Funny how an artist can convince you their music is good just by the way they move to it. Premiering the festival’s (and NASA’s) lineup on Wednesday night, Eleni Tzavara of Athenian foursome Film did just that—tactfully writhing on stage, arms upraised and oscillating, she heralded the music’s ruminative aftertaste, suggesting it’s fascinating possibilities. Through a thick layering of instrumental beats, Film’s music revealed itself to be both cerebral and grippingly physical, like a less melancholy Blonde Redhead, with a more jolting, danceable beat—sonic waves breaking against an eager crowd.
Lára Rúnars, on the other hand, revealed herself to be the musical equivalent of someone who likes to hear themself talk. She preempted her FM-hit ‘Honey, You’re Gay!’—a song whose tongue-in-cheek lyrics are about a woman encouraging her boyfriend to admit he “doesn’t like [her] hips”—by irreverently dedicating it to “you gay people”. Colorful dress swirling, asymmetrical haircut twirling, Lára drove through her set with remarkable enthusiasm, greeted by approving cheers from the crowd, and nods from her hat-wearing cronies onstage. It was a successful performance, precisely because her brand of music is performance-music—something that looks convincing, but is actually like a prop in a film, a cardboard set; impossible to interact with, and though it looks great on stage, is thin, and empty behind its colorful exterior.
In the bathroom between sets, two girls with upper-class east-coast-US accents so pronounced they almost sounded British, talked about coming back next year. “It’s so ridiculous it’s RIDONCULOUS!” said one.
On the balcony near the stage, an old man wearing earplugs and a “Don’t Fuck With Iceland” T-shirt, (which had a picture of an erupting volcano), was dancing flamboyantly next to his earplug-wearing wife.
Soon the young sweethearts of Sykur launched into a whole-hearted effort to restore the audience’s faith in Reykjavík’s blooming generation of fledgling-musicians. Persisting technical difficulties—that compelled but didn’t end with a short sound-check in the middle of the show—seemed to have shaken the boys up a bit, however, and they remained visibly unnerved throughout their set. The guest appearance of singer Rakel Mjöll, of Útidúr, also turned out to be a bit excessive, as she—dressed in a white girdle and black lacy garters—demanded a little too much attention from the crowd. Her incessant panting wasn’t offensive as much as it was distracting from what was actually interesting about the band’s set; their minimalist synthesized beats functioned almost game-like, a generation-appropriate ode to the sounds of nineties video games. Indeed, through its confidence, Sykur’s music feels steeped in a feeling of shameless youth—something that is in itself both seductive and entirely necessary, but doesn’t need to be overemphasized by a scantily clad orgasmic teenager. At least only in moderation, boys.
Benny Crespo’s Gang, even with new material, climbed up motifs that ended nowhere. The band seems convinced, at least, that they want their music to be loud! and vigorous! but they seem to be able to achieve little else. Almost psychedelic, almost lofty, their reveries are a patchwork that doesn’t seem to want to hold together.
Outside NASA the line stretched out to Café Paris. Inside, it was suddenly unbearably hot; Facehunter took pictures of girls; girls took pictures of each other.
Next up Bloodgroup feigned tribal, grimaced and jumped around for the cameras, spasming as though they were being paralyzed by the sheer awesomeness of their own music. Yet even a well-executed light-show, and the sheer novelty of having had both a keytar and what looked a lot like one of the violinists from the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra—wearing leather pants, no less—was not enough to make up for the awkwardly nonsensical lyrics (they actually pulled a “this is bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!”), or warrant the extravagant pantomime of absorption the group was acting out on stage.
The real intensity Bloodgroup pretended to be pouring out was actually delivered by Agent Fresco, who, absorbed with playing their instruments, were dripping with fervent intention that actually paid off. Like Benny Crespo’s Gang, Agent Fresco’s music has a certain schizophrenia to it, in that it is often hard to anticipate, coming seemingly from a variety of directions, and yet in that chaos the threads do converge into an intelligible whole, building to a common climax. At the closing song, ‘Eyes of A Cloud Catcher’, the crowd greeted singer Arnór with a bed of hands, chanting, reverently, “We are, we are”.
Mammút, led by the ever-cathartic Kata, finished up the night with an expertly executed set. The music of Mammút feels a little like running with traffic, it’s youthful exuberance seemingly never exhausted, pulsing forward, going, going, going.