Spot festival acts as a talent showcase of Nordic and Danish music, which can help launch international music careers thanks to the enhanced networking between bands, music agents and audience.
It’s almost midnight on a Friday in May, and a small crowd has gathered in front of a stage placed inside the hall of the Musik Huset in Aarhus. Girls with a beer in their hand sit down on the ground with expectant eyes, and some boys in their late twenties lean against a column and smile. The feeling of ease warms up the place, and a spark lights everyone’s faces when the frontman of Six City Stompers shouts encouragement to the audience. The sound of their jazzy sax pulls a man into dancing quietly on his own, and a couple of journalists watch from the stairs.
This concert looks very different to what nowadays is framed inside a ‘festival’ concept, at least in contrast with the image that most of the people have of sunglasses, alcohol, crowds and international bands. Spot is a small festival and, in fact, remaining small is one of its goals.
“It’s not about the size that matters, it’s about the quality, or the feeling that we are not just another festival,” points out Gunnar Madsen, the director of Spot. In contrast with other events of this kind all around Europe, what this festival tries to do is gather bands with a common feature; they are Nordic, and especially Danish. “I have no ambitions to be the number one in the world. Just that we can do the best work for Danish music and for many Nordic acts,” Madsen says.
But is there a commonality that defines Danish or Nordic music? By looking at the line-up, it doesn’t seem likely, there are rock bands, experimental or minimal electronica artists, rappers and even pop singers. But, like with everything to do with the Spot festival, you need to use more than just your eyes. You must use all your senses to feel the experience. Different kinds of music with the same roots, whether spoken in English, Danish or another Scandinavian language, they are all living forms of art. And they transport the listeners to another dimension, sometimes, with nostalgia.
That is the case for Mzungu Kichaa. Born in Denmark and raised in Africa, Kichaa is playing in the Lille Sal of the Musik Huset, where a queue has formed at the door of those hoping to listen to his music. Inside, Kichaa sings in an intimate, low-light setting. During one of his songs, some girls in the audience raise their voices to add to the chorus, and at the end the audience is standing up, singing and clapping. Having debuted in 2009 and played mainly in Denmark, Holland and Sweden, the musician of bongo-flava considers his work “maybe too unique to go mainstream in Denmark.” However, it is important for him to play at Spot, “the biggest showcase festival” in the country, he says in the backstage area, because “it opens up doors internationally,” as the ears in the audience come from all over the world.
In fact, that is the other reason why Spot festival is also very particular: it’s focused on the networking of the music business. “Somehow, all are equal,” says Madsen, speaking of the audience, comprised of many workers from the music industry and media, that get together with no VIP areas. According to Ole Jørgensen, contact person from the Department of Culture in the City Council, Spot festival is a showroom of Danish talent, a place “where business meets.” Bookers like Stine are expecting to engage with a band to get them concerts in their respective areas of work.
“Being a small market and having a huge musical production environment, it is necessary for us to open up the doors to other markets,” explains the head of the festival. Which explains the presence of the international attendees at Spot, agents that can bring Danish music abroad and launch the local and national artists’ careers outside of Denmark’s borders. Earlier in the festival’s history, internationally known bands like The Raveonettes, Outlandish or Blue Foundation graced the stages.”We can’t feed our own musicians ourselves, I’m afraid,” Madsen says.
While Spot Festival has been based in the city of Aarhus for many years and stayed small, another music festival was born in 2010 with an all-Danish line-up: Northside. However, it quickly evolved something much bigger, attracting up to 20 000 people and top musicians from all over the world. Tickets are sold out a month in advance. But the profiles of Spot and Northside are totally different. “Spot is a festival for promoting,” differentiates Jørgensen, “Northside, not so much. If you make it 10 000 plus, then I believe it would be too big, and the business couldn’t get together because they would be separated in different corners.”
“We don’t want 20 000 spectators, we want 7000 people who are really ambitious to work out of the interest of music,” confesses the head of Spot. And that doesn’t just mean agents from the music business. Kornelia and Sanne are waiting on the stairs to see Turboweekend and When Saints go Machine. The two girls are from Kolding, a smaller city in the region of Southern Denmark, and are part of the demanding “music-interested audience that comes to Aarhus to see the new tendencies among new music,” an essential part of the festival for Jørgensen. “You come to hear bands you don’t know,” Sanne corroborates.
A festival that builds the brand of Danish music seems like a good strategy to promote the culture of the country, and in fact, it is a pattern that Aarhus shares with Scandinavia in the building-up of the Nordic music image. The concept of the festival has worked in neighbouring countries. “Over the last 18 years we have brought one in Norway, one in Iceland, we have one in Helsinki and Greenland,” counts Madsen. Jørgensen even adds; “You have this sort of festivals all over Europe, where business meets.”
“Seen from the national interest, it’s very important what we do because we are trying to draw international attention to us,” reckons Madsen, “and that is what the politician dreams about, the attention.”
The city of Aarhus is on track, preparing to be European Capital of Culture in 2017. Jørgensen adds that Aarhus is “one of the cities in Denmark in which culture and culture policy is first priority,” a key point which contributed to its selection. Madsen recalls a good atmosphere between Spot and the local government, although “upon the development of the culture capital,” it would be effective to join forces. However, he admits that the concept of a small festival like Spot “is not easy to sell, politically.”
“It’s essential for us to present Aarhus,” says Jørgensen. Kornelia points out that thanks to Spot festival she has got to know the city and concert places like Voxhall or Atlas, venues where the different acts from the festival are held. “I will probably come here on a normal weekend,” she says. That is precisely the purpose Jørgensen suggested for the festival; “It’s an essential part that business people come to this city and see what happens, it’s the branding effect” that leads to a “strong music environment.” At the end, it appears that the Spot festival will contribute, not only to putting Danish music on the map, but the city of Aarhus as well.