Ýmir Gíslason stands on a narrow causeway, watching a bright yellow demolition truck tearing down an old metal industrial tank. The pincer closes and pulls again and again, relentlessly tearing chunks of the building away. Each time it lets go, the whole tank wobbles, letting out a deep boom that shakes the ground. “It’s a cool sound,” he says, and eventually we turn and walk up the causeway, and into Akranes lighthouse.
After a demonstration of the lighthouse’s acoustics via some sonorous throat singing, Ýmir explains that he spent several summers in Akranes as a child. “My grandparents live here, and my cousin is the mayor,” he says. “But I’d never been inside the lighthouse until recently. Then I met Hilmar who looks after it, and he said they have concerts here. I thought it might be fun to record in here. I’ve been trying to record the whole space; to use it as an instrument. You can practice at home with a guitar, and then record what you made—but you can’t practice at home with a lighthouse.”
This sense of sonic exploration is also present in Ýmir’s main musical project, Umer Consumer. A part of the blossoming Weird Kids scene, his impassioned stage performances recently took a creative leap with the addition of a technological element when he incorporated a utility vest, specially constructed in collaboration with KOS-C. With his effects pedals strapped to his body; he can stalk the stage while manipulating his voice in real time.
The results are mesmerising. “I like to call Umer Consumer an alter ego,” says Ýmir, demonstrating the straps and buckles of the vest. “It’s definitely not me up on the stage. It’s something else I’m trying to get to know.” He pauses, searching for the right words. “It’s hard to describe him properly—he’s a wild creature. He can be mean. He has this bitter emotionality—he thinks of all the things that are bad, and plays it out.”
Physical and out there
I wonder out loud if the character allows Ýmir to vent sides of himself that are usually hidden. “It’s a part of me as well, of course,” he ponders. “I’ve been having a debate with myself how much of him is me, and vice-versa. It’s something that I can be. I wear makeup on the stage and act like a weird kid. I always black out on the stage—it’s something that takes over, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
This spontaneous method is audible in Umer Consumer’s unpredictable electronic sound, and even the lyrics—Ýmir is highly concerned with keeping his music open-ended, with room for unexpected events. “Some of the lyrics happen right there on the stage,” he says. “I like to improvise, move on, and keep moving, growing, and exploring this whole spectrum and process. I get myself into character and say what he has to say. And with the vest, you can hear and see what I’m doing in real-time.”
He smiles, and for a second, Umer Consumer appears in Ýmir’s eyes. “It’s physical, and out there.”