Aarhus Psychfest 2015 – A Weekend To (Sort Of) Remember
I was not sure what angle to “review” this year’s Aarhus Psych Fest at – does one tackle the seemingly insurmountable task of trying to pick apart each single band’s performance, give a broad-spectrum crib note to the whole thing or simply hack away at it as an audience member who enjoyed most of it and was down in the trenches with the masses?
I’ll go WWI style and give you the grit from down in the trenches – not unlike some kind of war – there was conflict, resolution, compromise, pain and some rules being broken and adhered to over the campaign.
I’m aware now that the term “Psych” is an umbrella term being used to encompass many different genres of rock now. This festival – especially the first day – was all about pushing the limits and borders of what could justifiable fall under the aforementioned umbrella. Once you let go of the fact that “Psych”, here at least, does not mean necessarily ‘psychedelic music’, you can appreciate the scope and overall vibe (or lack thereof) of this 2-day mini-festival – held now in it’s third year at Radar and the adjoining industrial warehouse of Rå hall. Two very different settings for many different kinds of expression.
Friday began with the feeling that it was some kind of giant game of “Clue” or some film adaptation of a party game. All the parties were arriving and imbibing, socializing and making pleasantries – but tense in not really knowing what was going to happen. At 20:00 Puja hit the stage. Puja are a 3-man instrumental act that specialize in a post and math-rock interpretation of Middle Eastern music. There were absolutely no faults with their performance – it seemed very structured and metered out – the lads seemed to communicate with each other very well, and at some point, I even saw the guitarist smile – the only smile in fact I would see on stage the whole weekend. I think Puja were a great way to open the festival, of course the house was far from full yet, and the crowd far from reaching that point of intoxication from either chemicals or music. Puja had their moments – however the crowd was seemingly as wooden at this point as the performance was plotted.
Next up was the first performance in the Rå hall – German band, Camera. For me, this was one of the two bands over the course of the weekend that I came away from actually both wanting to see more of, and wanting to have play again very soon in a stand-alone concert. Camera undeniably played what we know refer to as ‘Kraut-rock’ – a driving instrumental wall of noise driven by tight percussion (this time delivered by floor drums and a gong), static synth lines, and electric guitar. There were visuals on a screen behind them and the cavernous industrial train station-esque building was shook up to the rafters with their pounding jams. When you are hearing a bunch of German guys playing this kind of music – and so well – you just cannot help thinking that they are heavily influenced by the classic era of pre-punk Kraut-rock acts like Neu!, Can and Kraftwerk. Camera played an often more organically evolving interpretation of german art-rock, but it was the real deal – with no pretentions. Pretention is a word that we will expand on a bit later. In just under an hour – Camera’s near seamless set was over though. People were starting to arrive.
I was trying to gauge what kind of person comes to Psych-fest in 2015. I just could not get a true grasp on it. All varieties of young hip fashions were represented. There were a hand-full of post-punk looking kids over here – a hand full of hippies here, a hand full of heavier looking folks here, a couple of goths, a couple of boring looking people who were evidently from a radio show or another magazine here, a Viking dude, a few teeny bopper eye brow tarts – basically a virtual buffet of all different types of folks – or people dressed up as folks – it made me happy. Unlike most shows though in this town – the crowd didn’t seemed to bothered with phones and talking inside – of course the terminal cancer of live concerts of this modern age. For now, we were kicking it old-school. Just drinking and listening.
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Radar at this point really began to fill up though – almost seemingly out-of-the blue. I realized at this point though that there were a whole bunch of semi-casual guests who had come to see Nils Grondahl. I had never seen Grondahl before – and I was absolutely blown away. Nils is kind of a unique person in the Danish music scene I gather. He again – absolutely has no pretentions about himself I gather. I realized while he was on stage that I had just sat next to him outside for a little while before his set – he just simply had a black tee and jeans on – looking like some I.T. guy from Siemens or something. That all washed away when he struck his electrified violin on stage – blending together different octaves through strings and creating a sort of one-man doom symphony.
His 45 minute or so set had me completely enraptured – he’s also the real deal. The crowd however seemed to turn on him. Half of the place began talking two songs in – and then when Nils began singing (In German), there was a large group of guys laughing and making fun of it. They weren’t even shooshed or reprimanded. I honestly wanted to strangle them. I though I would earmark them in my line-of sight and then have a word outside, ask them why the fuck they thought this was so funny. Grondahl was on his knees plowing at his instrument – taking the mic off of it at some point and applying it to his throat and screaming. It was dystopic and programmatic; it was absolutely the most vital show of the weekend – yet the audience didn’t seem to give a flying fuck. Then it was me against most of the audience. It put a damper on my vibe. Why were we here? Were the tickets that cheap that Friday’s meeting point for dickheads had been Psych-fest?
Next up was RA – a band that really confused me. I can stretch the meaning of Psych pretty far in my mind’s eye – but Ra just seemed out of place. Their sound was post-punk or British indie. I understand its great to look cool and distant on stage when you play this sort of music – but there are literally hundreds of other bands that do this better – they could have put on a better show in my opinion – but with material that is supposed to be one thing, but ends up sounding like one of Graham’s songs from Blur (the whole set), it just doesn’t do it. The band looked like they didn’t give a shit, the vocals (sung in a mockney accent) were drenched in slap-back reverb – rendering them almost un-listenable, and the crowd seemed to be thinning rapidly. I stuck around – honestly because it was the first time I was able to get one of the 4 seats piled around the wing of the stage. Ra I’m very sorry, seemed a bit out of place and pretentions for this line-up. They were the next to last act on stage – and not even one band you could call “psych” had been up to bat. That was about to change, though.
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And Change it would. The place filled up again for the final band of the night – Fribyttedrømme. It was fairly obvious that a lot of one day tickets had been sold to see these dudes – so I stuck in there, despite a nasty headache – to see what all the fuss was about. It was fuss indeed.
When you ask any musically inclined person on the street what the definition of “psychedelic” music is – their going to come up with an approximation of images like “bands with a tambourine player”, “songs about taking drugs in the desert” and “nasal poetic lead-singer with lots of people on stage”. This band has it all. It’s retro-rock that could only be made and appreciated by and for Danes. I have come to appreciate (or if I’m honest, tolerate) the lush history that is Danish Acid rock – from Steppeulverne to C.V. Jørgensen to the Wands and De Underjordiske. I completely get that in 2015 – if you have a gig called “Psych-fest”, you’re going to need to have a band like this. It’s just that half-way through their set I had what I can only assume was a kind of musical panic attack and went outside for a breath of the fresh autumn air and my last cigarette. When the cigarette was done, there was no one left outside. I heard the meandering acid-rock sounds coming from the full venue, and my hood went up, my headphones went in, and somehow, without notifying any of my friends in the trenches inside, just legged it home and made toast in my underwear and put on a Bee Gees album. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but sometimes you just have to take care of yourself before you lose your mind and destroy everything that is near to your heart out of your own fulfillment for life.
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Saturday was a new day. I didn’t hold any grudges or expectations – it’s how I roll. I was fresh as I possibly could be, and ready to see what APF had to offer me on this dark and nasty evening. Admittedly I was a bit late to the party – as 18.45 was just too goddamned early to be there for 7-8 hours of more. I did however get in to see Kogekunst in the Rå hall. Immediately, I felt a sense of relief – for this was really what I needed from Psych fest after the challenging line-up of Friday. Kogekunst was undoubtedly a psych-rock band – very dark and heavy at times, but more to the classic edge of an interpretation of psychedelic art-rock. The real star of their set however were the awesome visuals by Halucinoptic Rex (pictured above and in the very top photo) – a traditional oil and overhead projector artist, broadcasting his blobs of light on the screen behind the band. When you think of arty 60s music – you really think of oil art – like Andy Warhol’s factory. I wish this dude could have stayed and did all the bands – but alas – apparently he had something else better to do too. The crowd were dragging their feet in, like myself probably.
We moved back into Radar just in time for the first act of the evening on the proper stage, The Brazierlights In The Window. I’m really sorry to report that I have nothing good to say about this act. It was a brazenly twee retro-shoegaze act that positively bombed. Shoegaze of course is a genre that has been threatening to come back in various modern guises for almost a decade now. As a new generation becomes enthralled with Slowdive, Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine – they rush out and get a bunch of pedals and Fender Jags and wax poetic over a wall of reverb and dreamy noise. I’m kind of sick of it now to be honest – and it borders on offensive to me at times for some reason – maybe it’s a ‘thou shalt not worship false idols’ kind of pain I feel – I don’t know. Pain was the best word I can use describe Brazierlights set though. The singers voice was like a Disney version of Placebo’s front-man – what text I could discern was fluffy and romantic, most of the songs went on for…I don’t know…months…and it was if they just put 2 chords together and fucked it through some effects and patted themselves on their backs. Most of the folks I talked to outside had a similar opinion. Oh well.
The Foreign Resort was still on the retro-side of indie as well. I must admit – I actually really liked it – but only because I secretly wish the Cure had made all of their albums sound like “Pornography” – which in turn – was a serious nod to Joy Division – which of course spawned all kinds of 2000s rock like Interpol, Soft Moon and Editors. Foreign resort took this exact sound and hammered it home. Again – I couldn’t help thinking that Foreign Resort seemed really out of place – but people loved it, it was tight, they had loads of energy, and I can’t fault them for being booked. These guys are festival ready – and when I say “festival”, I mean like – the daytime in an up-and-coming tent somewhere in Europe on a hot summer day. I kind of felt that Foreign Resort were like a guy with his shirt off drinking Red Bull at a Tennis match – you look at them and go: “fuckin’ ay man…do it!” and that’s it.
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The next act; The Love Coffin, were my all-time favorites of the weekend. I love it when you have absolutely no-idea who a band is, and what they’re gonna do, and they just come on an blow your mind. The Love Coffin played a blistering set of slightly folk tinged psych-rock, with snarling and growling lead vocals and epic songs that tended to build and explode into a frenzy without using every common clichéd trick in the rock book. Any pretensions that they had were just totally justified by their songs and performance. It’s very rare that I see a band that I just can’t put a finger on what they sound like – total originals. I mean – the singer had this presence like Ian McCollach (Echo And The Bunnymen) – they had the songs – sometimes like some deeper cuts from The Las – but also the chops and energy to back it up. The energy came from the music though – not from any kind of “love me love me, we’re rock stars, let’s have a party” kind of nonsense – but through genuinely just existing as they should have on the damn stage. I found the audience though for some reason got restless and began chatting and talking – sometimes even in the front row – people had their backs to the band at one point and were laughing and taking selfies – I mean…am I crazy? Have some fucking respect for yourself at least if you can’t sit still through a band’s set. Still – all of the shenanigans going on around me didn’t ruin it for me – I want to know more about this band, and I will. On my own time, not yours.
Oh! I got so excited from wanting to tell you about Love Coffin that I forgot a band somewhere in there in the Rå hall. Bleach Blondes. Actually – the other great performance of the day I thought! Here was some properly energetic psych-rock for some dudes just loving what they do. The Ra hall was absolutely rammed – and the sound just positively filled up the room. It was such a beautiful noise – such an affirmation of why we were here – to see some relatively unknown bands – play some dark and loud music and get their rocks off. Between Bleach Blondes and Love Coffin – this hour and a half of madness was absolutely the highlight of the weekend. And then – the universe began to unravel.
The last two acts of the night were ones that I was kind of dreading to be honest. I felt like I had used up all my ear-energy on the previous sets and my body and mind were just…were just done. It was like running a marathon at this point (I guess). Your mind just shuts down and you try and keep some sort of pace and…survive and complete the task. Unfortunately however – I would survive, but I did not complete the task – or rather my assignment, which was to write about every band I saw and tell you about it. More on that later.
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Deadpan Interference I thought were really solid and great – although apparently my opinion was not shared with many I spoke to outside. I guess Deadpan Interference, with their 2 girls and 2 guys kinda ratio, were kind of on the grungy noise side of indie. I didn’t see many ties to psych-rock, however they were loud and loose. Kind of like a messed up PJ Harvey with a Swans influence. I dunno, maybe I’m saying that because there were girls in the band. Man though, the audience was thin and those that were in seemed zonked and formless – like just hanging on to life even. I felt the same to be honest. Deadpan just seemed to suck the energy right out of me – maybe it was the red lights, maybe it was the material. I felt like I was leaving my body – not in a transcendental way – or a trans-migrational way – but in a forcibly un-possessed kind of way – stabbed with an iron sword, or buried in a spell. I waited until Deadpan were done and quietly slinked out the door into the night to have a little walk around the property. Over the hill behind radar into the little shanty village – a fire was lit – there is a teepee, or a yurt, there are static trains sitting there, un-moving and still, there are stray cats and rabbits darting between the darn buildings and islands of greenery, there is the smell of wood smoke, the sound of scooters and the darkened ring of Aros floating over the city like a crown. I walked towards radar again – heard a metal noise of aggression and power – I heard the sounds of people destroying their instruments, I felt awful. I followed my feet home once more.
So I didn’t even catch Destruction Unit – I’m sorry. Actually – no I’m not. I got enough. I did fucking bail on the last band, I did go to the whole entire weekend on the company dime to see it – to witness it, I did sit down for hours pondering it and writing about it for you – so I don’t feel like I’m letting anyone down.
Psych fest this year had some crazy high and low points. There were not many transcendental moments or snapshots of unpredicted madness – however – it did what it was supposed to. It gave people a place to go and do basically whatever they fuck they wanted and listen to some decent music, for not really that much money. Do I know what “psych” is after attending? Hell no. Will I go again? Yes. Yes because I love the unexpected surprise of seeing a great band, or bands I never would have encountered on my own.
My only true critique of the festival at times was the way the audience behaves – pompous and irreverent at times, spoiled and petulant, acting understimulated when there are actually so many moments to behold – both onstage and off. But really I’m not ever going to be able to change someone – we’re all grown ups looking for a good time – and I hope a good time was had by all. I’ll remember last weekend fondly.