Knife Fest was a true spectacle of music, an event where hype and hygge exist side by side.
It’s always nice when something you hyped in your mind lives up to its billing. While most music photographers / journalists dream of shooting some mega – famous international superstar, I have always dreamt of being closer to the ground level of sound. A real lover of what some people would coin ‘underground,’ not because I thinks it’s superior, but because I love it. The lights of the arena can be thrilling, and the roar of a mega-crowd like thunder, but I would trade it for a dark room, a small band of musical thrill seekers and the expectation of hearing something new. I want to feel something new, something real. It’s a need, a love, and one I’m not used to getting at festivals with high profile artists.
That being expressed, Knife Fest was a rare and incredible treat of lights both bright and dim. The festival took place at popular Copenhagen venue Pumpehuset in historical Indre By. Boasting three seperate stages, Byhaven (outdoor stage), a Main Hall (upstairs stage) and a Basement (downstairs stage) it had ample space for a two day event boasting nearly 30 performers.
I was pleasantly suprised by the relaxed atmosphere. Benches and outdoor picnic style seating dotted the patio outside the venue and I gradually recognized some of the members of the actual Knife staff as some of the performing artists. The event immediately had the feel of an interconnected group of friends and artists who had been together for a long while and were now sharing in their dream event. It felt like a homecoming of sorts, a salute to hard work and dreams coming true.
The bands – FRIDAY
Modest was the first band I had the pleasure of seeing. A group of four, they are part of the upcoming scene from Aarhus and play a lyrically strong and melodic version of Rock. With a quiet roar present in every moment of their lyrics, they are certainly a young band to watch – Don’t forget the name! The rest of the Friday evening was dotted continuously with patches of wonder. Whether you were on the patio, or absorbing the dark, steamy ambiance inside, there were minuscule amounts of pretension and large helpings of fun and engaging conversation. The up-and-coming experimental rock band Flawless Victory gave everyone something to remember. Lyrically fluid, musically expansive and beautiful, the boys charmed the audience with a low-light panorama of delight. A sound that drifts between scenes of concious reality, I will be looking forward to their next outing.
Friday night continued with the bulk of the headlining acts starting to move into the main upstairs stage adorned appropriately with large hanging metallic sheets lining the walls and colorful lights. Værket was a real pleasure as I witnessed them play for the first time. Bombastic and potentially iconic, it was different to say the least. Every second of their set was a journey into a mystical realm. Blending classical and psychedelic rock elements, this band of five members defied nearly every pre-conceived notion a concert attendee may have in seeing a new band. Alternating singers, sparking clothing and led by a relentlessly talented flute player … yes flute! Værket’s music was an epic story, and a refreshing blend of artistry in music and instrumental selection. If you enjoy spontaneity add these boys to your bucket list. Fresh from a possibly career propelling festival in Japan where they shared an arena stage with Phoenix and Calvin Harris no less, Copenhagen’s favorite Indie Rock foursome Communions took the stage and delighted everyone with music straight from the youthful soul of Copenhagen. Armed with charm and undefeatable spirit it was a memorable hour of singing voices and happy faces. Playing a broad selection of perennial favorites, Communions delivered a wonderful night for the Copenhagen music memory.
Making my way downstairs an event that would blow me away began out of the fog. Layer after layer of emotion translated into sound filled the basement stage in the downstairs room. I first shot Loke Rahbeck’s solo project Croatian Amor in March at the Posh Isolation 8th year anniversary at Jazz House. I have been hooked ever since and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the daring and talented artist. What transpired was paradigm shifting and brought a real sound diversity to the evening. Loke Rahbeck is an artist that fearlessly shatters pre-conceived notions of what is possible in sound. Popularly categorized as noise, I like to think of his work as audible art … like listening to a painting. Playing a heart stirring rendition of his most recent work from Croation Amor ‘Love Means Taking Action’ the sounds brought a tragic, yet warm stream of emotions for me. It can feel exhausting at times experiencing a Croation Amor set, but it is worth every precious second.
When the frenetic masterpiece breaks into the ending track Love Means Taking Action I suggest grabbing a friend, a love, or even a stranger and clapping slowly as everything crashes into a harmony of tenderness and love. I sometimes like to feel that this album is a continuous honest pulse of longing anchored by hope. If you like a challenge and pushing the boundaries of artistic expression then Croatian Amor needs to become a priority!
Back to the main stage. One of Scandinavia’s coolest and most popular bands readied to end the concerts in the Main Hall for the first night. Lust For Youth brought the dancing feet back out of the basement with a lovely set straight from your dopest dreams. A perennial favorite of the Copenhagen scene, having a live performance from the group led by Hannes Norrvide is about as close as it gets to a perfect Friday night. Evoking the frailty and passing pleasures of youth, they played each crowd favorite with poetic ease and a nearly foreboding lightness … as if aware of trouble under the surface and saluting coming of age with warm nostalgia. With music from Lust for Youth in the backdrop, the past can only become a bit less haunting. End Day 1, Check in my bed at 4 AM … earlier then most, get ready for day two.
4p.m. and heading back to Pumpehuset, many of the people performing and working with the festival greeted me upon arrival and I felt an even stronger sense of camaradarie and shared experience in the the air. Byhaven, Pumpehuset’s outdoor stage lit up with a decidedly quirky performance from Copenhagen artist Bastian Emil. Livening up the outdoor scene with a distinctively slinky dance style and catchy vocal vibes, Emil had the patio scene moving well before sundown.
The Bands – Saturday
Day two continued to be truly special as we had the privilege of seeing Varnable in her maiden performance as a musician. Varnable was one of the unexpected treats for me, and as part of the group that was able to witness her first, I am certain we will look back on it with a special fondness. Mixing light and dark pop vibes with a charming dance and vocal style I hope we can continue to see more of this artist in the future.
The downstairs room became more melodic and noise oriented as we were treated to another first time performer in Yangze who gave the night a smooth and composed performance complete with interesting visuals evoking light in a visibly natural state while transitioning the effect slowly to a metropolitan, city-scape vision. Yangze showed a tendency to mix different media and art forms into his work. I feel this will be interesting to watch develop as his art progresses. Completing the hours before the Main hall opened again for action was an intimate portrait of a set given by Astrid Sonne. Feeling the room with harsh noise walls, bumpy transitions and a haunting viola, her performance evoked in me a deep sentimentality and beauty in life’s random joys and sorrows. The dimly lit room gave the performance a story-like appeal broadening further the variety of music at the festival.
The main hall opened to a one of a kind experience with Minais B + An Gella. Was it groovy? At times – yes. Was it a journey? Definitely so. Was it straight from dark dreams and robotic tech visions? Possibly. With all the questions and interpretation of their work, one thing is certain: they are not afraid to be different and you can feel in the way they choose to perform that there is a very low amount of ego. Preferring a dark room where they are nearly invisible, they seem to inhabit a place in shadow as their sound holds the room together. This set was also marked by some stunning visuals from the Knife visual team including multi-colored lights set on large metallic banners lining the walls.
Whatever stage presence was locked in the dark was soon demolished by one of Denmark’s most prominent bands on the rise. Choir of Young Believers arrived in time to bring the music back off the computer and into the hands of more traditional instrumentation. Blessed with a truly ambient and arguably gender ambiguous voice, lead singer Jannis Noya Makrigiannis uses everything in his body and voice to deliver what I can only describe as a completely filling and nearly antique sound journey. Constantly shifting tempos and lurking in nuanced moods, I am convinced that this music project will continue to evolve and evoke a strong romanticism in the future. If you love a fantastic voice and fantastic audible experience catch this band as soon as possible!
While on the topic of unforgettable voices, the entire venue seemed to stack rapidly into the Main Hall to see a band that is quickly becoming the pride of the city. Armed with a deep, and undeniably charismatic voice in lead singer Anton Falk, First Hate blasted onto the Main Stage and it very quickly made sense why they were the headlining act for the evening. The Duo (Joaqim Norgaard and Falk) are polar opposites on stage, while Falk dances furiously and belts with that magnificent voice, Norgaard prefers to stay close to the controls and quietly look on. The two provide a complimentary balance, and a nearly chummy presence to a very heart based and authentic performing style. As with many of the acts, the audience was involved and even sang along deeply to the songs which I can best describe as nearly epic, deeply romantic and almost nerdy in the most charming sense. It’s not necessarily the composition (it’s nice), the costumes (nice windbreakers) or the King of the Universe performing style Falk invokes that makes me admire this band, but rather it’s the undeniable way that each one of their songs carries it heart on it’s sleeve.
While much of popular music today trends toward heavy stylization and branding, First Hate has a way of injecting personal joys and tragedy into what could otherwise be a fairly recognizable sound-scape. It’s the type of music that moves your heart and challenges anything to come between the way of the things that truly matter. When Falk tells the audience to Follow your Heart somehow it doesn’t feel cheesy (it probably should). Somehow you believe it, and I think this is down to the feeling that the boys from First Hate are doing the same … following their hearts. They sing in their hit single ‘The One’ that life isn’t always about keeping promises, but I can promise anyone reading this that you will feel moved in some way by this group live. Get on your bike, get a car, take a train, start running … go see them!
After drying off from the sweat coursing into my brow from so much dancing and a well-deserved cigarette on the patio, it was time to enjoy the after-hours fun with Suprise act Junkeren and Infamous Fast Forward Productions favorite DJ Duo of Martin Shake (founder Ectotherm Records) and Nikolaj Jacobsen (Co-founder of Fast Forward Productions). Alternating from no holds barred moshing with masked mystery performer Junkeren in the upstairs bar, and dancing (again) in the downstairs stage with the fast, pounding and melodic feel from Schake and Jacobsen, the festival morphed into a wonderful party. Artists, friends, all-comers merging seamlessly into a delightful mix of post-midnight madness.
I dance till I cramp, take pictures till my camera dies and converse with nice people until I decide to head home after nearly falling asleep on a couch next to a stack of staff backpacks.
After fare-wells and thankyou’s to the people directly involved my last interaction from the Pumpehuset grounds was with one of the artists I admire greatly. This festival was so full of gratitude, I thank him for the show, he thanks me for the pics, I cycle off into the sunrise. Bed at 6 A.M. (still earlier then most) that was fun.
Sorting through the pictures on my new sofa the following day I drift in my thoughts. I was expecting an amazing time sure, but what I couldn’t account for was the wonderful time I had both personally and artisitically. Some people seem to think that there are no more real music scenes, and that all of music rests within a small world of international big-money related deals and transfers. I know this isn’t true from what I’ve experienced in LA, and it makes me so happy to see what has started within the last ten years by a group of artists and friends result in such a powerful display of diverse, quality music. As Knife founder Jonathan Holst Bruss jokes, “The dream ends monday” we all head back to our lives. I return to my work and studies, others to their jobs, some back to the recording studio and possibly some to safety within their headphones and cigarettes. Things get uncertain from day to day, but one thing that I believe after being at knife is that their desire to create more has only gotten stronger. It’s a crazy amount of work putting a festival together, and I can safely say with good assurance from the Knife Mag people that this won’t be the end. With a brand new issue in the works, and more projects in the making we can definitely be expecting more which is good news for everyone. I suspect this will be read for different reasons, from festival attendees and artists looking to re-live, people who are bummed they missed it, and even some who have never heard of any of these artists, but I would wish that each person feels a desire to support in some way what for me is without a doubt one of the best and most talented groups of creatives right now anywhere. Thanks Knife Mag, thank you Low-Fi, can’t wait to see what comes next!
For more you can follow Knife Magazine on Facebook and IG @Knife_Magazine