Each night of Sónar, Grapevine has a troupe of writers-at-large taking in the scene and reporting on what’s going down inside the glittering facade of Harpa. Here are three different takes from the festival’s opening night.
Pop Music For The Contemporary Dystopia
By John Rogers
Sónar’s first night began early for me, when I went to see my colleague at Reykjavík Grapevine, Terrordisco, open up proceedings at the car park stage. The concrete bunker didn’t stay cold for long. A couple of those full-time festival guys were already down the front when I arrived, doing that dance you’ll see at every festival in the world—feet shuffling side to side, eyes glazed and staring into the middle distance, arms winding and outstretched, fingers grasping at… something. I’m not sure what they’re grasping at actually. It could be those bubbling, wobbling synth lines. Or it could be the web of snakes dancing before their eyes. Or the pounding 4×4 rhythms echoing from the concrete walls and off into eternity. For all those present, Terrordisco efficiently started the party.
Warming up the main stage were the band on everyone’s lips: Hatari. They’re an interesting trio. The drummer stood topless and largely unmoving, wearing a spiked leather facemask, as if plucked straight from the set of Mad Max II. The two vocalists are an utter contrast: one is a flamboyant, whirling presence with a beautiful falsetto voice; the other stands almost completely still, his face resting in an almost-grimace, surveying the audience coldly and occasionally bursting into a fierce rant in a grating voice. Both wear militaristic outfits, shouting and howling over motorik beats and severe synth lines—an odd couple of actor-vocalists that perform a hypnotic stage spectacle. Two dancers moved around them in tandem, marching around dispassionately. Hatari’s authoritarian aesthetic is inherently theatrical, but it also manages to be oddly unsettling: this is art pop for our contemporary dystopia.
Next I caught the tail end of SiGRÚN’s set in the seated Kaldalón theatre. It’s early days for SiGRÚN, but this sounded like a promising progression—her abstract, wordless vocal drones are slowly congealing into something more songlike, growing more hooks on which to hang your attention. My last set of the night was the debut solo show of Örvar Smárason, best known for his work with múm. Moving away from that band’s wonderfully delicate, intricate, atmospheric sound, his solo work opts for bolder strokes, with vivid melodies, vocodery vocals, and some surprising, crackling, huge broken-synth sounds that bounced around the packed room. It was an assured performance, and a glimpse into a promising new body of work from one of Iceland’s most intriguing musical minds.
First night of Sónar and the Klock is ticking
By Hrefna Björg Gylfadóttir
The first night of Sónar is always a warm-up night for the heated weekend that is yet to come. However, tonight was quite lit. It started off with the best live performance I’ve ever witnessed at Sónar: Hatari. I first saw them live at LungA art festival, which was one of their first performances, and tonight I couldn’t believe how far they’d come. It was like watching a horror film and attending a goth fashion show at the same time, in the best way possible. The dark Icelandic lyrics were sung beautifully by Klemens, and growled perfectly by Matthías, while the masked Einar kept the beat. The whole show was a joy to watch with two amazing dancers and absolutely horrifying visuals which included organs and blood. I must say, for me, a good concert is one where you can either lose yourself to dance or become completely inspired, and I felt both things.
Starting the night off by blowing the audience away, Hatari made it very difficult for the next acts to follow. Tommy Genesis however completely brought it with a powerful show, performing amidst the crowd and creating a moshpit of fans in front of the stage. She even gave the audience a lesson in equality and respecting women when someone grabbed her inappropriately. Respect.
After a few beers I decided to check out GKR. I’ve been to about ten of his shows and love going to concerts where I know all the lyrics. He was full of energy, and the show was colourful and fun. I completely lost myself in the amazing visuals. One thing I noticed from both Tommy and GKR was that they both stopped performing a few songs halfway through—maybe it’s a hip-hop thing, or maybe the sound was off on the stage, but it was confusing having to start all over when in the zone.
As the night continued, my sight became blurrier and the empty beer cans on the floor multiplied. At that moment the only thing to do is dance at the car park stage. Being just drunk enough to cut in front of the line, I got right in to see the German king of techno, Ben Klock. The smokey car park was filled with people at different levels of drunkenness, some politely dancing while others were dragged out by security guards. However, as I said, the first night of Sónar is always the warm-up night for what has yet to come—and now the weekend has arrived! Have fun and be safe.
Terror And Confetti
By Grayson Del Faro
I feel bad for any good DJ who has to be first on any night, especially the first gig on the first night in the car park where they haven’t even bothered to turn the lights off yet. Starting things off right, Terrordisco rose to the occasion, get a room full of people dancing right out of the gates. I mean, the bros with the light up shoes will dance to anything, but even Reykjavík’s typical too-cool-to-dance-before-they’re-shitfaced hipsters to dance before they were properly shitfaced.
Next up was Hatari, a new-ish band who are shaping up quite nicely. The first time I saw them perform was at a secret goth party I’m not allowed to talk about and I was unsure how much the performance might lose when the Hitleresque frontman isn’t screaming at you face-to-face, but the simple yet effective visuals and back-up dancers really helped to fill the massive stage of Silfurberg. Their glossy art-school take on industrial music has earned some criticism from the goth camp, but it’s certainly catchy enough to be—nearly—accessible. That was the best part: locked out of the anti-capitalist lyrics and cheeky digs at the audience, the non-Icelandic speakers looked hilariously perplexed at how they found themselves actually grooving to two kinda gay Nazis and Bane from Batman onstage.
I was very fortunate to have never heard of Tommy Genesis before yesterday, so as not to suffer the indignity of crushed hopes. Her performance was underwhelming at—no, no, stop the sentence. Start it again. Her performance was basic as fuck. She had no band, no visuals, and absolutely no stage presence during the few moments she actually spent onstage instead of hiding in the crowd. She also interrupted—wait, wait, hold up. Let’s start that sentence again. She interrupted every other song to start it again, as if she couldn’t count the music, or she’d forgotten her own lyrics, or couldn’t be bothered to do a damn soundcheck. Even her most credible moment was a barely coherent rant about the sexist pricks grabbing her ass in the audience, which, despite the perfect time and place for a solid statement on women in the hip hop game, fell just short of an intelligent point. Even shitty rappers deserve to perform free of sexual harassment and she was right to call them out, even if ineffectually. But as for her overall performance, at best she was a mediocre diva and at worst just a bratty tween yelling about dicks. Ironically, the highlight was when she interrupted herself for the fourth or fifth time to tell them to cut all the lights. There was nothing to see there anyway.
For those moments when the entire Icelandic hip hop scene seems like a bunch of middle class bros in 20,000 ISK hoodies trying to convince themselves that the suburbs of Reykjavík are not as distant from South Detroit as they very, very, very much are, GKR is your knight in shining armor. His sincerity is his greatest weapon. With his messy bob and basketball shorts, he looks less like his thug-wannabe peers and more like a pre-makeup suburban mom at home on a Saturday morning, and who could better deliver his artfully simple lyrics about eating breakfast with cereal boxes cascading behind him? Now that is truly hip hop for everyone.
After a night of ups and downs, I decided to cash my night in where I knew I would find a stage full of presence, blizzards of confetti, and a crowd absolutely losing its shit: FM Belfast. After years of seeing them perform live, I’m still waiting for the day that I get bored. But with an increasing number of covers deftly mixed into their iconic anthems, they’re a band still finding new ways to pump up the jam.
See more of our Sónar coverage here.