The Sunday night in question was special and historical for few different reasons. It was GusGus’ first concert at Faktorý and it was GusGus’ last concert at Faktorý. It was Sunday night and it was the last night Faktorý would be open to the public.
There is a lot of history in the low-ceilinged concert venue on the upper floor of Faktorý. It has hosted thousands of concerts in the more than ten years that it has operated as a live music venue, in some form or the other. Before it was called Faktorý, the club was called Grand Rokk, a place where many bands who are now among the most popular in the country—bands like Hjálmar and Retro Stefson—took their first steps towards the limelight. A lot of memories have been made there, a lot of good times celebrated.
The crowd this evening was anxious and the excitement in the air was palpable before the band took stage. Suddenly, all of the lights were turned off, so you couldn’t see the stage. Shadowy figures appeared behind an array of music making machines and you could hear the lush strings and staccato synth notes of “Within You,” the biggest hit from GusGus’ 2011 album ‘Arabian Horse.’ Then lights went on and Högni crept onto the stage and started pouring his guts out through the microphone. The delivery was intense, and his soulful singing often hovered just behind or ahead of the beat, which just added to the charm.
Daníel Ágúst joined him on stage for “Arabian Horse,” dressed in a swanky white suit and all amped up. Nobody holds a long note quite like Daníel Ágúst, and he often does so with his eyes closed and so much feeling that you can see the vein in his forehead pulsating. It took a bit of time for the crowd to get shaking, but by the forth song, “Deep Inside,” the crowd started moving and the room heated up like a sauna. I threw my sweater under the nearest table and my notebook out the metaphorical window.
At some point it was as if the audience had turned into a blobby mass, one living, breathing, but mostly sweating organism that pulsated in euphoric unity. It’s a vibe that certainly couldn’t be replicated in a larger, fancier venue. Like Harpa.
GusGus used the opportunity to play a few new songs that all sounded fresh, but one of them stood out. I’ve heard it once before, six months ago, at their Sónar Festival concert, but it still resonated with me and gives off the impression that it will probably be the first single for GusGus’ upcoming album. It’s immensely catchy with beautiful vocal harmonizing by the two singers and a chorus steeped in dance music/DJ culture nostalgia: “Do you remember the days/When we started to crossfade.”
Though most GusGus songs rely heavily on melody and pop hooks, dance music is all about the craft of crescendos, and Biggi Veira and President Bongo know that inside out. Their sound palette is not very big: mainly squelchy bass, white noise hiss, bright synth tones and drum fills, but they put it to maximum effect, pushing each element to a breaking point in glorious build-ups and inevitable explosions to huge cheers from the crowd. GusGus also brought with them their own sound and lighting system, turning the rather lo-fi venue into a sonic and visual hi-fi. The band’s lighting guy plays an integral part in the set, sometimes piling on streams of strobe lights and turning the band members into moving silhouettes.
By the time the groove of 2007 hit “Moss” began wafting from the speakers everybody was high on love, and I banged my head so hard that I probably scattered sweat from my hair over half a dozen people. Daníel Ágúst performed the song with vigour and assurance, turning to Biggi Veira and President Bongo and waving his hands at them like he was conducting an electronic orchestra. Then it was encore time and after a few minutes they came back, and Biggi Veira thanked the crowd and the venue and condemned Reykjavík City Council for its lack of balls in standing up to developers and protecting cultural institutions like Faktor‡ and Nasa. They performed instrumental “Selfoss” before adding the last song of the evening, “Add This Song,” where everything was turned up to eleven and your senses were soaked in overwhelming joy.
Faktorý’s Final Moments
After the concert I was a sweaty mess in dire need of a shower, but since it was Faktorý’s last night I stuck around to see what would happen, cooling myself down outside the bar.
The cops came soon enough, as the legal closing time for bars in this fair city of ours is 1AM on Sundays. After giving a warning, the 5-0 left and then the music was put back on while Faktorý’s resident DJ, KGB, ran to his apartment to get his equipment. Soon, the party back in full motion.
The place was crammed with people and every table and chair was used as a dancing platform—you could sense that these young wildlings were not willing to give up their favourite party spot to greedy developers this easily.
KGB pumped his eclectic party mix and the public sang along, poured beer into and onto their faces, and started smoking cigarettes inside; the overall mood was a strange mix of sorrow and celebration. The only thing that could possible stop this party was state-sponsored force, which arrived in the form of ten policemen around 3 AM, one of whom ran into the DJ booth to prevent another song from being played.
The lights came on, and Faktorý was finished, but at least it went out with style and a modicum of resistance. It lives on in our collective cultural consciousness.
GusGus played at Faktorý on August 11. Check out their webpage here.