“Holy fucking Christ,” I said without hearing myself say it, the words sucked right out of my mouth.
It was not just the wind—violent, subarctic, merciless—that assailed me from all directions and angles, rendering it equally difficult to inhale as to exhale. The sentiment was in equal measure stirred by the sight of the line outside the Reykjavík Art Museum, stretching the entirety of the Tryggvagata façade, around the corner and well in the direction of the ocean.
This not being my first rodeo, I came expecting some trouble. Hafnarhúsið is known during Airwaves for having the kind of queue you don’t fuck with, something I know from years of first-hand experience. But because it was only 20:00 on a Thursday, and because Sandy Cohen was in town, unleashing the great wrath of his eyebrows on us, I retained a bit of shock and perhaps a little dread—as I warmed my hands against a cold beer—for the frantic, freezing hoard slowly but steadily being ushered inside.
I am large, I contain multitudes.
Something was eerily appropriate, however, about the combination of the weather and the music of the night’s opening act, Samaris. I am tempted to venture as far as to describe the music of Samaris as ‘windy’; their sound is somewhat intangible—it contains a spirit of witchcraft, an element of the impossible. It is full of contradictions: unpredictable yet inevitable; grounded yet ethereal; youthful yet accomplished. There is something distinctly uncalculated about Samaris’ stage presence, singer Jófríður Ákadóttir spinning webs with her hands and her voice while a clarinet maintains a melody over an electronic beat. And though a Björk comparison may be inevitable—seriously though, just like, whatever: I think most Icelandic girls have a little bit of Björk in their voices—the whole production is hearteningly original. Perhaps a bit green sometimes, but that mostly lends to their authenticity.
That’s my jam.
Phantogram were a bit more aggressive with their approach. I’m just going to have to say straight up that I am really annoyed by this band, and mostly in hindsight. Let’s just say I have philosophical issues with this band’s artistic aspirations. This didn’t actually become clear to me until after the set, because while it was ongoing I was concentrating so hard on trying to understand what it was that people were into about them. After a while, when people started doing the ‘aw yeah, that’s my jam!’ thing, I decided to try moving to a different location, suspecting that it might just be my haphazard positioning that made everything they were doing sound like the same puddle of sound. But no such luck. Here, in short, are the issues I had with Phantogram:
1. The entire set sort of sounded like that song from Cruel Intentions. But, like, obviously not as good. It was basically a lot of musical posturing, a build-up by way of the bass-drum combo with the voice coming in at predictable intervals but the entire formula exactly the same, every single time.
2. There was also a lot of posturing literally speaking. And sexy-headbanging and hair flipping.
3. On top of all this, the lyrics are fucking bullshit. They feign meaning. Either have them fucking mean something, or admit that they’re gibberish. Don’t make me listen seriously to shit like “I saw your face in a past life/I’m ready to move on/In a futuristic casket”. I mean you’re NOT SERIOUS, right?
But people went crazy for this band and, as mentioned before, there was a lot of ‘aw yeah, ‘das my song!’ So I am totally open to the idea that there is just something wrong with me/I was standing the entire time in some sort of a sound pocket.
Next on stage was Sóley, who provided something of a strange contrast to the bands immediately preceding and following her act. Something which I think she sensed and even acknowledged, saying: “I’m sorry I’m such a funeral up here. I know you want to dance.” The audience was, however, more or less responsive—though a level of talking was audible at all times. Sóley’s set was tight, as per usual, but curt. There were few frills between songs—when one ended she simply moved on to the next. I imagine Sóley is better enjoyed in more intimate setting, because her music is full of sincerity, and worthy of close listening.
Purity Ring is a band with an impressive light-show. Their whole aesthetic is pretty interesting, actually. Singer Megan James sounds and moves like she is singing backwards. And Björk showed up for the performance. So that’s something. There was a writhing, latent energy to their stage-presence which was interesting to watch, but musically there was not much variation between the songs.
I can’t get the image of the singer out of my head though—beating this enormous drum, lifting up the leg opposite to her arm as she pounds it, asserting her place on stage. No posturing. Only gesturing, perhaps, to the audience. Inviting them to come into their dream. Their weird little dream.
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