(Photo: Kieron Tyler)
The Viking invasions of over 1,000 years ago changed the map of Europe. In their long boats, the Norse men even reached America. Now, in 2012, a different sort of invasion has been launched from Denmark. This year's annual SPOT festival - its 18th outing - had neighboring Germany in its sights, with seminars, networking sessions, breakfasts and live shows specifically aimed at the 140 German delegates attending the event.
SPOT is Denmark's regular annual showcase festival for new and established local music, an essential event for Scandinavia's music business. "It's working to promote Danish music," says the festival's founder and managing director Gunnar Madsen. "In the '80s there was a lot of development, but a lack of communication. I wanted the information flow to be high. The first two years we were touring Denmark, but the first in Aarhus was 1996 - there were 32 bands." Madsen also heads Denmark's ROSA organization (the Danish rock council) who, in partnership with MXD (Music Export Denmark), organize SPOT.
This year, Denmark's second city Aarhus hosted 121 separate shows at SPOT. Off-SPOT, a series of fringe shows, complemented the main event. Established and internationally known acts like The Ravonettes and Aqua played this year, alongside lesser knowns, around a fifth of whom were visitors from the other Scandinavian nations.
Madsen says this year's decision to focus on Germany is partly because "we consider that Germany is culturally and commercially an atypical market in Europe. They are still interested in buying! They are also interested in things they have not produced themselves. So - with recent Danish successes there - we should go where we are wanted. Also, the relative lack of money these days forces you to make decisions that focus on the neighbor market." He points to the recent successes in Germany of Denmark's Volbeat, Aura Dione, Medina, Tina Dico and Agnes Obel.
SPOT organized a special morning meeting with German professionals where, after introductions, their Danish counterparts pitched to visiting publishers, music supervisors and sync agents. At the event, host Nis Bøgvad (of publishers Edition William Hansen) stressed that "the big thing is strong relationships. We realize (in Denmark) that we have to reach more audiences, but we didn't know how each other worked." Hence the session.
This was followed by a brunch sponsored by Berlin Music Week, which will host its inaugural city center showcase this year from September 5-9. After that, it was off to Aarhus city hall for the SPOT on Germany reception, held in partnership with VUT (The German Association of Independent Music). Although Germany certainly had come to Denmark, it was notable that both the brunch and lunch also attracted delegates from Britain, Finland, Norway and America, all looking for insights into Germany.
In Aarhus for SPOT, Dietmar Schwenger, the editor of Germany's music business magazine MusikWoche, confirms that his home country is ready for the Danish interest. He says "it may never be justified, but in Germany for quite some time Danish music was not considered as cool as other Nordic music. There were probably two reasons. Firstly, Denmark is a direct neighbor and simply not far enough away to create a mystery around it. Secondly, it has to be admitted there has been some particularly cheesy music from Denmark in the past, like "Barbie Girl" from Aqua or "Played Alive (The Bongo Song)" by The Safri Duo. But this has definitely changed as more and more interesting and exciting music crosses the border. I am not sure if German music lovers look for something specifically Danish, they are just open for inspired or new exciting music and it can come from Denmark".
Schwenger also contends that Denmark needs the outside world more than Germany. "Denmark is much more focused on exporting music than Germany," he says. "Denmark, and therefore the Danish music market is much smaller than the German one. That's why Denmark has organizations like ROSA or MXD who do a really good job. Denmark simply has to rely on exporting music to bigger markets in order to survive".