The top of the youthful crop was crowned this March 15 at the final round of Iceland’s 27th annual Battle of the Bands, Músíktilraunir, in the Hafnarhús Reykjavík Art Museum.
49 bands competed in semi-finals the preceding week with 10 finalists advancing. Each band had the chance to perform two original songs and made it through to the next stage by either winning the audience’s vote or the judge’s vote in each round.
Intended for rocksters between the ages of 13 – 25, the Músíktilraunir battle has been known to launch some big names onto the local scene. Kolrassa Krókríðandi, Maus, Mínus, the XXX Rottweiler dogs, and Jakobínarína all took home the gold at one point in time, and the Battle gets name-dropped in reference to the bands as often as vice versa.
Last year’s winners, Shogun, had the honour of opening the night’s contest and playing the anointed role models. They had a tight-knit sound, with a three-tiered guitar and bass medley running alongside variant hardcore screams, but they lacked charisma and charm.
The night’s closing and winning act, Agent Fresco, had a similar character problem. The band was comprised of extremely wellversed instrumentalists, with the bassist, drummer and guitarist all receiving the official accolades for their respective instruments at the end of the night, yet their effort was more an exhibition of their instrumental know-how than of ambitious musical cogitation. Their rapid and meticulously layered instrumentals were enticing enough, but when paired with unfocused, frenetic vocal shouts, screams and fast-paced talking, unravelled into something completely inaccessible and far too schizophrenic to yield any lasting effect.
The final results of the night reflected a distinct and calculated diplomatic quality. In second place was the R&B/rap duo Óskar Axel & Karen Páls, who were juvenile but entertainingly so, accompanied by a hooking beat and backup break dancers. In third place was the screamo band Endless Dark, who did their emo-rock thing well and weren’t lacking in cohesion, purported intensity or fauxhawk thrashing.
The night’s highlight however, turned out to be the sincere and ambitious efforts of the youngsters of Hinir, Happy Funeral and Blæti, whose sets were perhaps less innovative, but much more compelling than the rest. Blæti, the classical counterpart to the night’s winners, were a well-schooled band of 18-year-olds who masterfully mingled a clarinet, drums, keyboard, and bass into ruminations that were charming for being original in an earnest rather than showy way.