The Reykjavík Music Mess kicked off with a… well not a blast… but it definitely kicked off on Friday! Read on to sort of find out what happened!
THE NORDIC HOUSE
PRINSPÓLÓ: BJARGMUNDUR GETS KNIGHTED
Most libraries would make for an awkward venue for a rock concert, but the Alvar Aalto designed Nordic House is an exception. Sure, there were a few odd moments, people browsing the selection of magazines between sets, others (well, me) inquiring about the library’s borrowing policy, and a librarian putting Dewey Decimal stickers on books (admittedly the librarian did not look out of place at a rock concert). However, it mostly worked, the shows were intimate and fun, and the bands sounded good.
Prinspóló were the first band on stage, opening the Reykjavík Music Mess festival. Even though they are a recently formed band who released their debut album, ‘Jukk’, last year, the members have been on the scene for a long time. Svavar, the singer, guitarist and songwriter, is in Skakkamanage, who have held the standard for indie in Iceland for more than a decade, guitarist Loji is in Sudden Weather Change, Lóa, the keyboard player, is in FM Belfast and drummer Kristján is in Reykjavík! and works for Kimi Records and organizes the Reykjavík Music Mess (which made the fact that he was late showing up for the gig that much funnier).
This experience shows on stage. Most bands’ banter is embarrassing at best, but Prinspóló are hilarious and personable, riffing on each other’s jokes and stories, including a running gag of translating their Icelandic banter into English on the fly with malapropisms and awkwardly direct translations of Icelandic idioms (e.g. Kristján wished everyone at the festival a “swelling good time” and Svavar referred to the audience as his “herd”). The climax of the concert-banter was when Svavar asked if someone in the audience wanted to get up on stage to be knighted. A man named Bjargmundur came forth and received the honour and a cardboard crown, which Svavar presented with the words: “Bjargmundur, I now sir you into the herd of Prinspóló.”
With all that extramusical fun it would be easy to forgive if the songs were only so-so. Happily, Prinspólo do not disappoint there either. Their debut LP, ‘Jukk’, was this writer’s favourite Icelandic album of last year (incidentally, you can stream the whole album on their homepage [http://www.prinspolo.com/]). I would have been happy if they had merely played songs as they were on the album, but the songs were noisier and slightly more raucous live. The feedback and other guitar noise, which is fairly muted and low-key on the album, is turned up considerably on stage, and though it never overwhelms the rest of the music, it gives the songs more rough edges than they had before.
The concert was a great opener to the festival and we can only hope that the rest of Reykjavík Music Mess lives up to it.
SAMARIS: PRACTICE COULD MAKE THEM PERFECT
Glancing around the room during Samaris’ show, I gleaned the face of returning adolescence from members of the audience. Samaris’ music brought out the last remaining innocence in all of us with each soft vocal and simple bassy beat. Though not normally a part of the band, Samaris featured one of their friends on turntables to replace Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir, who normally plays clarinet in the trio, but couldn’t make it out to the show. I enjoyed the unique pairing of the rumbling in my knees from the bass and the gentle clarinet and vocals, but I wasn’t convinced by the turntabling. Though I liked the idea of it, it just didn’t seem to fit last night. The group ended with a cover of Maus’ ‘Kristalnótt’, which was certainly a crowd pleaser. All in all, Samaris’ live performance has got potential, but they certainly need to do their homework (practice, dammit) to become a tighter band.
NIVE NIELSEN AND THE DEER CHILDREN: INDIE-POP + WAVES OF NOISE
Indie-pop has been a global phenomenon since the days it was made by gawky proto-hipsters in basements in Olympia, Washington; Glasgow, Scotland; and Dunedin, New Zealand. The earliest indie-pop musicians worked hard to forge connections with like-minded people all over the world. Members of this international pop underground made what they considered to pure perfect pop music and bemoaned the fact that it was not played on the radio. That was then and now indie is everywhere, soundtracking Hollywood movies and popular TV shows and bands like Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins and Iron & Wine have top ten selling albums all over the world.
The Greenlandic Nive Nielsen works within that tradition. She and her band, The Deer Children (who can be added to the pantheon of band names based on great/terrible puns, joining The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, U2 and countless others). The Deer Children are a good example of the international flavour of indie music, being a mixture of Canadians and Belgians, led by a Greenlander. They are all multi-instrumentalists (with the exception of the bass player). Their sound mixes quirky (e.g. ukulele, musical saw, kazoo) with squalls of noise, even the occasional guitar solo. This contrast serves them well, keeping the music from being too precious. At their best the band’s simple melodies soar heavenwards on feedbacking rocket engines delivering primal pleasure to its audience. In songs that are less noisy the quirkiness overwhelms. The worst moment of the show was the song My Coffee Boy, written by Nive Nielsen to her boyfriend, who is one of the band’s multi-instrumentalists. It is an unbearably cutesy song about how she keeps forgetting to make him coffee in the morning.
It is the kind of song that people write for their significant others and are perfectly lovely as such, but became awkward and slightly embarrassing when performed in public.
But when Nive Nielsen and the Deer Children keep their tendency towards preciousness in check the are genuinely wonderful. Every single member of the band is musically accomplished. Special commendation must go to Lisa, whose instruments were lost by Icelandair and who had to scrounge up replacements. She even jury-rigged a new electric saw by making a contact mic out of an old tin-box and sticking it on a saw. It also must be noted that Nive Nielsen is a wonderful singer, mixing rawness and technical ability to great effect (I suspect she grew up singing in choirs).
A lot of the old indie-pop bands who got the movement underway were quite noisy and mixed abrasive sonic textures with pretty melodies. It is great to see a band still working within that tradition in a time when indie is often a synonym for twee. I enjoyed closing my eyes and letting the wave of noise wash over me.
SÓLEY: LAID BACK AND INOFFENSIVE
Friday night at Nordic House was a laid back affair, with people scattered liberally across the floor and lounging lazily against walls, taking in the music at a relaxed pace. Not exactly packed to the rafters with wild party antics, but very pleasant nonetheless.
Nive Nielsen and her band set the scene well for Sóley, as Nive’s cosy, living room-ways made for a friendly, folksy atmosphere that created a nice mood. Sóley is one of those educated musicians; a student of composition, and this came across in her sound, which is measured and careful. No artistic hijinks or spontaneous radical guitar solos here. Unfortunately the lyrics didn’t quite match the music in terms of being well studied, and at times it was a bit like she was just rambling about her dreams in a nice singing voice rather than actually singing well-written songs. To be fair she did have good moments of song writing tucked in here and there, however on the whole the music outstripped the lyrics by far, particularly in the first few songs which were frankly boring, lyrically speaking.
The band is a four-piece group that consists of a drummer, guitarist, keyboardist and Sóley herself, who sings and plays keyboard and guitar. The group performed well, though at times it seemed she might just as well have performed solo—while the rest of the band was present, their contribution to the overall sound was fairly minimal.
Overall Sóley played an alright gig. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but it didn’t completely offend the senses and the atmosphere was concurrent with the tranquil vibe of the night.
-Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir
STAFRÆNN HÁKON: RELAX
Next to take to the stage were Stafrænn Hákon, veterans of the Reykjavík music scene, who carried on the chilled out ambiance of the night and let their swirling walls of sound wash over the remaining audience members. Unfortunately for them, the place had nearly cleared out after Sóley, though the few left were very enthusiastic and the band performed a good set for them.
The music fit the mood of the night really well. Moving on from Sóley’s singer/songwriter/composer stuff, Stafrænn Hákon let everyone relax further into their Friday night repose. Slow, instrumental, progressively building walls of sound that came crashing down around the listeners provided enough difference from the previous bands to be interesting, but was still in keeping with the feeling of the relaxed night.
The band’s description on the Reykjavík Music Mess website promised a seven man band, but only six were performing, with two basses, three guitars and a drummer making up the group, with one guy sometimes coming in on keyboard or with a xylophone, and another also playing the mandolin. There was a feeling of ease between the members, which made for a nice sense of comfort at the gig.
Though the music is quite guitar heavy, there wasn’t a sense of it being overloaded with one sound, and each musician succeeded in bringing something different to the table. The ‘main guy’, Ólafur Josephsson made good banter and though there music was not what you’d call ‘light’, somehow the general feeling was easygoing.
They ended the night with calls for ‘meira’ from the audience of about twenty people, closing the first night of gigs at the Nordic House on a good note.
-Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir
Sódóma was awfully quiet when Nolo took the stage. The throngs were probably still picking flowers and dilly-dallying their way over from the Nordic House. But the duo wasn’t bothered. With a guitar and a Yamaha keyboard, they filled the space with lo-fi music you can get otherworldly and zoned out to. They have a groovy, new wave thing going on, and their vocals have a kind of stilted quality (not in a pompous way though), which makes them rather alluring. Anyways, we grabbed the guitarist afterwards and asked him to review the show for us! After some initial confusion involving him explaining to me that he is Nolo and not a groupie look-a-like with the same fro, he said he was pretty happy with the gig. To be precise, he said it was: “Geðveikt,” which is Icelandic for, “Insane.” Nolo fans concurred. So well done, Nolo!
FOSSILS: PUNISHING INTENSITY
Right from the first note, Fossils blasts out from the traps playing a furious noise rock mix that mutilates the ears of all the people who had come to watch Nolo. For a mere duo of bass and drums, their music is a pitiless blend of staccato drum stabs and growling distorted bass sounds that I never knew you could get from a bass guitar.
But after a while you do begin to feel a certain distance between the audience and the duo. It’s actually, for all the noise and punishment, a little bit Zen, as if they were a pair of Shaolin monks who discovered a Lightning Bolt CD wedged between a rock crevasse on their way to a monastery. Apparently they like to ‘mix it’ with the crowd but there is hardly any interaction with the crowd. Shame really as the music is rather beautiful in its punishing intensity.
SWORDS OF CHAOS: TOO MANY PHOTOGRAPHERS
If Fossils were tight, lean and mean, then Swords of Chaos definitely let it all hang out, but in a good way. Despite touring the US recently, they still look impossibly fresh faced and innocent, which totally belies their furious hardcore rock sound. The lead singer continuously leaps around the stage and into the audience like a badly trained weasel. But from where I am sitting, there is something that is slightly bothering this reviewer;
WHY IS THERE NO MOSHING/JUMPING UP AND DOWN OR ANY OTHER ASSOCIATED MOVEMENT FROM THE CROWD?
The crowd that has formed near the front seem completely rooted to the ground in their fashionable shoes and are either unable or unwilling to let themselves go and take part in the fun. It certainly doesn’t help when the entire fucking front row of venue is completely chokka with photographers. To this reviewer this will not stand. Excuse me a minute…
[10 minutes later…] Right. Having grabbed the bass player of Reykjavik! and made him an offer he could refuse, we eventually managed to start some form of dancing/moshing to Swords Of Chaos. This has upped the entertainment quotient by 64%, although there was a very strong smell of scented soap emanating from the crowd. So no pheromone action tonight then.
EINAR ÖRN + SUDDEN WEATHER CHANGE: OOF
SHOTGUN REVIEW: Primus meets Blood Meridian’s Deadwood.
A LITIL SAGA: Drums. [first song] A caravan crosses the highlands. Weathered plywood sanded to slivers. Rust-rimmed wheels. Plod. Sturdy tilt. A heavy-eyed glassy-eyed angel skulks her doom through the audience. The <sshhh> of sand in windstorm. “The Heart.”
A caravan tilts through murk and then pops! And then pops to a halt and then pops its wagon-wares [second song] out full handspring layout! Curio-cabinet displays of bobbly-headed troll dolls, diabetic candy, Dali oliphants, sock puppets, penny whistles, vacant snail homes, lava lamps, spades, snakes, unperfumed pills, oil. Snake oil. Pills. Surreality in a – <<What’s that? Step right! Step right up! See it closer? Want to try it?>> [third song]
… causes weight gain, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, bloating, bleating, gill formation, infanticide, stomach itch, loss of hearing, loss of herring, loss of heuristics, loss of heroes, loss of euros, loss of Eros, lots of rose when a rose is a rose is arrows …
A Jack-in-the-box. A circle of elders in tan trench coats invokes the cleansing power of hallucination. Oh the voices. It kicks in, the trip. <<Aassh, what? Yeah, ja? Já? Huh? Eh?>> Og stand there, right in the frozen centre of thereness. It’s taken over; it has won. Infection. Infarction. [fourth song]
Youth in black pea-coats lurch and trash, praise the word: “Góðan daginn.” Youth in pee-coat exposes ass and balls, he’s a bobbly-headed doll, he’s an elder, me me me me me. His sock puppets argue. “Do you believe? How unclean can you be?” Oh the voices. [fifth?] The noises. So many opinions now, we’re cogs or we’re cods. “Þú ert ókei.” Salt. Salt and the salt windstorm iodized, unbedizened. Salt
and the abrupt end leaves our high already run over the precipice’s edge, dangling like so many Wiley Coyotes. Oof.
ÆLA: HONEY BADGERS
I arrive back at Sódóma after taking a break next door to watch President Bongo of Gus Gus play some S’Express and 2 Unlimited records. But I find that Sódóma is now 2/3rds empty. Where has everyone gone? This is indeed an ominous sign and would fluster most other bands, but Æla don’t care. Æla don’t give a shit. They just play their transgendered noise rock loud and furiously, no matter what the conditions or the situation. They are indeed the honey badgers of the Icelandic music scene. Huge thwacking bass notes and lots of bathroom reverb on the vocals. The people left at Sódóma seem to be enjoying it anyway.
The time is now 3.30am and I have decided to give up on conventional physics and have decided to get a hot dog go home and try to propagate my species by means of asexual reproduction. Wish me luck!
(Slideshow photos by Alísa Kalyanova and Vanessa Schipani)