SPOT Festival 2018: Review
Showcasing everything from Scandi-pop to trap to thrashing punk, Aarhus' SPOT festival takes you through every genre and back again
Set in the city of Aarhus – Denmark’s second largest city, also known as the “city of smiles,” and 2017’s European Capital of Culture – SPOT festival plays host to a diverse line-up of Danish and Nordic acts. Now in its 14th year, the festival continues to draw massive crowds. Given that it showcases the best up-and-coming talent from Denmark and beyond, it’s clear why people keep coming back.
Taking place over four days – this year, between 9-13 May – and in multiple venues across the city, the festival has an incredible energy. With the furthest away venue only a 20 minute walk from the festival’s base at the Scandinavian Centre Aarhus, it is incredibly accessible, allowing you to hop from one venue to another quickly and easily. This means you’ll have plenty of time to see as much music as possible during your time there.
First on our agenda, almost as soon as we arrive on Friday afternoon, is Patrick Dorgan, performing in the festival’s largest venue, the Scandinavian Congress Center. Essentially Denmark’s answer to Bruno Mars, Dorgan is one of the more well-known acts on the line-up. Signed to Copenhagen Records, the soul and R’n’B singer’s debut single On the Way Down made it into the top three on Denmark’s official singles chart, Hitlisten. His popularity is visible, given the venue is nearly full and it’s only 4.30pm, and the audience absolutely lose their shit when he performs his second single Marilyn – honestly, people are jumping past us to get closer to the stage.
We head outside to enjoy the glorious sunshine, which luckily sticks around all weekend, and take in some of the acts on the Aarhus Volume outdoor stage, situated in between an array of street food stalls with a range of international offerings – options include sushirritos (a sushi burrito, if you didn’t already guess), Venezuelan Arepas and fish and chips. Danish rapper Omar’s set is just about to kick off as we get there, and although not entirely original, he knows how to get the crowd going. As he’s addressing the audience in Danish, we’re unable to catch the song titles, but his set closer sounds remarkably similar to East London Afrobeat artist J Hus’ 2017 summer smash Did You See, so much so that it could very well have been a cover.
Following him is self-proclaimed ‘Trap&B Queen extraordinaire’ Kaaliyah, dressed like her almost namesake Aaliyah in a monochrome striped co-ord suit and thin black sunglasses. Her music however isn’t as similar, largely made up of trap beats and heavily auto-tuned vocals, suggesting the ‘&B’ part of her self-proclamation has been somewhat forgotten. The two artists’ performances though are indicative of what becomes a pretty clear observation over the rest of the weekend: trap music is huge in Denmark right now.
Our next stop is another of the festival’s outdoor stages, the Royal Trailer – a literal trailer located between SPOT HQ and the Musikhuset Aarhus – hosting acoustic and stripped back sets from some of the artists performing at the festival. We catch the first of two performances we see over the weekend from Copenhagen-based soul pop group Artifact Collective. Usually a six-piece – comprising of vocalist Victor Oliver, bass player Eric Thyrgaard, drummer Jens Højager, keys player Bastian Flindt, trombone player Paakow Tawiah and guitarist Mikkel Westergaard Larsen – is reduced to just three on this occasion, but their talent is just as visible. Oliver’s vocals are silky smooth R’n’B perfection, hitting all the right notes in all the right tones, accompanied by Flindt’s jazzy keys and Larsen’s funky guitar riffs.
Back inside at the SCC next is ANYA, one of the most talked about artists over the weekend. A rising star in Denmark, it’s clear why there’s so much buzz around the Aarhus native. It’s the first real display of a proper pop concert we’ve seen so far, and it doesn’t disappoint. ANYA has all the qualities of a massive pop star in the making: sugary sweet vocals, an undeniable energy and an already very dedicated fan base. Groups of teenage girls in the audience are singing back every word of her songs to her, with particularly huge reactions to Doorstep and Avalanche. The big hitter though is Come Roll With Me, a 90s throwback banger with a chorus you won’t be able to escape for days. Simply put, ANYA is a star.
We briefly run across to the Godsbanen complex, which houses four indoor venues during the festival, to catch last year’s Spinnup Scholarship – a programme set up by Universal Music to help them find the best new unsigned and undiscovered artists – winner KIHLA’s brief and slightly subdued set at Åbne Scene. Appearing shy and nervous on stage, she never really gets into her stride and it makes for a rather flat performance overall.
We get back to the SCC just as Go Go Berlin are finishing up their set. Thankfully, we only have to sit through the Danish band’s final two songs, as any more of their repetitive, generic stadium rock could have broken us. It is testament though to the diversity of the festival’s line-up and the varied tastes of the festivalgoers that a band like Go Go Berlin can follow an act like ANYA in the same venue, and the crowd’s for both can be almost equal in size.
The real reason we’re back at the venue though is for the following act, Copenhagen psych-pop duo The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, and our last show of the night. Joined by a full live band, they arrive on stage all guns blazing, launching into two back-to-back jazz-funk bangers, with vocalist Mette Lindberg making full use of every inch of the available stage space. However, their set soon descends into a haze of vaguely familiar melodies and repetitive structures, and we quickly lose interest.
With more time to explore the festival properly on Saturday, our day of musical discovery begins a lot earlier and we venture into the city centre to find the SPOT Royal stage, situated over the river Aarhus and right next to the city’s main shopping centre Magasin. With the sun shining down on the outdoor stage, it’s the perfect setting for the day’s first musical act. Prior to his solo show later in the evening, Asbjørn joins all-female string ensemble Who Killed Bambi for a stripped back performance. Currently making waves in the German music scene, the Aarhus native makes a welcome return home for SPOT festival, and his collaboration with the ensemble is nothing short of stunning, with his angelic vocals beautifully accompanied by gorgeous orchestration from Who Killed Bambi.
Staying at the same stage, we enjoy some of the early afternoon sunshine while we wait for Swedish singer Shirin. With her thick, textured voice, Shirin’s vocal stylings bare more than a slight resemblance to Adele’s, and the subject matter of her songs isn’t too dissimilar either. Introducing each of her songs with a bit of background information, it becomes apparent very quickly that Shirin’s songs all have one common running theme, with the majority documenting past relationships. As she herself explains before performing Use Me, “this is a song about another idiot I dated.”
After rushing across the city, sadly our attempts to make it to the Radar stage for Ravi Kumar’s performance are faltered by the massive queue that awaits us when we arrive. The hip-hop duo, made up of vocalist Sharon Jeanelle Kumaraswamy and producer Aske Knudsen, have been causing quite a stir in Denmark and their popularity is visible given the amount of people trying to get into their show; and with tracks titled Staring at My Dick and I Only Make Out With Myself, what’s not to like really?
Heading across town, we make our first visit to VoxHall, arriving to a packed out venue waiting for Aarhus local Alexander Oscar. The audience is largely made up of young girls, clearly completely besotted with Oscar and just about screaming the words of his songs back at him. While his performance isn’t perfect – his vocals aren’t the strongest and he has to restart a song halfway through after his drummer makes a mistake – at only 19 years old and already signed to Sony Music Denmark, Oscar’s potential is massive and the reactions to singles Ocean View and Number prove the dedication of his already established fanbase.
Just around the corner at Atlas next, we make it just in time for the full band show from Artifact Collective, following their stripped back set the day before. If yesterday’s performance was great, then tonight’s performance is excellent. With the full six-piece in tow this time around, the group display an incredible energy and their enthusiasm is infectious. Latest single Light Blue and Time For This provide more chilled out moments in their set, while Nice View absolutely goes off. The crowds they’re playing to now may be fairly small, but Artifact Collective’s rise is imminent, and by their performance tonight, well deserved too.
Paying another visit back to the Godsbanen Åbne Scene, hyped up synth pop artist Christine Kiberg, who performs under the alias Ea Kaya, is about to take the stage. There’s no doubt that Ea Kaya has some very good songs and her sound is incredibly current, but that pop star spark sadly just doesn’t seem to be there. At times, her vocals sound very weak and overpowered by the production, while she uncomfortably paces back and forth across the stage. In fact, only during her performance of recent single Remedy does she sound and look confident on stage.
In a total contrast, Iris Gold strides on to the stage at the SCC like a woman on a mission. With the stage decked out with huge, bright sunflowers, along with frequent mentions of hippie culture, flower power and even pussy power, it feels like we’ve been sent in a time warp back to the 60s. Gold’s years of experience performing live sets her miles ahead of the rest of the acts performing at the festival and she provides a masterclass in live performance – there’s even an outfit change halfway through. As well as the jazz and psych rock influences in her music, Gold also makes her love of hip-hop known, with a brief interlude between tracks to play the intro to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya and later instigating some crowd participation to chant the chorus of Wu Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M.
Our high doesn’t last very long though, as next up in the venue is hip-hop duo RoseGold, whose generic hip-hop beats, poor vocal abilities and simplistic lyrics don’t keep our attention for long. The lull picks up slightly, as we head back to VoxHall for 20-year-old Norwegian musician Jakob Ogawa, who provides the most chill set we’ve seen all weekend. Ogawa’s soft, alluring vocals are accompanied by reverb-y guitars to form his brand of lo-fi bedroom pop, which will definitely appeal to fans of Mac Demarco.
Back at Atlas again, Copenhagen-based singer Drew hits us with the good lighting; switching between different shades of dark blue and purple, the mood lighting fits her Banks-esque electro R’n’B, dark pop blend perfectly. Her vocals though are frequently overpowered by her backing track, particularly during the huge, sprawling chorus of recent single Keeping Up, where her live vocals are barely audible.
Our evening is drawing to a close, but we’ve still got time for a few more shows and pay our last visit of the weekend to VoxHall for Asbjørn’s solo set. Compared to the simplicity of his earlier set with Who Killed Bambi at the SPOT Royal stage, tonight’s set is as cheesy and camp as it comes. Dressed like a boxer ready for a fight, in a satin robe with Asbjørn adorned on the back, the Dane looks ready for action. His set is packed full of choreographed dance moves with his two female backing singers, also dressed in matching robes, featuring hip rolls, twerking and hand claps; this is proper Eurovision-esque Scandi-pop, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
We round off our weekend at SPOT festival with a high energy set from Danish all-female post-punk trio Nelson Can back at the SCC, which ends with frontwoman Selina Gin jumping into the pit and charging through the crowd. Gin’s vocals switch from huge to haunting on tracks like Break Down Your Walls and Downtown, and with no guitars, bassist Signe SigneSigne and drummer Maria Juntunen are left to maintain the thumping, driving pace. The trio strike that perfect balance between melodic and angst-y, guided by pulsing rhythms and menacing vocals; you’ll want to make a note of their name.
Beginning with the massive pop sounds of Patrick Dorgan and ending with some thrashing punk from Nelson Can, SPOT Festival will take you through every genre and back again, and with barely a dud in sight.
SPOT Festival 2018 ran 10-13 May