Nordic Noise 2014

author TL date 27/05/14

While hardly one of the largest or most prolific festivals in Denmark, the Nordic Noise weekend which was held for the first time last year is nonetheless one whose mission statement is close to the heart of Rockfreaks.net. Created with the combined forces of the label Target, the booking agency Newborn and the venue Pumpehuset the initiative emerged to plant a rallying flag and stand against the otherwise prevailing sentiment that the rock scene in Denmark is dead or at the very least stagnant. The event's virgin voyage was not without its infant issues, suffering low turnouts in its early opening hours for instance, but nonetheless it did manage to attract an eclectic, hard rocking mix of both bands and fans both domestic and international, and as the dust settled the organisers remained resolved to go for round two here in the year that's followed.

With lessons learned the 2014 program featured a number of changes, among them contracting the schedule to cater to most Copenhageners' disinterest for showing up for anything before the evening, and billing more of the bands on the venue's smaller stages to avoid the gaping emptiness that threatens even bigger bands when they attempt to fill the considerable upstairs room. Sadly the event was struck by bad fortune this year, with perhaps the biggest name on the bill - the critically acclaimed Kellermensch - opting to retire from their commitment to the event due to needing extra time to work on the finishing of their next album. A great shame for sure, yet one the organisers accommodated swiftly by cutting Friday's ticket price in half, preserving the fairness of the evening's proposition and thus adding the final bit of pretext before the first day of the festival eventually arrived:

Friday:

Friday's pictures courtesy of Blurred.dk

Lowrider Betty @ Outside Stage

One of the improvements made by Pumpehuset's ownership over the past couple of years is the furnishing of a beer garden style outside area complete with a bar and classic Danish hotdog stand (both of which take card. Sweet!) and with faith in the weather gods this had been chosen as the setting for the first two bands of the event. The young quintet Lowrider Betty must have done something to piss off that pantheon however, because their set start coincides with a sudden deluge that send the otherwise decent crowd away from the stage and over to hide under the garden's large tree.

Pumpehuset's outside area - Stage to the left, bar behind the tree and hotdog stand in the corner.

Opening with a very Muse-ish number, the group's fondness for Guns N' Roses soon becomes apparent however, with their provocatively dressed frontman singing impressively high vocals over instrumentals characterised by groove and swagger. What sticks most about the performance is the band's attitude when it comes to overcoming the circumstances, with the singer and their Dave Grohl lookalike of a lead guitarist soon leaving the stage to face the crowd from atop the abandoned benches and tables in the middle of the area, from which they barely miss a note despite having left the safety of their monitors.

Their tightness and approach are exactly as you want them then, yet it sounds like their sound still needs development in terms of identity, and their singer is writing checks with his rehearsed moves and notes that the confidence in his eyes can't quite cash, but for a young group such as this, these are developmental areas that are entirely forgivable. A solid beginning to the night's proceedings. [7]

Kill The Rooster @ Outside Stage

The other band to play outside today is the familiar technical punk trio Kill The Rooster, which Rockfreaks have encountered often enough. They face noticeably better weather as the rain all but cleared midway through Lowrider Betty, yet having almost been relocated to the indoor stage while things were at their wettest, it seems like KtR haven't had the best conditions in terms of sound check. Struggling with an uneven mix, the band - which thrives more on defiant weirdness than on the more extroverted exuberance of the previous act - only draws the retracted audience nearer ever so slowly. Their material still speaks for itself, as a highlight like the contrastful and catchy "Fantasizing" underscores, but overall a hesitant mood prevails, along with the feeling that KtR didn't quite form a connection with listeners who weren't already familiar with them prior to tonight's performance. [6½]

Le Fox Holes @ Foyer Stage

Arriving inside Pumpehuset as the evening draws on, the job of getting things started in here has been assigned to Le Fox Holes, who appeared flamboyantly dressed last year and do so again this year, although with less afro, less velvet and less visible cohones contours. The jumpsuit ratio remains however, as does the over the top approach to showmanship that frontman "Jeff" employs as he channels his best Elvis charisma and lies brazenly about the band being from Minnesota and later New Zealand. He is a spectacle to watch, but just as last year it's near impossible to not hear each Le Fox Holes song and think "oh so they did a slight rewrite of this classic guitar riff too". The audience is not too bothered by this it seems, but it's pretty clear that here's a band that's content to be derivative and whose songs are simple vessels to stage a live romp through. And that's exactly the opposite of how I want things to fit together, so while we get our dance moves on and Le Fox Holes likely walk off as people's champions the spectacle is once again a tad too shallow for my taste. [6½]

The Broken Beats @ Foyer Stage

The Broken Beats' name rings a bell to me, like they're a household radio name in Denmark or something (tending to avoid radio in favour of Spotify, I fail to keep track of such things), yet as they get their set started with somewhat of a lackadaisical attitude, their sound strikes me as one you could arguably call retro alternative pop more fittingly than any rock and for some reason it grates upon my ears at this point, so while the show reportedly grows better later on, I make the call that if I need a break for drinks and socialising tonight, this is the best time for it. So save for about three songs, I give the remaining set a miss in the smokers' bar.

The Broken Beats' Kim Munk

Siamese Fighting Fish @ Foyer Stage

Although it's been a while since last time, the band that's lovingly abbreviated as SIFIFI remains the most often reviewed on this site by some margin, and at this stage there are only really two questions that need answering whenever the band's eclectic and epic violin-backed modern rock is aired live: Is the sound going to hinder them and is the audience going to be up for it? The answers tonight are no and yes, even though the set only gives us "Crap Is The New Black", "Party Like Charlie Sheen" and "A Liar Cried Wolf" from the band's released material while otherwise focusing on showcasing new songs.

Siamese Fighting Fish in action

It matters little, because the band makes a point to be ever active and they always bring at least a few friends and - like a fan club for a football club - these friends make sure the floor is active and people are lifted up on stage and carried off towards the back. I make half a mental note to expect the band's next album to be less epic and more rhythmic and catchy, but otherwise I lose myself in the wildness that is so desperately missing from the crowd response the remaining Nordic Noise bands summon. Thus the evening's craziest moment is also puts in stark contrast the symptoms of the stagnancy the whole event is otherwise trying to turn the tide against. One just wonders why it's SIFIFI exclusively that convinces fans to buy into the live experience like this. [8]

Black Book Lodge @ Foyer Stage

With Kellermensch forfeiting their appearance, tonight's last band is Black Book Lodge, who despite their lone album so far have already been talked about as a big deal in Danish rock of late. This makes sense because their hard, heavy, Alice In Chains-like grunge rock is convincing enough in the songwriting department to impress on first listen and the style is familiar enough not to alienate the largely conservative Danish rock audience. For their obvious merits on record however, Black Book Lodge's is entirely too business-like to follow an energetic band like SIFIFI at a time when the audience is getting into its cups. Remaining largely static, the bandmembers stand and deliver and invoke only a respectful and curious response from the crowd before proceedings finally end on the first night of Nordic Noise 2014. [7]



Saturday

Our photographer was regretably prevented from attending on Saturday, and pictures have hence been borrowed from the bands' various facebook profiles.

If you're interested, there are more photos from Saturday on nordicnoise.dk

The Boy That Got Away @ Foyer Stage

Introducing Aarhus trio The Boy That Got Away as a band recommended by Tim Christensen turns out involuntarily comical as soon as their singer-guitarist - named Tim - starts singing and sounds near identical to his Dizzy Mizz Lizzy fronting namesake. That said, his vocal power is clearly evident, sounding like he delivers each rising note with ease and always has more in the tank if needed. Apart from the obvious Dizzy references the band also mimics Soundgarden, Lenny Kravitz and Foo Fighters, and sound their best when playing groovy stuff on top of Rage Against The Machine-like baselines while things seem to lose steam mid-song whenever they attempt to up the tempo.

The Boy That Got Away

Oddly though, while Tim looks super style-conscious in his combination of wifebeater, trucker cap, stubble, ponytail and hip yellow glasses, him and his band look inexperienced and ill at ease in their performance. The frontman's movement is awkward and clearly limited to parts where he is either not singing or not playing and he's often behind on his timing with his vocal lines. The group's overall attitude looks out of place, like something they've gleaned from watching their favourite bands play way larger concerts than this one, so while they flash remarkably respectable building blocks for this level, more practice, songwriting refinement and live experience would still do them a lot of good. [6½]

Sea @ Foyer Stage

After catching Sea at a recent show in KB18, the local classic rock revivalists have been one of the top bands that I've wanted to watch coming into Nordic Noise. Coming on wearing their favourite decade via vests, cowboy boots, denim, flared trousers and big hair, the band quickly gratifies my interest: Things I really like in my music include harmonised guitar riffs, surprising tempo changes and great singing and Sea have those elements in abundance, stringing them together in imminent songs that keep the listener interested and guessing at every turn.

Sea

The band looks confident on stage, to the point where you feel like they could play things in their sleep and there's a smug smile on their guitarist's face that says he's well aware of how good they are. The only interruption comes in a worried look at one fan who appears waaaay too intoxicated for this early hour up front, but singer/guitarist Anders Brink quickly adresses the happy headbanger and resets the mood to one big happy family. Other than that, the only knock on Sea's set is a mix that could need a little more reverb and/or bass in my opinion, but overall Sea's confidence and ultra promising songwriting make their set one of the weekend's best experiences. [8]

Denner's Trickbag @ Upstairs Stage

At this point in the evening the schedule has somehow slid inexplicably to the point where the organisers start to slide bands around to allow changeovers on one stage while band's play on the other, meaning that Denner's Trickbag go on upstairs sooner than anticipated. To say that mainman Michael Denner's fame was founded before my time would be the understatement of the year, and the legendary Mercyful Fate and King Diamond guitarist and his friends look roughly twice my age.

Denner's Trickbag in action. Photo credit: HVW production

The band delivers tight songs however, clearly inspired by some of the more accessible bands from their own heyday, but they show little interest in performing in a way that could seem relevant to any curious modern rock fans in attendance. Their singer sings well, but grooves around mostly unconcerned with the audience, and the second guitarist seems preoccupied with asking for more light on stage so the band can have its pictures taken. It's a good natured but mostly uneventful set which makes you question if guitar heroics from a genre dinosaur is really what our rock scene needs in its current predicament. [5½]

Lucer @ Foyer Stage

L.A. Collection are billed to play tonight, and from what I've been hearing the show is in fact their farewell show, but as it turns out the only thing that's retiring is the name, as the band is soldiering on under a new moniker borrowed from an old moped brand. Otherwise the local trio remains as they were on previous occasions when I've seen them: As hyperactive and extrovert as a power trio can be as they deliver their energetic slabs of boogie rock. Their on-stage activity has never been their issue though, rather their problem is that in all their "Denmark's Airbourne"-ness their music sounds like a copy of a copy of a copy, with most riffs and movements only slightly rewritten after being borrowed from mainly AC/DC's toolbox. If reinterpretation and charisma is enough for you, then Lucer will continue to bring you the party under their new name, but if originality is your thing then the band will lose you after less than two songs and while I think there's a time and place for a band like this, I continue to question if it isn't part of the problem for a band like them to be billed at an event that aims to show creativity and relevance in the scene. [6½]

Lucer - The band formerly known as L.A. Collection

Statement @ Foyer Stage

Like last night I eventually reach a point in the evening when I need a break, this time because I realise that I haven't had a thing to eat for an irresponsible stretch of time and hence decide to treat myself from the disappointingly non veggie friendly hotdog stand outside, which after two nights proves to be a poor but necessary cause to miss a band. This time I barely manage to catch a glimpse of Statement, so the fault is none of theirs when this paragraph doesn't turn into a review of them. Sorry boys, rain check!

Statement

Electric Guitars @ Upstairs Stage

Guitarists extraordinaire Mika Vandborg and Søren Andersen are each reputed veterans in the established Danish scene, having played with names like Gnags, Loveshop, Mike Tramp and Glenn Hughes to name a few. Since 2012 the two have joined forces in the somewhat self explanatory Electric Guitars project which is entirely focused on showcasing the pair's love of the riff and the solo, and which drew attention to itself last year when the band invited ten of Denmark's most famous guitarists to contribute a solo each to their album track "Hero Of Mine". Tonight is my first encounter with the band however, which is completed by a drummer and bassist in the back and with the two guitar heroes up front, and coming in I harbour some skepticism towards what I consider somewhat of a gimmicky concept.

Electric Guitars in action (picture from a former show)

As it soon becomes apparent though, the two frontmen make for a compelling dynamic: They look as different as they come, with Andersen sporting the classic tight pants, greasy long hair and sleeveless vest combo, while Vandborg is entirely untraditional with uniform style jacket, knee high riding boots (Han Solo style), bald head and a most awesome combination of beard and curly mustache. He looks at the same time iconic and utterly stoked to be playing guitar with his friend for us, and while both deliver one tasty little lick after the other, both also showcase competent singing abilities. It's obvious that few risks have been taken in the the songwriting department and that riffs are far more important than lyrical content or vocal hooks, and you get the feeling that two gentlemen of such competence could've challenged themselves a bit more here, but overall the timing, energy and heaps of brazen axe-brandishing is so cheeky and contagious that the band could probably get away with murder. To my surprise, one of the most entertaining entrants on the poster. [7½]

Fate @ Foyer Stage

Prior to Fate's penultimate set on the Foyer Stage their sound is described to me as AOR, which, as it turns out, has me thinking mistakenly on various more modern bands than the five guys and one girl that arrive on stage proceed to deliver, rather conjuring up references mainly to bands like Scorpions or Europe in full power rock/hair metal glory. The hair is mainly delivered by the band's bassist and keyboardist however, as are the most interesting musical components, but while the former grooves about contagiously with his red cap topping off his long grey mane, he can't stop me from feeling that Fate too are a bit too relic-ish to really fight the fight that needs fighting here.

Fate

Complete with a choir singer that looks a bit out of place, a guitarist that looks more like your mom's neighbour and a singer who looks younger than all the rest and reminds me of Mark Wahlberg in front of Steel Dragon, Fate come off like an 80s heavy/prog group that has refused to go away but only as much as they've refused to develop. Fortunately, if you accept this in all its "could've just as well been Pretty Maids"-ness then the band admittedly do what they do tightly and confidently, but there's no denying that any glory of Fate's is time-machined in from the late 80s/early 90s and while I guess it's a testament to that glory that they appear this high on the bill, I wonder if even the bandmembers themselves aren't a bit disappointed when thinking that nothing from the twenty years that's passed them by has managed to challenge them for the spot. [6]

Freak Kitchen @ Upstairs Stage

As I move upstairs and close in on the stage in anticipation of Freak Kitchen's festival-closing set, a certain booking group owner and band frontman sneaks up behinds me and reminds me to pay attention - that's one of the world's very best guitarists up there. He's talking about Mattias Eklundh of course, the renowned guitar player and producer who's the brainchild behind Freak Kitchen and who narrates tonight's set between song with a lightning-tongued half-Danish/half-Swedish and a quick witted humour that sets a light hearted mood and completely contrasts the complexity of the music for which his band is known.

Freak Kitchen

With bassist Björn Fryklund rushing around in full riot control gear however, the message is clear: There's no reason that super intricate music can both have witty content and be fun and easily enjoyable at the same time. A song like the oddly Pantera reminiscent "Speak When Spoken To" is a good example of this, and overall I'm reminded of Devin Townsend in the way Freak Kitchen are at once virtuous instrumentalists and silly performers. As with the Electric Guitars set earlier, I'm surprised to find myself won over somewhat despite it still being clear that Freak Kitchen's songs are mostly platforms to combine quirky points with a mental guitar figures. The Swedish trio doesn't quite have the same infectious energy as their Danish counterparts, but their technical displays and veteran entertainer's skills go a good way to make up for this and send the night and the festival off on a positive note. [7]

One of the happy crowdsurfers at the Siamese Fighting Fish set

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