Published September 3, 2014
Just as it appeared that Iceland Airwaves’ giant lineup couldn’t get any more packed with big name international acts (see: The Flaming Lips, Caribou, Future Islands), the festival pulls a final Scandinavian ace from its sleeve. Yup, local music fanatics’ jaws collectively dropped when a long coveted Airwaves performance by sibling duo The Knife was announced earlier this month. Add to this the fact that the Swedish electro institution announced that very day that they would be calling it quits after the current tour, of which the Airwaves date will be the last, and you’ve got a music nerd meltdown on your hands. The Knife have been a massive force at the forefront of electronic music for the past decade, crafting earwarming pop hits like “Heartbeats” and “Pass This On,” while also pushing the boundaries of the art form with their restless experimentation. Word to the wise: be sure to get your tickets ASAP, since an event of this calibre is sure to speed up sales to the festival, which usually sells out by early September.
In the meantime, there’s plenty going on in Reykjavík. Over the past two weeks, we’ve been fortunate enough to catch a couple of equally great, yet altogether different concerts…
First off, the word “legendary” doesn’t do Neutral Milk Hotel’s status in the indie music world proper justice. While the band notoriously disbanded only a year after the 1998 release of their groundbreaking opus ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea,’ they managed to thoroughly influence most of the quintessential indie bands of the noughties, most notably Arcade Fire, The Decemberists and Beirut. After a surprise reunion last year, the band has been touring the world, playing to old fans along with a generation that never had the chance to witness them in concert. On August 20, they brought the show to Harpa, and yours truly were of course present. Despite sporting a raggedy, Robinson Crusoe-influenced look, bandleader Jeff Magnum promptly demonstrated that his voice had lost none of the angst-ridden tension and adolescent sincerity that so many of us can’t resist. The rest of the band played various brass instruments, saws and exotic harps, looking like they were having the time of their lives. And so were we.
Right on the other end of the musical spectrum, Justin Timerlake’s stadium show in Kópavogur was a spectacle of pure bravado and showmanship. JT danced and sang with gusto, like he’d been training for his whole life, and the overall show came off as a really classy Las Vegas affair (with an artistic twist). This was definitely implied by the star himself, who chose to take the stage as Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way” blared through the giant soundsystem. Leading up to the show, and in its aftermath, Iceland went through a bout of JT fever.
A crowd of over 15,000 ecstatic JT fans (including Iceland’s Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson) packed the Sunday night show, causing traffic jams all over Kópavogur. Despite these impressive numbers, the show was far from being Iceland’s biggest concert of all time (as some reports claimed). That honour goes to Metallica, who played to 18,000 screaming fans in Egilshöll back in 2004.
As for recorded music, we’ve kept the forthcoming sophomore album from electro-pop band Asonat on repeat over the last few weeks. The album is called ‘Connection’ and will be available on September 30. On it, the duo of Jónas Þór Guðmundsson (aka Ruxpin) and Fannar Ásgrímsson of Plastik Joy fame welcome a third member to the outfit, a French singer called Oléna Simon. ‘Connection’ opens with the alluring “Quiet Storm” and does not miss a beat from there. Highlights include the dreamy “Rather Interesting” and the album’s final song, “This Is The End,” in which Oléna beautifully sings in her native language, backed by a slew of expressive synths—the perfect ending to what will surely stand out as one of 2014’s top Icelandic releases.
Straumur has been active since last summer, with writers Óli Dóri and Davíð Roach documenting the local music scene and helping people discover new music at straum.is. It is associated with the radio show Straumur on X977, which airs every Monday evening at 23:00.