Amsterdam is somewhat of a surprising venue this year. It’s the home of sleazy regulars, and reeks of beer and sweat. A place one normally never goes to, except perhaps when the crowd across the road at Bakkus is overbearing and one wants quiet conversation or a trip to the loo. I couldn’t help thinking that some of the regular punters had somehow managed to score Airwaves wristbands when hardy sailor-types offered to buy me drinks or made noisy winnings at the bleeping, blinking slot machines, almost disturbing the stage performances. The hip factor of bands increased as the night went on and thankfully brought in a different crowd.
First up were Lockerbie, who are reviewed here by Aðalsteinn Jörundsson. This is what he wrote: Post-Rock? Sure. Cute? Definitely, but with that I may be describing the band member’s tender ages. But are they any good? Perhaps, I at least didn’t cringe or feel too embarrassed for them, but I came close during the off mic sing along. The songs are structured to specifications that have been tried and tested by other bands before them, their apparent influences. But before I sneezed and said “Hjalta Rós” instead of “gesundheit” they started to deliver some fine compositional ideas in the brass section. But that was only the second to last song. The other ones where too close to their obvious influences to be taken seriously. A verdict? Well made, but not their own.
Cue Anna Margrét Björnsson:
Hydrophonic Starfish are a band as schizophrenic as their name. In their defence they’re really young, having taken part in the ‘Músíktilraunir’ music contest for young Icelandic bands where they apparently received favourable reviews for a solid performance. The band members were certainly confident, featuring a strong singer and a good guitarist. Their musical repertoire made little sense however. Hydrophonic Starfish brand their music as “rock fusion” and I think the sound they’re trying to aim for is the sound of late sixties, early seventies Icelandic bands like Náttúra and Trúbrot. The feisty girl singer had a good, strong voice and used it sometimes successfully emulating Shady Owens, an Icelandic songstress from that musical era.
Unfortunately “rock fusion” sounded more like total rock schizophrenia as the Starfish launched themselves into everything from wild gipsy music to reggae. Something about the whole thing sounded like popular Icelandic mainstream bands like Írafár, definitely not on the right side of hip. The grand finale of this bizarre fusion was a song that sounded like an extra from the Jungle Book soundtrack complete with a variety of monkey noises. I didn’t know whether to stare at the floor or laugh out loud but that said, parts of the crowd got pretty excited about the whole thing, bopping their heads enthusiastically and tapping their feet. Weird.
Something a lot cooler started going on with the arrival of The Heavy Experience, an instrumental outfit with heavy country/ bluesy bass lines and a saxophone. Very atmospheric and intriguing and would have made sense as some kind of a post Paris Texas movie soundtrack. To me it sounded like their musical references drew from Black Earth, Mogwai and even Godspeed. The only drawback was that the songs all kind of ended up sounding the same so the initial interest from the audience faded out by the end. I would definitely put this stuff on at home to brood over this winter but it’s probably not something to watch live for half an hour. As a summary there was definitely something interesting going on there and they managed to make a saxophone sound cool which is quite a feat in itself.[Anna Margrét Björnsson is excused from writing about the next band, Go-Go Darkness, as it is indeed one of her brother’s – the wildly talented Henrik Björnsson- musical outlets. So Grapevine vet Sindri Eldon stepped in].
…and I’m not trying to be an asshole here, but Go-Go Darkness really should have soundchecked better. Well, that is to say, they should have been playing with a better sound system in general… not to say that the sound at Amsterdam is generally bad, or anything, it just wasn’t really ready for their set-up, or more accurately, it wasn’t ready for playback on a laptop.
I mean, I’m not saying it couldn’t handle playback ordinarily, but when you’re doing a gig with six other bands, and the backing track is an essential element in your sound, you need to make sure everything’s in order and sounding good. Just saying.
All that crap aside, Go-Go Darkness are a cool band. Their sneering apathy and off-kilter, unnerving tandem vocals, combined with the aforementioned backing track of creepy, reverb-drenched ambient noise and insistent, unforgiving drum programming give them the questionable honour of being one of those bands you can almost get high listening to. But they really should have soundchecked better.
Just saying.[exit Sindri – welcome back Anna Margrét!]
Next up was Stafrænn Hákon, something I had believed to be the solo project of lo-fi artist Ólafur Jósefsson. To my surprise Stafrænn Hákon was actually an army of a band that crammed the stage and featured an entire four guitar players and played post rock on an epic scale. There was certainly some Sigur Rós connection going on there, but mostly I found a strong kinship to the kings of Icelandic post-rock, Kimono who are signed to the same label, Kimi Records. The whole thing sounded beautifully orchestral with long drawn out guitars and meaningful singing. Ok, perhaps there wasn’t anything groundbreakingly new going on with this band, but the performance was certainly enjoyable, and they received a favourable response from members of US bands in the audience who described the sound as “very Icelandic.”
Finnish band Jaakko & Jay were next up on the stage. I love Fins. How can you not be intrigued by the country that gave us Aki Kaurismaki and The Moomins. This jolly Finnish duo featured a punky acoustic guitar and a drum set with amusing lyrics and drew the audience in with their lively performance. Some of the jokes were completely absurd and incomprehensible which added to their charm. Ultimately though its hard to take musicians seriously when they were red surf shorts on set, but I guess being taken seriously was not on their agenda anyway.
Jan Mayen are veterans on the Icelandic rock scene, having played catchy, aggressive tunes since 2003. Their boyish appeal along with a solid stage performance have always made them an enjoyable live band. Their brand of poppy rock lists influences that range from Sonic Youth to The Strokes, a lively and audience friendly combination. I’m not sure if Jan Mayens’s sound was different enough to get a break through in all these years but it has certainly served to earn them well-deserved respect locally.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!