If someone just few years ago told me I was going to open my 2012 concert season with Norwegian synth pop of a band named Casiokids, I’d been laughing out loud for a good half hour.
Unpredictability of the landscape in the ever evolving internet era is probably the most fascinating of the trends in independent music.
While labels bosses need visionary skills and must have severe headaches when it comes to sign the next act, to a simple listener is quite fascinating to see the multicolour blossoming of a melting pot which changes, mixes, gets inspired by both the most obscure bands and the most unexpected.
In less then ten years the taste of the audience moved from lads indie rock playing jangling guitars to symphonic folkers playing violins. Folk mutated into acoustic intimate songwriting to turned electro-hipster-pop. This year is about to propose a revival of classic heavy metal (see I’ll Be your Mirror friday line up) and a resurge of 90s alternative american underground (saturday and sunday line-ups).
Among all of this, Scandinavian pop is living its own renaissance with an intensity that hasn’t been seen since Abba, thanks god, stopped recording.
As it was for Abba, this is driven by UK. With the tam tam of The Line of Best Fit and its sister site Jajaja nordic which is focused mainly on Swedish music, the hipsters generation has felt in love with Nordic musicscapes.
Robyn has become a superstar, Lykke Li is big enough to fill the biggest London venues and artists as Niki and the Dove, signed by Sub Pop and praised by the BBC Sound of 2012 panel, are bound to follow.
If there’s a trend there’s a market and, either you accept capitalism or not, where there is a market, ‘growth’ is the word.
The vein is expanding outside Sweden and Scandinavia.
Iceland Airwaves has become the festival to be if you want to be hipster-cool. Its 2011 line-up last October put together the gotha of the genre attracting fans from all over the world.
Norway couldn’t sit there staring the ashes of the satanic masses of its Black Metal rites, could it?
Casiokids have a name and fit a genre which I would leave a country mile away from my garage rock background.
I realised they were playing Cambridge while reading ecstatic reviews of the previous night show at the Cargo in London.
Pretending to be open minded (I’m not), I decided to go.
There are not many gigs in January. The Portland Arms is a small gloomy backroom of a Cambridge pub, much less trendy than the Cargo, much better to photograph live music and be in close contact with the bands.
Tonight the place is packed. After all which is another UK city where the population is young, posh, trendy, cool and rich enough to afford live music on a Tuesday night?
It’s ten o’clock when the six bearded (but one) guys in the band are standing aside, looking at the crowd and waiting to start in a mixture of northern European shyness and desire to break the ice and made everyone dance.
The Dirty Cousins (first support band) entire line-up plus girlfriends is ready for a lively mosh pit.
The ice didn’t have time to break. It melted in a couple of songs with the room temperature reaching levels who won’t allow me to use any other lens cause the cold glasses are fully covered by condensing humidity.
Nevermind, my 24-70mm and a first row spot is all I need to pester the band with my presence. And the band dancing behind me too.
Casiokids look surprised to have a photographer pointing a lens just 50cm from their vintage toy keys but are easygoing and don’t seem to bother.
The name says it all, doesn’t it? They are in love with the clasic teenager in the 80s Christmas gift that allowed too many kids to feel a musician and to play any instruments with a simple plastic toy and a switch button.
The stage is so small that fitting six guys in position isn’t easy. Imagine what happens if they use to swap positions and instruments throughout the songs.
Not an easy night for the sound engineer.
The few available lights pulsate with the music. To take the right photo is a question of dancing to the rhythm, with an eye in the viewfinder, learning on which beat the white spot lits up.
That made me a ‘dancing photographer’, which sounds as ridiculous as their grandparents most (in)famous hit: Dancing Queen.
Halfway through the show a green and red laser light helps my composition obsession for the background and I end up sitting on the floor to avoid the Portland arms messy stage and shorten my distance to the minimum the 24mm lens can focus.
The songs, sustained by a kind of funk-ish groove are irresistible.
(I have to mitigate the word ‘funk’ which is a forbidden term in the hipster-cool world).
It is impossible to not get dancing when the bass loops flirt with the keyboards over a massive percussive rhythm.
Rhythm is at the core of Casiokids music, it is the fulcrum.
Looking at the phosphorescent merchandise table, I am surprised to discover that Casiokids have already recorded three albums. This latest, Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen (?) they are presenting tonight contains the irresistible hit Fot I Hose (??). Anyone will be dancing to the sound of this impenetrable words in the next months, believe me, actually, listen here.
The lyrics, mostly in their vowels rich Norwegian language, are sang in a high angelic pitch which is the must-have style of the decade.
Not a big point to me. English audience tend to be reluctant about band not singing in English, I don’t really mind.
Casiokids don’t pretend to be the National, they don’t want to be a literate band putting poetry attempts in music. They play sunny electro pop and are happy with it.
The tunes are filled with nice melodies, bouncing beat and it’s there to have fun and make you happy too.
If they stormed a Cambridge pub on a January night, imagine what will happen under a festival tent this summer.
And you can also listen to a remix tape on Soundcloud, courtesy from the friends at the 405.
There are different way to approach concert photography. Some arrive to shooting concert from portrait and fashion, some arrive to music photography with a photojournalist background.
Results are quite different.
A fashion/portrait/studio photographer at a concert usually is the one that complains about the lack of lights, the lack of freedom, the impossibility to set the stage or to pose the subject. He is used to be in control.
They tend to work with telephoto and portrait lenses and to care for perfect lights, in focus crisp sharp images with no tilting.
A photojournalist as a first rule doesn’t want to interfere with what is happening. It is documenting the event as it is. He doesn’t want control.
He wants to bring the show to the viewer. Ideally he’d like to bring the viewer to the show.
I belong to the second category. This is why I tend to use wide and ultra wide lenses. Always a step ahead, never one back. I don’t really mind if a photo is out of focus, if the lights are a bit messy or the composition is tilted.
I only care to bring what is really happening. I want you to feel as you are there. I remain neutral as much as photography can (and will never) be.
There is a risk of being invasive with this attitude.
Both with the band, with other photographers and with the audience.
The line is tiny and perceiving when we are occupying someone else’s personal space is not easy but it is very important.
At the very first sign of being a nuisance, which is often a body language sign not a word, step back and take a break.
I know very well how passion make us blind and unaware of what’s happening around us. As we see “the photo” we go for it.
Other people are very aware of what a pain in the ass (photographer) is.
To be always kind and respectful with bands, colleagues and the audience is probably the first difference between a real professional approach and one that only pretends to be.