Copenhagen City Streets. Photo by Mike Long.
Music is an integral part of almost every culture. It ties us to our past and connects us to our future. The earmarks of music, the rhythms, the melodies and harmonies may vary in arrangement but the impact music has on every aspect of culture is consistent--often without our knowledge. What would a wedding, a funeral, a festival, a parade or almost any occasion be without the music. Music is the unnamed conductor orchestrating the mood of our lives. You can see the effects of music in the art and feel it's influence in the essence of a city. One can hardly look at graffiti on neighborhood walls without hearing the soundtrack used to paint such vibrant colors. In April, I set off to explore just how impactful music can be to a community. What can the relationship between music and cities tell me about the people who inhabit them. In the age of distraction and multiple platforms for listening, can the old fashioned venue survive? Come with me as I put my ear to the streets, stages, houses, and neighborhoods across the Europe this summer in search of the culture of music.
Copenhagen began with an exploration of the main downtown of the city and the neighborhood called Nørrebro. Copenhagen’s efficiency and reputation as one of the world’s happiest places and overall quiet demeanor put it in good standing for having a wide range of healthy genres. Everything from American Folk, NOLA Jazz, Electronic music, and country music seems to be represented in the city. Perhaps it is the socialist leanings of the country or the general affluence, but there seems to be an interest in favorable, positive music. Take for example, NOLA Jazz band who performs the first Tuesday of every month at the Mojo Blues bar. Being interactive with the music (also known as dancing) isn’t as common as I have observed in other cities however, people do seem to enjoy music. Perhaps not the same way that a city like Dublin seems to eat and sleep music nevertheless, it's clear that this ritual of Tuesday night jazz ties people together in mutual appreciation and enjoyment. Another observation, innovation is not the highest goal with many of the musicians here. Rather fun and community are the missions of the music in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen land of bicycles and free teddy bears. Photo by Mike Long.
In Nørrebro, a neighborhood that is one part immigrant families and one part Portlandia, there are a few small clubs. These venues mainly cater to the left-of-center, grittier sensibility folk. Dorena, a band from up the road in Sweden played a set to a rapt audience. In this setting, technical skills and virtuosity were prioritized, and their demeanor was, again, one of positivity and inclusivity. This seems true of much of the music of the city.
The band Vechbeeren at Loppen in Freetown Christiania. Photo by Mike Long.
Within the confines of Copenhagen is the mysterious Freetown Christiania, a semi-autonomous enclave of hippies. Freetown Christiania is known for being very radical, having a semi-legal drug trade and being wildly bright and eclectic in stark comparison to Copenhagen’s more vanilla flavored appeal. Freetown Christiania has had various clashes with the Danish government since it’s inception in the 70’s. So it goes almost anywhere in the world where there are political clashes, expression thrives. Freetown is Denmark's flag bearer for alternative art forms--music included. On Easter Sunday at the venue Loppen, metal band, Vechbeeren, from the Danish/German border, played a show to a large and enthusiastic crowd. Many fans had come from all over Denmark to watch them perform.
The acoustic landscape of Copenhagen is somewhat quiet. There are some good and lively jazz bands and a small rock and roll scene but, the city isn’t dripping with music nor is it filled with an abundance of innovative styles. However in the island of alternative energy, ota Freetown Christiania, experimentation exists. There the sensory landscape is wild and unrestrained giving room to a variety of musical genres and exports.
Denmark has been the perfect city on my exploration into how music defines a cities culture. There are some highly talented individuals working on their craft in Copenhagen. Though musical innovation does not seem to be at the forefront of the craft, the overall tone of the music is bright, communal, and cheerful, much like the people themselves. So if music reflects the mood of a city, I'd say Copenhagen music scene has done it's job nicely.
Stay tuned as my journey continues with Dublin. Follow our Instagram for regular updates.
photos by Mike Long