Copenhagen, Denmark
21 - 29 February

There’s an admirable stoicism in the decision to put on a festival in northern Europe during February. But there’s method to Journey Fest’s not-quite-madness: the lull of January-induced hibernation, even in the land hygge, can sustain only for so long before the urge to reboot your social life kicks in. Luckily, Journey Fest – who have fast-tracked their MO across four editions in two years – are dab hands at piquing the interest of curious Copenhageners.

Following a trial-run summer edition last year, they make their return for two consecutive February weekends with a now familiar blend of up-and-coming Danish artists with aspirations to breaking through, and acclaimed international artists who cleave close to the underground. Broadening the reach for 2020 is an intimate daytime radio pop-up, a collaboration with community radio MMH in a storefront in the city’s Gothic Quarter. This new dimension furnishes Journey with a more homegrown, underground sensibility, offering continuity and personality to what could otherwise feel like a set of discrete nighttime gigs.

But those nighttime gigs are, undoubtedly, the heart and soul of the festival. Friday’s curtain-raisers are Dirt Bike, a new pop project from Gustav Berntsen of Copenhagen punks Pardans, who specialise in jangling love songs for the contemporary soft boi. The edges are soft, the sax lines floaty, and early arrivals are utterly charmed as they file into the elegant concert hall, Vega – the sole venue for the inaugural weekend. As you might expect, hosting disparate acts in one room throws up some unexpected juxtapositions. British DJ, producer and Frank Ocean collaborator Vegyn was perhaps an unlikely foil to the rootsy and increasingly idiosyncratic indie rock of the cultish headliner (Sandy) Alex G, but the open-minded audience seemed to revel in Vegyn’s artfully weird set. Madonna’s What It Feels Like for a Girl into lysergic ambient into Aphex-style glitch into Frank Ocean’s Higgs? Like so much of Journey, it followed its own internal logic.

Despite a searing set from Blanck Mass, whose strain of noisy, electronic shock-and-awe finds a curiously humane, physical resolution, Saturday belongs to South London jazz futurists The Comet Is Coming. Of all of Shabaka Hutchings’ projects, The Comet remains the most in thrall to the metabolism of dance music, exemplified by the psychedelic wash of analogue synths and the rhythmic builds mustered by synth player Dan “Danalogue” Leavers and drummer Max “Betamax” Hallett. It’s a heady brew even before Hutchings introduces his tenor sax – but when he does, the result is explosive. Shedding his black gilet to play bare-chested in dungarees, Hutchings accentuates the contours of the propulsive atmospherics with ringing melodies or else doubles down, punctuating the driving beat with thick welts of sound. The euphoric tension-and-release of Summon the Fire, from last year’s Trust in the Life Force of the Deep Mystery LP, sees the capacity crowd reduced to a heaving, sweaty mess. But though the band, cosmically aligned and politically attuned, speak to a particular moment in jazz’s new wave, Leavers is eager to play up their devotion to the past: “For the challenges we are about to face,” he declares near the end of the show, ignoring pleas that he should remove his ski mask. “We need the old technologies and we bring them back. The end.”

The second weekend showcased a further diversification in both music policy and venues. The venue of Loppen in Freetown Christiania played host to the raucous, hardcore/hip-hop crossover of Ho99o9 and the black metal stylings of local heroes Slægt. The low ceilings and ground-level stage positioning of this scuzzy upstairs venue meant for total engagement with the acts and a level of intensity best suited to the beat-driven noise that Ho99o9 shell down in ample doses.

One of Journey Fest’s standout characteristics is to marry a headliner with world-class support in order to give each event the feel of an intimate showcase. This pays off two-fold: people come to the shows early, and there is a real sense of anticipation for the main attraction. Hannah Diamond comes on at midnight to a well-oiled crowd and regales the audience with her brand of PC Music-indebted pop, the latter half of which descends into a 140 happy-hardcore party. However, the supporting cast of Danish wonder-kid Yangze – whose textural sonics and superb voice is the new music highlight of the second weekend – and Klein’s demonic, strobe-augmented experimentalism provoke and engage in entirely different, unexpected ways.

The weekend ends with the double salvo of Jessy Lanza’s grooves and Floating Points’ live set that has clearly taken on an inimitable toughness since I last witnessed it. Classic tracks such as Nuits Sonores are dealt with at the start of the set while the second half incorporates more from his recent long-player Crush including the superb Les Alpx. It’s a suitably exuberant way to round off two weekend’s worth of top tier music.

Words: Louise Brailey and Thomas Frost.