Airwaves 2017

Apótekið – Friday

 
Apótekið – Friday
 
Photo by Hvalreki

Being a performer is often ridiculous. Many venues an artist is made to perform at are all kinds of awful. But most of them are apparently heaven compared to what dance musicians performing at Apótekið are faced with. All kinds of music could reasonably be hosted there, intimate jazz, quiet indie, folk music, you know, music to sit and think about. Apótekið does not accommodate people who want to dance. The stage and the bar are close together, so that the people going to the bar have to walk in front of the stage. There’s a tiny bit of empty space to one side of the bar and stage, and that’s the dance floor, but it’s on the way to the exit and bathroom, so people dancing have to step out of the way of people going to piss and shit or leaving and entering the club. It’s frankly shocking that the organizers of Iceland Airwaves thought that it would be a good idea to place dance musicians at Apótekið. It’s as if they have some sort of personal vendetta against all dance musicians. Anyone who’d spend more than one night inside that place would realise that it is completely inappropriate for dancing.
A fine performance from Legend 
Suicide is one of those bands that not enough musicians copy. The formula is simple: A guy vocalist plus a droning synth background. Legend have that down pat. That’s not to say that Legend are a straight Suicide rip-off. Suicide made their music at the dawn of synthesizer rock music. Legend make theirs now that there’s been four decades of tradition built up. Legend bring in a whole range of different styles, primarily darkwave, but a lot of other genres as well, even a hint of eurodisco.
As performers, the two members of Legend fit a classic profile, the introverted music mind, to the back of the stage, making all the noise and generally looking like he barely notices he’s up on a stage. He’s just playing his music, man. Then there’s the extroverted singer, who reaches out to the audience, enfolding them with his personality. In this Legend are like many classic double acts, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Martin Gore and Dave Gahan, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
Legend put in a fine performance, but they had the unfortunate experience of being the opening band at a terrible venue and never got the crowd going. Krummi, the singer, did his best to get the audience into it, but most people looked like they were still hung over from yesterday, and too sober not to care.
The considerable skills of Captain Fufanu
Captain Fufanu are a different kind of double act, though classic as well. Their model isn’t from the rock world, but that of house, techno, etc. Two guys standing next to each other at the front of the stage, behind a ton of equipment, turning knobs, moving sliders, pushing buttons. Think Chemical Brothers. At its best, this becomes a dance, the performers treating their assorted musical gear like Fred Astaire treats a walking cane. That’s not to say that Captain Fufanu are the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of knob-twiddling, but it was great to see a couple of performers so clearly enjoying the music that they were making that they danced as they made it. Sadly, the audience didn’t groove as thoroughly. That’s not quite right. People were grooving, nodding heads and swaying bodies, but there was no way to dance because for the first half of Captain Fufanu’s performance the dance floor was occupied by a circle of guys, drinking and talking loudly about what they’ve seen so far at Airwaves and what they’re gonna see later. Fortunately they drifted away after a while and dancers started taking to the floor (I among them). But that didn’t last for long because the floor was soon invaded by people who chose to stand there and drink. To be fair to them, there wasn’t anywhere else for them to go if they wanted to stand, drink, and watch the stage. Because, again, Apótekið is a dreadful place for dance music and the organisers who chose it as a venue for dance music should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
Captain Fufanu employed all their considerable skills as musicians to get the audience moving but those who wanted to were kept from dancing by the immovable objects on the floor. The band laid down a fun groove, which evolved steadily over the course of the set, adding and subtracting elements constantly. At times one of the two members of Captain Fufanu would sing, and then resembled no band so much as – you guessed it – Suicide. The only criticism I have of them would be that the video that was projected behind them was a bit boring. It was a montage of blurry shots of Icelandic streets and nature scenes (waterfalls, mostly). That didn’t really add anything. Of course, if I had been dancing, I would never have given the video a second thought.
Captain Fufanu are a fun techno-group with a varied sound. They start off with a very simple and classic beat which they then pile all kinds of stuff on top. You definitely should check them out if you have the chance. Just don’t go if they’re playing Apótekið.
Mondkopf shut people up, finally
Mondkopf finally figured out how to shut up the people standing around on the floor chatting. He did that by playing very, very loudly. His music, heavy, thumping beats washed over with white noise and electronically processed sounds, was well suited for that kind of ear-shattering volume. Happily, many of those who were now unable to talk to people around them started dancing. I jumped at the opportunity and happily spent the next forty minutes dancing as much as possible, when not having to stand still and press up against wall while large groups of people passed through the dancing area on their way to the bathroom, leaving or entering Apótekið, or just wandering around. Holy moley that place is unsuitable for dancing. Good stuff from the French electronic musician, who almost managed to make the audience forget how terrible the Apótekið is as a dance venue. I can think of no higher praise.
[at this point, Kári Tulinius leaves Apótekið to write the above review, leaving the lovely Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir to cover the rest of the night]
Rich and textured walls
The second half of the night got off to a bright start at Apótek, but descended slowly but surely into humdrum repetitiveness as the acts wore on.
It all sounded good and well as I arrived at Apótekið on Friday night. The place was crowded, the dance floor packed and the music pounding beats to jog the memory with their old school flavour. Yes, some people have a soft spot  for such things. It’s not a crime! Unfortunately this was just the end of the last set reviewed by Kári Tulinius, and I was here to take over for the second half of the night of DJs and live electronic acts at Apótekið.
The good times kept coming with Walls though, a UK act who HumanWoman rated as one of the top acts to see at Airwaves on this here Grapevine website (http://www.grapevine.is/Home/ReadArticle/HumanWoman-Pick-Five-For-Airwaves), and they didn’t disappoint, laying down progressive beats with a fresh and usual flavour. Their use of guitar and vocals are pretty much just an added bonus on top of what is already essentially rich, textured music and though the tracks are fairly progressive in style, there is enough going on that it doesn’t have the feeling of being monotonous, as can sometimes be the case.
They were firm favourites with the crowd and the dance floor was packed with people who were getting their groove on in small space available. This is actually something that seemed to be a problem with Apótekið: The ‘stage’ or DJ booth is located directly opposite the bar, with only about a three-metre gap between them, which serves as a dance floor. This doesn’t leave a lot of space for cutting loose, and dancers have to contend with the constant flow of people either going to and from the bar or to and from the lounge area.
However, this didn’t stop people from having a good time and getting their groove on, though maybe there would have been even more people dancing if it had been better set up.
HumanWoman had a great time and so did the crowd
Following Walls were the aforementioned HumanWoman, a local electronic act who continued the good work of Walls but took it in a slightly different, somewhat more retro direction. The guys from HumanWoman  know their stuff apparently, both being DJs and musicians in various other forms and they have a pretty tight act going on. I like their shtick, they wear face paint and have good time with what they do. There seems to be a tendency with electronic acts to not really perform the way other artists do, but with these guys this is really not the case and they give a good show, along with creating funky music.
Needless to say they were popular performers, with the dance floor remaining full throughout their act and many people singing along with their catchy lyrics as they busted their sweet moves. Their sound is fun but sharp beats give it a slightly darker undertone, which is cool. It seems like these guys could be pretty popular and I would definitely be keen to catch them again, perhaps in a venue with a bit more space.
DJ Bensol marked a turning point
The end of HumanWoman’s set marked a bit of a turning point in the night, with the beats becoming somewhat simpler and harder. DJ Bensol took to the decks at this point, with a set, which did have good points but was generally a let down after the fun of the previous two acts I saw. It probably came across as worse than what it was because what he played was so much heavier than the others, though it wasn’t all bad and  (admitting to a bit of a weakness here) there were a few moments of nice vocals in there. However the dance floor started to thin out a bit at this point, with various groups coming and going, but never remaining as full as it had been for HumanWoman.
The tech-y flavour of DJ Bensol’s music probably appeals most to connoisseurs of progressive house, of which there were obviously a few present, some very enthusiastic about what was being played. While the number of people dancing lessened he definitely didn’t clear the dance floor. However, for the average layman his hard, driving beats got boring and repetitive after quite a short time and this is probably why he didn’t attract the big numbers.
Sexy Lazer continued the tradition
Next on the decks was Sexy Lazer, who gave a great performance earlier as one half of HumanWoman. Unfortunately, Sexy Lazer didn’t repeat the fun and games of HumanWoman and continued down the path laid by DJ Bensol. I was really ready for a change in style and hoping Lazer would maybe mix things up a bit, but the Lazer opened with an unpromising track, looking like he would continue the hard, driving beats and minimal progression. This basically didn’t change throughout the set, which was quite long, lasting from around 2 AM until 4 AM.
The crazy cats that were dancing were wildly enthusiastic, although this maybe had something to do with what they had consumed rather than the music. Who knows? Maybe they really were that mad for it! I was starting to feel like a bit of a wallflower,  I couldn’t quite find the energy to dance but was quite entertained with watching the antics of other hearty partygoers.
DJ Casanova was enough
Finally, the last set of the night rolled around, and DJ Casanova  took over, continuing with the progressive theme of the night. He laid down tracks that were somewhat sharper in tone than the previous guys, but lamentably by this time my ears had had enough and it all sounded pretty much the same to me. Clearly this was the case for most others there too, because soon after his set began the dance floor turned into a ghost town and his pounding beats resounded around an almost empty room.
It was probably just that he played so late and his music was so damn hard, which meant that he ended up playing to an empty room. Even for big fans of this harsh beats, there comes a point when enough is enough. For me enough had been enough quite some time ago. There were some moments in his tracks which promised to be more than just a continuation of the endless pounding beat, but it always reverted to the same old, same old again. Sigh. By this point, my ears had taken enough hammering and it was time for home.
It started as a pretty sweet night in Apótek. The first two acts I saw were pleasantly surprising, and they deserved the warm reception they got. The following three though were far too similar which made for a hell of a boring night in the end. It would have been ok to have one set of this endless minimal progression, but three….Three was too much. At least for someone who had to stand there watching all night, for review purposes.

Posted October 16, 2010