Earlier last summer, THE NATIONAL members Aaron and Bryce Dessner announced their intention to bring a new festival to Denmark. The Dessners have been living in Copenhagen for quite some time, developing their Danish network in many different sectors. This brought Aaron to define Claus Meyer – founder of the New Nordic cuisine movement – a ‘close friend’, deciding to combine their passions and build something around them. Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a pioneer in beer brewing, joined the duo to create Haven Festival.
Haven, ‘harbour’ in Danish, wanted to be a meeting place where artists could dock to and exchange their thoughts. The festival aimed to celebrate craftsmanship in different artistic disciplines, from music to food making, and to show how these disciplines can be brought up together and interconnect. A beautiful intent, that however have lacked to portray itself throughout the whole festival, for different reasons.
Haven Festival, DAY 1
As soon as I arrived I realized that I could not taste, experience, listen to everything I put on my must-do list. The festival was filled with known and last-minute-released events, which were hard to keep up with considering the already heavy-packed music schedule. How do you do it when you cannot experience everything? The hard-to-admit word was there: prioritize, and so skip the long-queued experiences. You guessed, I’ve been much more devoted to the music schedule than to top-chefs’ funnel cakes and fancy brewed beers.
Aaron Dessner the patron of the festival, was busy running around collecting a total of 20 performances throughout the two days. He started early with the project BIG RED MACHINE in collaboration with BON IVER‘s Justin Vernon, whom was himself joining performaces here and there.
One of my most wanted acts was the emerging British talent REX ORANGE COUNTY, playing at an early 4.30 pm spot, but still gathering a solid crowd. His positive carefree young serenade put the audience in a chilled mood. Mid way through the concert, the ‘ove of my life’ aka his girlfriend and muse Thea joined him for Sycamore Girl to the much joy of the crowd. The beat raised up especially when rapping his Paradise, though lost popularity not for his uncapability, but mostly for the lyric content (‘Only drink beers / if you really want to / And not just cause they’re free / And not just cause your friends have had three /On to the fourth / But you still can’t see why they would want to drink this /Cold Branded Bottled Fizzing / Piss…’). Telling the Danes to not touch beer – a bad move.
We moved to the Swedish corner: an area highly populated by Swedes that came over from the other side of the Øresund-bridge city Malmo, hanging between the Ikea Food Lab and the stage build up for TEENAGE ENGINEERING SOUND SYSTEM. The Swedish brand producing high quality electronic products, had a special stage where to produce music with their products and engage artists and the audience to join them. It’s here that we found again Justin Veron testing out the OP-I and improvising a DJ set with the rest of the TE gang.
Back to the Mindfield stage we stumbled upon Aaron Dessner again supporting LISA HANNIGAN for her fairytale-like performance. She connected really quickly with the audience, telling some anecdotes about her songs and the latest album. The audience followed through her performance mesmerized by this Irish voice able to touch your soul deep down, asking yourself: is this actually real?
In a bit of contrast I ended up at the biggest stage, to shirtless-as-always rock and roller IGGY POP that catered the entire 20,000 festival goers at the Meadow Stage. In the crowd: youngsters and old fellas all sang along to I Want to Be Your Dog and Passenger, while IGGY moved copiously and senselessly, though cathartically and quickly unwrapping himself from a semi-leopard vest thrown by a fan straight into his face. The night continued with the hypnotic yet slightly monotone performance by BEACH HOUSE and a pumping SBTRKT DJ Set that end up in a completely techno bash.
Haven Festival, DAY 2
The weather was not on the visitors’ side on that weekend. Not much of summer was sensible once I set food on Danish ground, especially on the second day as heavy rain poured down through most of the day. The location chosen as Festival ground was in the outskirt of Copenhagen and between distance and rain, my aim to arrive as early as possible fell a bit through.
I managed to get the full ‘Dope and Corruption’ experience: a striptease bar set up by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. He delivered a parodic yet intense striptease experience, singing along throughout his pipe, shirt and trousers were taken off, only to end it up in a golden glittered underwear surrounded by a confetti rain. Back on the festival ground I looked around at the thousands queues to food stalls and decided to skip the thought-through pork-cod-mussels hot-dog adventure to lay on the yet not that wet ground to listen to a few Danish bands.
At Meadow stage I stumbled upon the WHEN SAINTS GO MACHINE and their specific electronic magic that never fails to amaze while also boosting the pride of the Danish audience. Later I moved to KWAMIE LIV, yet not well known, but confident enough to pull her diva-side on stage. The Danish-Zambian electropop singer’s show was deeply touching and spotless reaching its high when she whispery sang Higher.
A couple of hours after, on the same stage, the long awaited PERFUME GENIUS performance was about to happen, while the arain was starting to pour heavily. After appearing on the palm-decorated stage and kicking off with his first song he abruptly ended its first song with a happy ‘Hi!’, making the crowd ease up and forget about the rain. An intense performance, as self-absorbed in his beats, Mike Hadreas moved his arms at the rhythm of his sound so that it almost looks like he was about to take off.
One of the two most awaited acts of the night was just about to start afterwards. Justin Vernon and the rest of the BON IVER gang all appeared in the same uniform – plain shirts with ‘People’ written on it. The Danish crowd waited for this concert more than a year, following the cancellation off his show in February 2017 which already sold out back in August 2016.
The patience was well repaid since black capped Vernon delivered a delicious performance, mixing newer material with some less recent hits as Holocene and ending in an unexpected noisy version of Creature Fear from his debut LP.
For me it was kind of hard to tell whether the performance was organized or improvised, as it has that perfection that could belong to both – preciseness and chaos.
THE NATIONAL prepared a Grand Finale. Here, Aaron made most of the talk since Haven was a sort of his baby and you could clarly see he needed to release all the pressure build up through the last year, while organizing the event.
The brothrs’s personal experiences were present almost throughout the whole performance. THE NATIONAL dedicated the freshly released song Carin at the Liquor Store to Dessner’s mother in law, whom recently passed away, but yet had time to listen to the song months ago. After that, Bryce’s father in law also received a song-dedication, with earlier-stripteasing artist Ragnar Kjartansson performing a crazy version of the danish song De Unge Smukke Mennesker. Matt Berninger on stage was just quite amused about the performance untangling in front of him and decided to join it with intermittent whistling. The long time fans however had time to taste the new material from the forthcoming Sleep Well Beast LP as well as a good bunch of their greatest hits. KWAMIE LIV joined on stage for I Need My Girl and Justin Vernon played along for Guilty Party and Nobody Else Will Be There.
THE NATIONAL’s performance was meant to reflect the adventurous spirit of the festival, creating new sounds and experiences, intersecting disciplines and people on stage. But the goal of the festival seemed to be too big to get the full pictures as an audience member. And that’s a luxury problem since the music program was so great, that it was hard to find proper time to look at all the rest of Haven Festival, at least for me. The event was packed with ideas and good intentions but struggled to deliver it to the audience in the right way since it felt to me that the majority of the crowd was mostly unaware of the art and food programme plus all the other opportunities running next to the musical performances.
Weather aside (which partly also killed the moo) the logistics of the festival didn’t seemed to be very well thought through. There was at least a 20-minute queue at any basic need and the tiny bridge that connected both stages was pretty much packed anytime a concert was going on. Some technical issues were going on as well as sound lacked to be spotless at key performances. But, well, that’s the risk one takes when presenting a new ‘product’ on the market. Aside from these few problems there’s a lot of potential in this little festival adventure and I’m quite excited about a second more improved version to hopefully appear next year.
All Photos by Daniela De Lorenzo