A Danish love affair with new music...

“I give SPOT ten Danish hot dogs out of ten”, Ísak Ásgeirsson tells Clash. A label manager of Welfare Sounds, an independent record company based in Gothenburg, Sweden, Ásgeirsson sees the festival as a platform where his label and the artists “can take the leap to the Danish and other international music markets.”

Truth be told, he is not alone in thinking this way. Danish and Scandinavian music as a whole are in a good place, and the scale of its success is the focus of this festival. As for the cultural reference to the Danish hot dog, Ásgeirsson is right about that too.

SPOT Festival 2019 oozes a sweet confidence without a trace of arrogance. It is a blend of accessibility, openness and possibility. Scandinavia’s music scenes and industries are reaching more people and markets than ever, and as the music gains further reach, the benefits of curiosity, fascination and enthusiasm follow suit. To witness some of this unfold is special and mind-blowing in equal measure.

The festival has been going for 25 years. As for Aarhus, or Århus, Denmark’s second largest city, its time of being in the shadow of Copenhagen is a distant memory. A university city, it has a royal conservatoire fostering an autonomous and individual culture, which makes it the ideal location for hosting such a large celebration of new music.

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Performing at SPOT this year are Swedish band MANKIND. Having played in Aarhus once before, they fell in love with the city. “The architecture here is just amazing and the people too”, says their frontman Arthur Onion, “It is just so cool to have a student town with a lot of young folks and the kind of energy that goes into that especially when they get the opportunity to do stuff.”

Also celebrating more than two decades in operation is the Copenhagen based record label Crunchy Frog. Spending a quarter of a century at the forefront of independent music releases, their anniversary is marked with a full-blown party combined with the exciting prospect of launching of a string of music events sprinkled across the year.

Diversity in genre and a nuanced representation of the music industries is at the heart of SPOT’s agenda, and rarely does a festival successfully represent pop, rock, indie, metal, hip hop and folk. There is just something for everybody. To match, it offers panel discussions incorporating topics like sync deals, publishing, A&R, digital streaming and playlisting, podcasts and music blogs.

Among the mass of live performances there are many highlights. Having released her album titled ‘I thought I’d Be More Famous By Now’, the quirky pop eccentricity of Special-K, whose real name is Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir, offers arty, fragmented coherence. The Icelandic singer is entertaining and funny, and though her songs deal with the darker sides of life, she delivers them with sincerity matched by clever subtlety. The stimulating, quirky-kitsch dress code and visuals go hand in hand with her music.

Later that evening something else is about to unfold at Musikhusets Store Sal – the return of Copenhagen trio Efterklang. To assume they had disappeared altogether is understandable, but tonight’s set serves to remind us why they have been much missed. Accompanied by the Belgian ensemble B.O.X, whose niche focuses around the mastery of baroque instruments, the band deliver something new based on their existing material. There is no trace of big ego, and their smiling, bare-footed frontman Casper Clausen plays his part in delivering a flawless set including the track ‘Ghosts’.

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Having reached over 11 million streams on Spotify with ‘Complicated’, there is no doubt that the Danish pop singer Alexander Oscar ticks essential boxes for his young audience, dancing and jumping to the beat. Dressed in a black and white tee with matching shorts, he encourages everyone to enjoy it and have fun. The energy is there, the vibe is friendly, liberating and totally Scandinavian.

By way of contrast, Icelandic guitar band Fufanu’s presence and energy is something else entirely. This is epic, mesmerising and compelling music. Dressed to impress, they clearly have something to say and even more to give. Kaktus Einarsson, the band’s frontman, engages, entertains and impresses with his rich use of wit, confidence and charisma. Sounding dark and brooding at times, with a firm musical reference point placed in 1980s new wave era, their sound is rich and grandiose, current and contemporary.

After a couple of music industry sessions it is time for a brisk 25 min walk away from the main festival area. The destination is Tapetown at Lydhavnen situated in the south east part of Aarhus, a hub of recording studios and sound services. Members of the female three-piece Dark Times are due to play a ‘Tapetown Session’, and the combination of listening to their raw, energetic alt-rock and soaking up the creative vibe is an hour well spent.

A force to be reckoned with The Entrepreneurs more than justify all the hype that’s been surrounding them. As one of the leading Scandinavian noise rock bands, their live sound is massive, they have a stage presence and the songs to match, equally arresting and romantic, the set perfectly captures the vibrancy of Danish guitar music right now.

The stage time of 00.45 in the morning only adds to electronica three-piece Chinah’s genius atmospherics and dark layers of mystique. Singer Fine Glindvad, who delivers a chunk of the set lying on a sofa on stage, transforms this into a trippy, adventurous and spell-binding affair purely led by creativity and originality, a space where any sense of normality or convention ceases, and the idea of limitation is absent throughout.

Having survived times when touring bands from the UK and the US did not always bother playing in Denmark - a time that is not entirely over - the thriving Danish and Nordic music scenes pose the question as to whether there still is as great a need for Anglo-American bands to stop by.

Short? Probably. Sweet? Most definitely, SPOT Festival 2019 delivers fully on creativity, innovation and surprise, which makes it one of the most relevant festivals. With a finger placed right on the pulse targeting, not only where music is at but also where it is heading, makes this festival a complete must for anyone who needs and wants to be ahead of the game, rather than just be in there for the sake of it.

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Words: Susan Hansen

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