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Music

German festival spotlights Denmark's indie acts

Cologne's c/o pop fest always features international artists. In this year's edition, an impressive number of Danes are in the line-up. Singer-songwriter Agnes Obel is joined by five acts from Germany's Nordic neighbor.

Dänische Band Asbjorn

Danischer pop export: Asbjorn likes it melancholy

There's soul queen Kelis from New York, indie rock bands Elbow from Manchester and Warpaint from California - amidst, as usual, a large selection of German acts, many of them local artists from Cologne. But a closer look at the line-up reveals a focus on Danish bands: Six acts from Denmark perform on various stages of the four-day festival. That's big representation for Germany's northern neighbor - a nation of not even six million people.

Scandinavian exports

Scandinavia remains in vogue in Europe, and that goes beyond the realm of music. Danish cultural exports have been highly successful in recent years - most notably, perhaps, in film and television.

Agnes Obel singing on stage

Agnes Obel is an internationally known quantity

In 2011, Danish films, directors and actors received important prizes at the Oscars, Cannes Film Festival and the European Film Awards. The TV dramas "Borgen" and "The Killing," both first released in 2010, have been a huge success in Denmark - followed by an enthusiastic reception across the continent.

Maybe Europe is still on the brink of some big hype when it comes to Denmark's music makers.

Headliner Agnes Obel

Singer, pianist and songwriter Agnes Obel is undoubtedly the most established among the Danish artists at c/o pop (from 20-24.08.2014). On Thursday, she performed at Cologne's Philharmonic music hall, a prestigious venue generally reserved for classical music.

Supported by cellist Anne Müller and violinist Mika Posen, Obel transported her audience into a dream world filled with transcendental sounds. Sparingly lit and surrounded by fog, it seemed as though the trio had come from an elfine land. During the excursion into Agnes Obel's sound universe, time is suspended, but afterwards the audience jumped to their feet and celebrated the female musicians with frenetic applause.

Born in 1980 in Copenhagen, Agnes Obel moved to Berlin in 2006. It was in Germany that she had her first commercial success when her song "Just So" featured in an advertisement for Deutsche Telekom in 2009. Soon after that, she produced her first album, "Philharmonics" (2010), which became a hit in Denmark and across Europe.

Danisch Band Julias Moon

Julias Moon searching for their soul

The album's title reflected not only her musical approach but also predicted her concert venues. The Kölner Philharmonie is not an exception: On her upcoming tour, performance locations include theatre halls, opera houses and churches across Europe and the US.

Colors, symbols, references

On Friday during the festival, four of the Danish acts will play together for an event titled "Spot on Denmark 2014." The concert is a co-operation between c/o pop and Music Exports Denmark, an organization that helps musicians establish a career beyond the small nation's rapidly glutted market.

Julias Moon might be the most mainstream band of the night, but their social media bio makes it seem like they're not entirely sure what to make of themselves yet: "Julias Moon is a progressive pop group?!" The band's best-known song, "Lipstick Lies," however, is an opulent club production built around a catchy pop tune.

Singer Asbjørn unites straightforward pop and melancholy, multilayered sound collages. His videos are grotesque short films, some of which combine the aesthetics of a mid-career Britney Spears and a mild Lars von Trier. Viewers see idealized bodies going through the motions of music video choreography, all within a gloomy romantic landscape setting.

Also on the bill is Kill J: With a smooth production, gentle vocals, and a certain Indian touch, she sounds like a sweeter version of M.I.A. Androgyny seems to be a theme among the artists showcased, and Kill J, with her striking undercut set off with a single blond streak, is no exception. Asbjørn also likes to appear in public with a blond wig attached to his shoulders.

Blaue Blume, the fourth band of the night, rounds out the trend: All four of the guys have shoulder-length hair, and their vocals recall fellow gender-bender Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons. Described as "dream pop" by some, Blaue Blume offers floating guitar tunes done up with 80s stylings as in "In Disco Lights." Almost painful pastels dance across the screen in the track's artfully shallow music video.

Klll J

Typically Danish or not? Kill J projects an androgynous image

All of the bands are full of colors, symbols, and references from pop history.

Specifically Danish?

But is there anything specifically Danish about them? It's an increasingly hard question to answer in the globalized music market.

Den Sorte Skole, the festival's sixth Danish band, seem to acknowledge that. As a collective of DJs, producers and composers based in Copenhagen, they sample music from across the world - and mix genres from psych rock to reggae and classical music.

Confidently, Den Sorte Skole describe their sound collage as "a truly unique journey through musical history and beyond" - and c/o pop festival-goers will have the chance to hear for themselves at the band's Friday concert.

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