It’s easy enough to say when you live here, but if you’ve traveled thousands of kilometres for the express purpose of coming to Iceland Airwaves, you should still set aside some time to see acts you’ve never heard of. The importance of this became more apparent to me last night, as I headed downtown to see an act I’ve known for years and have always enjoyed, Bárujárn.
A solid, driving rhythm section backing up ethereal guitar work and a theremin (yes, a theremin), this is music for driving through the desert with all the windows down and a thermos full of psilocybin mushrooms soaking in black coffee in your lap. Occasionally, you stop the car to shoot tin cans off the arms of cacti with an old revolver.
I was thoroughly entertained by Bárujárn, and the theremin work is haunting enough to send a chill up your spine even as the rest of the band compels you to move. It’s a pleasantly disconcerting combination of emotions. At the set’s end, Just Another Snake Cult were slated to appear next, but something else was on my mind. You see, in years past, covering Airwaves meant parking yourself at a single venue for the entire night, watching one act after another. Which has its up and down sides. This year, we have the freedom to go where we please, and I thought it would be silly to stay in one spot.
So I left. Just next door, two security guards stood by a doorway. I heard no music inside.
“Who’s on next?,” I asked.
The guard shrugged, reached behind him and showed me the line-up. By my watch, Gunnar Jónsson Collider was about to start. Never heard of him. All the more reason to check him out.
I admit I was a bit trepidatious when I saw what I thought was going to be Yet Another Macbook And Guitar Act. I’m happy to report I was very mistaken.
Psychedelic animations projected onto a screen behind him, Gunnar Jónsson Collider delivered soundscapes. And I know “soundscape” is one of those insufferable words people normally use to make “noise” sound sophisticated, but this is really the best way to describe what I heard and (internally) saw. Rolling banks of bass dotted with jagged peaks of electricity, washed over with a mist of golden sparks, occasional flashes of light shooting across the sky.
The music is a bit unapproachable, which may explain why the crowd literally would not approach the stage until Gunnar exhorted them to. But once they did, the mood relaxed considerably. Soon people were moving. Gunnar did not seem overly concerned with how the crowd was responding, which I liked. Solo acts can sometimes look a bit overwhelmed up there, all the responsibility on their shoulders, no other bandmates to blame for an off night. Gunnar just continued delivering as if our presence was incidental. Thoroughly enjoyable stuff.
Once I got home, and started clicking through his back catalog, it became clear that he’s not only been doing this for years, but that his style has changed considerably over time. He’s done everything from low-key acoustic to ambient to whatever you might call what he’s doing today. I highly recommend checking him out.
If you don’t live here, your time is limited, and I appreciate that. But not every hour of your day is going to be consumed by seeing all the bands you know. Take some time to wander, go to venues you’re not familiar with, and see acts you never heard of. You might come away pleasantly surprised, like I was, and discover a new musician to add to your ever-growing playlist.
Posted November 6, 2015