“We need guitar,” drummer Martin Couri – the Danish half of the Courettes – growled at the sound desk during the duo’s quick, torrid set of Sixties-garage stomp and clang at the Spot Festival in Aarhus, Denmark. “That’s right – we need fat, loud guitar!” singer-guitarist Flavia Couri, Martin’s Brazilian-born wife, shouted in affirmation, with more metaphysical edge and a punctuative silence between each word.
The Courettes, a White Stripes in reverse, got all the guitar they needed from the soundman. So did everyone else tucked into the Kammermusik Sal, a performance room a little bigger than a two-car garage, at the Musikhuset complex, where most of Spot 2016 took place April 28th-30th. There were 10 other acts on at that hour, around the premises and elsewhere in town, among the near-200, most of them Danish, that played the festival’s 22nd year. Scale is vital and relative at Spot, which is presented by ROSA (Danish Rock Council, an industry cooperative) and could fit into a tiny corner of a single night at SXSW.
But Spot is broad enough in scope and elbow room to accomodate symphonic commissions in the Musikhuset’s main concert hall; breakthrough Danish artists like the rapper S!VAS and the modern-rock band Go Go Berlin; and the local non-industry fans who sold out the festival’s wristband quotient this year. I first attended Spot in 2002 and have been back several times, always walking away with intriguing-to-great records, enthusiastically scribbled notes and a favorite new band or three: those, over time, including the Raveonettes, the glacial-pop band Under Byen, R&B-raveup quartet the Blue Van and hyper-mods Thee Attacks.
This Spot was no different. Here is some of the best of what I saw – and what I’m still spinning.
The Courettes, Here Are the Courettes (Sounds of Subterrania)
The duo gets a lot done with the right minimum – drums, guitar and a certainty that there is plenty of new gas in go-go-Sixties retrospection. Flavia is a vocal fireball with a Janis Joplin crust on her X-Ray Spex range; Martin hammers at his kit with the muscular concentration of a blacksmith. Together, at Spot and on recent vinyl-only releases like this 10-inch EP, the Courettes throw their party with staccato consistency and bathroom-echo fidelity in songs like “The Boy I Love” and “I Wanna Be Your Yoko Ono.” A literally descriptive new single, “Boom! Dynamite!” (Bachelor), was recorded at Toe Rag Studios in London, where the White Stripes made 2003’s Elephant – an assuring mark of quality.
Liima, ii (4AD)
This densely packed set in Spot’s biggest dance-hall space featured one of Denmark’s most successful art-pop exports, the trio Efterklang, performing material from their recently issued studio rebirth as Liima. Vocalist Caspar Clausen, electronics specialist Mads Brauer and bassist Rasmus Stolberg, with Finnish percussionist Tatu Rönkkö, have pulled back from the sumptuous detail and shadows of Efterklang’s last album, 2012’s Piramida, to a more direct, danceable suspense that evokes, in a forward way, Depeche Mode, David Bowie’s mid-Seventies in Berlin and, in the album’s boldly titled homage, “Roger Waters.”
Baby in Vain, For the Kids (Partisan)
When I saw this trio of young Danish women at Iceland Airwaves three years ago, they were in their teens, making a Nineties-Seattle-in-flames ruckus in a pleasantly tight space at the 12 Tonar record shop. The Radar bar at Spot was just as crammed and not much bigger, which was a problem. There were twice as many people standing in the rain waiting for a shot at one-out-one-in – a testament to Baby in Vain’s national standing after a fistful of seven-inch singles in 2012-13, opening-act blessings from Ty Segall and Thurston Moore, and an excessively testing wait for this new five-track EP. At Spot, singer-guitarists Lola Hammerich and Andrea Thuesen and drummer Benedicte Pierleoni were as raw as at my first sighting but maturing in their turbulence, with a crying grace in the vocals lining the rusty ascent of “The Urge.” There has to be a full album in there somewhere, soon.
The Entrepreneurs, Tony Rominger (Like a Can of Beans Records)
This trio was all surprise. The Entepreneurs came on right after Liima’s show (the venue had alternating stages that cut wait times down to 15 minutes) and had me at hello. Singer-guitarist Mathias Bertelsen, guitarist Anders Hvass (who plays a baritone-register instrument) and drummer Jonas Wetterslev describe their “genre” on Facebook as “noise and romance.” I heard that right away. I also heard this, especially after marinating in this five-track EP: a hard-glam charge of desperately sung, melodically certain pop with a vocal gleam that suggests that English New Wave school of gloom – the Buzzcocks, New Order, the Cure – with early-Nirvana surge. I didn’t know any of the song titles at the gig. But the way I keep going back to “It Strikes Again, Love” on the EP, it must have been under my skin when they finished.
Electric Elephants, In the Great Dark Between the Stars (forthcoming release)
Recommended to me by organist Søren Christensen of the Blue Van, this Copenhagen hard-rock band was a quartet on the 2013 EP Thank You Brother Star. At the tiny basement bar HQ, Electric Elephants were a slimmer dynamite – a metallic power trio with space-rock flourishes, early-Seventies heavy-blues muscle and its own Dave Grohl in singer-drummer Matthias Brank, who drove the thunder from below while howling with shredded poise and, at times, an eerie-R&B falsetto overhead. In one song, the group suddenly dropped out of an original mid-tempo storm, into the half-time riff and tripping howl of the chorus in the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” It was a knockout trick pointing ahead as I’ve discovered on In the Great Dark Between the Stars, a new album of expanded dynamic range and psychedelic aurora. I hope for a return engagement at Spot 2017, with a lot more of that.
PowerSolo, The Real Sound (Crunchy Frog)
Thee Attacks, Strikes Back (Crunchy Frog)
The Tremolo Beer Gut, Live, Beyond Our Means (Crunchy Frog)
Named after the Monty Python sketch about a dubious line of chocolates, Crunchy Frog is a resilient, independent Danish amalgam of Stiff, Third Man and the early Bomp Records in its marketing and design cheek and garage-and-beyond roster. Founded in Copenhagen in 1994, the label has also been a staple of my Spot experience from jump street – the Raveonettes had just issued their first EP on Crunchy Frog when I saw their festival debut in 2002. This year, I got more of Aarhus’ own PowerSolo, a pair of beanstalk brothers that I’ve seen in New York and Texas and are a catalog unto themselves: six albums and numerous singles since 2001, forged in Fifties rockabilly, Cramps-like lyric camp and the song-hook zip of Rockpile-era Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. This time, I also got to enjoy the delighted hometown welcome.
Not at Spot but just out on Crunchy Frog: Thee Attacks’ Strikes Back is a digital-only album documenting that band’s growth spurts – through lean, high-velocity variations on The Who Sings My Generation and Here Are the Sonics – in early demos and outtakes. The Tremolo Beer Gut are a long-running Crunchy band of instrumental wiseacres who have released a limited edition of their new concert-party platter with its own fully equipped smoke machine. The CD and vinyl issues are unlimited surf-and-biker-film twang.
Crunchy Frog is also an extended-family affair. PowerSolo’s Kim Kix produced the Courettes’ EP, and he and Jesper Reginal a.k.a. Yebo – Crunchy founder and a Tremolo Beer Gut guitarist – made guest appearances with the Courettes at Spot. Which is where we came in.