to Denmark. The band hails from Aarhus and still has little material online, but don’t let that stop you from making it to a venue in case they come around. With only drums, keyboards and a bass, the band jammed out like it was nobody’s business. The last time I felt like that was when I saw Yussef Dayes live — another trio that seemed hellbent on outmatching each other on stage. And, as bass players go, Athletic Progression’s player was a beast, creating the grooviest pockets which got everyone swinging gently like sunflowers towards the sun. This was actually the only act I tried to see twice, but by their second act there was a (well-deserved) line to a packed-out venue.
Stepping onto the stage with an oversized striped suit and a black tank top was Kaaliyah. Her 90s R&B look was ready to mix with a very modern sound. The Danish-Nigerian singer joined forces with producer Louis Winding in developing a nice hybrid of trap and R&B that comes from right before the turn of the millennium. Using auto-tune with your vocals is a tricky endeavour that doesn’t always pay off. That wasn’t the case when it came to this singer, who was able to tame the beast and make her voice shine through. R&B tends to live from its singer’s charisma and, although she moved with some confidence across the stage, that’s exactly where Kaaliyah might warrant a couple more flight hours. Still, between her voice and the productions, the ingredients already seem to be there. And honestly, is it possible to have too much R&B on your collection?
Simone Tang (NEO-SOUL)
With a band composed by keyboard, bass, drums, backups vocals, Simone Tang brought some neo-soul flavour to Spot Festival. The attention bestowed upon her by the audience was well warranted. With a sweet demeanour on stage and a voice that kept its end of the bargain, the girl who has previously written for feature films is finally making justice for her name. She liked chatting with her audience, but as you might have guessed, my knowledge of Danish is non-existent. Still, you could tell that a connection was formed between her and who was watching her. To really capture what Simone Tang is all about, just take a minute to listen to “Shame”, an absolute gem by the singer that encapsulates all the best things that there is to say about Simone.
We’re going to start down here and, through the concert, we’ll go all the way up to here!
Take note of these names: Joshua and Ephraim Duncan. The two brothers were responsible for one of the most fun gigs of the whole festival. They didn’t play coy with the audience and started their act promising a crescendo of energy that would only get higher as the concert went on. Joshua presented himself on stage wearing all white and was the de-facto crooner of the group, while Ephraim wore all grey and rapped with prowess and agility in his flow. But it’s in their chemistry that lies what is most enticing about the duo. The way that they riffed together pulled everyone’s excitement level up and made them look like they were having a blast, an undeniably exciting combination to witness. They brought on guests to complete some verses and by the end of the concerts everyone was dancing off to the last song like that moment was a personal victory for each. It was impossible to not join the celebration.
Ellis May (ELECTRONICA)
By the time that I got to the Musikhuset Rytmisk Sal venue, it was already dark and the concert had started. I could hear a strong kick repeating itself like a techno track and over the beat floated the voice of a woman. By her side, another bandmate played guitar while the last one controlled a sequencer. The voice didn’t sound like what I have been used to hearing in such combinations before; it felt more delicate, poised and elegant. Sophia Maj is Ellis May, she studied sound design and is the imaginative composer of tracks that feel like something new and brooding, all created while using basic elements. At times, she stood in front of the audience, singing out, at other times, she sang while playing sparse notes on her piano, like she was getting ideas out. While this combination may feel exceedingly simple, the truth of it was that each layer of her compositions, from the beat to the voice or the sparse guitar notes, felt necessary and worked like a charm in drawing the audience ever closer.
Abekejser (INSTRUMENTAL HIP-HOP / JAZZ)
I had kicked myself in the butt when I lost the chance to see Abekejser the first day. But, taking a second look at the line-up, I realised that I had a new chance to see them. Once I got to the venue, I was glad I had gotten my second chance. The show hosted at Roots & Hybrid was impressive in its venue’s size and the way that the floor was lined with carpets — definitely winning the award for cosiest venue in the festival. Seeing these boys play live reminded me of my childhood, when my parents played Pat Metheny loud at home in the living room speakers. It was definitely the progressive element to their tracks that brought back such a piece of nostalgia — the Moog synthesizer also helped. The whole band came out dressed in black suits but that didn’t stop them from swinging to their own hip-hop sound or just being plain silly like when they spoke through a vocoder and said, in a robot voice: “we’re Abekejser and we love yo
Gents brought to the stage an attitude that could only have been inspired by the 80s. The frontman, Niels Juhl, assumed his theatrical role and sang out while constantly prodding the crowd — a contrast from his monotone voice, enhanced by reverb, that might remind you at times of Depeche Mode’s David Gahan. He broke character only to entice the crowd, again in Danish, and soon got back to his broody singing voice. The concert made everyone attending the Scandinavian Congress Center feel like they were back at the days before high-school prom, waiting for an answer from the person that they invited to the ball. If you miss some naïf synths over your tracks, then you definitely need to check them out. Oh, and maybe learn a move or two from the frontman, he does have his 80s dancing routine down pat.
Alexander Oscar (POP)
I guess I hadn’t even thought about what where the chances of finding a decent pop show in this festival. Truth be told, even if pop is one of the most formulaic genres, it really takes a lot to get it right, especially when it moves to a live setting where everything becomes more transparent. When Alexander Oscar stepped on stage, he proved immediately that he was ready for stardom. The confidence, the way he sang, and his smile to the audience were immediately checked-off the list of pop star requirements. It makes sense that he got signed at thirteen for the first time. The 19-year-old singer now has a powerful sound that doesn’t borrow from the pop-tropes of the year and instead tries to create a lane using timeless elements that work like building blocks to create something more solid.
August Rosenbaum (ELECTRONICA)
Finally, I had found a name that convinced me to go into the epic Musikhuseet Store Sal. And I’m glad that I went there to see August Rosenbaum. The pianist who has worked with names like Rhye or MØ was presenting his act live and brought only a drummer with him. On one of those “less is more” acts, the pianist kept switching between his sequencer, keyboard and long-tail piano. At times, the room shaked with the bass of a dubbed-out sound, at others, all seemed quiet as each note hit the piano and made my hairs stand on end. These quiet moments in such a big room that was barely lit made me feel like I was slowly fusing with my chair, while I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage trying to predict August’s next move. The fact that he was able to transition so easily from the acoustic to the electronic was what kept me my on my toes the whole time.
IRIS GOLD (HIP-HOP)
Iris Gold made her way onto the stage. Big glasses, big afro, big faux (I hope) mink coat. “I come from an hippie community”, she stated right before starting. Looking at the stage, it fit her statement. It had been decorated with giant sunflowers, and the whole band came out wearing all white. Singing and dancing while making sure the crowd did the same won Iris a number of fans during that concert. The horns added that extra show to the performance, though even on the ballads the band retained its charm. Juxtaposing and remixing hits like Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” or getting the whole crowd to sing out Wu-Tang’s classic “cash rules everything around me, dolla dolla bill y’all”, only brought added layers of awesomeness to the act. Her energy seemed to come from an infinite source; by the end of the act she was kicking high in the air while ordering everyone to move their butts. Unstoppable.