Last night was the finale of Sónar Reykjavík, with a stellar lineup of Icelandic up ‘n’ comers such as Wesen and aYia, and international stars like Giggs and De La Soul. Rex Beckett and Árni Kristjánsson went once more into the fray.
I Have A Gold Wristband And I’m Looking For Love
By Rex Beckett
It stinks in Harpa. It’s the third and final night of Sónar Reykjavík, and no one could be bothered to shower, (present company included). Everywhere you go smells like MDMA sweats and after-party farts. I’m gently clearing away the two-day hangover by watching Halldór Eldjárn and his orchestra of percussive machines, making swoony soaring music with freewheeling robot instruments. Wesen (₩€$€₦) come on next in the same room and I stay for a couple of their lush atmospheric jangly-electro songs, just enough to become unnecessarily emotional and start sniffling into my leather coat.
They are putting on a great show and being hilarious between songs, but I have to head up to see aYia, whom I have been meaning to and missing out on seeing for months. At one minute to gig time, Silfurberg is practically deserted, but then the lights drop and two black hoodie-clad guys take up their synth stations and the music ominously rolls in like a rogue wave. I can hear frontwoman Ásta Fanney’s unmistakable breathy squeak creeping out from somewhere but I can’t see her yet, still I am completely spellbound by whatever spells she’s casting from the shadows of the stage. When she finally appears she glides around the stage like a marble on a ship, interchanging between soft spoken whispers to light airy singing that perfectly juxtaposes with the dark pulsing beats and low gut-rattling synth riffs. aYia, as a band, is a unicorn, and I gaze in wonderment, wanting to be able to touch this intangible beauty.
I feel aimless and adrift after and nothing really seems to do the trick for a while (Dillalude: totally fine but totally not for me; KrBear: all house music sounds the same to me and I feel completely unqualified to discuss it.) Finally I find myself back at Kaldalón to catch BEA1991 and it’s a wonderful surprise. After some tripping interloper attempts to fuck with her gear and gets kicked out, she begins her set by spinning a selection of weird vinyl records like spoken word, nature sounds, educational material and erotica. The overlapping effect creates a hushed ethereal hum and I feel like I could watch this all night. The bros sitting next to me who won’t shut the fuck up aren’t having it. Beat it, queen. BEA1991 moves over to her synth and changes modes into highly crafted and harmonically crafty songs and reveals her impressive vocal quality and agility. It’s giving me some Kate Bush-ey feels and when she stops to tell us that it’s her first completely solo show ever, it’s truly astounding. It’s impressive as fuck.
The night and the festival are almost done, and I finish it up with Marie Davidson, a fellow Montrealer serving up dark tech, sexy electronica realness. I’m more familiar with her from her cold wave duo Essaie Pas, and on her own she commands the table of synths, controllers and mixers like she owns everything. Her random vocal bursts of weird spoken word drive the energy up and also feels like she’s kind of yelling at us, which is strangely enticing. Oh, and the entire “stage” floor of Kaldalón is a packed dancefloor, by the way. It’s basically turned into a club and it’s brilliant. I want shows here to always be like this, but I guess that’s just what Sónar does. When in Rome…
De La Soul Deliver For Mother Of Plútó Triplets
By Árni Kristjánsson
Halldór Eldjárn started the night strong. His mixture of melancholic electronics with rock-legend drumming made the whole affair feel very vivid and alive—something that acts with laptop-based sets have a hard time achieving. The crisp visuals were on point and complementary, showing some nature bits and mechanics. Set highlight “Solenoid” kicked ass.
Onto aYia, whose introspective vibe was only heightened by their sporadic moments of silences in the massive hall of Silfurberg. Heavier beats lifted the mood but the barrage of sad chord progressions kept the vibe at a solid low. They gradually won me over, although the breezy vocals with the heavy sub made me think they had been given the kind of stage direction Bill Murray got in Lost in Translation one too many times.
The keyboard player of Dillalude kept the whole ship afloat. Dilla is one of the greatest beat makers ever to live on this particular earth, making him a must-cover. But how can you cover Dilla and not play Dilla drums? His shuffling, almost-out-of-time rhythms are what made him legendary. The set was pleasant and nostalgic, but never broke new ground.
If “adventurous pop music” is playing spoken word records over ambient backing, please can some artful youngster declare that we live in postmodernism already? BEA1991‘s set was dense, conceptual and almost perfect for the all-seated chamber music auditorium that the Red Bull Music Academy has been doomed to use throughout their involvement in Sónar Reykjavík. After leaving her decks and laptop setup, she played some captivating original tracks. New song “Don’t Touch My Freedom” was a highlight—good enough to make us forgive her for running 20 minutes over and fucking up the schedule.
Palmbomen II started his set in the best way possible, playing a tiny synth and creating something that sounded like an alternate Sega Dreamcast boot-up melody. Lo-fi drum machine rhythms laid the backdrop for woodwind synth sounds and 808 breakdowns, delivered raw through analogue equipment. His venture into snoozy 303 techno filled my emo-meter for the night, so I ventured out searching for more uplifting sonic terrain.
De La Soul delivered. Simple. Their crowd control was on point, and they played classic music brought forward in the best way possible. Goosebump territory.
I finished the night off with Plútó in the basement and oh boy, it was very nice. Full disclosure: I have surrogate-birthed three of their children (or am equally close to them platonically). Rumor has it that their set was organised through a carefully crafted Excel document, but even if one was in use, you couldn’t tell. A great closer to a great final night.