Nordic Noise 2013

author TL date 29/05/13

"You mean that rock is dead in Denmark?". Normally I would shy away from such a statement because of how sensationalist it sounds, but here it's actually a quote that drops casually in a conversation I'm having at the first ever Nordic Noise festival. The words come from a friend of mine who plays guitar in a band, but that's not what's important - what strikes me is that he says it without blinking - like it's a commonly accepted circumstance, and me, I hardly pause either. Hardly, but still a bit, because I can't help but to think that something is desperately wrong, when two people who work tirelessly every day to keep rock alive, still stand around talking about its lifelessness in our country almost without second thought.

It's not entirely true of course. - When people ask me why this webzine exists, my knee-jerk reaction is commonly to start talking about the Danish rock scene as a living thing, only one that's strangely divided into almost black and white separate categories. There's the indie-bordering-on-mainstream rock of bands like Carpark North, Veto, The Floor Is Made Of Lava, The Kissaway Trail and Dúné - all of them good bands, yet a bit soft and polished compared to a lot of what's out there - And there's the leather-and-denim-clad, long haired, conservative, heavy-and-hard underground. Those two have presence. However, little to no attention is afforded the multitudes of other stylistic directions that have explored and expanded the frontiers of rock on the global scene.

Now, Nordic Noise - a two-day Rock festival that appeared on social media out of nowhere just a few months ago - is not a Rockfreaks.net event. In fact Newborn Booking and Target Records seem to be the main driving forces behind it, and in general, several of the bands on the line-ups of both the latter and the festival itself, are ones that I would normally blame partly for the detrimental dichotomy I just described.

BUT, even with that said, the mere fact that somebody is finally planting a rallying flag and exclaiming that rock needs and deserves a festival in Denmark, is a giant leap in a good direction. So you better believe this writer was ready at host-venue Pumpehuset from the moment the first band stepped on stage Friday evening, with fingers crossed and hopes high for all kinds of signs of life from this presumably dead scene. Having skipped past the pair of merch tables erected to the back and side and gone straight for the bar, what follows are my impressions, as highly subjective and moderately filtered as I can manage them:

If you like the pictures in this article, be sure to check out the extensive galleries by our photographers:

Philip B. Hansen, Peter Troest and Kenny Swan

Friday

19:00 @ Downstairs stage: Franklin Zoo

Opening honours have been given to, and those honours are as often doubtful, because they come with a turnout that's low enough so far to make even Pumpehuset's smaller downstairs room look a bit sad. Still, I am immediately impressed with how powerful the band sounds, and with the animated performances of singer Rasmus Revsbech and bassist Anders Rune Hansen. Both of them outshine the somewhat restrained appearances of their guitarists. The band's sound veers back and forth between what I'd call 'wrestlemania rock' (when at its simplest) and Alice In Chains-ish at its best, and while we're not off to a great start originality-wise or crowd-participation-wise, the Chris Cornell-ish vocal work and exemplary attitude of Revsbech helps Franklin Zoo have the kind of show that feels noticeably improved at the compared to its beginning. [7]

19:45 @ Upstairs stage: Into Century

As it turns out, the organizers have decided to allow each band to play the full 45 minutes on the schedule with no breaks in between, so after Franklin Zoo, I quickly rush upstairs to catch Into Century. Sadly, though more people have shown up, the upstairs room's enormity relative to downstairs mean that the audience still looks pretty spread out and disappointing. People joke that the light guy must be blinding Into Century though, because they act like they don't notice, classily thanking the people that are here, remarking how Denmark needs an event like this. The music, much to my positive surprise, is of the oldschool less-is-more variety, where bluesy note patterns, distorted chords and powerful vocal melodies are arranged to work around and support each other. It gets a bit predictable by the fourth guitar solo, and the sound is style is still hardly prospective, but the songwriting and showmanship is rock solid. It's just a shame there's hardly a score of people here to witness it. [7]

20:30 @ Downstairs stage: L.A. Collection

Back downstairs, I'm sticking to my schedule of "one beer pr. band" as a trio of tall skinny youngsters step up and kick off the most high energy set of the evening so far. With music that comes off as sped-up AC/DC or Airbourne, L.A. Collection are clearly trying to whip some energy into the ever-so-slightly growing audience. While their feverish tempo might suceed at hiding it from some, I can't help but notice that these guys don't really have the confidence of the two bands come before them, as the moves they pull are consistently followed by quick, nervous looks from beneath their brows, seemingly scouting for approval. Aside from the tempo and the high energy, the music also seems like the least inventive of the night so far, and with a late track striking me as painfully similar to "Play That Funky Music White Boy", I feel obliged to mark L.A. Collection a notch below the bands that came before. [6½]

21:15 @ Upstairs stage: Black City

By now, my patience with balls-out-rock is honestly wearing a bit thin, but I figure it's okay, because from what I've heard Black City should be one of those rare Danish bands that are commonly attributed with notions of potential and individuality. And fair enough, they are indeed the first band tonight whose sound I don't immediately find an easy comparison to and they look more than comfortable on the big stage. Highly traditional rock'n'roll elements still dominate the sound, even through Black City's relatively characteristic nuance, and in honest, another 45 minutes of pseudo-groovy riffs, scratched vocals and predictable song-structures convince me that it's time I head outside and take a slight break before the evening's second half. [6½]




22:00 @ Downstairs stage: Surfact

The synth-laced, big-rock of Surfact has never previously found its way into my heart, but of the bands playing tonight, their reputation is the least regressive one that's reached me prior to this festival. So I'm curious to see what they're going to be like, yet not really disappointed at all when they reveal that tonight they intend to play a rare acoustic set. It feels like a good break from the testosterone that's flooded the venue up until now, and indeed Surfact look the part of the classier band, rendering their songs in trendy, countrified versions, with their singer looking like young Eddie Vedder yet sounding like Scandinavian Michael Stipe. The playing, singing and interaction is all well done, and it takes a good while to start wondering if all of the songs in the 45 minute set are actually good enough to shine in these acoustic versions. [7]

22:45 @ Upstairs stage: 11th Street Kids

The next upstairs band is 11th Street Kids, one of the few names on this year's poster that I haven't even seen before. It turns out they share a guitarist with Black City, making me hope that this would be a creative outlet for him to do something completely different. I'm not sure what I was hoping for though, but 45 minutes of Ramones worship definitely wasn't it. I could be that in a different setting, it would work out alright, but at this point things getting simpler and less original and having less personality emanating from the stage? All I can think is that it feels pointless, so after about half the set, I go take another breather in the cosy rooftop bar on top of the venue's cloakroom. [5]




23:30 @ Downstairs stage: Bullet Train Blast

Being the last band on the small stage, Bullet Train Blast benefit from the crowd having grown during Surfact's set, to one that actually looks decent down here, and returning to a style of hard, ballsy rock'n'roll they put on the kind of performance that, instead of encouraging the crowd is constantly challenging us. The band plays with a swagger and bravado that's borderline confrontational, and while that sort of thing is normally not my cup of tea, the sheer confidence of it is a welcome punch in the face at the moment. The crowd also seems to ago, nodding heads and busting elated moves in larger numbers, so while it was a long time coming, it seems we do at last have us a decent rock and roll show. [7½]

00:15 @ Upstairs stage: Shotgun Revolution

To close off the night, I sort of understand the choice of Shotgun Revolution, because their polished "bad boy rock" - alá Buckcherry on a leash - complete with sleeveless shirts and various other trashy attire, strikes me as exactly the kind of thing that could easily sell quite a few records. Sadly however, it is also, in my highly subjective and hence biased opinion, everything that should not sell a record ever. So after making a reluctant mental note of their at least confident performance on an upstairs stage that still looks a bit too big for the event, I throw in the towel for the night, not quite sure what to think. I got some positive surprises from unexpected sides, but overall I'm not sure how much I've seen to make me want to cancel Danish rock's funeral. I am sure however, that I know who the WWE can call if they have new wrestlers that need some intro tunes. [6]

Saturday

16:00 @ Upstairs stage: Forever Still

Despite feeling all well rested and fresh on Saturday I'm still slightly late for the first band. My lapse in form is relatively small however, because when I arrive I see that the turnout for the upstairs opening is.. Well.. Abysmal. Again, I think a crowd count in its twenties is a gracious estimate, but fortunately Forever Still grace us with a performance similar in feeling to that of Franklin Zoo yesterday. The main difference is that these guys sound like Within Temptation. A lot. If you get past that though, the clean singing of Maja Schønning is remarkably powerful and varied, and along with her band, the frontwoman looks as though she's imagining playing to a crowd of hundres if not thousands. It works wonders in the songs, but there's a clear disconnect between that attitude and the scarce audience between songs. Again, it's a solid performance, but the novelty of the music and the presence of a crowd are both missing. [6½]

16:45 @ Downstairs stage: Echo Lips

The next men up are the trio Echo Lips, and if nothing else, they are at least a wonderfully early change in style, bringing the still completely awkard group of early birds a doze of very Vaccines/early Mystery Jets-ish noisy indie/pop/rock. Their bassist looks a little unhappy with the situation, but their singer/guitarist dutifully banters with who's here between songs, and ventures to the center of the stage on occasion for some extra instrument-brandishing. Even with the change in style though, and even despite some occasionally interesting riffs, Echo Lips also soon sound "heard before", and with no crowd to encourage them, things are starting to look a bit dire for the Saturday. [5½]

17:30 @ Upstairs stage: LSD on CIA

Now I could continue complaining about the no-show audience for a while yet, but the fact is that the only people suffering from there not being any people at LSD on CIA are those people that aren't here. With a whirlwind performance of Matt Belamy-ish falsetto vocals, destructive retro-punk riffage and constantly changing rhythms, LSD on CIA look like a force of nature capable of destroying pretty much everything. They wreck an effect pedal for the bass at one moment, only to seamlessly prolong their song until the problem has been worked around, and in a tornado of charisma that exceeds every band on the schedule so far put together, these crazy youngsters deliver the kind of show where you're almost surprised that nothing explodes by the end of it. If only somebody had been here to see it. [7½]

18:15 @ Downstairs stage: Machine

The next band downstairs is Machine, who were added last minute after a cancellation from Molly. Truth be told, I've heard of neither band before, but Machine at least seem to of a mind to not let the crowd - which is only growing sliiiightly - get them out of whack. Instead they deliver their set with as much excessive energy as they seem able to mount, which could be a good strategy, except it gives me the feeling like they're that drunk guy at the party who's having a way crazy time much sooner than everybody else. It's like their energy doesn't really connect with the crowd, which is a shame considering that their sound is for once one that's hard to place, reminding me of Alice In Chains at its grungiest, then Queens Of The Stone Age through some eerie moments and then Foo Fighters when they're rocking the fastest. Still though, they bring me back to the feeling that something crucial is missing. [6½]

19:00 @ Upstairs stage: Le Fox Holes

It's a topic I often bring up, that to be a driving force in really good rock band, you have to be at least a little crazy. And when I head up to check out Le Fox Holes, I quickly mark that box next to their name in my head, because you have to be a little crazy to look the way they look, rocking their very ZZ Top/Steppenwolf-ish brand of retro rock'n'roll. At least their singer and guitarist, who both rock some super tight suits, opened down to the belly button and extremely... shape-revealing... below even there (my female friend next to me is suggesting I make the review seven lines of PENISPENISPENISPENIS). Again, there's not much of a crowd, and you can clearly hear where the band got their ideas from, but the overblown bravado they emit is contagious enough to keep me from considering them a joke, and still marking them down for providers of a fairly enjoyable time. [6½]

19:45 @ Downstairs stage: A Road To Damascus

Considering my well-known affectation for A Road To Damascus, I'm sure it it's easy to suspect me for making this next bit up, but as they take the stage down stairs, the crowd looks decent for the first time. It's still far from full, but it's starting to look like a show. Unfortunately the sound does the band's highly melodic pop-punk no particular favours, with especially the clean vocals being hindered from coming through with the full impact that they normally have. Moreover, the band is showing off material from their new, scream-less and slightly softer direction, which also rob them of some of the punch I'm used to. That being said, the manage something few of the bands have so far, namely establishing a connection to the audience, and we get to see some dancing and jumping up and down for a change. So as the customary singalongs to "Heads High, Hands Down" sound at the end of their set, I must admit that I have trouble not feeling a little justified in being a fan of these guys in advance. [7½]

20:30 @ Upstairs stage: Stella Blackrose

It's no secret that despite my having known Stella Blackrose singer Rebecca Armstrong since grade school, I've never been much of fan of her band. So I approach their set upstairs with the best intentions to find something good to say about them. It seems though, that things just aren't going to get simple for me, because as many around me testify through and after the set, Rebecca completely outshines her own band. Sure, the guys around her perform the band's dynamic albeit conventional rock'n'roll with veteran confidence, but they look like cardboard props compared to their frontwoman. A real life woman in a white Marilyn Monroe-ish dress that few real life women would have the.. well.. stones.. to wear, Rebecca Armstrong flat out burns so brightly on stage that I think everybody in the venue feels like they're slightly less alive in comparison. So while the band's actual instrumental side is no more (nor no less) retrospective than those of the band's that played before them, I think I speak for many when I think that this one was carried primarily by Rebecca's presence, and total immersion in every note she belts out. An even more impressive feat when one considers how many opted to see it, over the Champions League match that the organizers had decided to put on a big screen downstairs. [7½]

22:45 @ Upstairs stage: Siamese Fighting Fish

After Bayern Münich claims the CL trophy, the band that gets to pick the music back up upstairs is Siamese Fighting Fish, whom I've started approaching with the attitude that I need to try to keep calm and observe them objectively. An ambition made increasingly unlikely by the growing crowd of fans you meet at almost every show of theirs, whose eyes always transmit vivid anticipation. And as the progressive sextet launches into another one of their characteristically wild live shows, all I can say is that it reinforces my faith in music that it is apparently impossible to get enough of good songs being performed with full power and energy. The front half of Pumpehuset agrees, judging from the fact that it's fuller than at any point during the festival, and soon enough there are people dancing, moshing and crowdsurfing. As such, things are exactly like always at the SIFIFI show, at least until the last song, during which the band's traditional antics are interrupted by an eager fan jumping Pumpehuset's high stage, starting to pull people up one by one - Eventually having 50% of the audience on stage tearing up the last bars of music along with the band. So again, I know it's suspicious coming from a proven fan, but ask anyone at the show then - if SIFIFI didn't play the kind of set we wish we could've seen from many more of the bands. [8½]

23:30 @ Downstairs stage: Dance With Dirt

The majority of the crowd is clearly winded after the explosive SIFIFI show, and considering that many want to rebuild strenght before the final set, Dance With Dirt have a tough spot in between the main crowd-pullers. If they're troubled by that however, they don't show it in the way they dish out a super-charged mix of Kasabian meets Franz Ferdinand from stage, with their singer-guitarist putting the FRONT in frontman by generally looking the part of indie-rock main-man in his right element. The performance is the kind which makes the band look like they fully expect their own positive response, which makes a lot of people nod like they're impressed, and which put songs like "Flush" and "In The City" in our heads to be recognised immediately upon checking the band out at home. All in all, a promising job in a tight spot by these four lads. [7½]

00:15 @ Upstairs stage: Agent Fresco

If SIFIFI was the band that had lots of familiar faces recognising each other in the pit, Agent Fresco is such an under-appreciated band that the looks on their audience's faces is one of positive surprise with seeing so many fellow appreciators. It's well deserved however, because even though Agent Fresco still live on the same material from 2010's unnaturally good "A Long Time Listening", nobody would want it any other way, as the fans easily find the hooks hidden with the jazzy time signatures and croon along to one favourite after another. The guys on stage are their usual vivid and eccentric selves, always seeming to draw energy from the response they get visiting Denmark from their normal home of Iceland, and similarly to the SIFIFI show, the people in the know forget themselves entirely, moving about like a dancefloor with a soundtrack of all crowd-pleasers. As for any innocent bystanders left at this hour, I must admit that it's hard to tell what they make of this sudden torrent of innovation streaming from stage, but let's just say that I think something must be wrong with them if they don't appreciate that this is tidal wave of something that's been sadly missing from large parts of the event. [8½]

Thoughts in conclusion

Having read some or all of the above, you may be thinking "well, it sounds like he thought the whole thing was rather meh". But you'd be wrong. My one prevailing impression coming away from Nordic Noise 2013 is a highly positive one. Sure, in the grander scheme of all the many, many shows RF staffers see and review every year, perhaps I haven't been too generous grading these, but while things weren't any shade of perfect, I couldn't help but to be consistently delighted with the sheer professionalism and positive attitude, that I felt many of the bands invested in their performances, even despite the at times embarrasing turnout. With that and the tight sonic output most delivered regardless of my taste for their style, retro or modern, the ailing Danish rock scene definitely managed to show me some clear signs of life.

... But I still have a few things I'd like to bring up for the consideration of all people involved:

Set length..

I understand the thinking behind giving all the bands a full 45 minutes to shine, because honestly, many of them will get that rarely enough, and for some of them, that's a shame. However, let's do a bit of math here: If ten bands play in an evening and each draws an equal share of the day's audience that means that at any given set there are 10% fans and 90% people who probably don't know much about the band that's playing. Under those circumstances, I think 45 minutes is too long, and I definitely think people could've used a breather between each set. In other countries it's not uncommon to see bands placed lower on the bill play only 20 minutes and while that seems a little, it's better to kill it for 20 minutes in front of a new audience, than to overstay your welcome because people don't know you well enough to stay interested. Furthermore, while people are certainly here to watch bands, surely they're also here to socialise - and especially when you've just seen a new band, you're going to want to talk to your friends about the show. So, for next year, dear organizers, maybe consider 30-35 minute sets and then some short breaks in between. I honestly think it'd make for a better experience for all involved.

Originality.

There's a well worn rock'n'roll saying that goes: "Before anyone did anything, Elvis did everything". The point being that it's impossible to ever reinvent the wheel in this genre or others. My impression from Nordic Noise however, is that if the bands know this saying, they've misunderstood what it really means. You're not supposed to reenact past sounds, you're supposed to reinterpret them. Personally I will never understand why Danish bands tend to consistently ignore all the great music of the past decade that could inspire them, but on the other hand, I can't argue with taking inspiration from the classic. What I can argue with is bands where I can immediately pinpoint two or three bands that it sounds like they're trying to imitate. I know we're a small country, but that doesn't mean our bands should merely be smaller versions of bands that exist(ed) in bigger and better versions in other countries. Granted, many of the bands that played today may be well established by now, but then to the next generation of Danish bands I say - when they're sitting in their rehearsal space trying to figure out a sound - Try harder!

Songwriting.

There are many factors that go into it when I review a record or a show, but one always prevail over all the others: If the songs are any good or not. Above all I think that's the main area in which the level here isn't high enough. Songwriting is hard, and it's elusive to try and capture a knack for consistently penning catchy tracks - But do you think I'd remember complaining about 11th Street Kids sounding like Ramones, if more of their songs had the power of a "Blietzkrieg Bop" or a "Geocities Kitty" by the comparable Chixdiggit! ? Of-bloody-course I wouldn't, because good songs are the be-all end-all soul of music all together, more important than your style or your energy or your look or your integrity. Just look at how things light up when Surfact plays their big hit "Soulslide", or when Dance With Dirt roll out "Flush" and "In The City". I know it's hard to bottle the magic I'm talking about, but again, if we want this scene to liven up, everybody needs to try a little harder at this too.

Self-promotion.

Okay, so the other two things I just talked about might be elusive to improve at, but the last one before I sign off, I can't for the life of me understand why I have to bring up. It flat out blows my mind that a band like Forever Still can play a set to basically 10 people + the festival's staff. Okay so it was at four in the afternoon, but come on everybody! You have family? You have friends? You have social media? You're taking part in this because you want the event to be a success both for the scene's sake and for your band, no? So - quick math time again - if there's 3-6 people in your band, how in the world can each of you not whip up at least a handful of people to come out, have a great time with beers and music, and add to the atmosphere. I understand that it's harder for the bands that travelled over here from Jylland, but still - you must know somebody over here that don't get to see you often. I understand that in an ideal world, all of a musician's energy should be focused on performing and writing music, but out here in the real world, it's time somebody got their keyboard fingers 'dirty' and started spamming. The era of the music industry when big companies ran around all over town and put up posters for you is long gone, and if you don't tell your network - again and again, here and there and everywhere - that you've got this thing coming up, and that they should not just come, they should invite others to come as well - then people aren't going to know and they aren't going to show. Simple as that.

Now, consider those some friendly, constructive suggestions and allow me then to round things off by repeating how genuinely happy I am that Nordic Noise 2013 took place - and how, despite the numerous small challenges it faces - I genuinely hope that it can happen again next year!

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