Beginning as a purely local affair, the Spot festival - located in Denmark’s impossibly lovely Aarhus - has grown to become an essential part of the Euro festival calendar.
For four days it overwhelms the city, turning small bars into venues and playing host to innumerable PRs, A&R and other industry folk, keen to pick out the hottest in rising Scandinavian talent. It's to the organiser's - and the city's - great credit that it never feels 'businessy' with the Friday and the Saturday focussing on showcasing an astonishingly eclectic array of bands, artists and musical collectives. By its nature, a trip to Spot is only going to be a tiny slice of the action.
We started the Friday with slick soul pop star Patrick Dorgan. A sort of Danish Robin Thicke - with considerably more charm - he struts confidently around the stage in front of a packed audience who lap up his every thrust, particular on hit single ‘Marilyn’. He clearly knows what he’s doing - but what he’s doing is not for us and we sneak out after a few tracks to see what’s happening over at the Aarhus Volume stage.
Hip-hop and R&B is the order of the day here. Kaaliyah is a clear highlight: tough yet sensitive anthems with trap beats and a dash of vocoder to complement her gorgeous vocals. There’s clear potential here and we wouldn’t be surprised to see her break out into the pop mainstream. Less exciting is rap collective Rigforevigt - after Kaaliyah’s warmth their harsh sound and bad boy moves feel cliched and old hat.
Happily, Skylar Fri’s melodic, widescreen electro-pop over at Atlas is a beautiful remedy. Her songs have a lilting melancholy that perfectly matches her ethereal vocals, while the music has an undeniable 80s influence. One thing this festival proves is that there’s an abundance of excellent female Scandinavian pop talent.
Over at Bora Bora Felines are summoning some seriously hazy vibes. On record, the Copenhagen-based four-piece sound like a slightly rough ‘n’ ready take on The Breeders. Here though, they echo Warpaint’s brooding, soft-focus rock. There’s both an intriguing mystery and an understated humour to their music. They return in the small hours for a second set at the tiny, packed Sway bar.
We, however, stick around for the next act at Bora Bora. Roxy Jules finishes the night off with a set that feels like it should be taking place in Twin Peaks’ Bang Bang bar. Jules prowls the stage, her appealingly smoky and evocative vocals a contrast to her guitarist’s growling guitar and twangy rock riffs.
Spot likes to party hard. Still the heat and the hangover wasn’t going to stop me from making it into town for the first band of the day: daftly-named local string ensemble, Who Killed Bambi on the Spot Royal stage. Accompanied by vocalist Asbjørn - decked out in a hideous yellow track suit - they make for a slightly goofy - but very enjoyable start to the day, playing to a crowd of locals and everyday tourists as well as festival goers. The vibe is friendly and relaxed in a way that British city festivals rarely are.
Just a couple of streets away, Sway is holding an afternoon party, with two of the weekend’s more hyped artists. First up is Ida Kudo. The electro-pop star has buzz behind her thanks to her impressive recent single, 'Wolf', and she doesn’t disappoint here, giving one of the best performances of the festival to a crowd of about 40 lucky people. Wolf sounds great, but her older track Jinx is The One - a cool, beat heavy, bass monster that has us trying to dance in the crammed bar. Keep a keen eye on Kudo - she’s a brilliant, eccentric star in the making.
The crowd grows for Luster, but we’re less convinced by their jangly, 80s-influenced indie rock. All bleached blonde hair and punk attitude they look like they're having a wail of a time on stage and the audience is into it, but there’s little truly memorable here.
The same cannot be said for IKI back at Bora Bora. The all-female vocal group are channeling the power of the human voice (and, uh, possibly the entire COSMOS) in the most breathtaking set we saw at the festival. Masked and standing in a swirl of psychedelic colours, they combine the most minimal of electronics with strikingly beautiful harmonies. Think Medúlla-era Björk to the power of five, they’re by turns eerie and enchanting. They’re also exceptional - the best band we saw at the festival.
The Tape stage is comparatively far from the heart of the action, but emblematic of Spot’s DIY spirit, located as it is in a warehouse near the waterfront. A fortune teller lurks in a tent, the drinks served by drag queens and, standing on a bucket and flailing around is Hampus Sunden of Malmo's Sista Bossen, playing an earlier set than planned. A theatrical ball of energy, he moves like a less malevolent Ariel Pink, while the band play bezerk garage rock. It's raw, ridiculous - and really good fun.
By the time we get back to the huge Musikhuset Rytmisk Sal, When Saints Go Machine are already taking the stage. One of the biggest acts of the weekend, the electro-pop band have been on hiatus since 2013. They return in a different, more ambitious form - and there are few concessions to casual fans in their set here.
Suffused in smoke and lit by a piercing spotlight that glares out into the audience, they’re clearly intent on doing things their way. That leads to a certain sense of unease - our neighbour whispers, "if they would just play a hit..." - but the songs from their recent 'It’s A Mad Love' EP hint at an exciting future for the band - and their Killer Mike collaboration 'ArrowThroughSkinOutOfBlueSky' goes off like a bomb.
Finally for the night - and for my festival - were MALMØ. Decked out entirely in white and backed up by a quintet of jaw-dropping dancers twirling, spinning and flexing through the audience, they're an astonishing sensory experience. Happily, the band and the songs are just as good. Fronted by Maria Malmø (ah, so it’s not just a generic band name), they’re somewhere between The Knife and Sigur Rós. She’s an exquisite singer with a voice of crystal clarity.
A beautiful end to a weekend that makes you want to dive in and fully explore this country and its thriving modern music scene.
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Words: Will Salmon
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