Alphabeat at SXSW: Cult favorites will have you applying for Danish citizenship
There’s a certain kind of euphoria they only make in Scandinavia. A quality product, as far as exports go.
“We’re from Denmark, and we play pop music,” said Anders SG, Alphabeat’s lead vocalist along with Stine Bramsen, by way of introduction Wednesday at their South by Southwest set. There’s a sales pitch you can’t pass up.
I’d bet you either don’t know Alphabeat, or you know every word to every one of their infectious, cheesy hooks. The crowd at the Neon Gold showcase at Empire Garage was split evenly in half, based on informal polling data done from the stage. The band was big in the U.K. for a time and is back from a long hiatus; its songs have been a staple of my playlists since college, the kind of party bops you excavated from an iTunes dump from your friend.
Things Alphabeat makes you think of include, but are not limited to: frothy teen soap operas from across the Atlantic that you binge in two sittings; bedroom dance solos in front of your vanity mirror from which you should really clean the toothpaste splatters; drinks with pureed fruit in them; indie rom-coms with LGBT storylines and modest production budgets; the year 2007; pastel windbreakers.
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No matter what festgoers knew coming into Wednesday night’s set, I can’t conceive of a world where someone left that room and didn’t consider applying for Danish citizenship. Or at least eating a Danish for breakfast. From opening number “10,000 Nights,” Anders was a rubber-limbed dervish — manually pulling down his jaw in desire, spinning his arms as if to power a wind turbine, dropping to his knees, disregarding all safety regulations around microphone cords. Bramsen belted it out, a picture of sequined professionalism.
“Oh,” you might have said, “that’s how cult followings happen.”
Through classics-to-those-who-know like “Boyfriend” and “The Spell” and new single “Shadows,” Alphabeat got arms up and hearts split open. But the final stretch showed a canny band that knows how to use music from European pride parade playlists to get even night-crawling Texas scenesters to defy gravity. “DJ,” with its refrain of “I could be dancing,” built to an electronic rush fit for EDM-lovers but able to break the corners of anyone’s mouth open (especially if they cotton to a perfect pop song).
“Fascination,” the song that broke the band big in the late 2000s, was a charm bomb. Anders dragged a couple speakers to the center of the stage and helped Bramsen up so she could stand as a beacon to all seeking melodic refuge. He jumped the barrier of the photo pit, embracing audience members — high-fiving, making very Danish eye contact, etc.
“The word is on your lips,” goes the song’s memorable last bridge. “Say the word.” A request? A command? Effective Scandinavian mesmerization techniques? Nope. They’re just Danish, and they make pop music. Really, really good pop music. Long live Alphabeat.