Sorte Firkant Musikfestival 2018

author LL date 20/11/18

The Sorte Firkant Musikfestival has existed for four years now and is headed by bookers from the COLOSSAL and Stengade teams. Once again this year, the program is varied but seems to center around noise and indie rock, shoegaze, and darker electronically flavored acts. The bigger international names like Listener, Nothing, and Kælan Mikla this year attracted my interest first but the smaller Danish names are also handpicked and worth checking out. The biggest name on the poster, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo in Brorson’s Church with his "Songs and Stories" concept, we, unfortunately, had to skip due to a slow onset of the flu through the festival that culminated on Sunday. Another regrettable factor was that the Icelandic act Kælan Mikla had to cancel their appearance last-minute due to some airport trouble as far as we know. They are quickly replaced by the local electronic artist Rome In Reverse, and kudos to the bookers for finding a good replacement so fast. This year a number of curated artist talks have been included in the program as well, with four upcoming Danish names. A children’s jazz concert has been included in the schedule as well on Saturday afternoon, and these extra things give the small festival even more of an inner city vibe as well as making it feel more like a complete event instead of just separate concerts schedules under the same banner. If you’re interested, the full schedule can be seen here.

Poster for the 2018 edition of SFMF

The venues in use are the same as last year with the central ones being the regular venue Stengade, the spacious Koncertkirken which is a refurbished church, and Støberiet which is a smaller room on the third floor in the same building as the local Blågårdens Bibliotek. In addition to these the café Sorte Firkant and the bar Blågårds Apotek also feature a few names but since these places also let in regular customers, it’s different how focused the audiences are on the bands. Brorson’s Church which is slightly further away from the cluster of the aforementioned places is only being used for the Sunday show with Lee Ranaldo but is a nice addition to the regular setup. Unfortunately, many people seem to have bought tickets just for the bigger names and that results in especially the early shows and the ones not at the biggest venues being not very well visited which is such a shame as all the bands merit interest in different ways. This also means that a few adjustments to the schedule are made during the festival itself and several bands, in general, push their announced starting time 10-15 minutes which is a bit annoying when we are trying to time when to leave for other venues according to the times of the schedule.

Map of the venues in use for SFMF

Let’s head on to our reviews of the most rock-related names on the bill! Unfortunately, none of our photographers were available this weekend so most photos will be from the SoMe effort of the festival itself unless otherwise noted – otherwise, you can check out some photos by Majbritt Press over at Bands of Tomorrow’s report here.

THURSDAY

Måneskjold – by Jimmi Brandt Pedersen

Måneskjold @ 21:45 at Stengade

Måneskjold have apparently not played live in a long time, but the Copenhagen-based outfit does not seem to have lost much if any of their showmanship during their absence from the gig circuit. The delivery by the four musicians is tight, yet also visually enticing, with bassist Morten Bastkjær Christensen and guitarist/vocalist Rasmus Miehe Sørensen especially inviting attention to themselves. The former’s instrument is slung so low it almost scrapes the floor when he bends forward as part of his slow and spaced out movement (a familiar sight to anyone who has seen his other band, Gaia), while the latter seizes every opportunity to point his guitar at the ceiling, ripping psychedelic solos out of it as though he were firing an AK-47 into the air. During the fourth song, possibly entitled “Primus”, guitarist Kriller Andersen also joins in on the fun, finishing the track off by solo-ing wildly in the audience in a display that reminds me of Kaleidobolt, who impressed me so much at this same venue a year ago. In fact, there is a lot of commonality between those Finns and Måneskjold, with both bands enlisting the drive and energy of punk rock for spicing up their otherwise feverishly psychedelic music, and both bands preferring to deliver their songs at an astonishing volume, and with all heads and instruments swinging, as we witness during the closing track, “Knuse atomer” (a brand new, as-yet-unreleased single). As energizing as they are mesmerizing, Måneskjold thus manage to leave quite an impression on me, and leave me hoping that this resumption of gigging was not a one-off thing. [8] AP

De Forbandede - by Jimmi Brandt Pedersen

De Forbandede @ 23:00 at Stengade

As I pointed out in my review of “Den evige nat” — De Forbandede’s sophomore album — the Odense-based psychedelic / stoner rockers are a productive bunch, and although this is already my third time watching the band live this year, they once again have new material to present, opening with their brand new single, “Åbn dine øjne”. A slow-burning ballad, it is a brave choice for starting the concert with, leaving the audience a bit perplexed at first, but once “Befri dig selv” brings its bombast and sends both frontman Peter Østergaard and bassist Nicolai Aagaard Rasmussen rocking out in ecstasy, all of that bafflement is swept away. The two musicians really seem to be in their element during these more driving, arena-rocking tracks, more of which arrive in the shape of “Kun jeg er til” and “Byens ødemark”, but as the crowd has begun to dwindle with the approaching midnight, they are fighting a tough battle to translate the intensity of their music and showmanship into an intense concert experience. Ironically, they come closest to doing so with another ballad — the beautifully brooding “Gnist bliver til flammer” — the emotive power of which literally brings Østergaard to his knees, and eventually has him lying on his back as he picks out its melancholy guitar solo. The entire universe seems to be in balance at this moment, and I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a chill crawling down my spine as I take it in. But while this song really stands out and irons it out that De Forbandede can be a truly mesmerizing live act on their day, the rest of the setlist winds up being a bit ordinary by their usual standards, no doubt because there isn’t much of an audience left to engage with. [7] AP

FRIDAY

Blood Child @ 19:00 at Stengade

Blood Child is one of the several groups formed via the Danish Thy Music Collective and brand themselves as a kind of punk rock as far as I have been able to find out. They have a decent turnout of audience members tonight but unfortunately, a few problems with the sound at first as their piano doesn’t appear anywhere in the mix. That is luckily fixed quickly and their post-punk-like, erratically shifting songs can commence. The piano is a nice touch in the guitar-heavy music as it adds an extra kind of thundering dark atmosphere or at other times more light and chiming sounds. There’s a good variation in their material, with some songs being up-tempo and danceable, like the song "Psycho" that makes a mark towards the end of the set, and others being more dark with wailing and tremolo guitars. One song in the middle of their set especially makes a good impression with little crescendos interrupted by breaks that get it started in a stuttering manner before it unfolds in several very different sections that almost feel disconnected and yet end up making sense as the track ends with an almost comedic use of a cowbell. The vocals are classic post-punk, being sort of yelled most of the time, and the lyrics seem to be filled with darkly emotional themes. As they end, their singer increases his low-key yelling to a more full-fledged hurt tone with lyrics like "I’ll take care of you" taking on other, more painful meanings and the audience cheer them on as they end their fine set. [7] LL

Leizure @ 20:30 at Støberiet

As I arrive at the third floor of the library building that houses Støberiet, the band is clearly stretching the time before they have to get on stage as far as possible, most likely because not many people have bothered to show up despite Stengade being crowded just before with a fair amount of people. At 20:50 they get on and break out their post-punk that fits right in the vein of the newly popular strand of the genre that conjures smoky dimly lit bars and frenzied, hazy nights out drinking. They have one self-titled EP out so far, released earlier this year, but they also play some tracks tonight that are not on it. They have a saxophonist who adds welcome ambiance in the music for the slower songs and that extra element of natural chaos to the faster ones where drums, guitar, and vocals fight equally for the front seat in the sound to great effect. Their vocalist paces the stage looking very much the part with his stylish, shiny black shirt, spitting out the vocals in a deep bellowing kind of voice. He exhumes confidence despite him and everyone else in the band seeming pretty young. The floor is awfully calm except for one guy up front really rocking out to the music, and their saxophonist jumping and dancing his best while playing. There are some really nice bass lines carrying many of the songs and tying the chaotic soundscape together nicely, but the atmospheric ballad "Romance and a Hustle" is the one song to mainly stand out in their set here. Like many acts this weekend, they are not the most forthcoming of bands on stage, only performing their songs and not doing much to unite the scattered crowd. After 25 minutes they are done and while their music definitely has potential, the show doesn’t start the party that it could have. [6] LL

TSS @ 21:30 at Koncertkirken

Koncertkirken has been a beautiful setting for every show I have ever seen there but the natural reverb of the huge room can be somewhat of a challenge for the details in the sound. Tonight, though, it works really well for the songs that the instrumental post-rock group TSS (previously known as The Shaking Sensations) present to us. They have not released anything since 2013 but fans will know that they have been working on new material and tonight we are in for a treat as they play these new tracks (that they just finished recording!) in what constitutes "somewhat of a world premiere", as their guitarist Jeppe Christensen remarks with a dry Danish humor. The small crowd is gathered closely up in front of the stage and there’s a really good vibe in the room throughout the set, with the audience reacting very well to the new material. And understandably so, as it sounds dynamic, uplifting, and not least massive, making me pretty excited for the album to actually come out, hopefully soon.

When I first discovered some time ago that they make use of two complete drum kits when playing, I remember thinking of it as excessive but when hearing them live, it makes a lot of sense and seems just right for their sound. The two drummers intricately support each other for parts of certain rhythms but are rarely playing the same stuff, making the soundscape even louder and more atmospheric as cymbals and drums weave in and out of each other and can ring out frantically at the same time. It’s a whole adventure to follow that in itself, and along with the group’s keen sense for writing good but understated melodies, there’s always something interesting going on in every corner of the stage. And really, everything is just so good here – the songs have the added intriguing quality of being new, and the fact that they are being played in this highly atmospheric room just adds to the beauty. Definitely the best and most magical set of this year’s festival. [9] LL

Boundaries stylishly playing at Stengade

Boundaries @ 23:00 at Stengade

Another upcoming band on the bill, the huge sounding pop rock of Boundaries draws in a good amount of people at Stengade now that we’ve hit a time when the Copenhageners actually come out for drinks. My first impression is mainly centered around how loudly they play, with the sound literally being felt pushing through the room throughout the set. They have a great kind of throbbing energy with floating synthesizer soundscapes, pulsating drums and bass, and a wall-of-sound approach recalling a band like Joy Division. The vocalist’s voice sounds huge and effortlessly rolls around the room, competing easily with the massive guitar riffs. Unfortunately, it’s like the loudness of the music washes out some of the finer dynamic details in the music, and some of the danceable main riffs that I have looked forward to hearing here don’t appear very clearly. "Always a Way" as well as "Into the Walls" from their 2018 self-titled EP make memorable appearances in the set but sadly, the music’s potential to really fuel an unhinged performance is never quite resolved. The set ends as the band builds up in intensity only to cut it at the height of it when you would otherwise expect a final bout of guitar madness and it doesn’t work as well in practice as it maybe does in theory. At least the crowd is somewhat dance-ready during the set and there’s a good mood in the room helping to lift the set towards the energy that it should really have dominated us with. [6½] LL

Snail Mail @ 00:30 at Stengade

Snail Mail from Baltimore has been hyped in various indie circles this year and she and her band seem to have also drawn out the bulk of the audience joining for today. Up to half an hour before, people start crowding up close by the stage to be sure to get a good spot, while the band is walking around doing their soundcheck in somewhat of a haze. The explanation comes quickly in the set as we are told they have been awake for way too many hours to make the show after having played in Iceland the night before. Sadly, this seems to affect every aspect of the performance as the short instrumental jams here and there and the general energy in the music is left at a somewhat sleepy, slacker rock level where the otherwise fun and danceable guitar riffs end up sounding blurry and way too similar in style across almost every song. For the fans in the room it doesn’t seem to matter, though, and indeed we get almost all of her debut album "Lush" from earlier this year as well as a number of songs from the preceding EP "Habit". "Heat Wave", "Dirt", and "Slug" thus get us started tonight and especially the latter makes a good impression owing simply to the fact that the ending sees their frontwoman perform almost acapella, resulting in the lyrics being discernable for the first time so far.

It’s a recurring problem that her voice is way more wailing and strained than on record and the way she breaks and intonates these long pitchy notes completely takes out the meaning from the words most of the time like she is not a storyteller but rather an extra instrument in the music. This also works to make the songs seem even more similar in tone and considering the late hour, at least parts of the audience appear as tired as the band, which just isn’t a great cocktail. Of course, the set does get better as we go, with the sweet riffs of "Speaking Terms" and especially the belting of "Full Control" making better than average impressions. "Pristine" towards the end gets the singalong treatment by the adoring crowd for the catchy chorus and bridge especially, but in the back of the venue and in the bar, it seems a number of people are losing their patience and talk breaks out just as the slow and atmospheric "Deep Sea" begins. This is especially hurting the entire end of the set as the band members leave and we get a solo performance of "Anytime", but instead of being a strong and memorable finish, it becomes a lackluster, distracting moment that ends a sleepy set that does have a couple of good sections but never goes beyond. [6½] LL

SATURDAY

Black Light White Light @ 18:00 at Støberiet

This local pop rock band is already three albums into their career, and they are obviously more seasoned than some of the younger bands we see at this venue these days. Still, they struggle with the early timeslot and don’t open their set until 18:15 while the room is slowly visited by a small crowd. Their psychedelic vibes remind me most of all of a band like Tame Impala, with synthesizers filling up their sound as much as groovy bass lines and light, melodic guitars in psychedelic patterns. They play mostly songs from their newest release, with especially "Faster and Faster" making a good impression and really solidifying the more electronic elements in their set with the dominating synth riff in the chorus. The more melancholic "Horizons" is worth mentioning as well with its irresistible melody and great forward-striving energy. Despite their touring experience, though, the lack of a filled room seems to make them somewhat uncomfortable and they never manage to close the gap between themselves and the crowd that in turn remains distant and oddly polite in their responses to the music. They have brought two confetti tubes with them that are shot off at seemingly random moments in the set to no more reaction than a few smiles around the room, and I can’t help but wonder why classic "tricks" like asking the crowd to move closer just a step or inviting dancing or similar is never brought up even though their frontman is communicative enough in between songs. Their atmospheric music is certainly good enough to warrant such crowd reactions but when people are as timid as this, a nudge here and there from the band would go a long way. [6] LL

The Entrepreneurs @ 20:30 at Koncertkirken

The Danish pop rockers of The Entrepreneurs are the biggest local name of the festival this year and sure enough, there’s a small forest of an audience present when they break into their first song. Koncertkirken is drenched in heavy haze and white light from nine light screens backing the group and providing strobe light that becomes pretty menacing in the long run. The characteristic falsetto vocals, that we have come to know through hits like "Brutal Summer" and "It Strikes Again Love" cut sharply through the room, and the music sounds as powerful as ever with the added natural reverb. We don’t get any of those songs, though, as The Entrepreneurs are the second band this festival to perform all of their new upcoming album for us, meaning that the crowd movement is perhaps less than you could have expected. The two already released singles "Heroine" and "Joaquin" of course make appearances while the rest of the songs are previously unknown to us. There’s a good energy as their music roars loudly at us, with especially the song introduced as "Session One" working almost like a complete noise attack. The oddest or most unexpected part of the set consists of a sudden change to rosy, soft lights where the most memorable, moody song of the evening extends into a chime-filled, atmospheric session 10-15 minutes in length where every musician seems to be in their own little world, turning effect knobs and building looping soundscapes but in a not very dynamic way. For some, it seems to work hypnotically but for others, it provides more of a disconnect and a lull here midways in the set. Finally, drum beats begin to be added and the guitars become louder in the mix as the strobes go off once more, finally building into a longer song. They get solid cheers for this and of course, it’s bold but to me, at least, the extensive anti-jam vibe is just too much when it’s left for so long. Anyway, we get nearer to the end of the set as their vocalist performs a more singer-songwriter-like song before "Joaquin" ends in a more festive manner. It’s a lot to expect that an album in its full length will be equally exciting all the way through or work as well live as on record, but once again, the surroundings at Koncertkirken help to make it a special experience and the band definitely succeed in standing out and cementing that their music and songwriting is still interesting and worth watching in the local scene. [7½] LL

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever @ 21:30 at Stengade

The happy indie rock of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever should be able to start a small dancefloor despite its melancholic and somewhat understated manner and sure enough, that is also what happens tonight even as the crowd only fills about half the room. Their rolling bass lines and constant groove keeps the energy up and both drums and bass seemed to have been cranked up a notch here. Along with the band’s great performance attitude, I’m positively surprised to find that their music is more energetic and fun here than I would have expected. However, their way of writing and the constantly similar drum patterns diminishes somewhat the changes between verse and chorus and blurs out the distinctions between the songs that roll at us in the same constant waves. They have three guitarists in front who all seem to take turns with singing, changing who is the lead in each song despite them not having super different voices, which makes it seem a bit random. Towards the end of their set, songs like "Colours Run" and "Mainland" highlight the fun and happy riffs in their music and it’s at times like this that the band makes the greatest impact on the floor as well. Overall, they play a decent set and certainly they have one of the better vibes in the room this year, but it also quickly begins to feel somewhat uninspired. [6] LL

Listener @ 23:00 at Stengade

The American spoken word post-hardcore band Listener are by far the most important name to me on the line-up this year and as a short person, I thus arrive in well ahead of their show to be able to see properly. Problems with the sound desk have appeared since the last show but despite a worryingly lengthy sound check, the band ends up playing only ten minutes behind schedule. Their new album "Being Empty : Being Filled" from earlier this year features heavily on the setlist but we get a number of classics from the older "Wooden Heart" as well. A dynamic version of "Seatbelt Hands" appears early in the set and the melancholic and slow "Wooden Heart" marks the center of the set beautifully with its long guitar notes and slowly marching beat underneath their vocalist's emotional delivery of lyrics. There’s a stark contrast to most of the still-standing Danish bands at the festival to the constant movement and energy being slammed out from the stage now and it’s refreshing, to say the least. Especially the group’s rightmost guitarist is constantly spinning around himself, kicking or stomping his foot, or headbanging along to the more aggressive parts of their songs. The chaotic "Little Folded Fingers" as well as the single "Add Blue" about Marie Curie from their latest release especially make their impact as their drummer goes just as crazy as the rest of them, changing up the rhythm in a constant onslaught before the guitarists faze out the song in a turning of knobs and pressing of pedals.

Because of the wildness inherent in the music, the busy lyrics are not always very clear to follow and drown out a bit in the mix but somehow it doesn’t constitute much of a problem, partly because the music is so dynamic and interesting on its own and partly because the band is good at leaving more spacious sections where the vocals can then be heard more clearly. "a Love Letter to Detroit" makes a mark as well in this way, unifying loud guitar-focused moments and more quiet ones where the lyrics get to make the additional impact that they’re supposed to. The emotional "Falling in Love with Glaciers" traditionally ends the 45-minute set and finally sees their frontman pick up the trumpet that has been standing on the stage in front of him throughout. It’s a great set and overall, they just come off as such open-hearted likable guys that you would have to be made out of stone to not have a good time with them. It would not have hurt a bit for the set to be just a few songs longer, but I suppose we will have to just wait for that to happen next time they come around which will hopefully be soon. [8½] LL

Bigger crowd for Nothing

Nothing @ 00:30 at Stengade

The American noise/shoegaze band Nothing seems to have made loud sound levels and lethargic yet emotional singing their specialty and just like Snail Mail yesterday, they have drawn out the biggest crowd of the day despite the late timeslot. The problems with the sound desk persist, though, and they get a late start just like Listener before them. They take it all very relaxed and positively, however, despite it taking some time for the levels to really pan out. It’s loud as it’s supposed to be and that carries them through more than anything, because as we get further into the set filled with drowsy but huge guitar riffs, the band seem increasingly drunk, firing off some random and slow-paced banter, and spending way too long tuning guitars. It’s mostly fun, to begin with, and they are definitely on the level with certain parts of the audience that seems to have a hard time just keeping their balance by now. Their vocalist is good at engaging the audience, getting laughs and cheers out of people for saying things like "This song’s about not being able to be in a healthy relationship with any other person on the face of the earth", and when the bass momentarily cuts out and we have to wait for a bit: "It’s already 1 o’clock, you guys got nowhere to be, so let’s just get the booze flowing".

As they just released their new album "Dance on the Blacktop" earlier this year, we get most cuts from that, where especially the catchy "Us/We/are" and "Blue Line Baby" make great impressions in the midst of the noise wall. While they do sink into their own music in a very classic noise-band way, they don’t seem full of themselves, for instance cutting off on noisy effect galore sections like the ending of "B&E", so they don’t drag on forever, underlining the punk attitude that is also present in their music. Their use of double harmonies in the vocals sound super ominous most of the time when paired with their raw guitar energy, and especially "Curse of the Sun" cements this, as well as the creepy "A.C.D. (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)". "Vertigo Flowers" also deserves a mention as it lands in the set at just the right time to keep the energy up with its danceable tempo and massive guitar tempo change.

The crowd is really into the whole set, not just bopping their heads but rocking to the heavy music with their entire bodies. When the crowd gets rowdy at the announcement of the end of the set, their frontman admits that "We drink ourselves into a coma every night, so we don’t have anything else, this is all that’s in here" while knocking his fist against his head. Nevertheless, they play the heroes and agree to play two more songs instead of one, the chosen ones being "(Hope) Is Just Another Word with a Hole In It" with delicious use of guitars that echo the vocals and finally the amazing "Eaten By Worms" with its distinct "Creep"-like chords. The whole show is over at 2 a.m. but the crowd has been steadily thinning since halfway through the set. Still, it’s a fine ending to the Saturday of the festival despite the sound troubles initially. [8] LL

FINAL WORDS

And that’s all for this year’s coverage of Sorte Firkant Musikfestival! We hope to return next year and hope that many more will do the same as the festival hopefully slowly builds its reputation for good bookings and interesting venues. Lastly, here are our traditional "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" bullet points:

  • THE GOOD
  • The venues are good and very different, thus providing nice and distinct settings for the different bands
  • Bar prices are affordable across the board
  • Interesting bookings in several genres

  • THE BAD
  • Cold November weather seems to impact how people can’t be bothered to walk the few hundred meters from Stengade to the cluster of other venues to check out upcoming names – maybe scheduling the more popular international names in Koncertkirken or Støberiet could have an impact on this?

  • THE UGLY
  • Many of the bands playing to not even half-filled rooms is such a shame when the bookings are actually on point

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