Published March 17, 2018
After the opening night off-venue parties, Sónar Reykjavík kicked off last night at Harpa will the full festival programme. Here’s what went down, as told by the Grapevine review-team-at-large.
Sónar Reykjavík always brings fresh air to the halls of Harpa. With a lineup that mashes together rap, techno, IDM, and the myriad crossover subgenres that lie between, it’s a real treat to drift between the various stages, absorbing a broad menu of forward thinking music as you go. The audience is just as diverse, and you’ll hear chilled Spanish accents mingled with raucous groups of party-hard cockneys, schedule-studying German clubbers, and, of-course, the sportswear-clad kids of the 101 scene.
The lineup itself was quite the Icelandic takeover on the opening night. Countess Malaise gave a strong showing, with a powerful stage presence in her full self-professed “Goth Bitch” persona. Her flow is at times languid and (over?) casual, and at others focussed and rapid-fire. Overall, it was a winning performance that oozed sexuality, style and confidence, and the audience were hypnotised from the moment she set a high-heeled boot on the Kaldalon (sorry, “SonarComplex”) stage.
She was followed by her collaborator and boyfriend Lord Pusswhip, who has ditched his Soundcloud-rap style, developing into a promising experimental producer. It was—surprisingly, considering Pusswhip’s generally imaginative approach—a straight-up laptop set with a bare-bones setup, but his current music is choppy, ever-evolving and always engaging. His sonic barrage never sits still or settles into a groove for too long—it’s a good M.O. that makes Pusswhip a pleasingly creative and unpredictable entity.
Upstairs on the big stage at Silfurberg (“SonarHall,” or “SonarClub” maybe, it’s hard to remember) I caught the end of CYBER. With a huge spinning logo projected behind them, they took over the stage with props, coordinated outfits, and a fierce and bouncy energy. Countess Malaise joined them for “Psycho,” which felt like an anthem in this context. It turns out that as much as Sónar brings fresh air to Iceland, the Icelandic scene brings fresh air to Sónar. JR
Reggaetón misses and crowd-pleasing hits
My Friday night started off slowly with the hypnotic bleeps, bloops, and horseshoe crabs of Silvia Kastel. It picked up from there with the moody, jazzy pop of Vök because I’m just a sucker for that saxophone.
Having seen GusGus play to near-empty rooms and shovey, shitty crowds before, it seemed like the planets finally aligned to give them the slot they deserve. Or maybe it’s just that the influx of dance-friendly Spaniards at this festival has livened up Reykjavík’s typical too-cool-to-dance-until-too-drunk-to-stand mentality.
Speaking of Spaniards, I had some big reservations about Bad Gyal. But frankly, I’m so thirsty for anything vaguely tropical in this cold, reggaetónless country that I was willing to put them aside to get my grind on. Unfortunately, she only confirmed them. She completely out-diva-ed herself, sitting out half her own set for mysterious reasons and when she finally showed up to her own gig, she dropped some snide remark to the audience about how she was definitely not lip-synching. Must be a sensitive subject! I mean, is it really fair to “adopt” the autotune vocals typical of Jamaican dancehall and then get mad that people know you’re not singing? Despite the “European white girl studies abroad in the Caribbean once and returns to Europe thinking she is the Beyoncé of reggaetón and dancehall” attitude, I gotta give her credit for doing her whole performance in socks and sparkly chanclas.
Thankfully, Lindstrom was able to put the dance back in on the floor before TOKiMONSTA took control. Much of her music isn’t necessarily 3am djamm anthems but she knows just how to work whatever crowd she gets. She mixed and matched some of her ‘Lune Rouge’ magic with her older gems, even dropping in cameos of classic hip-hop crowd-pleasers. Unlike many of her DJ peers, her glowing smile hinted that she was having as much fun as we were. GDF
Seated dancing and mermaid music
This was my first time at Sónar, and I have to say that it’s very interesting to see Harpa moonlighting as a multi-floor club. The space serves this purpose very well. Upon my arrival, I entered the Red Bull Music Academy stage, and was surprised to find out that it’s a seated auditorium—not a common thing to stumble upon at a festival with mostly electronic, dancing-oriented music.
The small seated hall turned out to be a perfect spot for me to occupy for the first few hours, as this was exactly what I needed at the time. All of the acts performing in the space were more or less danceable so you could get the best of both worlds there—you could sit down, relax, and immerse yourself into the sounds without much distraction from the outside; or vibe to the music by performing the “seated dance,” some head-nodding and leg-twitching action included.
The first act I saw was Silvia Kastel. This girl has a noisy, experimental background, and you can hear it in her intricate, multi-layered, take on club music, both harsh and melodic. The visuals of jellyfish and other sea creatures fit the music perfectly with their mellow, dreamy quality. This is what mermaids would listen to.
Next, there was Lafawndah, and she put on an amazing show. I didn’t know her before, so this was a revelation for me. Her sound is very difficult to pinpoint, as she takes inspiration from various traditional music from around the world, giving it a personal twist that results in pop that’s simultaneously familiar and otherworldly. Her set was full of surprises—she even invited a writer friend on stage for a deadpan comedy interlude.
JASSS was the next gem on the schedule. Most of the people were dancing in or on their seats at this point. She managed to create a real party atmosphere in the room. The final act in this space was Kode9, presenting his new project inspired by Japanese video music with visuals by Kōji Morimoto. It was easy to jump into and lose yourself in their world. Some people got into it so much that they rushed the stage to dance—a good reminder that it’s a one huge party after all. KK
Alien but inviting
The SonarLab—a.k.a. the Harpa car park, a.k.a. “the basement”—has become a Sónar Reykjavík staple. The Friday programme consisted of seven and a half hours of some of Iceland’s finest and up and coming electronic acts. I missed the two Icelandic techno pioneers that started off the night—the melodic beats and soundscapes of Yagya, and hypnotic grooves of Cold. The remaining acts were diverse, but fit well into the warehouse-like ambience of the lower levels of Harpa.
Berlin-based Árni Skeng—of Sweaty Records and member of the Plútó DJ collective—played a powerful, party-starting set. Árni is very capable of mixing diverse styles of music from the electronic realm. The past year saw him mixing in Berlin’s legendary Tresor club, and other well-planned parties that have made his sets faster and more cunning.
EVA808 proved to be an intriguing addition to the basement’s already alien vibe. She delivered a jagged, eclectic and experimental mix–mainly consisting of her own tracks. She interestingly mixed her own ‘Empress’ to a Michael Jackson track, but the standout for me was a track which had such an immense, deep and rumbling bass that it ripped through your whole body.
Lena Willikens’ hypnotic and obscure set left me in awe. She played a set of songs that kept a consistent energy level and intensity throughout. It was a slow and crackling mixture of techno, raw house and experimental beats. Near the end she played “Celebrate The Last 30 Years Of Human Ego” by Giant Swan—a recent and well-received industrial techno track. The crowd seemed to really like it, and so did I.
Before I knew it was time for the final set of the night. A live set by Volruptus—the up-and-coming producer who’s been pumping out electro releases in the past year on both Nina Kraviz’s трип and Bjarki’s bbbbbb labels. His high-tempo production—which kept accelerating—created an alien but oddly inviting atmosphere that reached a blissed-out conclusion. Needless to say it was a great set, and a great ending of my Sónar Friday. AJE
Bedouin gothic, harsh noise, and fluffy bunnies
Arriving quite late into Friday night, I head straight to see Lafawndah in the SonarComplex. I am here to experience her music for the first time and it’s an immediately disarming performance. Floating onto the stage in a liquid-like white gown to stand tall behind a scarf adorned microphone, she commands the room. The gorgeous set consists of deep moving bass-heavy Bedouin gothic pop. There is a clear emphasis on the presence of her clear and impeccable voice—so hypnotic and pure it needs almost no reverb—and highly lyrical content themed on motherhood, immigration and origin, memory and loss, and many forms of love. Her massive percussionist lurks behind her drum kit in her dark corner, focused on accentuating the drama and mystique and danceability of each piece. The set is intermissioned by a sudden interview/sketch about revolutionising motherhood through neglect and selfishness, which feels like a deadpan catharsis towards resolving mommy issues. It’s fucking great, and iconoclastic: the second half was made up of pure bangers.
Most of my night ends up being centred around forming incredible new friendships with beautiful souls, and I spend the next part down in the SonarLab low-key headbanging to Jlin’s noisy danceable dark tech beats. I was super excited for her set after hearing her remixes on Ben Frost’s “Threshold of Faith” single, which were some of the harshest and most Keanu-Reeves-saying-whoa inducing pieces of music I heard last year. What she brought to the mainstage definitely lived up to my excitement.
I make an impromptu stop into the Danny Brown set in the SónarClub just in time for him to tell us that it’s actually his birthday and the entire crowd breaks into singing him happy birthday in Icelandic. He is totally giddy and asks the crowd to do it again (I think he had his DJ sample it) and says “I don’t know what that shit was, but I like it!” It’s super charming so I stay to shamelessly white girl dance with my friend for a couple of songs. But I gotta go when my suburban-mom-moves attract the way-too-grabby attention of an 18-year old on molly declaring his love. Classic Sónar.
I close out the night in the SónarHall dancing to TOKiMONSTA, who is just absolutely delightful. Everyone in the room is in their own little bubble of joy on their own or in friend groups, bouncing around like a bunch of fluffy bunnies. TOKi herself is just having a blast, dancing and singing along like crazy behind her decks to her clubby pop mixes while seizure-inducing visuals slam out from the screen above her head. In the timeless words of Adore Delano—”party.” RX
GV Team: AJ: Alexander Jean, JR: John Rogers, GDF: Grayson Del Faro, KK: Kinga Kozłowska