Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

The UK's premiere Nordic Club night returned for its second extended affair this past weekend and we were there to capture every night.


Photograph by Sara Amroussi-Gilissen

Ja Ja Ja Festival kicked off its first night at its well established Lexington home. Opening the 2014 festivities is Swedish born Sandra Sumie Nagano - known simply to the room tonight as Sumie. The sister of Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano, Sumie creates a world of richess with nothing but her guitar and her voice. The Bella Union signed singer charms the audience with her self depricating manner; arresting, heartbreaking and somehow austere at the same time. She keeps worrying about how different she is to everyone else on the bill tonight but she needn't worry, she stands out as a uniquely arresting voice.

Icelandic duo Low Roar are up next. The brain child of Ryan Karazija - who traded in the sun and surf of his Californian home for the stunning and sparse landscapes of Reykjavik a few years back - Low Roar recently let loose their second album 0 and the incredible acts contained therein are on display tonight. The fragile, shiver inducing "Breathe In" is an intoxicating and languid spell; emboldened tonight by crackling electronics. "Easy Way Out", "Half Asleep" and the spellbinding nature of "I'm Leaving" stole the show before Finnish pysch rockers Death Hawks took their turn. Slow, rolling jams pervade the air, the band's twisting guitar strings sounding as if they've had to fight their way out of the speakers. It takes a lot to stand out as a pysch band in 2014 - you can barely move for revival acts exploring the depths of bygone eras - but Death Hawks bring in the dust bowl blues and hypnotic guitars of the 60s and 70s in such a way that sees them scrambling ever upwards towards the top of the modern pile.

With his blindingly white blond short cropped hair, Denmark's Asbjørn brings a little pop to proceedings, and a little disco too. Feeding off the buzz of the audience, his sophisticated and elegant offerings take on a new lease of life - their breathy inceptions are bolstered yet cautious. As melancholic as they are vibrant, Asbjørn's Pseudo Visions get a perfect UK debut amonst a rapt audience.



'The sound of those drums makes me want to hurt myself,' screams my friend and, threats of self-harm aside, I sort of know what she means. The aggressively metronomic sound the drummer is making is so powerful it's forcing adrenal glands everywhere into overload. So, we do all we can do in such a situation: move, dance, flail about the place. Whatever it takes. But, there's no need to physically harm one's self.

The drum sound to which I refer is that of Frosti Gnarr, drummer with Icelandic band, Fufanu, who are performing at The Lexington for day two of this year's Ja Ja Ja Festival. Hearing the band for the first time tonight, I feel like I've missed a trick; how have I not heard these guys before? I need to up my game. But, while that drum sound is incredible, it's just the icing on their proverbial musical cake. Hrafnkell Kaktus's voice – curse myself for dropping a music journalist's cliché – is of an Ian Curtis meets Nick Cave ilk; he weaves it between the pounding beats and an orchestrated wash of guitars and synths. Fufanu sound like they've just crawled out from the gutter, and I like it. It's mucky, but not by accident. Their sound is meticulously arranged that way. They're so damn tight. The sleazy groove of tracks like "Circus Town" has the audience pulling out their best snake hip-moves too. It's all a bit sexy. In a weird way.

After tonight's show Fufanu are off to play the Royal Albert Hall with Damon Albarn. That's right, don't you dare worry about them; they've got their musical future sewn up by the seems of things. For us, it's a complete change in tone: Blaue Blume from Denmark. If, Fufanu were underpinned by beats, then this band is all about Jonas Smith's voice. His delivery and range - supported by simple, low-key instrumentation - perpetuates a feeling of oneself getting lost in music. It's just hypnotic, with Smith finding new places to go to with each individual melodic phrase.

Unfortunately for them though, Blaue Blume are sandwiched between Fufanu and Rytmeklubben, who are just nothing but out and out joy. However, I'm a little ambivalent towards what they do; would I go out and buy their records if I heard their musicsomewhere? Probably not. Am I enjoying myself listening to them right now? Hell yes. The whole 'just four guys having a party on stage' ethos is a real win and they play on it perfectly. Nice way to round the night off, that.

Words by Russell Cook.



Photograph by Steve Asenjo

The third and final day of Ja Ja Ja Festival’s 2014 edition sees the Nordic extravaganza relocating from its usual home at The Lexington to the beautiful, recently refurbished, Great Hall at Queen Mary University of London in Mile End.

The programme for the day is replete with events, and proceedings kick off on an Icelandic tip with a screening of Bjork’s Biophilia Live. Co-helmed by Nick Fenton (who is currently putting the finishing touches to a film of Kate Bush’s Before The Dawn tour) Biophilia Live elegantly transports us to Björk’s final Alexandra Palace show and it is a credit to its direction and editing that - notwithstanding the fact that the film is shown in a lecture theatre across from the Great Hall - the experience somehow still works. Iceland is also the focal point in Tim Boddy and Stephen Bevan’s film, Tonlist, which airs in the Great Hall. The feature-length documentary explores the country’s music scene and how it has been affected by governmental cuts to arts funding. A particular favourite is an acoustic performance by Ásgeir of "Going Home", captured at his local church.

Faroese duo, BYRTA, are the first live act of the day and singer Guðrið Hansdóttir - dressed in a gorgeous, billowing costume - thrills the crowd with the pair’s particular brand of electro-pop. Finnish Ja Ja Ja old-timers Sin Cos Tan follow suit, playing songs from their latest long-player Blown Away. The sound engineering in the Great Hall is still finding its feet at this point but, accompanied by fantastic visuals, Jori Hulkkonen and Juho Paalosmaa nevertheless manage to bring about commendable mid-afternoon thrills.

Highasakite show off front-woman Ingrid Helene Havik’s talents with a moody and thrilling performance. The light design here complements the music beautifully and the Norwegian quintet ably demonstrates the basis for its reputation as a must-see live act.

While the sound in the Great Hall improves with each act’s slot, it is disappointing that it is not yet at its optimal level for Jenny Wilson’s energetic and engaging Demand The Impossible! segment. Wilson’s powerful voice gets lost in the wet acoustics of the venue at times but, ever the professional, the Swede surges on and energises the audience with punchy, brilliant numbers such as "Pyramids (Rose Out Of Our Pain)", "The Soup", "Like A Fading Rainbow", an extended reworking of "Pass Me The Salt" and her recent hit single "The Future".

Earlier in the afternoon Wilson attends a Ja Ja Ja seminar on The Best of Nordic Music Videos, where her co-directed video for "The Future" is shown alongside subsequent performers When Saint Go Machine’s promo for "Parix", directed by Daniel Kragh-Jacobsen (also a guest at the festival). "Parix" later proves to be the live highlight in the quartet’s evening set.

Emiliana Torrini closes the festival on an exhilarating note with full band backing on songs from her last three albums. First up is "Tookah", the title track from Torrini’s most recent release, and the audience is happy to note that the sound levels are properly sorted out for the headliner. Before performing "Home", the Icelandic singer-songwriter tells the crowd how, when she lived in London, she used to get homesick but now that she’s back living in Reykjavik she gets homesick for London. "Big Jumps", "Sunny Road" and "Me and Armini" sound particularly gorgeous this evening and the performance peaks at the encore, where Torrini - joined onstage by Lisa Elle from Dark Horse - performs Tookah bonus track "Echo Horse (History of Horses)".

And so a full, varied day comes to a lovely end - leaving us all excited about Ja Ja Ja’s forthcoming club nights at the Lexington and next year’s festival and what it has in store.

Words by Doron Vidavski

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