Northern Winter Beat, Aalborg, Denmark, February 1-3, 2024 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, February 27th, 2024  

Julie Byrne

Deerhoof, Alabaster DePlume, Memorials, Julie Byrne

Northern Winter Beat, Aalborg, Denmark, February 1-3, 2024,

Feb 08, 2024 Photography by Northern Winter Beat (lead photo) Web Exclusive
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“I don’t know anything but I think you are doing very well. It’s not that easy.” Alabaster DePlume breaks the ice in a semi-whispering voice as if he were sharing a secret. “Each of you has suffered to live to this point, to reach this moment”. The stage talk of the London-based artist might seem puzzling in a different time and circumstances but not now. The enigmatic frontman and his band – bassist Ruth Goller aka Skylla and drummer Donna Thompson – are performing their experimental spiritual jazz set at Utzon Center, the futuristic concert venue designed by Jørn Utzon, the creator of the Sydney Opera House. Limfjord, the fjord near the building, sums up the music succinctly. A steady constant flow with occasional surprises like those one might find in the urban waterfront areas. With DePlume on saxophone and spoken-word vocals, propulsive bass of Goller and effortlessly powerful drumming by Thompson, the set conjures up the Ethio-jazz wizardry of Mulatu Astatke. There is a kind of inexplicable magic that binds the three together in what seems to be total improvisation. Words are plucked out of the air, yet consistently addressing one theme – the value of human life. “I don’t forget my National Insurance Number but I forget that I’m precious”, DePlume muses on one of the final tracks.

Alabaster DePlume (Photo by Amanda Marie Borby)
Alabaster DePlume (Photo by Amanda Marie Borby)

While in Aalborg, it’s easy to get lost in time and forget about self-consciousness. In this formerly Hanseatic city, where back in the days some of the streets were canals and would serve as navigation routes for merchants, the temporal barriers are seemingly non-existent. Northern Winter Beat blends the city’s prosperous past and present, celebrating music by acts from near and far. The main venue, Studenterhuset (The Student House), brims over with life. Run by volunteers, mostly students from Aalborg University, the bar and concert hall are the local culture hub where venerable acts rub shoulders with up-and-coming artists.

Still, despite its overall celebratory mood, the existential ideas manifested by DePlume are shared by other musicians on the bill like Mary Ocher and Julie Byrne. Both get to grips with the other side of life. Byrne’s latest album The Greater Wings is a sonic letter to her deceased partner Eric Litmann. Hence, the ethereal arrangement, provided by harpist Nailah Hunter and Jake Falby on the piano and violin alongside Byrne who sings and plays the semi-acoustic guitar in the picking-hand Joni Mitchell fashion. On “Hope Returns”, she takes her Gretsch instead, creating a contrast to the subtle sound on previous songs, – possibly emblematic of transformation and takeoff followed by a period of grief.

Mary Ocher (Photo by Lukas Thing)
Mary Ocher (Photo by Lukas Thing)

At Huset, an intimate venue hosting more experimental acts, producer and solo artist Mary Ocher explores the existential borderline through the prism of the collective rather than the personal. Her latest album Approaching Singularity: Music For The End Of Time is a reflection on the world’s self-destructive tendencies. Appearing on stage with plastic ram horns on her head, Ocher playfully sets on the journey across the cultural memory. Born in Moscow and taken to Israel by her immigrant parents at the age of four, the musician later found an artistic home in Berlin. The songs, balancing between cabaret numbers of Soviet composer Alexander Vertinsky and Cat Power, seemingly reflect the adventurous and transformative path.

Reassurance and transformation go hand in hand at Northern Winter Beat. The opening concert at Budolfi Church is one such example. Here, the festival attendees are encouraged to walk around the church rather than occupy a fixed position. The performance they are treated to is part of a research project by Danish artist Lars Greve. Seated in the altar area, the musician plays the double clarinet. The sound is reflected by metal plates installed in different parts of the church’s space. Deep and siren-like, it brings to mind scores from Béla Tarr’s films. Yet, the effect is more elevating. Within this echo chamber, one finds himself capable of magic, manipulating the plates in a desired direction while absorbing the reverberation.

Lars Greve (Photo by Northern Winter Beat)
Lars Greve (Photo by Northern Winter Beat)

The transformative energy of music and people reinvigorate the genius loci. At Gråbrødrekloster Museum, situated on the premises of the 13th-century Franciscan Monastery, Texas-based guitarist Hayden Pedigo performs instrumental pieces emanating serenity. Most compositions are in open tuning. Just like his compatriot Ryley Walker, who played at the same venue during the festival in 2020, Pedigo refers to prog-rock acts such as Soft Machine and King Crimson as a formative influence. Still, despite the undeniable perfectionism, he has a lightness of touch. In between the songs, Pedigo reveals this is his first-ever visit to Europe: “Denmark is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life. Texas does not look like this”. Denmark’s most Northern city, Aalborg, is truly diverting. On a Saturday walk from the hotel to the Biffen cinema, it’s impossible not to stop by the 17th-century ornate Dutch Renaissance masterpiece, Jens Bang’s House. Contrastingly, the destination is an old power station, now converted into a multifunctional culture hub. Here, the festival visitors are welcome to watch the premieres of two music docs Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense and Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd. Although the latter doesn’t aim at being objective in regard to facts and figures, it presents the scope of Barrett’s influence on the next generations of artists. Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Nick Laird-Clowes of The Dream Academy and MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden are among the fans featured in the film.

Deerhoof (Photo by Northern Winter Beat)
Deerhoof (Photo by Northern Winter Beat)

Most likely Deerhoof, this year’s Northern Beat headliners, would agree with them. The band’s buoyantly chaotic music disobeys any structure and genre-related cliches. So would Memorials, the duo consisting of Verity Susman from Electrelane and Matthew Simms from Wire and It Hugs Back. They would watch the film but the soundcheck for their show at Huset coincides with the screening. In the evening, they play at Huset. Cinema is essential in the lives of both. Some of the compositions are from their recent albums Tramps! and Women Against The Bomb, written as soundtracks for respective films. Accompanied by the abstract visuals, the two multiinstrumentalists conjure up psychedelic experiments of the early Pink Floyd.

Norwegian collective Drongo have no visual elements to accompany their intense set. Still, the effect is immediate. A few minutes into their performance, the knowing nods evolve into passionate dancing. With three keyboard players, three guitarists, a bassist and a drummer, Drongo creates a dense sound that remotely evokes Apparat Organ Quartet. Although the band label themselves as space disco and krautrock, this is a jigsaw of genres, with house, funk, metal and psychedelia on board. All compositions are named after animals. One in particular, “Spekkhogger” (translates as orca), is just as intoxicating as “Interstellar Overdrive”. Ultimately, Drongo are a reminder that Northern Winter Beat is first and foremost about the joy and power of music that dissolves the existential crisis.

Memorials (Photo by Lukas Thing)
Memorials (Photo by Lukas Thing)


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