Sónar Reykjavík 2014, Saturday
Saturday night at SONAR started off pretty much the same way as the night before. Everyone seemed to be at home or in the local bars, preferring to wait until a bit later before coming to Harpa (steep beer prices and heavy a security will do that). Things were quiet and subdued as the melancholic vocals of LOW ROAR drifted through the front foyer. Checking out the early action, you had STEINDÓR JÓNSSON trying his darnedest to generate some interest and energy from the 11 people in front of him at Silfurberg, while a bigger crowd had convened at Norðurljós to check out the booming, if slightly untested, electro pop of HIGHLANDS. This was not exactly what you would call kicking it.
I was mostly biding my time before MIND IN MOTION were to take the stage at Silfurberg. I was rather interested in seeing these guys, even if only from a standpoint of curiosity. A trio of musicians who were around in the early days of Iceland’s nascent rave scene (although my wingman Ísar noted that out of the quartet performing at SONAR, only the guy on the piano was an original member), they were best known for contributing some tracks to the now seminal ‘Icerave’ compilation back in 1992.
The older heads of Iceland’s electronic scene will often talk about ‘Icerave’ with a reverence and hushed awe. That’s how important that album was. It seemed that Mind In Motion disappeared without a trace soon afterwards, but tonight they were back for one night only to try to turn Silfurberg into an old skool “rave,” like the ones that your mum and dad used to go to.
Their performance was certainly a full-on time capsule, featuring a heavy use of samples from the likes of Human Resource’s “Dominator,” “Mentasm” style hoover synths, house piano chords, classic breakbeat rhythms, and lots of whistles. And that was before we even got to the bag of glo-sticks that were thrown into the crowd.
So did they make it in the end exactly like an old skool “rave”? Nah, not really. That scene was of its time—recreating it as it was is impossible, a futile endeavour. That said, I had loads of ramshackle fun listening to them playing their tracks “Inner Feelings” and “S.A.D,” and everyone—from the old raveheads to the curious kids—definitely got into the spirit of it all. It was a definite one-night-only success. Got any veras or vicks??
Now here’s a question for you. What good things have ever come out of Ellesmere Port? Well, for a long time the answer would have been fuck all. Lying on the south edge of the Wirral, all it was good for was a car factory and a chemical works. Culturally it’s like the Gobi desert down there. But now the town can lay claim to EVIAN CHRIST as their greatest cultural export. Down in Harpa’s car park, the fresh-faced tyke’s DJ set pretty much exemplified the modern bass condition for many people into dance music these days. Starting off with some slow jams, he ramped it up with a period of dirty trap tunes that had the people at the front jumping. But then he would go off and take it all down into a valley of techno and hard house, before going back to trap again. It was all boisterous stuff, yet his track blending and skillz showed a fairly deft hand that belied his young age. Ellesmere Port reprezentin’!
Deft hands and mad skillz are certainly words that I wouldn’t describe the DJ antics of DIPLO and his set. He’s seen by many as a major tastemaker (his Mad Decent label had the sense to release stuff from the likes of Mumdance and L-Vis 1990 in the past), but I managed to last 15 minutes before I had to quit and leave the car park in disgust. Just everything about it, from his lame MC’ing, to his nondescript mixing really was the pits, the sonic equivalent of a dog turd with fag ends and broken glass sticking out of it. Evian Christ at least showed that you can be rollicking as hell but still have sense of build and release to the proceedings. This though was just like being stomped in the face with a Jackboot Of Homogeneity for all eternity.
But here’s the interesting thing: I was almost certainly in the minority. Not only was the entire car park filled to capacity with people jumping up and down out of their gubbins—there was a queue going all the way back up the stairs to the upper levels, the only time that happened this weekend. Oh well, I suppose it’s good that someone managed to enjoy it all.
Back upstairs, DAPHNI managed to provide the effect of a much needed aural cleansing. With his look of intense MIT-style studiousness and subtle mannerisms, Dan Snaith may have been completely at odds with what I’d just seen downstairs, but he certainly knew how to do those simple DJ things, such as being able to make a fucking groove without having to bludgeon you over the head repeatedly till you wept in submission. Like a DJ ronin with no allegiance to any one genre, he ploughed through a myriad of styles from disco, soul and Afro tinged funk, to house and techno. Sometimes he would drop in one of his tracks such as “Ye Ye,” and it would just feel so lush and righteous, almost tactile. Beats as sheer cohesive bliss.
After Daphni’s groove explorations, I had to make a decision on where I would be spending the final leg of my SONAR weekend. After hemming and hawing for what seemed like forever, I decided to big up the local housey-house-house scene by going down to the Bay View Area. When I got there, HOUSEKELL was already in full swing, playing fresh modern house that showed he’s got this music for blood pumping in his veins. The fact that fellow BORG acolytes Ómar and Jón (who were there in attendance cheering their boy on) were not playing this weekend is nothing thing short of scandalous, as they’ve got the attitude and talent to be the future of house music in Iceland for a long time to come. But at that moment you didn’t mind too much as Housekell laid on the deep vibes, shimmering hi-hats, and diva vocal samples. The crowd loved it and so they should, because it fucking rocked!
And then Símon and Haukur, aka FKNHNDSM, carried on the same throbbing energy levels of house that we’d just heard. It was unfortunate that everyone seemed to be upstairs listening to Major Lazer or Trentemøller, which meant that the Bay View Area was sparsely attended with only a handful of people and friends sticking around. But those that did decide to stay were treated to some exemplary waves of glowing, pulsing beats and the warm presence of two of the nicest, shiniest DJs in the local scene.
And that’s when things got a little weird for yours truly. Chatting with friends, details are somewhat hazy, but I believe I made the quip that with the lack of an audience, it would be a bit of a laugh to have a quick jog round the Bay View Area.
So that’s what I did. I went off and had a jog around the perimeter of the venue. And instead of stopping, I kept on running in circles.
For FKNHNDSM’s entire set. All one hour and five minutes of it!
If you were to ask me why I did such a thing, I could give some spiel about it being an “experiment” on the nature of clubbing and audience representation/participation, but I’d just be lying. I can’t even blame it on being out of my face on chemlab molly. The funny thing is that the steady 115-120 BPM propulsive beats from FKNHNDSM managed to give me that endorphin rush that urged me to keep on going.
So that’s what I did. Towards the end, I even had several people joining in the running “fun.” Gluteus Maximus may have crossfit drones pumping iron on stage with them, but do they have fans that would be willing to run round the venue for the duration of their set?
Naturally when they finished, my muscles were on fire and my body was broken (dear god, why?) The thought of trying to make it downstairs to see DJ Margeir was something that was too much for this body to bear, so I decided to leave Harpa and hobble to the nearest bar to die quietly in a corner.
SONAR it was fun, but man having fun can be brutal at times.
Check out more photos from Saturday night here.
See more reviews from Sónar:
All The Base, All The Time
To watch the Sónar Reykjavík Video, click here