- A lot of people I spoke to at Phono Festival told me proudly that this was their fifth, seventh or ninth time at the event. Odense, Denmark's third city, is not the sort of place that can sustain a huge amount of alternative music culture, and yet a dedicated team of organisers and volunteers have been booking ambitious lineups in unusual spaces every year since 2006. Because the music scene isn't all that developed, the locals take Phono to their hearts, and you can see why.
The setup is simple. A warehouse by the harbour is turned into a functioning event space with some thoughtful installations and high-end lighting and visuals, creating a surprisingly intimate atmosphere. Unlike many festivals these days, the core programming took place across one stage and consisted only of live acts. Like at a rock concert, there were extended breaks between performers while elaborate arrays of equipment were shuffled on and offstage. Considering the left-leaning nature of the lineup, it was a format that encouraged the crowd to be attentive, however far out any one act went.
This spirit of adventure started in earnest with the opening act, French mechanical maverick JiFlure, whose mic'd up contraptions captivated those stood around him. It was a festival where, by the final night, you began to expect surprises onstage. The run of Japanese acts that closed out Thursday night were testament to that, from 食品まつり a.k.a foodman's dexterous footwork-inspired rhythms and Group A's visceral minimal wave, to the blistering 8-bit hardcore of DJ Scotch Egg.
Polish quartet T'ien Lai may have been a member down on Friday, but that didn't stop their cultish rush of congas, gongs and analogue synths from taking on a powerful and scary tone. The drummers stood topless at the front, masked and swathed in smoke. Kruton X Sensational, a collaboration between Power Vacuum boss Milo Smee and the New York rapper, was another unpredictable performance, with the former switching between gnarly MPC beats and live drumming while the latter delivered his laconic East Coast flow.
After a stunning display of drum play from local artist Illdjinn, Saturday night saw Raime taking a rockist approach to their bleak, bass-heavy sound, before Peder Mannerfelt wrought out a breathtaking set that moved from scatty abstraction through to experimental bangers. Aïsha Devi was captivating in a totally different way: her voice was both alluring and mystical, even if her garish visuals were something of a distraction. Brassfoot X Lord Tusk, who were performing live for the time, took a more direct approach, throwing in hardware house and techno with a rough finish. There were moments when it worked, but generally the music didn't flow. They did, however, pave the way for Paul Birken, who wrapped things up with a rollicking set of live techno that spoke to his Midwest roots, all old-school cuts and edits with crafty broken grooves.
The main event finished at 2 AM every night, leaving the afterhours duties to BobZ, a venue on top of a multi-storey car park. There was a clandestine air about the place, with dim lighting illuminating the sturdy DJ booth and sizeable dance floor. The atmosphere inside was intimate and laid-back, while the lineup was stacked with quality DJs, comfortably matching up to the festival's live offering. Apeiron Crew's Mama Snake and Smokey, Scottish selector Mother and Anthony "Shake" Shakir were among the standouts. By the time the amps blew during Trevino's set in the early hours of Sunday, BobZ resembled a dive bar for anyone not quite ready to call time on Phono 2016.
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