Northside 2013

author HES date 22/06/13

Only four years young the Northside Festival has grown to become a household name, known for their amazing ability to draw international scale artists to their little spot in Ådalen, Århus. For those of you not familiar with Danish geography, Århus is the second largest city of Denmark approximately 3 hours in train from the capitol. What used to be a local show has now started to accumulate traffic from Copenhagen and beyond as there are no festivals in the area with the same music profile. A profile of indie rock, a few crowd-pleasing megastars and night shows of electronica. This festival actually reminds me of what Roskilde used to be before it drowned in self-rigtheous "world music" and "climate action".

All pictures courtesy of Thomas Dyregaard

Stages

The festival has three stages this year. The new stage this year, Red Stage, has been added as the festival has grown. This one is an actual tent and more intimate, in the corner the furthest away from the entrance, but it does have some obvious problems, as you'll read in the reviews. All three stages are fairly close together, Blue and Green being outdoor stages. Because of the proximity between stages, the two stages on the sides often have shows simultaneously while the middle one is empty, to prevent sound from lapping over (it unfortunately still does depending on the wind). The middle stage, Blue, serves as the stadium-size stage for the bigger names as the crowd can spill into the whole area. It has a nice syngergy of bringing people back together every 3rd show or so because nothing else goes on when Blue Stage is open for business. The open air stages have equally sized screens that are put to good use during shows, sharing social media posts tagged with the NS13-hashtag. I've never seen social media so well integrated into the festival experience. The uphill back area serves as drinking/eating/chilling area with a wast array of eateries and bars managed by local bars from town. All of this splendor is located north of Århus in a beautiful park, Ådalen, about a 30 minutes walk from the center.

Facilities

The festival has an obvious bigger brother in Roskilde, but also has it beaten on several points. One is the lavatory situation; whereas Roskilde is still using medieval septic tanks Northside has invested in real flushing toilets. To non-festival goers this may seem like a minor detail, but in that case you don't want to see a Roskilde toilet - ever. The eating is semi-high priced; dinner doesn't come for less than 50 DKK and easily goes all the way up to 70-90 for a meal. In the bars, a simple draft beer will set you back 40 DKK for the cheapest. All bars seem to be controlled by Northside as prices don't really vary and are all offering pretty much the same. Most people seem to value the "offer" of a pitcher of beer (2L) for 200DKK. The prices result in many having drinking parties in the grass outside of the festival and people either being sober or scary drunk as a result.

Mobile coverage was absolute amazing during this festival for me personally. I have Telenor and I turned off the 3G network to save energy and not use unnescessary data. I did hear stories of people not getting through, but not nearly as bad as other festivals/events are known for. I recently visited Distortion and Nørrebro was laid down for hours on end. A very pleasent plus that things were better here.

Accommodation

The festival area closes at night and the festival has no official camping site. This poses some very special conditions for people from out of town. One of the only problems with the festival was that Rockfreaks.net only got feedback on our ticket-situation very late, when all affordable options were sold out. Finding something else than an expensive hotel room (around 2000 DKK for the weekend), takes a bit of networking - but it seems that people from Århus don't mind having an extra guest as much as Copenhageners do. However, if you're not from Århus yourself you will probably need to sort this out in better time than we did. The website offers a collection of links to support guests in their quest for sleeping arrangements. Otherwise I did see a few posts on facebook about the same problem.

Safety

The festival is run with professional safety measures living up to any standard of the industry. Never ever have I seen such vigorous work as by the stage manager that was present at around 90% of the outdoor shows, and the crew operated with military precision to ensure safety. No crowd surfing and/or piggy bag rides are allowed at Northside which is a sensitive subject to rock fans. The sign "no crowd surfing" slowly begins to read "take care, this is one of those bands". As at any other Danish Festival, the medic team has a tent centrally placed and small teams of two or more patrol the pits during shows. During the bigger shows, crowd safety is even dispatched to patrol the general area.

Reviews

Friday

Keane, Green Stage, 21:15

Because of a late exam and the travel time between Copenhagen and Århus we only just arrived mid-show at Keane. It was only around 9.30PM at this point (on a friday night) but Keane's safe and soft sound had in some way made the whole crowd fall into a tranquil trance of hand-holding, blanket-sleeping and drunken, halfassed singing-along. Not exactly a good first impression, but we give it a go and watch the band play radio-hits like "Everybody's Changing". All in all this is not a bad show. Keane has the experience of probably hundreds of shows like this - but there's no real nerve and the band is way too early if it's supposed to make people go home to bed. They never really peak, but don't ever fail either. [6]

The Knife, Blue Stage, 22:45

The sun drops and we are followed into the night by The Knife: a brother and sister forming a Swedish electronica get-up. You may not know the band by name, but if you've ever heard José Gonzales' version of "Heartsbeats"; these are the originals. So we head over to Blue Stage for what we expect to be a party. The show starts out great with all-black clad performers with iridescent neon instruments. The crowd-safety crew lights up as a line of party lights in the ultraviolet light from the stage. Karin Dreijer Andersson dances upon her keys with a mixture of lust and hunger as the beats reach a salsa-crescendo. However the show gets a bit boring after you've heard the first couple of songs so we head to the back to see if we can find a party willing to dance rather than just dumbfoundingly staring at the scene now filled with dancers jerking in some kind of aerobic style dance moves. But nothing really seem to be moving the crowd, which seems completely mesmerized by the brightly colored show but probably less by the music. The Knife plays a few of their older songs but mainly stick to the newly released "Shaking The Habitual" which still hasn't exactly found it's way to the mainstream. [6]

Nephew, Green Stage, 00:30

Alright so this band is presented by the host-pair of the festival as "The Best Live Band of Denmark". Now I've seen a lot of Danish live-bands by now and I'm not quite ready to make such a bold statement, but alright. We'll try it out. The band enters clad in identical black shirts, sporting the album art of their latest album "Hjertestarter" and imitating predecessors like Kraftwerk and Kliché. The first song is their latest single "Jeg passer på dig…" and swiftly take us on into other hits like "Mexico Ligger I Spanien". Most of the time all focus is on front man Simon Kvamm, but from time to time the entire band seem to have choreographed a little dance for us - mainly consisting of rocking back and forward at the same pace. At some point Kvamm downs a whole beer on stage with no hands to the applause of the audience. He refers to the Spleen United show at another stage as the "basement"-party (Spleen United has previously served as warm up band on a Nephew tour) and their own show as the "kitchen"-party. To stay in the same allegory, I'd rather say that the Nephew show is the street party on the road in the provinces where you grew up and rode your first bike. It's cosy, it's entertaining but it's a bit too safe and a bit too "what-is-to-be-expected". [6½]

Spleen United, Red Stage, 00:30

So we head over to check out this "basement party" where Spleen United is raving on. The air is humid underneath the roof of the small tent and tension is peaking. Lights flare in all directions as the foursome tend to their respective instruments - almost as chemists in a laboratory. All the sudden the music stops and the speaker comes back on stage with a plea to the audience: They have to calm down or the show will be discontinued. The small tent is bursting at the seams to let human steam out and the band plays "In Peak Fitness Condition". In order to stay alive for the rest of the festival, we retract to the one open brim of the tent to get some air. The band continues into avalanches of electronic sounds and static lead by Bjarke Niemann's voice. Is if there has not yet been enough bad omens, Bjarke Niemann proclaims that this concert is the start of an undefined hiatus for the band. This only makes the tent of super fans disregard safety further and the breaks become longer in-between songs and suddenly our speaker-friend returns to tell that the band is taking a break but "will be back for a few songs". This never really happens and the miscommunication reaches an absolute peak as the speaker never really announces the show dead, but instead tells people to go to another show. What the band could've done with a bigger stage, a safer stage, a safer crowd or smaller crowd is hypothetical but we're left with a feeling of "anything but this" and the night is ending in the biggest anti-climax imaginable. As a writer you feel horrible for grading a band this low for something that had nothing to do with them or the engagement of the audience. But this show leaves me with a sinking feeling that other shows might end like this. Don't let this happen again, Northside! This could've been the show of the festival, if handled correctly. [5]

Saturday

The William Blakes, Green Stage, 13:45

Despite the anti-climax of yesterday we wake up bright-eyed and ready to take on the world. The William Blakes hit the stage around 2PM as the sun peaks throughout the clouds. The ensemble has an impressive set up of two drum sets and two keyboards. Hoping that good things come in two, we gather with the hipsters of Århus - getting lost in a sea of knitted jumpers, cornrows and rubber boots. Frontman Kristian Leth enters the stage, feather in hair and starts off a set of easy-listening, sunshine music including hits like "Hope and Destruction" and "Caves and Lights". This band is so well-placed in the program and we slowly wake up in an environment of ambient sounds and gentle hooks. What this bands lacks in energy they make up for in comfort as the wind gently plays with our hair. [7½]

Kings of Convenience, Blue Stage, 14:45

As if things couldn't get more chilled, we're greeted at our next stop at Blue Stage by nothing but two Norwegians and their guitars. Everything sounds acoustic and "hand-made" as if carved out of wood and then played on. In a classic Simon and Garfunkle-style show the two men proceed to play their songs softly, but attentively. Instead of clapping, we are showed how to flick our fingers instead. Everything seems to end up a bit slow motion-like. No one near me seems to know any of the lyrics but are entertained as far as I can see. I like this kind of show. It's so the opposite of music today and so unlike the pulsing, breathing, shining shows of yesternight. For a moment I just lose track of time to a hand-played bossanova rhythm, but wake up to realize it is a bit too slow for me still. [7]

When Saints Go Machine, Green Stage, 16:00

This show is highly anticipated for one reason: It already didn't happen. Last year when the band showed up at Northside, their gear simply didn't. Unable to play with no instruments or anything the band was fortunately promised a spot at next year's festival. So here we are. The clouds grow closer as front-man Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild takes the mic. His long hair blowing in the wind he is supported by waves and waves of bass, ear-wrenching, heart-numbing and only supported by Silas Moldenhawer's electrical drums. Vonsild might look like a lead singer of a 90's grunge band with his blonde hair and adidas track top, but his voice is beyond what you've heard before; glottal and hoarse but still light as a feather. As they sing "Iodine" the crowds joins in. They get to play 2/3 of the show before cascades and cascades of rain drench the crowd. In most cases I guess rain would ruin a show, but in some way that was the way the show was supposed to end: Forever doomed these young boys are, but their music is hauntingly beautiful rock and dystopian electronica. I fell a bit in love with this band. [8]

Imagine Dragons, Green Stage, 18:30

I apologize beforehand if this specific review is influenced by the fact that 15ml of rain hit the festival approx 20 minutes before this show started: but this band was an unforeseen blessing in disguise. Recently peaking the airwaves with their mega-hit "Radioactive" Imagine Dragons have become a major band within very few months and also a success on the basis of one single album. Dan Reynolds takes the stage like a pro - no scratch that - better than most pro's. His eyes are lit with excitement and his moves are not choreographed but based on pure gratefulness for the chance to live out the rock and roll dream. I recently reviewed their album but found the rest of the tracks a bit toothless in comparison to "Radioactive" - but their presence live is a whole other story. The electronic elements that bring something new and exciting to that song are more apparent than they ever were in the mix on the album. An electronical drum set adds a more muffled, dubstep-ish sound to the whole rhythm section. "Amsterdam" fits perfectly into the scenario with lyrics going "But the rain won't fall for the both of us". Singles "Leaving the Achademy" and "Radioactive" create singalongs - but all along the way I see nothing but people dancing to the songs without knowing the words. Hearing the words unfortunately is hard from time to time as Reynolds is mixed too low in the mix but what he lacks in monitor, he makes up for in dancing, waving and clapping as he leads the audience. Mid-show he gives a speech on "letting go" and his love for music and festivals. It's really hard not to be infatuated with this demonstration of pure joy for a job people start taking for granted eventually. [8½]

Biffy Clyro, Blue Stage, 19:45

First off: This band just never lets a girl down. Entering stage all the dudes are sporting no t-shirts and I secretly hope the sun'll keep up. With their strong scottish accent and a "we-don't-care-if-this-is-a-hipster-festival" they kick of one of Northside's "hardest" shows - if not the hardest. As before mentioned Blue Stage is front and center and I am for one quite impressed with the bold move it is to put this band up with no softer options playing simultaneously. Right on, Northside! Even though the sound-person is not the best at handling the trebble of the distorted guitar, the band still keeps the crowd on their feet, jokingly saying they "fucked the rain with their sunny dicks" - referring to the massive downpour earlier. However the chorus' of masterfully written "The Captain" and "Bubbles" resonate enough with the audience to make them try something different. Recent single "Biblical" is also a stunner as a short break from the fast-paced cavalcade of rock-anthems. [8]

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Green Stage, 21:15

Do you know the saying "We all came to see the giraffe"? Well it's basically an expression of human curiosity when it comes to objects of popular culture. In the light of that half of Northside decided to swing by for Nick Cave - unfortunately it seems for most of them only to "see the giraffe" but not to participate. The die hard fans front and center summons Cave to the stage with waves of "wooohs". Nick Cave enters the stage with one of plenty "tell us something we don't know"-comments that limit an artist's conversations to it's audience: "It's freezing but it's light". Well thank you for that Captain Obvious. He still looks wonderful though, in his satin-suit and pitch black eyebrows. He poses for the photographers and then gets started. And 3. 2. 1. we're in a dusky bodega, late night in the bad end of town. "Weeping Song" tells the tale of drinking yourself to sleep supported by a few bars of fragile violin. Cave is handed a rose by a fan and he is not one to let a chance of theatrics go by. Dancing with it all the way into the next song. Seeing Cave perform reminds me of a witch doctor performing a seance on his anointed. "The Seeds" create a musical backdrop of monotone bass rhythms and rarely strays from being in the background of Cave's spoken word-ish lyrics. Only problem is that not every one around here is part of the cult which means the magic never ever really happens. This is probably considered sacrilege: [7]

The Flaming Lips, Blue Stage, 22:45

Picture this: In a future not so far away, a stage is lit up. The backdrop is a giant jelly-fish, tentacles rising from the elevated podium of metallic spheres. Behind the microphone stand made of a double-headed shining, futuristic gun stands a Tim Burton-raggedy character holding what appears to be a baby wrapped in rags decending into the tentacles. Or let me ask you this: Did you think everyone stopped taking LSD in the 70's? The Flaming Lips sure as hell didn't. Wayne Coyne is the lead singer of the band, and Wayne Coyne is the man with the baby (prop-baby), on the stage. And while we're at it, let's throw in an intro in Spanish, so no living soul will have a chance to figure out what the hell is going on! I may sound like I am being sarcastic, but it's quite the opposite. There is a reason this band is on Q Magazines' list of bands to see before you die. Within the first 3 songs we get the following sensory kicks in the groin: The tentacles light up with pulsating LED lights, Coyne lights a smoke gun (yes, a gun) and confetti canons release black shreds over the audience. The soundscape is post-punkish, ambient and layered with synths upon synths upon other synths. Beneath all of this hides a core of pure pop. Recently the band ventured into a darker period, which makes the current version of "Race for the Prize" a psychedelic wandering into semi-unfamiliar and slower teritory. Confession: I think this works! Whereas other post-punk bands are still stuck in pretty much the same old rut, The Flaming Lips are not done testing if the ice will hold. The show is following Nick Cave, and Coyne decides to dedicate a song to Cave; it being a cover version of "Heroes" that sounds absolutely marvelous, covered in synths and imaginary stardust of the night, preceeded by a heart-to-heart monologue by Coyne about "standing up for what you believe in". Nearby a group of people light up sparklers and they travel into the darkness of the unlit crowd. At the same time Coyne lights a poi (New Zealandian juggling tool) on fire and rapidly swings it in circular motions over his head while singing. Towards the end of the show things become more tangible as the band plays crowd favorite "Do You Realize".The Flaming Lips are here to remind us that it's okay for rock to be spectacular - as in making a spectacle. After the grungy 90's it became a no-go to use theatrics in rock - the only ones not abiding by the rules being labeled "sell-outs". But there's absolutely nothing "sell out" about tonight, rather the opposite. [9]

Sunday

Ellie Goulding, Blue Stage, 13:15

Mrs. Goulding arrives on stage during one of the first slots of the day. Going straight into action without even a "Hi" to the audience that has been waiting in the clouded, cold outdoors battling the hangovers of last nights party. Goulding herself looks like she may have had a bit too many, covered up in sunglasses and wearing a comfy baseball vest. Her first words to the crowd after 3 songs are basically "I've had shit day", then launching into "Figure 8". Most of the songs are either complete playback or samples. The only time I am absolutely sure I am listening to Goulding live, is in between tunes with clever remarks such as "It's cold", "It's windy", "My pants are falling down" and "I'm surprised anyone even showed up". Okay, one thing is, that we have a "shit day" but another thing is sharing it this literally with your audience. Besides the human imcompetence of this primadonna, she also shows the professional imcompetence of not even knowing her own songs by heart, flapping through a music book every song. The piano in "Anything Could Happen" seems to have been on the wrong setting and sounds like one from a German Octoberfest. As if that wasn't enough, the minimal effort produced by Goulding and band is thrown around by the wind a bit, making the overall soundscape worse than if Northside had actually hired a DJ to play a few Ellie Goulding records instead. The only even remotely genuine part of the show, is Goulding's version of Elton John's "Your Song", but it's not even close to make up for the dissapointment in the faces of the audience. I'm glad I don't have that on my conscience, but maybe Goulding doesn't care about minor things like that. She get's one star for showing up and one for leaving. [2]

Fun., Green Stage, 14:30

Sometimes compared to Queen, but with many fans too young to know who the hell Freddy Mercury was, Fun. is often put in a juxtaposition of recent popularity and two albums worth of songs. They start the show with the eclectic "One Foot" including horn-like synths and a translatable "oh oh oh"-hook. Lead singer Nate Ruess leads the crowd in a call-and-response choir with extreme investment, gently guiding the audience into the slightly older "At least I'm not as sad", a calypso-ish upbeat song showing off his very peculiar but loveable falsetto-voice. We are actually talking about a man whose singing voice is lower than his speaking voice. The show goes on into the barrel organ-inspired "All Alone", a love song about a wind up doll. The band then continues into the the march of "It gets better", that I personally dread because of it's overexaggerated use of autotune - but Ruess' undefeatable optimism is a large band aid on a-not-so-big wound as he randomly proclaims from stage "I don't smoke cigarettes anymore!". Guitar-solos and generally good craftmanship seems to float in the vains of Jack Antonoff as he puts a slight curl on every chord. "Barlights" is a bomb beneath the audience with the repeatable hook "And I feel alive", which everyone here absolutely does in the aftermath of yet another quick shower of the day. The band is in general helped greatly along the way by hooks like these, that an unfamiliar audience can pick up during 2nd or 3rd run. Ruess naturally assumes the role of conductor/choreographer and guides everyone safely through the ride of keltish "Carry On", a Fun.-version of "You can't always get what you want" and mega-hit "Some Nights" before we once again have to endure the autotune of "Stars" that is only saved by vocal improvisations by Ruess and a guitar solo by Antonoff. All in all this is once again a solid performance by Fun., but I can't help to think the autotune is getting old and a sad layer of disguise on a voice with greater tonal range than many other current male performers. [8]

Gogol Bordello, Blue Stage, 15:45

As already written, it's a sunny afternoon and people are in the mood for chilling. Gogol Bordello has drawn a surprisingly big crowd to the stage. The show starts off in a eastern european type of folk song as the band members enter the stage. A guy comes in dressed like an anarchist before a demonstration, but instead of the hoodie hiding his face being black, it's all the colors of the rainbow. As he blows his weird, tribal looking horn the show kicks off. Gogol Bordello call their music for "gypsy punk" and that's exactly what it is. On stage is always at least a violin, an accordion and some kind of horn. The catchyness and rythm of the songs strikes a chord with the audience and it seems that everyone is dancing. People who didn't plan to see this show are lured by the sheer fun and happyness this band emits. In other words; if you're not having fun at this show, then it's probably your own fault. Singer Eugene Hütz leads the crowd through on beat and off beat parts looking like a mexican cowboy. Gogol Bordello is best described as a human potluck - everyone comes from a different background - an asian dancer, a mexican looking guy at the drums, a black man on the bass with swag enough to go around and a guy that looks like Wayne Rooney on accordion. And despite all of them probably being extremely drunk, they never seem to lose energy or presence. Even when the rain comes for a short bit, people stay to dance and drink to "Start Wearing Purple". [8½]

Kashmir, Blue Stage, 18:10

Last time I saw Kashmir it was the opposite venue of this, at a seated arrangement at Falconer Salen. I wasn't impressed with their recent album "E.A.R" - but I've seen another side of the tracks live and I was even more excited to see what the band would bring this time around. As we head for the stage, it's easy to spot Kasper Eistrup doing his own sound check 10 minutes before show start. My impression of this guy so far is a kind of reservation, but this time he will put that to shame. The band played the festival last year as well and it seems it was a success. Eistrup feels completely at home and, as the band opens with the beautiful "Piece of the Sun" off the "E.A.R" album and carry on into "Mouthful of Whasps", he is dancing and making funny faces - a very different person from last time I saw him. To our complete surprise, Eistrup announces, that sometimes you can go back to your old material and the crowd gets a rare showing of "Lampshade" from the legendary album "The Good Life" and it's immensly popular among the older men around me. They follow up with crowd pleasers like recent single "Seraphina" a modern day requiem, the band-favorite "Graceland", Zitilites-singles "Rocket Brothers" and the rumbling "Surfing the Warm Industry". But mid-show the band once again decides to bring in the 8½ minutes long, instrumental "Pedestals" and the younger part of the audience is lost in translation. This time it does end out in a citar-sounding guitar-motif and the spiritual "Peace In the Heart". Most unheard of during Northside, the band is actually called back for an encore. Lone man Eistrup performs an accoustic, slower version of the ever-beautiful "Still Boy". Finishing up with the epic guitar riffs of "The Cynic". It's a great show. I've come to expect nothing less of this band. But the time pressure of only an hour and fifteen minutes leaves so many songs untouched. It almost hurts to not hear "The Aftermath" or "In the Sand" on the setlist, but I guess I'll give them another show and another one to get around all the amazing songs they have accumulated in their back catalog. [8½]

Band of Horses, Green Stage, 19:30

Band of Horses has been hyped so much it's probably hard to not be just a little let down. You've probably heard singles like "The Funeral", "No One's Gonna Love You" and "Is There a Ghost" which are great pop songs and the crowd receives these with great satisfaction. Unfortunately, the rest of their setlist is mainly what I would describe as a bit too slow, country rock and roll, with and occasional country ballad. Singer Ben Bridwell, is absolutely amazing and has the sexiest, clean pitch falsetto but he is supported by a very dense and monotonous musical backdrop of all instruments playing almost all the time - which leaves too little contrast. It's still a decent show, but with the exception of a few songs, the singles are really the only songs that lift this band up upon the pedestal they were placed on. [7]

Thank you's

"Charlotte" and her amazing team for all their help during and inbetween shows.

Kasper Borup for a sofa to crash on and beer in the fridge.

The rest of the photo/writer crew on Northside for good company.

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