Culture: Music / Copenhagen
Setting the stage
Part of the city’s scenery in more ways than one, Vega has risen from its socialist roots to provide the perfect home for all kinds of music.
Stepping into Copenhagen concert venue Vega feels like going back in time. With its mahogany panelling, sage-green walls and cream and brown floor tiles, the modernist gem by Danish architect Vilhelm Lauritzen opened in 1956 as The People’s House for the country’s Social Democratic Party (sdp) to host congresses, meetings and events. Located in the previously working-class neighbourhood of Vesterbro, the space also hosted a restaurant on the ground floor that served a simple smørrebrød lunch to the local workers. Today this labyrinthine building has turned into a beloved piece of the city’s music scene.
“The staircases confuse visitors,” says Vega’s head of communications, Søren Gaden, as he leads us in. “If you pick the wrong direction on the stairs, you have to go down and start again.” Gaden takes us through the backstage corridors, three stages and a warren of rooms and bars. Gazing up at the handsome balconies of the concert hall, it is hard to imagine that in the 1990s, after the sdp and workers’ unions relocated to bigger facilities, the building was nearly repurposed as a supermarket. Luckily, artist Bjørn Nørgaard and former environment minister Svend Auken moved to preserve it as a heritage site.
Lauritzen, who is best known for designing the old terminal at Copenhagen Airport and the city’s striking Radio House, was a functionalist and the details at Vega show his practical approach. The venue’s orange and yellow stackable chairs can also be folded and fixed together in rows. Brass chandeliers can be wheeled down, while the floor levels can be adjusted and raised to give the room the feel of an amphitheatre. “It’s amazing that a building designed for other purposes works so well for concerts,” says Gaden. “But, clearly, Lauritzen also thought about acoustics.” Vega holds three venues of different sizes. Concert-goers enter the building through different entrances, so each room has a distinct feel. The biggest stage, Store Vega, can hold up to 1,500 people. Smaller Lille Vega can host 500, while Ideal Bar, with capacity for 200, suits emerging acts. “We promote local acts, it’s part of our core dna,” says Lene Vive Christiansen, who has been the head of programming here since 2016. “We support talent throughout their careers. Vega is a homecoming for a lot of Danish musicians.”
Vega is a non-profit organisation and a Copenhagen regional venue, meaning that it receives DKK6m (€806,000) a year in support from the government. Still, it makes up to DKK100m (€13.4m) per year. After paying staff salaries, musicians and the costs of building maintenance, money is injected back into the Danish music industry to support emerging artists, in an act of public service that feels appropriate given the venue’s socialist origins.
The programme at Vega is a mix of quirky, up-and-coming and established acts. About 40 per cent of the artists are Danish. “I have a team that is constantly looking for new performers,” says Christiansen. On the day we visit, all three venues are in use and, including support acts, six concerts are set to take place. The only non-Danish performers are English rock band Wolf Alice, who’ll take the stage in Store Vega, while Copenhagen-based duo Gorgeous is headlining Lille Vega and indie singer Astrid Cordes is playing Ideal Bar.
“You see acts grow from Ideal Bar to Lille Vega and then to Store Vega; it makes you proud,” says venue manager Caecilie Nygård Konfoed. “Playing here is a big deal.” Singer Astrid Cordes agrees. “Vega is my favourite place to play because of the acoustics and the professionalism of the staff,” she says. “And it’s also my favourite venue as a spectator.”
Soon the building starts to fill with punters and, as the acts take to the stage, a glance around reveals people of all ages and styles. “Parents introduce their children to live music here,” says Gaden. “Lauritzen would be proud to see how the building survived the times and proved its qualities.”
Why it works:
The considered principles of mid-century design help to create a textured performance space with both intimacy and great acoustics.