Since 1982, The ÍTR, Reykjavík’s sports and youth council, has put on The Battle of the Bands (Músiktilraunir) as a massive search for the best new acts the nation has to offer. It’s a hugely popular event and many of its winners have gone onto have great careers, like Mínus, XXX Rottweiler, Mammút and Agent Fresco. Most recently, 2010 winners Of Monsters And Men were signed to Universal Records. We checked it out this year to see what’s on the horizon, and gave them each an “award” of our own while we were at it.
The cutest band of the night
This bunch of peppy teenagers bounded with energy playing sweet, dance-pop tunes. We expected a Disney Channel band, but we actually loved their synchronised dance moves that got the crowd going. It even made cynical bastards like us go “aww!” They seemed very assured in what they were doing and displayed an impressive amount of musical skill, especially considering they were all fourteen to seventeen. They make Retro Stefson look old!
The band that needs to come out of its shell
These three young dudes playing some heavy, ‘90s style garage rock brought us back to the age where alternative met nu-metal, but sans vocal. The bassist lacked any sort of stage presence, but time and stress control will fix that. The guitarist put in the most physical performance, but overall they kind of sulked away at the back of the stage. Not bad at all, but a long way to go yet.
THE LOVELY LION
The Oprah Winfrey follow-your-bliss band
They sort of filled the Of Monsters And Men follow-up-act quotient. They were also the first of many bands of the night to have a costume gimmick (head and leg-bands!). Both the tunes and lyrics were overly positive and motivational to a mawkish degree, which reminded us of Dawson’s Creek era alt-folk-pop. They were good performers, but they can probably make better music.
THE YOUNG AND CAREFREE
The band made for a John Hughes movie
When they started we turned to each other and said “ONE REPUBLIC!” but by the time they hit the first chorus of their dreamy ’80s synth-emo with the hook-line “nothing is beautiful…” we found them more akin to Echo & the Bunnymen or M83. The electronics and synth guys gave super cool and collected performances in the back while their Kelly-from-Stereophonics-look-alike singer delivered intense, brooding vocals. The beats could have been a bit crisper, but we fucking loved it.
FUNK THAT SHIT!
The magician-at-the-birthday-party act
We take it these guys are studying jazz composition because their technical level was way above everyone else in the showcase. We know who’s winning the instrument awards tonight! But it was a lot of empty calories—lots of solos and displays of skill, but the songs were not much fun, and you can’t spell ‘funk’ without F-U-N. (Little secret: we’d like to see them team up with the sax player from White Signal to play the soundtrack of Lethal Weapon.)
The big hot mess of a band
During the break that preceded this band, we had noted that none of the acts were sloppy. We spoke too soon. From their awkward stage placement to their disjointed compositions to a seemingly unnecessary second guitarist, this group was kind of confusing. They crammed in so many different electronic styles that it was the sonic equivalent of an overpacked suitcase and their half-cocked lyrics didn’t convince. Luckily it was pretty entertaining to watch the two main singers did flail around not giving a fuck.
The best song title for “Signal from a Demon Star”
These guys were the only metal band in the show, and also the only band to attempt a real joke! Their singer kicked off the set by throwing out a light dig at Bubbi Morthens before launching into their set of mixed metal styles. They are very good technically, but not much originality to the songs or awesome vocals—the voice could use more whisky. They just need to find their niche.
The band that made us want a beer
The second folk-rock act of the night had a distinctly stronger belligerent pub-vibe. We disagreed on the source of their sound, one of us hearing more Americana, the other more Ireland. Either way it was solid, rough-edged booze-music. Their fiddle player’s over-enthusiasm and posturing was a bit too much for us to take, but the guitarist/shirtless accordion player redeemed the set with a big booming sing-along that carried on until they were off the stage.
The kind of band you want at Café Rósenberg
The pace slowed way, way down for this three-piece, vocal-blues band that didn’t even sport a rhythm section. This act paired up a guitar and an electric piano to highlight their singer’s rich, husky voice. A bit muted and flat, but not a trace of pretention in it, with the vocalist delivering a really sincere and emotive performance, making her the obvious front-runner for best voice. They get a honourable mention for best James Taylor look-alike.
The bless-their-hearts-they-tried band
Oh dear. This band’s closing performance of one very (veeeerrrryyyy) long song rather than three songs over about fifteen minutes did not go well. At all. And when we saw the members walking around after, it looked like they knew it. Thus, the less said about it the better. It happens, guys!
Prior to the prize announcement, we both agreed that The Young and Carefree were our definite favourite to win, with our picks for second and third going to White Signal (for the cuteness!) and RetRoBot (for the lulz!). Turns out the judges felt differently.
AND THE WINNERS ARE…
3. Funk That Shit!
1. RetRoBot (pictured)