There may be gale force winds trying to blow festivalgoers towards the sea tonight, but there’s not a lot that the weather can do to dampen spirits. The sky’s clear, the northern lights are glowing and there are some seriously good sounds to be heard around the city. With that in mind, we head to the atmospheric loft space Gamli Gaukurinn for an evening that is set to provide an extremely diverse range of music.
Fans of concentrated, angry bass-driven slacker rock are well served by Sudden Weather Change. The homegrown four piece take minor equipment problems in their stride tonight, buoyed on by a small but faithful crowd of fans who lose themselves entirely in the fuzzy psych swirls that radiate from each song.
It’s not quite convincing enough though – their performance is perfunctory when it should feel vital. There are some moments of promise when the interplay between guitars and bass infuses a darker metallic amongst the more traditional alt-rock sound – and it becomes a more welcoming landscape for the vocal snarl of frontmen Bergur and Logi. ‘Blue’, a song about the Icelandic economic situation, is a standout – but it’s not quite not enough to sustain the set.
Beijing’s Nova Heart constantly wrong foot the audience. Just when we think we’ve pinned them down as the latest band pushing a sophisticated (and incredibly well done) deconstruction of the best post hi-NRG left field dance (think ESG, Tom Tom Club, Liquid Liquid) with a steely Martin Hannett matte laid on top, they decide to roll out some trickling, drip-down electro behind it.
It’s then that you realise what lies at the core of this glorious exploration: it’s a distillation of every major musical movement from the late ’70s to the early ’90s – punk to rave and everything in-between, compacted through some febrile minds and then translated into a performance filled by an uncapped theatrical energy. The three members of Nova Heart are as arresting as hell too: mohair-clad vamp Feng cast alongside her lanky chief music maker guitar player and a powerhouse pixie-drummer.
There’s a lot going and at times it threatens to fall apart, especially when Feng beats a tambourine off her chest like her heartbeat depended on it then humps a floor tom to an early grave. Still, what remains are three musicians entirely invested in their art and the audience gets this – when they leave the stage, the sense of disappointment is palpable. Certainly one of the standout performances by a clear mile this year (and we’re only on the second day!)
How much of a damn do people give about Haim at this point? Well quite a lot, it would seem. The three sisters have ridden a wave of buzz to Airwaves, turfed by acclaim from blogs and glossy monthlies. The former happily dig their revivalist AOR while the latter simply loves being able (for once) to cover a hip-as-hell band that have both attitude and looks to match. There’s no denying they look good onstage and have enough sass to endear the crowd to them.
Predictably, the assembled masses in Gamli Gaukurinn are a mirror to their ascent. The fashionistas of Reykjavik are here, alongside musos and a bunch of other Airwaves headliners. There’s even a rumour that Björk is somewhere in the room too.
As with most bands who carry the weight of such expectation on them, they’ll be made or broken by their upcoming debut and seeing them live at this point, one can’t help but wonder how they’ll sustain their USP into a long-term thing. The songs are solid enough, tapping into a groove that’s equal parts Wilson Philips and Fleetwood Mac but that’s also their problem. Referencing guilty pleasures so perfectly (and they do) is as dangerous as drawing influence from the niche.
There’s a distinct lack of emotional connection between the audience and Haim’s set tonight. Their songs can sometimes sound glossy, over-performed. Exaggerated drawls and faux-hand gestures take precedence over their (quite brilliant) musicianship and those superficial elements become their defining trait. Sure, people are getting off on the vibe and personalities of the girls but strip that away and the whole enterprise becomes fractured and distorted. Authenticity counts for much in such a bloated creative market and they have some way to go to to prove theirs is dyed-in-the-wool rather than assumed.
By Paul Bridgewater