Taking the temperature of Scandinavian music at Spot Festival 2017

Over the last few years, Denmark’s cultural output has seen it rise to the international top table. A Sunday supplement reference point on one hand, a celebrated incubator for underground music scenes on the other.

Naturally, much of the conversation has centred around Copenhagen, with its restaurant, music and style scenes making it as necessary a stop-off for the nomadic tribes of artists and creatives as Berlin, Moscow and Lisbon. But don’t be distracted, Aarhus, Denmark’s small second city – population just 330,000 – also plays its own part in Denmark’s cultural moment, with a burgeoning underground house scene driven by Central, DJ Sports and the wider Regalbau collective.

Spot Festival, then, is a welcome opportunity to check the temperature of Denmark’s musical climate. A kind of Scandi SXSW where new acts are presented, showroom-fresh, to an international crowd. Held across multiple venues in Aarhus, from the dark, defiantly DIY-feeling Tape to the sprawling Scandinavian Conference centre, there’s also a programme of panels to help thrash out new narratives divorced from UK-US industry hegemonies.

As such, many of the bands on the bill are up-and-coming, fresh-faced and eager to please – sometimes a little overly so: Uffe, a Tartelet records affiliate with a decent line in Arthur Russell popped-socket disco couldn’t quite capture the rowdy Friday night crowd at Radar. By contrast, Copenhagen duo First Hate were the insider’s tip; loosely associated with the same scene as Posh Isolation, they bolted imperial-era English synth pop to curtain hairdos and a very Nordic strain of Under Armor homoeroticism to create something ridiculously fun (the MO is further cemented in track titles like Girls in the Club or In My Dreams). Sure, the flagrant New Order crib in The One comes on, like the hum of too-strong aftershave and wet-look gel, a little strong. But the nostalgia hit is potent.

Still, for those more concerned with Scandinavia’s underground, vanguard movements, the electronic music showcase at DIY venue Tape offered an essential pin-drop.  This was the first year that Spot – ostensibly an industry gathering – had dedicated such scrutiny to electronic music. Curated by Courtesy – herself a long-term resident of Copenhagen, though she currently lives in Berlin – the nine act line-up covered noise, house and techno and abstractions of all the above.  Indeed, it was Equis who represented the most exploratory impulses. Standing behind her sampler and laptop, she triggered confrontational sawtooth blasts and a palette of Holly Herndon-esque, post-human ululations, creating something between a ur-language and religious rite. By contrast, Posh Isolation outliers Rosen & Spyddet dealt in atmospheric instrumental synth pop that was slow-building, diaphanous and almost aggressively easy on the ear. The sustained pads and pleasing chord progressions bore the hallmark of their label at clearly as the desert shoes and shaved heads that crowded onto the floor during their set.

As the evening progressed, the impulses of the dancefloor became more pronounced. Help boss and architect of Aarhus’ house scene Central stepped up with a live performance of deep, drifting house, while Courtesy herself played a blistering, adrenalised set. With just 45 minutes at her disposal, the Ectotherm boss shifted moods and styles with the kind of ease that belies her technical proficiency. Objekt’s Needle and Thread was judiciously timed to unsettle while Borai’s ridiculous Anybody From London track, with its aggro Top Buzz sample laid waist to the tiny space. Also representing Ectotherm was Runne Bagge, who saw the evening out with a live set of classicist, high BPM techno that withstood the jarring and lengthy power dropout a few minutes before close. While Bagge was visibly frustrated, the crowd stayed put – unwilling to miss out on even a few minutes of his compelling, high-tensile set. Perhaps it’s this accidental moment that speaks the loudest as to the flourishing state of underground music coming out of Scandinavia in 2017: it’s really, really hard to look away, just in case you miss something good.