Magical Musical Chairs (taken from the Wall Street Journal, Friday March 4th)


Gone are the days when all you needed to be a successful indie band was a guitar hook and an artfully ratty cardigan. In the digital era, you’ve got to combine creative vision and musical ability with business savvy and multimedia skill. You can’t just rock out; you’ve got to disseminate…

Danish band Efterklang may have found the right mix. They record for their own label and distribute albums globally through one of the major independents, 4AD; they perform exuberant live shows with a shape-shifting collection of international musicians; they use innovative marketing to build their fan base. In addition to their three well-received full-length albums, they have recorded several EPs and singles, collaborated with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, created an educational program called Efterkids, and even produced a rockumentary.

After 10 years, the work is paying off. Efterklang’s latest album, “Magic Chairs,” this week received the European Independent Album of the Year Award, given out by the indie-label trade association Impala. Two weeks ago they released an experimental performance film, “An Island.” Now everyone wants to know what the band—which takes its name from the Danish word for “reverberation”—will do next.

The four core members bring different strengths, making the band function almost as a single person. Frontman Casper Clausen is the heart, generating song ideas and projecting the group’s effervescent stage persona; laptop-jock and co-composer Mads Brauer is the brain, giving the songs an intricate but insistent electronic groove and providing production expertise; drummer and trumpeter Thomas Husmer is the guts, adding musical virtuosity wherever needed; bassist Rasmus Stolberg is the muscle, the band’s manager, marketing guru and tireless cheerleader.

It’s a kind of “equilibrium,” Mr. Stolberg says, that allows the band to work on several projects at once.

“We all have this big platform where we can do all these things,” says Mr. Clausen. “All doors are open. That’s really what excites us every day. It’s only possible because we are organized in the way we are.”

Mr. Stolberg, probably one of the few rock bassists who is also comfortable discussing such marketing phenomena as “the long tail,” insists that Efterklang “is not just a band. We want to do something. With music at the center but it doesn’t even have to be music, actually.”

Efterklang’s music combines influences ranging from classical to techno. Click-track beats skitter underneath lilting string arrangements; complex vocal harmonies soar high above deep bass lines; songs build from near silence to melodic catharsis. Their 2004 debut album, “Tripper,” layered brass and strings over icy electronic beats. “Parades,” from 2007, was a more orchestral and choral work, with 30 musicians working over 18 months in the studio. “Magic Chairs” is song-oriented and even hummable on pop gems like “Modern Drift” and “Scandinavian Love.”

The music is especially powerful in live settings. From his lead-singer position Mr. Clausen plays a tom-tom, a crash cymbal and an electronic drum pad, and frequently wanders over to bang on a drum kit with Mr. Husmer. Mr. Brauer works his twin laptops and a bank of sampling machines while Mr. Stolberg roams the stage with his bass guitar.

Recently, Efterklang’s concerts have included a screening of “An Island,” their collaboration with French filmmaker Vincent Moon. For the film, the band traveled to an island off the Danish coast and recorded musical interactions with nature and with the local population, reshaping the songs from “Magic Chairs.” The film is being released in an innovative series of public and public/private screenings—video Tupperware parties that enlist die-hard followers of the band to bring in new fans.

Even before they made “An Island,” the band’s music had been described as cinematic, its dramatic yet spare orchestral sweep inspiring plenty of freeze-dried Ingmar Bergman metaphors. Messrs. Stolberg and Clausen say Bergman’s films and, even more, those of Werner Herzog are a major inspiration.

“It’s so distinct the way Herzog does things,” says Mr. Clausen. “Whenever you watch a movie directed by him, it has a signature.”

And Herzog, adds Mr. Stolberg, is known for “having really crazy big ideas and going all the way to make them work.”

What’s Efterklang’s next big idea? What do you do when you’ve already played with everyone from the Danish National Chamber Orchestra to New York City schoolchildren, and made music with everything from raindrops and barn doors to dueling MacBooks?

“We can’t say too much about it,” says Mr. Stolberg, “but we’re waiting for permission from a Russian coal-mining company. “

By Craig Winneker – Wall Street Journal

IMPALA – Independent Music Companies Association

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