It may be a small city, but Copenhagen’s music scene is brimming with talent, from world-class orchestras and jazz ensembles to up-and-coming pop acts, edgy post-punk and techno. Culture Trip has spoken to experts on Copenhagen’s music scene to find the best places for live music in all genres.
Music may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of laid-back Copenhagen, but this small-yet-mighty city has a panoply of big-name and independent venues that provide a home turf for its favourite musical genres – from classical to EDM, indie and a thriving jazz scene that goes back decades.
Culture Trip has asked three music experts – with completely different tastes – for their insider recommendations for live music venues in Copenhagen: Jesper Nordin, a conductor and composer who has worked with pretty much every orchestra in the city; Frederik Juul Jensen, manager at experimental label Kulør; and Nanna Balslev, music editor at Danish national newspaper Berlingske and regular DJ at Vega.
Whether you’d like to go highbrow with the world’s oldest orchestra at the Copenhagen Opera House; dance to some techno at Ved Siden Af; delve into Copenhagen’s long-standing relationship with jazz at La Fontaine; or enjoy local indie-pop acts in low-lit Great Gatsby-esque Hotel Cecil, here are our experts’ top spots for live music in the city.
The 1,400-seat Henning Larsen building, which overlooks Copenhagen Harbour, is one of the most expensive opera houses ever built (costs topped £380 million) – and one of the most controversial. “It was gifted to the city by the richest man in Denmark at the time, shipping magnate Maersk McKinney Møller,” says Nordin. “He wanted to influence what it looked like, and there was a falling out between him and the architect. It ended up being a mix of the original idea and some additions by Maersk.” Love or loathe the building, it provides a stage for top-level opera and ballet, and is home to the Royal Danish Orchestra – the world’s oldest.
There are two ‘beacons’ in Danish music life, says Nordin: the Opera House and the futuristic-looking Danish Radio Concert Hall. World-class orchestras perform in the contemporary main concert hall space, which is home to the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the acclaimed Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble and the Danish Radio Big Band. “The Danish Radio Big Band has a newly appointed chief conductor: Miho Hazama, age 32. As a young Japanese woman, she completely breaks the mould for what a jazz guru looks like,” adds Nordin. Three further smaller concert halls at the venue host more intimate jazz, chamber music, choral and rock and pop concerts, too.
The Concert Hall at the Royal Danish Academy of Music
This atmospheric concert hall is considered one of Denmark’s most beautiful music venues, with wood panelling and a huge pipe organ as its focal point. Its resident ensemble is the Copenhagen Phil, a symphony orchestra known for experimenting with new formats. “They do really groundbreaking virtual reality stuff with the orchestra as well as a series of ’60 Minutes’ concerts where they play with a rock, pop or folk band and mix the genres,” says Nordin. “If you want to see what an orchestra can do besides just playing Brahms and Stravinsky, then it’s the Copenhagen Phil.”
La Fontaine is the oldest jazz bar in Copenhagen and a key venue on the Scandinavian jazz scene. “It’s like a small smoke-filled room,” says Nordin. “Some days, you’ll get a jazz trio playing standards, sometimes you get experimental jazz with students from the academy trying out their repertoire, sometimes you get local jazz celebrities joining in spontaneously. They always have musicians pop by and join in.” With a low entry fee and cosy nightly sessions running into the small hours (it’s open till 5am), La Fontaine is a Copenhagen jazz mainstay. “It’s kind of like the headquarters for very intimate jazz experiences in Copenhagen.”
This small-scale Nørrebro venue was previously a church, and hosts performances of a wide range of music from jazz and vocal ensembles to flamenco. “This place is cosy, atmospheric, cheap, experimental and run by music enthusiasts,” says Nordin. Case in point: the Danish Piano Duo (“two of Denmark’s best young pianists”) tried a ‘lie-down’ listening concept at Koncertkirken, where attendees were invited to relax on mattresses in the venue while they played. “It’s a place to go if you want to experience something that’s just different,” he says.
This techno venue easily goes unnoticed, with its signage-free façade, despite being right in the centre of town, a stone’s throw from Rådhuspladsen (City Hall). “The address is pretty unusual for that genre, with a dive bar and a Burger King as neighbours, but it allows people to continue partying into the afternoon the next day,” says Jensen. “They host parties with a ‘safer space’ policy, where there is zero-tolerance towards sexism, racism or other kinds of discrimination. If you step over the line, you get kicked out. But it ultimately leads to a better party for everyone.”
“Over the last decade, Mayhem has become an institution for experimental and extreme music in Copenhagen,” Jensen told Culture Trip. The DIY, non-profit venue is managed by the artists themselves. Expect graffitied walls and a stripped-back, ex-industrial look. “It is pretty much just an empty room in Nordvest, in the outskirts of Nørrebro, but home to the post-punk scene, among other genres. They are constantly seeking to challenge the norms within music, no matter the genre,” said Jensen.
Vega has two concert halls – one holding 1,500 people and a smaller space with the capacity for 500 – and covers everything from pop to electronic, hip-hop, jazz and death metal. The Vesterbro venue has hosted acts as diverse as Björk, Band of Horses, Grandmaster Flash and Little Dragon since opening more than two decades ago, and is located in a listed 1950s building with moody dark-wood panelling and mahogany floors. “The ambience and decor is quite classy,” says Balslev. “Prices aren’t cheap, but they have good cocktails.”
“I’ve had some memorable nights at Alice, and I think they live up to their motto as ‘Copenhagen’s venue for adventurous music’,” says Balslev. The new venue, which opened in 2018, aims to blur genres through experimentation and a diverse programme of world music, electronic and jazz. So far they’ve hosted Cedric Burnside, Goat, Thurston Moore Group, Bedouine, Sun Ra Arkestra and more in the 250-capacity space. “It is situated in a hall in a backyard in Nørrebro, with a relaxed and cosy atmosphere. Prices are quite cheap, and they have local organic beer.”
“Under the name Jazzhouse, this used to be a legendary venue for the city’s jazz scene. Today, it presents both rock, pop, electronic and indie concerts, and a lot of artists describe it as one of the best mid-sized venues in Europe,” says Balslev. Acts have included Jenny Wilson, Electric Guitars, Blondage, Jamila Woods and Cindy Wilson from The B-52s. The venue’s appearance is striking, with dark green and gold Art Deco features, including a dramatically spotlit curved bar serving classic cocktails. “It reminds me of The Great Gatsby,” says Balslev.
Since opening in Ørestaden in 2017, this whopping 16,000-capacity stadium venue (also used for sports) has hosted performances by Kendrick Lamar, Cher, Queen + Adam Lambert, John Mayer and Nicki Minaj. Understandably, tickets usually sell out fast here, so plan ahead. “The arena is designed to provide the best sound,” says Balslev. “It is a good venue for big concerts, but it has the atmosphere of a large gym hall, with hotdog stands in the lobby.”
“A lot of upcoming rock and punk bands play at Pumpehuset in Studiestræde,” says Balslev. It’s set in a former pumping station, so expect full-on industrial vibes. Everything inside – from the walls to the columns holding up the ceiling and even the bar – is painted black. Outside, there’s a bar area festooned with cheerful coloured lights, where outdoor gigs happen in summer. While it’s known for international and Danish rock acts, it also provides a space for jazz, blues and other genres, too.