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Copenhagen metal fans celebrate ten years in hell

"Ten years in Hell” was the running theme of this year’s Copenhell and the three-day music festival at Refshaleøen had an unmistakable self-congratulatory feel.

Copenhagen metal fans celebrate ten years in hell
Photo: Torben Christensen / Ritzau Scanpix
To be clear, organizers and Copenhell’s devoted audience of heavy metal fans alike had every reason to celebrate the event’s ten-year anniversary and rapid growth.
 
When Copenhell began in 2010, it was a two-day festival that drew around 4,000 people. This year, a sell-out crowd of roughly 28,000 crossed the portal into hell for a four-day extravaganza with mostly cooperative weather and a line-up that included one of the most elusive and sought-after acts in heavy music as well as a number of perennial favourites and promising younger acts. 
 
As a long-time fan of heavy music who has been in Denmark since the festival’s inception, it’s a bit strange that I had never attended Copenhell until this year. But as soon as Tool was announced as a headliner way back in October, I knew 2019 was going to be the year I finally joined my metal brethren in flashing the devil horns and pounding beers at Refshaleøen. 
 
In honour of its ten-year anniversary, here are my ten takeaways as a first-timer at the now fully-established institution that is Copenhell. 
 
1. This is a city festival in the best sense
 
Unlike the much larger Roskilde Festival, which is held on an open field outside of Roskilde some 35 kilometres outside of Copenhagen, Copenhell is a true city festival. Sure, Refshaleøen is somewhat isolated from the rest of the city but it is just a short (and quite lovely) bike ride away for city dwellers and is easily accessible via public transport for those a bit further from the city centre. Even after all my years in Denmark, the American in me never ceases to be amazed at the expansive sea of bicycles outside of major events and I also think it is wonderful that an extra bus line aptly dubbed ‘Route 666’ helps shuttle fans to and fro. 
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

#copenhell #highwaytohell #celebratingtenyearsinhell

A post shared by ferran rizzo ? (@ferranrizzo) on Jun 22, 2019 at 2:29pm PDT

 
2. The crowd stereotypes are largely true
 
Ahead of the Danish festival season, Politiken cartoonist Philip Ytournel drew a hilarious guide to help people remember which festival they were attending. His telltale sign that you are at Copenhell is if you are surrounded by nothing but dads. 
 
Like his clues for others like Roskilde and Northside, Ytournel’s stereotype of the Copenhell audience is pretty spot-on. I’d estimate Copenhell’s gender ratio to be at least be ten men for every woman and the audience indeed skews older. As a 41-year-old dad myself, I felt right at home, so I’m not complaining. 
 
Another well-worn trope is that heavy metal fans, despite the brutality of the music and imagery, are actually among the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. This too also played out over and over throughout the course of the weekend. It seems we ageing dads with our tattoos and scary-looking t-shirts are simply really good at looking out for each other, whether it’s in the middle of the mosh pit or checking on the guys passed out on the hill. 
 
That camaraderie is part of what brings people back year after year, festival veterans say. 
 
“There’s really a special atmosphere here and there is room for everybody to be themselves. People are so happy here and they are really the nicest people you can find,” Kristian Kokholm, who has attended every festival, told me. 
 
3. It’s sort of small 
 
Having been to Roskilde Festival so many times, it is somewhat inevitable that I use it as the measuring stick for all of the other Danish music festivals. When compared to the older, more established Roskilde, Copenhell feels pretty small and there are very few overlapping concerts. While that eliminates some of the dilemmas that a packed Roskilde schedule can present, it also means that if you don’t like who’s playing on the main stage you don’t have another concert option. Luckily, there is the absolutely wild party scene at the Biergarten and sideshow attractions like Smadreland and Purgatory, where you can watch a dude lift things with his ball sack if you somehow find that appealing. 
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

#smadreland #copenhell #copenhell2019

A post shared by The Local Denmark (@thelocaldenmark) on Jun 21, 2019 at 7:47am PDT

 
4. The audience is very loyal… 
 
Judging from my random chats with other attendees and the crowd reactions to remarks from performers, a lot of Copenhell’s audience is made up of loyalists who attend year after year. Giving the waning popularity of rock music, it’s probably not surprising that fans have so warmly embraced Copenhell and its celebration of heavy metal culture. 
 
“Copenhell has become so much bigger and better over these ten years, and the festival has really helped boost heavy, guitar-driven music and heavy music culture in Denmark,” Kokholm said. 
 
Copenhell veterans Kristian Kokholm and Kristian Gaarskjær. Photo: Justin Cremer
 
5. … but it still draws newcomers and tourists
 
That’s not to say that every attendee is a dyed in the wool Copenhell veteran, though. My group of friends at the festival included two other newbies in addition to myself, including Berlin resident Marian Dorbic, who made the trip for Copenhell. 
 
“My best mate is from Copenhagen and heavy metal music is what brought us together, so that’s why I came up for this. We don’t really have anything like this in Berlin, this is some next-level shit. The thing that brings us all together is the love for heavy metal and the fucking spirit,” Dorbic told me. 
 
6. The Danish metal scene is alive and well
 
One of the highlights of this year’s Copenhell was Friday’s performance by Danish death metal band Baest, who performed to an absolute adoring crowd. The Aarhus-based band have become darlings of the Danish music scene, thanks in part to a recent DR documentary and recognition as ‘Best New Danish Act’ by respected music magazine Gaffa. But they were hardly the only homegrown heroes to grace Copenhell’s three stages. Konvent, Cabal, Manticora, Demon Head, The Psyke Project and Slægt are all relatively young Danish bands who performed over the weekend, as did 80s rockers Pretty Maids. Saturday also featured 40 Danish musicians who came together in different constellations to perform metal classics in honour of the festival’s ten-year anniversary. 
 
 
7. Speaking of hometown heroes…
 
Friday’s headliner was Slipknot, who hail from my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. I have to admit that for a long time I sort of wrote the band off as too gimmicky, but as the years went on and people would stop me every time I wore some sort of Iowa t-shirt to yell “Slipknot!!!!” in my face, I really began to appreciate just how much they have done to put Iowa on the cultural map. For those not in the know, their 2001 album entitled simply 'Iowa' is considered by most to be their masterpiece. When they descended upon the Helvíti stage on Friday night, my Iowa pride was like a gravitational pull and the next thing I knew I was in the pit right in front of the stage – with a vintage Iowa-related t-shirt on, of course. 
 
 
8. The lineup could use some more variation
 
And speaking of t-shirts, a large part of metal culture is proudly displaying the logos of your favourite bands either via the ubiquitous black t-shirt or a battle jacket (if you can read Danish, Anita Brask Rasmussen wrote a beautiful ode to both Copenhell and metal patches recently in Information). In my case, I had a Russian Circles shirt on for two of the three days and received numerous comments along the lines of “great band!” That made me wonder how many so-called post-metal bands have played Copenhell, since the audience seemed clearly primed for it. A quick glance at Wikipedia tells me the answer is none. What it also told me is that a lot of the bigger name bands have been to the festival numerous times. Slipknot had just headlined in 2015, Saturday’s headliner Scorpions were also one of the main draws in 2016 and Rob Zombie returned after just two years. Swedish Viking metal band Amon Amarth (who, to be fair, seem tailor-made for Copenhell) made their third appearance. Here’s hoping there will be a bit more variation in the coming years. 
 
 
9. And fewer has-beens
 
One of the low points of the weekend was the performance by Stone Temple Pilots. While one sympathizes with new vocalist Jeff Gutt and the thankless position he is in, there is no STP without the late Scott Weiland. Thursday afternoon’s concert came off as a glorified karaoke performance that smacked of a cynical cash grab by the band’s other original members. Glenn Hughes, who at one point fronted Deep Purple, and 80s Danish rockers Pretty Maids also made visiting the Biergarten or the faux Viking village Udgård sound more appealing than their tired performances, proving that even at a festival with an ageing audience clinging to metal’s bygone glory days, there is a limit to how far nostalgia will take you. 
 
10. I will be back
 
I’m slowly and reluctantly coming to the realization that I’m no spring chicken any longer and my body and mind may simply not be able to handle more than one festival per summer. While the packed Danish festival season means there might be some tough choices, I am positive that this will not be my last trip into hell!  
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Farewell copenhell.. See u next year! – – – #farewellcopenhell #copenhell #2020 #metal #cph

A post shared by Zombie Girl (@filia.a.daemonio) on Jun 22, 2019 at 1:57pm PDT

 
My top 5 Copenhell concerts:
 
1. Tool
2. Baest
3. Slipknot
4. Lamb of God
5. Orange Goblin
 
 

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MUSIC

What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.

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