A Colossal Weekend 2019

author LL date 20/05/19

For the fourth time, the booking group COLOSSAL are spearheading the yearly event known as A Colossal Weekend. As always, it takes place at VEGA in Copenhagen, and this year the stages are back to the original two: Lille VEGA and the upstairs Lounge. The genre focus is still centered on rock and metal genres that are post-oriented and massive or mathy in their sound. And yet, it feels smaller this year, due to the lack of big headlining names. There are more local bands in the mix and more diversity in the bookings, with the Friday being distinctly indie-focused and the Saturday more heavy and metal-oriented. Although some guests are there for the whole weekend, it generally makes for a more fragmented experience, as guests seem to very much show up for a few specific bands, making the turnout for some names somewhat disappointing. The vinyl distro is back in the merch stand but other than that, there are no particularly festival-oriented elements this year.

This year is also different, because VEGA is starting a new concept called VEGA|ARTS that has its first kick-off in conjunction with A Colossal Weekend. It means that they are going to focus on audiovisual experiences, installations, and art performances that will take place around the house before, after, or during regular concerts, marrying art forms and making new and surprising experiences. It is an interesting idea that however doesn’t always work well in conjunction with the people that are here more focused on a few bands and not the whole weekend as a concept. The smoking lounge downstairs is reimagined as an exhibition room while installations and performances by various artists can be found around the house or pop up randomly.

Jenny Gräf Sheppard’s performance - photo by Joseph Miller

Two of these especially stand out, the most obvious being the performance by Jenny Gräf Sheppard which is in the actual program and takes place in the Lounge on the Friday. The other one is by the Danish artist Yoke, which is in the shape of an art work called KONSTRUKTUR - op. II which is something like a big wall of lights, that is beautifully backing the performances of Jo Quail and Celeste on the Saturday. Apart from those, Kristoffer Akselbo’s "It's not the end of the world as we know it" has a permanent space outside Lille VEGA’s stage and there’s a cool-down event happening in the art space of Cisternerne on the Sunday, with Marie Kølbæk Iversen and Katinka Fogh Vindelev’s opera- and video-installation-work "Moonologue" being performed, with support by Jo Quail.

Kristoffer Akselbo’s installation/performance - photo by Joseph Miller

All in all, it would be nice with a couple of headliners to gather everyone to strengthen the unified mini-festival-atmosphere. This year, this was also just hindered even more due to the fact that both Built To Spill and Celeste, that closed each their day, were at best mediocre performances that made each day fizz out somewhat disappointingly. In any case, read on for reviews and thoughts on the performing bands, and check out our summarizing "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" section at the end. Enjoy!

All photos Friday by Joseph Miller and Saturday by Peter Troest

THURSDAY

The warm-up day of the event takes place at Underwerket in Valby this year and kicks off with the local post-metal/-hardcore group We Are Among Storms. The trio makes a good appearance but it's very evident that the venue's sound gear is hard pressed with the intensity of their music. They are bathed in mostly blue lights and accompanied by strobes galore and heavy smoke that all really helps to set just the right atmosphere for their hard music. Overall, it is a fine start to the evening but as is often the case with these things, it could have been more intense with more people there.

Second up is The New Zealand-based duo Into Orbit who build their experimental post-rock around drums and guitar. The guitarist, however, is busy looping his riffs and thus building sounds more complex than otherwise possible with just one guitar. It is pleasant but also kind of mellow compared to the energy burst of the preceding band.

Finally, the Copenhagen-based post-metal/blackgaze group Cartographs are closing for tonight, and they so with great intensity. While, again, the sound mix of the venue is not quite capable of carrying their music across in an optimal manner, they knock it out of the park anyway. Especially the performance of their vocalist is emotionally gripping as he stares out at us with wild yet ambitious eyes and a decisive demeanor that looks like he could cut right through stone. Watch out for these guys, because above all they prove that they are quickly getting to be too big for stages as small as this.

FRIDAY

Nordsind @ 19:00 at The Lounge

We arrive late for the mostly instrumental post-metal/post-black band Nordsind's set tonight but still just in time for the epically building "Som aske i vinden" that appears just before their one song with vocals that usually serves as the culmination of their live sets. As always, the classic, hoarse black metal vocals make a huge impression and the audience seem to cheer particularly loud after that. Their sound is surprisingly crisp and clear for the Lounge stage which I'm thinking bodes well for the festival overall. The lighter "Når alt forgår" ends their set on a mellow note as they give it their all one final time, and the sparse audience cheer them on. I shall however refrain from grading their performance as I see so little of it but will definitely look forward to the next time I get the chance. /LL

Town Portal @ 19:40 at Lille VEGA

The mathy post-rock trio Town Portal are next to appear. I just saw them recently at their release party for the new record "Of Violence" and while tonight might not have cake, it is special in a different way. For the first as well as the two last songs of the set, they have Tommy Peach performing with them on his trumpet, just as he did for a few songs on the actual album. It's the first time it happens live, though, and the songs that he appears on are very much the highlights of the noodling set. Especially my current favorite "Soil To Own" is nice to hear in a solid live edition. The melodies are indeed beautiful but the odd timelessness of the record doesn't quite translate to the live setting in my opinion. I was hoping to hear a more varied set that would also include some cuts from their older albums but alas, they stick with the new stuff. It is fascinating to follow how they keep using some of the same notes and riffs, while accentuating different notes and patterns at different times to provide a mathy dynamic. Especially their drummer does his in that department, and I spend the set becoming more and more transfixed on his role in tying everything together. Overall it is a good and heavy show with a good sound mix and the trumpet is a nice touch, but it doesn't quite hit the highs that I was hoping for. [7½] LL

Her Name Is Calla @ 20:30 at The Lounge

Now, this set is both the first and last time we will see the UK post-rock group Her Name Is Calla on Danish soil, and that is because they are in the process of breaking up. I have been looking forward to it a lot, boldly proclaiming that I think it will be the very best show of this mini-festival, based entirely on how much I have liked their sound when checking them out this very week. This makes this set a somewhat bittersweet experience as their delicate songs make solid impressions while they are surely a new musical acquaintance for most of us in the audience tonight. They tell us that they flew in with no instruments but their electric violin, thanking the COLOSSAL team for getting everything together and at the same time remarking that this means we are getting a somewhat stripped down version of their live set. And yet, several of the songs evolve into very intense soundscapes where the instruments certainly fill out the Lounge room. There are almost folksy acapella moments with four-way vocal harmonies that delicately help build the songs but often they develop into a massive instrumental sound.

The big contrast between very quiet moments and very loud, guitar-heavy ones does spur some chatter in the bar of the room, though, which is a shame for the otherwise magical vibe of their music. In between songs, they exhibit a kind of classically dry, British humour that doesn't help either but at least is relatable and spreads a few chuckles around the room. Now, I am not too familiar with the band's discography but I notice that "Wren" makes an appearance early in the set with delicate vocal harmonies and that "New England" from the same ten-year old debut album "The Heritage" gets some happy cheers as its first dark notes ring out later on. The set ends in chaotic fashion with their front man yelling into his guitar and picking it with his teeth while everyone else makes as much noise as they can as well. The set feels a little short for the scope of these songs, and it feels like there isn't room for everything to truly culminate, but it definitely ends up as one of my favorite shows of the weekend and certainly the best one on this day. [8] LL

Maps & Atlases @ 21:30 at Lille VEGA

This indie trio from Chicago, Illinois has a very distinct sound and are also the first band of the evening to perform to an almost full Lille VEGA. Indeed, their playful but also incredibly tight songs work very well as a warm-up for the Built-To-Spill crowd that are finally arriving in force. They are currently touring with their newest album "Lightlessness Is Nothing New" and especially "Fall Apart" from that makes a great impression early in the set. The mathy riffs and solid beats make me think especially of bands like Foals and Portugal The Man which is always good. Their guitarist and vocalist has a very sharp, nasal voice that seems to have pretty much one gear through the set, but in conjunction with the happy, dance-friendly riffs, the vocal melodies are also most certainly infectious. And yet, the audience seem oddly unimpressed with the whole thing. Sure, some are grooving along calmly but Friday night out here seems to also be very much about talking and meeting up with your friends. Then again, the trio seem equally unengaged in the audience, and the polite comments in between songs give off a boring vibe of routine.

Through the show I am more and more fascinated by the songwriting, though, as guitar, bass, and drums seem to be running their own separate show and yet magically fit together as they weave in and out and meet each other in new ways. There's a minimalistic backtrack underneath it all and plenty of percussive elements from the drummer on his kit and drum pad. The finger-playing bassist is wandering about his side of the stage in his own little groovy dance, while the group's front man churns out pointed vocals while sometimes guitar tapping through entire songs in a solid show of skill. The older song "Old & Grey" makes an impressive appearance later in the set, with especially the vocal performance standing out in the almost acapella ending that also seems to catch the attention of most of the otherwise occupied audience members. Finally, the even older single "Solid Ground" ends a set that could have been a lot more intense and fun under different circumstances. Still, my fascination with the compositions as well as the light playfulness of everything makes it an easy set to like and I am certianly intrigued to see them again, should they return for a show in the future. [7½] LL

Built To Spill @ 23:30 at Lille VEGA

This celebratory tour of the Idaho indie rock band Built To Spill seems to have gathered by far the most hype of this year's A Colossal Weekend. The room is pretty much packed with expecting fans as the band enter the stage to play through their 1999 album "Keep It Like A Secret". They do not play it in order, though, which is probably a fine choice, as album flows don't always translate well to live sets. The sound is loud from the beginning and as the band noodle their way through the songs, it becomes evident that this is going to be a problem for the whole experience. While some seem to welcome the intensity of this and several grateful fans spur them on endlessly, for a newcomer like me, it seems to wash out everything and make it very hard indeed to get into at all.

If that wasn't enough, the band seem either stoned or bored out of their minds as well, each staring out into nothing or indeed performing the entirety of the show with closed eyes. I get that it is perhaps thought to be obligatory for a shoegazey, mathy indie vibe but it's just not very charming for anyone but the hardcore fans who already know every note of every track they perform tonight. Maybe I'm just not getting it but as I have been liking them on record this past week, it surprises me that this show is not what I have been expecting or hoping for. I stick around to see if it will perhaps change later on, but alas, to no avail. At least there's a good vibe among the audience up front and on the balcony and as the show rings out, experiencing the fans experiencing the band has been more fun for me than the actual performance. Still, there are traces across the set of sounds and melodies that appeal to me and coupled with the engaged crowd, it makes for a dead-on mediocre but also disappointing experience. [5] LL

SATURDAY

Morild @ 19:00 at The Lounge

Once inside VEGA, I make my way toward the upstairs Lounge, which is even smaller than Lille VEGA. There are no more than 20 people in the room, and as the 5-piece band enters the small stage, it seems more crowded on stage than on the floor. With the lights dimmed, it becomes obvious that even the heavy curtains cannot keep out the daylight and it quickly becomes apparent that Morild is ill suited for sunlight, both visually and mood-wise. With splotches of fluorescent paint on their faces and arms and a slow, somber, and dark intro, the harsh sunlight does them no favors. But as soon as lead singer Kristoffer Alm starts screaming, all is forgotten. His high-pitched vocals draw you into a universe that is truly Morild’s own. Often they are compared to other Danish black metal bands like Orm and Solbrud but live, it’s evident that Morild sounds like nobody else. Their willingness to go from quiet to really loud and disturbing sets them apart from many other bands within the genre that present a more constant wall of sound.

First song is the third song "I Afgørende Stunder" of their recent debut album, and the intro to this is longer than on the album and helps set the mood. Originally, this song is 8 minutes long, so of course it takes up a large portion of the only half-hour set. The second song, "Frosset Fast Til Mit Indre" is a bit more up-tempo with more emphasis on the classic black metal wall of guitars with underlying vocals. Guitarist Tue Krebs Roikjer shares vocal duties with Kristoffer Alm, and they even stand shoulder-to-shoulder sharing the same mic stand, each having their own microphone and distinctly different voices and demeanor. Alm’s screams create haunting vocals, nicely contrasting Roikjer’s darker voice. There is no doubt that Morild are deeply serious about what they do and as such, they come across as a band with the potential to become great within that particular brand of black metal.

The crowd has grown quite a lot during the show but starts to thin out towards the end. Seeing how most people seem to enjoy the show, this is likely a result of the very tight schedule and the fact that LLNN is about to start at the other stage. As the show comes to an end, I find myself having been transfixed by an extremely competent band with something on their mind and their own distinct style and look. It left me feeling good even though I was rather under the weather at this point and not yet sure whether I would be able to cover more shows, and not least Celeste late in the evening. I was struck by how exhausting a longer Morild show would most likely be, but nonetheless, I hope to see that someday. [7] TK

LLNN @ 19:45 at Lille VEGA

Now here is a band I know almost nothing about, except for their bio and one article I read on the train coming in. For some reason, I have just never gotten around to giving them a go. The article I read, said something about the band sounding like the soundtrack to Alien having been made by a heavy metal band. Their intro here sure lends credence to that notion, and incidentally, Alien was released 40 years ago this week. The deep bass rumble could easily sound like the inner workings of the Nostromo drifting through space in a distant future. The rumbling intro comes to a halt and cuts straight into "Armada", an almost 8-minute long track, and I am immediately blown away and flabbergasted that I have never seen this band before. The bass player, Rasmus Furbo, cuts an imposing figure right smack in the middle of the stage, backlit by nothing but white light. The bass rumbling and pounding drums are constant and in your face with Christian Bonnesen handling screaming vocals and guitar.

I get this funny image in my head of the bass being so massive, that the librarian at the public library next door, will come in on Monday morning and find several books that have fallen off the shelves. But musings like that stop making sense, as this is where the fun ends. LLNN drags us into a dark and omnipresent mood of despair and dystopia. My extremely limited knowledge of the band makes it hard for me to discern one track from another, so I just let myself be sucked into the horror show that unfolds on stage. Drummer, Rasmus Sejersen, is set pretty far back on the stage but gives the drums such a pounding that at one point one of his sticks breaks, flying across the stage and ending up in the third row right next to me. After 5 songs (not including the intro) they thank the crowd for coming out and get a little political with the words "There is an election coming up. This song is about burning down the parliament". They end the set in utter chaos with "Monolith" which, like their other songs, is an attack on all your senses. This has been quite an experience and I promise that next time, I’ll come better prepared as I hope to get to see this band again sooner rather than later. [7] TK

Astrosaur @ 20:45 at The Lounge

As a huge fan of pretty much everything post-rock, I have been very much looking forward to this band and Astrosaur do not disappoint when they kick off with "Necronauts", a song that picks up pace pretty quickly for that genre. It might be a long track at 11 minutes, but the track really gets going after only a one-minute long intro and some reverb added just for the show. Normally, Astrosaur rely heavily on video projections but today, they go full minimalist, as a result of playing the smaller Lounge stage. As much as I would love to see them in their full set-up, the lack of video takes nothing (or very little at least) away from their overall appearance. Astrosaur weave effortlessly between playing proper post-rock and post-metal mixed with almost jazzy moments and very long more calm and quiet stretches. After the opening track "Necronauts", they glide into "Space Mountain", which kicks off with all the bells and whistles a power trio can produce, and you just cannot help tapping your foot and moving your head from side to side in appreciation of their melodic and complicated approach to instrumental rock.

Next song up is "Pyramid Song" which I at first fail to recognize as a Radiohead cover (Joke: How do you make a Radiohead song great? Answer: Have somebody else play it!). It is not on their album "Fade in//Space Out" but is part of their "Visual Presentations" on Youtube. "Pyramid Song" is a long drawn out affair and Astrosaur own it with their own distinctive sound and feel, and indeed, Thom Yorke’s vocals are not missed. The final song of their all-too-short set is an, as of yet, untitled new track that doesn’t leave much of an impression on me here. Maybe I am just too exhausted and spent at this point, and still reeling from LLNN’s heaviness. Overall, this is a good performance in a small venue for a band that craves and needs a much bigger stage and set-up. At least it was loud and that counts for something. [7] TK

Hexis @ 21:30 at Lille VEGA

What to expect from Hexis? Madness and bedlam, that’s for sure. Watching Hexis leaves you wondering "Who let the lunatics out and gave them instruments and why are they so awesome at playing them?". In many ways, Hexis IS lead singer Filip. His impressive vocals and overall stage presence is most impressive and leaves nothing more to be desired from a front man in a progressive/black metal band (or any band, for that matter). But as he jumps around on the stage, totally immersed in the music, the rest of the band members sure make an effort to be noticed as well. Nobody is still for any length of time, as they move back and forth across the stage, obviously enjoying playing with each other. Hexis has been touring relentlessly the last 7 years and it is a well-oiled black metal machine by now. They bring their A-game and craziness every single time they play. This makes them one of the most interesting live bands in Denmark at the moment in my opinion. Even if you don’t like the genre, I am sure you cannot help to end up being transfixed by their sheer presence.

After going through an impressive set list in just about 30 minutes, the instruments are left on the floor and on amps, yet the bedlam continues from the band members as they jump and roll around on the stage. It is probably not their core audience here tonight but almost everybody is still beaming with delight as they leave the room and I get the feeling Hexis has made some new fans tonight. As you can tell, this is not my first time seeing Hexis but I am as impressed as ever. Having previously only seen them on smaller stages like Stengade, it was a joy to see the band unfold on a wider, larger stage. If you haven’t seen Hexis yet: don’t walk but RUN to their next show. [8] TK

A.A. Williams 22:20 @ at The Lounge

The London-based A.A. Williams is the newest artist to appear under the genre-term ‘death gospel’. As you might imagine, it is an attempt to shortly describe the marriage of a dark, mellow, and haunting soundscape with soulful, vibrant, and deep vocals, which is also exactly what we get in a full-band version tonight. From the little I have heard of it previously, the music I encounter here is way more immense than I was expecting, which makes it fit in very well in this otherwise metal-dominated day. The darkness of it all is crushing at times, but the warm, beautiful vocals from Williams herself hold us afloat throughout the set. There’s a kind of dark folk vibe from the band who play their instruments in a measured and precise manner. There’s a calmness to everything that happens on the stage that makes you really listen carefully, especially during the more quiet moments with their delicate, soft sounds.

The long notes of the chorus melody in "Cold" are especially haunting here tonight. As it appears second on the set list, its brilliance serves to shut up the most talkative of audience members in the back who instead clap intensely and stay surprisingly quiet through most of the show. "Belong" in particular presents some of the softer moments, where talk does become a problem though, but Williams and her band stay in their zone and don’t seem too affected by it. "Terrible Friends" marks my personal highlight of the evening with its oddly open-sounding melody and yearning lyrics. Finally, the single "Control" ends a beautiful set that somehow manages to communicate feelings of cold loneliness as well as warm comfort, sometimes in same breath. Although it is good, the band don't quite manage to hold us in a magical grip throughout the set, and I can only imagine that they would make an even better figure on a bigger stage, although the intimate feel of the Lounge has its own charm. [8] LL

Jo Quail @ 23:10 at Lille VEGA

As the evening slowly marches towards the end, we arrive downstairs to an almost empty room as the British solo artist Jo Quail is appearing in the middle of the stage slightly ahead of time. Her big electric cello is mounted in front of her, and with its simplistic design, it gives me connotations to bones and huge prehistoric animals, as I imagine it could have been cut from some animal's veterbrae. The reason I'm thinking along these lines, is because Quail's music has a somewhat ritualistic element, not least as she intends several of them, if not all, as incantations. She has released music on several records, but live she always recreates everything again, looping small layers and building them on top of each other in spectacular fashion.

She leads tonight with "White Salt Stag" that seems to overwhelm most of the audience members as if they had not known what to expect from this show at all. When all the layers reverberate in the room at the same time, it is just as loud and rumbling as (if not indeed louder than) the previous performances of the day. As she begins the more sombre "Gold" by slapping her instrument for some deep and almost guttural beats, we are hooked and the atmosphere seems to draw in more and more people from here on out. The newer song "Mandrel Cantus" from her 2018 album is more experimental and drags out in a different way than the others, ending up as the weakest card here, at least for me.

What also really shapes the performance, is the big light wall at the back of the stage, which is operated by the local artist Yoke, as mentioned in the intro at the start of the article. It apparently works as a sort of test for his scheduled performance with Celeste afterward, but honestly, I'm more impressed with the stunning patterns and extra life it creates around Quail and her cello. She describes her compositions with remarks like them being "about the chase", "about the night", or simply an incantation of a high priestess, as is the case with the ending "Adder Stone". It has a very distinct adventurous melody, and even gets some people rocking their heads more firmly than before, before it weirds out in a more spacy section. All in all the set is 40 minutes long, but I could easily have stayed mesmerized by at least one more of her songs. [8½] LL

Celeste @ 00:00 at Lille VEGA

The French sludgy black metallers of Celeste have long been talked about by my friends, but more because of their distinct visual style than because of their music. They tend to have a mass of smoke around them, only lit up by four red headlights, one for each member, that makes them seem like some kind of demonic cyclopses, setting their massive music loose on the world from the depths. Tonight, however, their performance is featuring the visual artist Yoke, as mentioned before, and his big wall of lights make it a different experience, although it isn'does leave the stage dark from time to time. I'm not sure it works so well, though, because they don't do a whole lot performance-wise apart from rocking out in each their spot.

The music is indeed loud and thundering, and as such I can see a point of the performance attacking our senses, both sound- and sight-wise. However, after a while of standing near the front and being physically shaken to the core by the rumbling sounds, I get frustrated with trying to find something to hold on to in their songs. Yes, everything is a wall of sound, but there's next to no dynamic elements as the performance from start to finish seems to just hit and maintain the same sound level and the same rhythms. The riffs and melodies that I do know are there from the band's recordings just disappear in the loudness tonight. In the end, the singer from Hexis makes a surprise appearance for a while but to me, that's about the only interesting thing that happens in the one-hour performance, apart from the light show and the initial delight at the sheer physical weight of everything. [4] LL

FINAL WORDS

And that concludes the reviews of this year's Colossal Weekend. Overall it was good but altogether not as impressive or intense of an experience as previous years. Here is our shortlist of the main good and bad points this year in the classic "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" section.

THE GOOD

  • Variation in the line-up
  • The gathering of different post-oriented names in one Danish event continues to be highly welcome
  • Mostly good sound quality
  • Interesting VEGA|ARTS initiative that provided extra, surprising inputs

THE BAD

  • The Lounge room felt more random because of the stage having been moved
  • Big changes in the amount of people present for each band

THE UGLY

  • The focus on loudness became an obstacle for both headliners
  • The talkative Friday crowd
  • Next to no unified festival-feeling

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

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