Good Moon Deer have a tough slot. They’re charged with enlivening the purgatorial atmosphere of Amsterdam, with the city alive and jumping just outside of its grubby windows. Headliners are hitting the stage in most venues – Omar Souleyman is already striding around at Harpa; Goat are blowing the roof off The Art Museum; Nite Jewel is charming the pants off Harlem, just over the road. But Good Moon Deer still draw a rapt local audience, taking the stage with confidence and layering up stuttering, stammering live rhythms against choppy, improvised electronic beats. Vocal loops skip like a scratched record, splintering off unpredictably and collapsing in on themselves while synth lines grow and pulse, forming new shapes and melodies. The samples lead the energy, and when the two players find a nice space, they blossom into it. So far, so good: but buildup depends on release, and it sometimes feels like the drummer is perhaps a little too invested in augmentation rather than powering the music forward. The rhythms too often settle back into cymbal-tapping electronica territory when perhaps the groove could have swelled into a motorik, propulsive direction instead.
Still, it’s great stuff: Good Moon Deer is by nature an exploratory, improvisational sonic journey, and it’s always fun to ride with them.
Next up it’s Retrobot, an Icelandic electronic pop band singing in English. If Dave Gahan had an understudy, who also had an understudy, who also had an understudy, who also had an understudy, and this went on a kind of prolonged or indefinite fashion, then at some point the singer of Retrobot would be in the line. Almost entirely free of both charisma and vocal talent, he whirls around with confidence nevertheless, giving it his best shot as his three-piece band crank out an interminable stream of alarmingly shitty goth-electro. But hey, why should he not? Fuck it. It’s Airwaves. Let these guys live out their dreams. Dreams are wonderful things. Retrobot, however, are not.
Solo producer, knob-twiddler and button-selector Housekell picks up the slack with aplomb, setting out his stall immediately for a robust set of pounding 4×4 dance music. The tempo is nice and high, simmering just above room temperature and drawing most of the crowd to the front as synth melodies and house-piano lines fade in and out of the mix. Regular house music pitfalls of robotic monotony are avoided, and his music evolves constantly in a thoroughly entertaining fashion. It’s hard to fault: this is an impressive set constructed with intelligence, craft and imagination.
Árni2 is a collaboration between Futuregrapher and Árni Vector. They set up an epic table of equipment before a rowdy, disparate crowd of increasingly inebriated festival drifters. Their sound is immediately huge and confident, boosting the volume to eleven, shifting the atmosphere and enveloping the crowd with dextrous fluidity. Anyone who doubts that an electronic live show consisting of guys pushing buttons and looking at laptops can be compelling should see Árni2 to fix their misconception: this is a masterful display that feels honed and expert, not unlike the old hands behind Gus Gus. There’s never any question of the live sound manipulation taking place as the two visibly stretch and flex the sounds to breaking point through various desks, pads, filters and effects. They’re an entertaining pair to watch, joyfully and symbiotically engrossed in the task of blowing the roof off Amsterdam: this is a headline set from two heavyweight producers at the top of their game.
Iceland might not be known especially for its electronic scene, but on the evidence of these imaginative, committed performances, the pieces are in place for that to change soon.