I was not free of excitement, as I put on my heaviest jacket and headed out into the autumn darkness to go to Radar at Godsbanen on Friday night. The occasion was the fourth annual Aarhus Psych Fest: The baby sister of Austin Psych Fest (now: “Levitation”), that in previous years has hosted bands like Tales of Murder and Dust, Get Your Gun and Destruction Unit. This year was my first, so I didn’t know what to expect, other than skillfully executed, challenging music.
Even though I had no idea what it was going to be like, I did, of course, have certain presumptions about the music, the demography of the audience and so on, but now, as I am sitting here writing this after the fact, I can’t recall exactly what they were. All I know now is, that I found the opening act, Turquoise Sun, to be perfect for something that called itself a Psych Fest – even though I knew that “Psych” is used more as an umbrella term for the festival to cover a freely composed misc of underground/alternative bands.
Doors were at 19:30 and Turquoise Sun came on somewhere around 20:08. A bit “slacky”, but more charmingly than annoyingly so. To me, they became a microcosmic reflection of the festival that followed: As intense and challenging as their music and soundscapes could be, in the space between the songs they were much more relaxed, making stoned remarks and creating a familiar ambience in the venue. It also crafted a sense in the audience as being more of a partaker than a passive bystander – something that was augmented even further with the interactive art that was set up in the little tent outside.
The setup for Psych Fest in Godsbanen works really well for the concept of this little two-day festival, as well as it helps create it: In the concrete plateau in front of Radar, usually filled with skaters, they’d set up a tent and some artsy video installations by Natural Psycho Bitches an Det Digitale Atelier, the latter had created a piece you could mess around with the controls for. Sound artist Filip Ja was the mind behind two pallet sofas with built-in ambient from two speakers that activated when you sat in them. The theme was construction, and the message seemed to be: “Your being here has an effect on what you experience.” – A statement to which one could be tempted to add: “Like, totally maaaan.” – But actually, the whole thing was done in a nice and subtle way. Almost too subtle.
Between each act, more or less everybody would head out to smoke and digest the music, with the silent visuals splashing out on the wall behind them, only to hurry back in to not miss the next sonic experience. When that was Norman Westberg (of Swans fame) they almost fell over themselves to get in in time to catch it all. And it was not in vain. The tall thin American conjured up a massive intense sound piece that had every jaw floored in the packed venue for the full 40 minutes he played. Many of the people I talked to had gotten their tickets just to catch him, and he didn’t let anybody down.
Radar was a good size for all the acts, but it was still nice that the festival also sought outside of that frame, even though the two venue changes that happened on both days both had their up- and downsides.
The best change was on the first day when everybody had to head into Den Rå Hal – A concrete hall next door from Radar, that is used for indoor fairs and such – to experience Nils Gröndahl creating spaces with his violin, a ton of pedals and five guitar amplifiers. In spite of the confusion for some of the people that hadn’t gotten the memo and therefore missed the opening, it worked wonders. And again a positive communal feeling was created in the audience by this excursion. We were all in this together as “the psych fest crowd”.
The same thing was attempted on day 2, when we got asked to head out to the tent where Helena Rebensdorff was playing. Initially, it went quite well, but 40 minutes of complete stillness under the dark grey clouds of autumn just takes it’s toll. Especially when the music is this challenging. The crowd diminished slowly as people succumbed to their shaking limbs and cold asses. But that didn’t take much away from the grand total of the fourth annual Aarhus Psych Fest as a cool underground festival that invites you to join the community of the scene; it all ended with a packed room tripping out (musically) to the retro sounds of Causa Sui.
If you like music, but haven’t been yet: Go next year!
Here’s some Norman Westberg for ya!