Sorte Firkant Musikfestival 2017

author LL date 19/11/17

This smaller Nørrebro festival only had its first run last year but both then and now, the line-up has been interesting enough to pique our interest here at Rockfreaks. The 2017 edition (see the poster below) has its share of experimental and post-rock related international as well as local names and yet others with a shared passion for painting big soundscapes and flirting with noise elements - not least due to the involvement of one of the forces that's also behind A Colossal Weekend. The Danish alternative rock band Boundaries have canceled their appearance a couple of days before the festival due to illness but otherwise, the schedule holds true. In fact, there are more interesting names on the roster than I can make time to watch properly so the reviews below reflect personal priorities.

For the uninitiated, the festival takes place at a number of local venues all situated close to Blågårds Plads. KoncertKirken and Stengade are the biggest venues while Støberiet, Blågårds Apotek, and the Sorte Firkant café are all smaller places. Stengade has a regular stage lifted from the floor while the remaining places have their bands playing more or less face to face with their audience, creating intimate atmospheres. The two latter ones, regularly open as a bar and a café, mostly have guests present who aren't out specifically for the festival meaning that the acts playing there usually have a solid, albeit talkative, audience while it's more varied at the other venues. Especially on the Saturday, the eternal struggle of having to fight with a national soccer match (Denmark vs. Ireland) for attention and time means that several of the shows have very few audience members attending. This is of course a shame to me when I know several of the bands to be excellent live. It gives some shows a bit of a dull atmosphere while also disabling some of the traditional dynamics of a gig, making it a bit redundant to review them as such but more about that in the relevant reviews.

As a Nørrebro-resident myself, I then took it upon me to review as many relevant bands from the 4-day festival as possible. On the festival's first day, Thursday, only Stengade had shows as a kind of pre-festival day, while the Sunday featured just one longer matinée set. The following reviews are thus mainly from the Friday and Saturday of this November weekend and cover almost all the most rock-related acts with the notable exceptions of Lorenzo Woodrose, Molly and Bellhound Choir.

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THURSDAY

Alcabean @ 21:00 at Stengade

The festival is kicked into gear by the young Danish rock band Alcabean whom I last saw 1½ years ago when they played the upcoming festival Uhørt. Their music is grungy and guitar-heavy but with excellent melodies and it seems they're still rocking out on stage as much as they did back when they were starting out. As far as I can hear, tonight they play a mix of songs from their EP "Real Time Fiction" and newer ones that will be on a forthcoming second EP. Their melodic rock melodies and catchy riffs do their job, the sound mix is good for the gritty end of their music, and thus a good part of the audience that fills the room seem ready to dance and have a good time this Friday. The band doesn't really do much for the vibe in between songs, however, the communication of their frontman seeming kind of stiff as he proclaims short generic sentences. It's a shame as it seems that they could have lifted the mood fairly easily by being just slightly more forthcoming. [6]

Valerian Swing @ 22:00 at Stengade

These three Italian math/post-rockers made a great impression at this year's A Colossal Weekend in May and are one of the top reasons I am attending Sorte Firkant Musikfestival now. As the second of just two bands to play tonight, it seems the audience is nevertheless shrinking to half during their sound-check and setting up of their various electronic devices. Perhaps this is due to local support for Alcabean or perhaps it's just what happens on a Friday with lots of options in Copenhagen. Anyway, when they finally get the sound right and begin playing, they have as great an energy as they did in May although the mix is not quite doing their layered music justice. They released their newest album earlier this year and I have especially been looking forward to hearing the awesome new song "Four Horses" live again. Their wild guitars coupled with electronically infused singing has most the remaining audience smiling and clapping impressed although some of their most spaced-out songs fail to make quite the same impression. [7]

FRIDAY

Fugleflugten in the spacious room of KoncertKirken

Fugleflugten @ 19:00 at KoncertKirken

The Danish postpunk band Fugleflugten recently released their EP "Bølgevækker" and as Boundaries have been forced to cancel their festival show, they are also the first band to take the stage tonight. I've been extra excited about their show here because it takes place in the huge room of KoncertKirken, an old Nørrebro Church refurbished for shows. As they dive into "Syv Pelikaner", their already reverb-heavy music moves through the venue in a huge way. Their vocalist comments on the experience early on, explaining that he is actually exceptionally playing without reverb on his own guitar. Even so, the venue enforces their overall soundscapes while blending over some of the details, making theirs into more of a blanketing sound than usual. Still, it's a great show as the band members get into their music and their vocalist behaves himself endearingly relaxed in between songs. In addition to the aforementioned song, we get a selection of tracks from their already released EP's where especially "Glædens Port" makes a strong impression as the vocalist confidently lets his voice fill the venue in his acapella section. We also get three relatively new ones, one being "Slet Og Ret" while I'm uncertain of the titles of the two others. The boys play for almost a full hour and watching them in the church was an experience for sure, but it didn't do wonders for their sound even though they handled it as best they could. [7]

Speaker Bite Me @ 20:30 at Stengade

As with most bands playing this festival, I've only become aware of Speaker Bite Me about a year ago. Then they returned after a hiatus and it's since become obvious to me that they have quite an audience that is very happy to see them return to the Danish scene. Tonight Stengade is also full as a testament to this, as they get right into it with the only song of theirs I actually now well, the excellent, dark and mysterious "Minimum Twice". Their music presents strong melodies with heavily atmospheric music experimentally blending genres like post-rock and noise. It has a kind of hypnotic quality as the band's two vocalists, one male, and one female, weave their stories and moods in words. The bass is heavy in the mix tonight and the vibe in the room is great as the very informal audience really makes sure that the band feels appreciated during as well as between songs. There's a familiar atmosphere with general laughs everywhere as one fan asks them to just get on with the new album already. I see myself having to leave early, sadly, as I've been recommended Red Lama by all sorts of people the last few days. Still, had it been any other circumstance, I would have loved to stick around for more of Speaker Bite Me's mesmerizing music. [8]

Red Lama @ 21:15 at KoncertKirken

After Fugleflugten's reverb-heavy music, KoncertKirken then sets the stage for the complex psych rock of Red Lama, a seven-member group whom I've been recommended by pretty much everyone I've talked to about this festival. Their music seems to expand the limits of what psych rock can be and, perhaps surprisingly, it's quickly evident that as many as they are, their music wouldn't have quite the same appeal if they were fewer people involved. They're all long-haired and they groove around in a zen-like state, especially their singer dancing in odd ways throughout or walking through the crowd at various times. The sound is very organic, and it definitely fills out the room more than the previous performance although it remains a feature of the church that individual details get toned down and almost disappear in the reverb of the room. Still, as they're painted in red and green lights, they succeed in setting a mystical atmosphere that lifts the listeners off the ground and it's a joy to watch them find each other in the music. [7½]

Stearica @ 22:00 at Stengade

Like Valerian Swing, Stearica is a mostly instrumental trio from Italy but they play a heavier, louder and noisier style of music than their country-mates. As many people as are present tonight at KoncertKirken, unfortunately not many have taken the small trip to Stengade. Tough luck, I'll say, as they quickly prove they're worth it, as they play through a great performance that feels intimate despite the powerful sound that booms out at us from the speakers. Their drummer placed in the back is also the most communicative of them, often taking the microphone to talk to us or make jokes about Italian tropes in a routine he seems to have perfected on the road. Towards the end he suddenly gets up and goes for a little tour of the room, drumming on everything he passes as if looking for perfect sounds to fit into the music. It can always be hard playing with a low turnout but these three don't seem phased by it at all, instead letting their force and energy fill the room that much more. [8]

De Underjordiske @ 22:45 at KoncertKirken

The local psych-rock darlings De Underjordiske draw the biggest crowd yet for the festival, and when I walk into the church a little late due to my sticking around with Stearica's show, I feel like I'm walking into a different dimension. This is primarily due to their use of visuals that fill the entire back wall of the white-painted church that acts as a giant canvas with moving star patterns and colors throughout their set. It's magical to look at and their sound also seems to expand and fill the room more fully than the previous bands at the venue have managed to, even though they have tried. De Underjordiske play a lot of new songs tonight but it seems like the audience is into it anyway and the limit-expanding quality of sound and visuals together makes sure that I'm not bored at any point even as some passages extend for a little too long for my taste normally. People sing along to certain songs - especially "Trold" makes a magical impression this way - and most of the audience seem to have hit that exact intoxicated Friday spot that is the preferable point to be at for spacy music like this. [8]

SATURDAY

Crystal Shipsss performing sitting down at Støberiet

Crystal Shipsss @ 18:00 at Støberiet

The two men behind the experimental project Crystal Shipsss are not graced with more than about 10 listeners tonight out of which festival volunteers make up a good part. Thus it's very quiet in the room as they sit down on the floor of their small stage with microphones, a guitar, a laptop and various effect boards set up. Their music presents inviting soundscapes from the get-go but their individual material varies a lot between softer, poppy songs dominated by very simple drum machine beats, and then darker and noisier ones that make more of an impact. Also present for the show is the baby of one of the band members who participates charmingly with cooing from time to time which somehow helps to loosen up the dull vibe in the sparsely populated room. The duo seems kind of timid themselves and limits conversation to saying "thank you" very quietly in between songs. The similarly timid audience as well as the fluctuations in the duo's material then, unfortunately, pull down their rating a bit for this show. [4]

SVIN @ 19:00 at KoncertKirken

The experimental noise-jazz of Danish trio SVIN has impressed me several times this year, not least at Roskilde Festival in the Summer with an expanded line-up. Tonight they take the stage in a refreshingly confident manner, their guitarist grabbing the microphone to yell "Are you awake?!" and encourage us in his best Danish accent to get close to the stage "otherwise it will be... extremely weird". We aren't many, but the people that are here are however totally ready to groove along to the performance of their darlings. The show seems more improvisational and experimental than I have experienced from them before as they, for instance, go for an impromptu use of two pianos that are stashed to each side of the stage, even making an audience member participate for a little while to make it all work out. They mix saxophone, drums, vocoders, and guitar and use a great deal of looping to create dense sounds, and in this way, they play a bunch of new stuff that they tell us will be recorded the very next day. Generally, their 40-minute set keeps things fresh throughout, although I would have loved to hear some of their more steady compositions mixed in with the more experimental approach. Still, it's definitely one of the best performances of the evening not least due to their great attitudes and their always intriguing ideas. [7½]

The two members of Nadja mirror each other at Støberiet

Nadja @ 20:45 at Støberiet

I've been meaning to see this Canadian experimental drone band for a while but other shows have always come in the way when they've played Denmark in the past. This time they play, as several others today, for a very sparse audience, but for their kind of music, it does not make a huge difference. Most of us are seated in the audience on various chairs around the room, while Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff play their bass and guitar, mirroring each other with Buckareff turning her back and Baker his front towards us throughout the show. Their music is rumbling and dark and gets more and more intense as it goes on for one long session. In fact, one of the speakers to the side startles everyone as it falls down presumably from the vibrations about 15 minutes in but doesn't disturb the building music otherwise. The live dynamic is a little bit odd as most people here rock their heads to the beat of the drums that are, however, only present in a recorded form. Closing my eyes from time to time, I pretty much forget that though, as they sound so organic. The ending becomes almost cacophonic as the two play their instruments with bows making for extra intense sounds on top of the already looped build-up so far. Even as it all "just" drones on and on, the duo succeeds in creating an alluring atmosphere that I can't remove myself from before it finally ends. [8]

Yung @ 22:00 at Stengade

The Aarhus punk rock group Yung have been an important band on the Danish scene for a while now and their show is also one of the more well-visited ones today although we don't quite reach the heights of yesterday. Their music is a fast-paced and atmospheric indie-punk hybrid with introspective lyrics and emotional singing and their dry delivery here fits their music well. There is general dancing and a good mood among the audience even as the vibe isn't as festive as it could be. The band retains a consistent level of intensity throughout the show but their tempos become a little too similar after a while. This makes several of the songs begin to blend into each other after a while before the final one breaks off with some particularly strong lyrics. However, after that high-point, the show ends a bit suddenly as the band just leaves the stage but, then again, their kind of cold attitudes as they play and keep interaction with their audience to a minimum is in sync with the sound of their music. [7]

Take Us To Your Leader @ 23:00 at Blågårds Apotek

The five members of experimental rock outfit Take Us To Your Leader are crammed onto the tiny stage opposite the bar as I enter a little after they've begun. Because the place is open for everyone by now, there's a constant buzz of talk around the room while they make their way through their playful music. It's hard to describe exactly what it is their very varied songs sound like but words like piratey or gypsy-punk-influenced come to mind for specific songs because of particular chord changes and rhythms. Their compositions include guitars, bass and keyboards as well as drums, various percussion and acapella singing for a set that's definitely peculiar but still with a foundation in regular rock structure that makes them one of the less experimental groups I've watched today. For the regular bar-guests, it's a little odd perhaps, but the room is crammed with both seated and standing guests that are also there specifically for the band and there's all-around clapping after every song. They've been on my radar for a while now and after their solid performance tonight I can only think that I would definitely like to see them in a more quiet venue with a specific focus on their music in the future. Even as cozy as bar shows are, I don't think the place really did their music justice. [7½]

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