Dr. Badmind here to ruin the party for everyone!
What I love about Iceland is the versatility of the music scene, sure there have been a few Sigur Rós imitators in the past decade but nowhere near as many as you would have expected. We still have a thriving hip hop scene in here, and now we have at least one or two people representing bluegrass, grime, fusion, tech-house, Viking-metal, so on. That’s pretty decent for a population the size of Mannheim.
Maybe it’s an island nation thing – just look how every musical style will eventually wash up on the shores of Japan and nourished back to health. Hell, one of my favorite dancehall bands at the moment is the all-Japanese Fire Ball (in a country where most people will go their whole lives without ever meeting a Jamaican person and possession of 0.1g of weed will get you five years in prison). And Japan has bred at least two international dancehall queens (I love you, Junko!). So, I guess what I’m saying is that anything is possible. If the queen of bootyshaking can come from a nation best known for being easy to pack inside piloted robots then why couldn’t the next big reggae star come out of a sweaty room full of frigid, white geeks?
I heartily approve of RVK Soundsystem. I’ve caught them a couple of times before and they are the only creatures I know offering decent dub and dancehall in the country, I even see people dancing at these events which is a rare sight in Iceland. That night they almost had enough dub bands to fill up a whole bill. I say almost because they had to pad the night with a pair of opening bands that really had very little in common with island riddims.
After a RVK Soundsystem DJ set with a nice spread of reggae and its bastard children like reggaeton and dancehall we were introduced to Úlfur Úlfur, that included former members of the bizarre black-metal hip-hop group Bróðir Svartúlfs. Úlfur Úlfur are operating in what I guess you could call indie hip-hop (not to be confused with “alternative hip-hop”) but a lot poppier than their previous effort. The beats came from all over the place: Neptunes, Eminem, Gucci Mane, G-funk, Aesop Rock. There wouldn’t have been much holding this together if it wasn’t for the MCs. They worked great together, great harmonies, really feeding off of each other. They had an unusually willing crowd for an opening act and made short work of it, heads were bopping and they got the room flowing. The lyrics were sincere but not the strongest I’ve heard and frankly a little cringeworthy but there’s something lovely about a guy angrily shouting about what beautiful eyes that young lady has. When local popstar MC Gauti did a drive-by guest appearance on the last song it started to look like a promising night. But next time add some dancers. Icelandic hip-hop needs more fly girls.
But where ÚlfurÚlfur had brought the house down it was Epic Rain‘s turn to bring the audience down with his passionate, somber spoken-word hip-hop. I’m not a fan of performance poetry. There have been some interesting recent contenders like Kate Tempest but in general spoken word is like serving Casu Marzu at a dinner, it’s a cool novelty dish but it’s just as likely to backfire and give people horrible intestinal maggots. The lyrics weren’t bad but with the thick accent it mostly reminded me of that song Suit&Tie that Hallgrímur Helgason did (first google video result). Otherwise it was the usual Sage Francis, Buck 65 influence, the whole white griot deal. Production all sounded straight from Endtroducing or the first two Portishead albums, hints of Godspeed, megaphones, that kind of deal. Everything very heartfelt and shadowy. Then they brought on the mime. They already had a guy in one of those Venice plague doctor masks but now sauntering on the stage was a full-on Marcel Marceau mime (by way of The Crow) both creeping me the shit out and harshening my carefully maintained mellow.Please, stop with the masks already. I like the consciously emotive delivery, I liked what the MC was doing with his hands. He is a pretty strong performer and really didn’t need the props.
The night, predictably, ended on a Tom Waits sample (at least it hope it was a sample). And can we talk about that name? Epic Rain sounds like the name ofa Tawainese botnet.
Panoramix continued the slide away from Partyville.
I will give him props for the name. Name check for my man Coscinny (Panoramix is the original French name for the druid Getafix in Asterix). And boy did he look like he’d been dipping into the old magical herbal potion, know whatm saying? Too bad it wasn’t the potion of melodic invincibility.
Panoramix is a side project for Atli, also of swanky deephouse band Orang Volante. Volante is a pretty damn solid project but Panoramix sent me out for a smoke twice during a 45 min(?) set and I’ve cut down to two smokes a night, so that says something.
I realize that dub is not a music style known for it’s velocity or versatility but this was absolutely defanged somnambulist snooze. Lacked drive, lacked a spine, went on for too long and his placement in the middle of the line-up did him no favors anymore than it did for Epic Rain. Place was getting completely packed, people were liquored up and hungry for a party and there was that electricity in the air (like everyone in the room was holding their breath). If you had given them something to slam booty to then I’m certain this could have turned into a solid legendary Airwaves nights .
The fourth(?) to last song was good though, a more full-on electro song, a little Oneohtrix Point Never. More of that and less creaky stoner dub plz.
Fourth band was Amaba Dama, which is essentially the band Ojba Rasta except with the addition of Gnúsi Yones (who some Icelanders may remember from the hip-hop group Subterranean way back in the day). He also bears a striking resemblance to Seth Rogen, and as Arnljótur of Ojba Rasta was a spitting image of Arrested Development era Michael Cera in that multi-colored shirt, I was starting to feel a little like an extra in a Judd Apatow film.
It was a little hard to spot much of a difference between the Amaba Dama and Ojba Rasta projects, especially as Amaba launched into a dub version of Týnda Kynslóðin by Bjartmar Guðlaugsson, the exact same version I saw Ojba Rasta perform recently. But I think I actually prefer Amaba Dama, Gnúsi is an electric stage presence and an experienced vocalist and the whole sound was just a little bit more uptempo. The upper floor at Faktorý was packed wall-to-wall, the air was smokey and tropical and the yellow backing lights made for a pretty good approximation of a Caribbean club setting. The band asked the people to blow on them and that was my cue to escape for a blast of arctic wind.
Ojba Rasta finished the night, after a surprisingly long break (how long does it take to clear one guy off the stage?). Ojba Rasta are much in the same vein, an upbeat dub band with a full brass section, backing singers, the full-monty. Arnljótur is a great lyricist and an awkwardly confident presence. The lyrics are all in Icelandic, a path paved by the Icelandic band Hjálmar (although they don’t seem to have taken much influence from them otherwise). Finally the night delivered on the softshoe skank I had come for and I did my best to shuffle around in the sardine can at Faktorý, made easier by the puddle of beer I was sliding in.
Ojba Rasta is a pun on a nonsensical Icelandic word used to express disapproval (think “Yuck!”). But there is nothing yucky about the band and I applaud the effort of RVK Soundsystem. However, I hesitate to call the night a success – the lineup was poorly assembled and the middle sagged dangerously in the middle.