Thursday Live Review of ATP Iceland in Keflavik
W elcome to the Grapevine’s live blog action from ATP Iceland! Over the next three nights, we will be keeping you informed of the shenanigans, both legal and illegal, on site. So what’s been happening?
19:35 – Andrews Theater – Atli Bollason (AB):
ATP has kicked off. A group of middle-aged social-democrats is playing heavy rock to a full room of aging hipsters. The songs are about burning shit but I’m not sure that’d fly in Parliament or City Hall. They’re called HAM and have been permanently reunited for about ten years.
19:40 – Bob Cluness (BC):
Well we’ve finally found our hotel after what seemed like an eternity traipsing around the entire air base. Arriving on the Flybus to Ásbru, everything smacks of organised chaos. People don’t know where to queue, there is no signposting of any of the venues or hotels, and the volunteers and staff seem to know of what they’re doing only 5 minutes ago. The whole place is cold, grey, and drained of any hope and expectations. We are already tired, and nihilism has descended upon us like a case of the vapours. Ragnar has also noted that the place has a bleak post-apocalyptic feel, like ‘Day Of The Dead,’ but with more rain. After spending 40 minutes trudging through the roads and abandoned warehouses, the local Health Hotel took pity on us with their driver taking us to our proper digs. Conditions are spartan in the extreme. No fridge, no TV, or even a desk. But there is a photo of one of the bridges into New York above the bed. It’s safe to say that this is NOT the best start to a world renowned festival. We are about to leave and hope that Low and Mogwai cheer us just a little. I hear Stuart Braithwaite likes to kiss a puppy on stage as part of their encore. ONWARD AND UPWARD!!! PS – It is still raining…
19:45 – Atlantic Studios – Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir (VÞ) & Alda Kravec (AK):
VT: “I love that the drummer of Low is front and centre like that. It’s so… egalitarian.”
AK: “Yeah, and she’s drumming with a brush and a stick. Do you think she has Tinder?”
VT: “I’m pretty sure she’s married to the guitarist.”
20:00 – Atlantic Studios – VÞ:
The music of Low is a deep stupor. Like watching a sunrise from the depths of a heavy intoxication. This moment is transcendent—rising above the sex, muck and trivial drama of the ground I am enveloped in a teeming, smoky (yet languorous) pot of goodness onstage.
20:15 – Atlantic Studios – AK:
Low is covering “I’m On Fire” and it’s amazing. Even though Bruce himself couldn’t beat the Chromatics version. I hope they play that Rihanna cover too.
20:25 – AB:
Spotted: Girl wearing an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt picking up trash.
20:29 – AB:
Mormons 1. Protestants 0.
20:30 – BC:
By the time we get to Ásbru, nothing is dry. Even our inner eyelids are soaked through. But we decide to go t0 the DJ tent where STUART BRAITHWAITE from Mogwai is playing some heavy synth workings from the likes of Umberto, etc. Fellow writer Frímann goes to him “Do you like punk rock? And play louder!” which receives the pre-requisite chilling stare from Stuart.
21:00 – BC:
We head into Atlantic Studios for the first real action of the night…. SHELLAC OF NORTH AMERICA! They were tight and immense. They are the post-hardcore equivalent of AC/DC – there is no fat of slack in any of their work. Even the drum solo is a masterclass of brutal minimalism. Playing songs like “Praying To God,” and “Squirrel Song,” the crowd was subdued at first, but half way through, there were pockets of people freaking out and mildly moshing. They go out to the audience for questtions which resulted in the likes of “Does Steve Albini have sex while listening to his album “Songs About Fucking”?,” and “When is your cookbook coming out?” which got the obligatory scowl from Albini, as if to say, “you bunch of fucking idiots….” We’re back at the hotel and we’re steeling ourselves for Mogwai. It may be brutal…
21:56 – AB:
Aging-hipster-cum glazes the floor of Atlantic Studios as SHELLAC wrap up an amazing and devastating set. It’s nice to be reminded that indie rock isn’t only about soundtracking OC episodes.
22:00 – Keilir Theater – AK:
Ran through the rain to the seemingly abandoned theater Keilir to check out the film Trollhunter, which I heard was supposed to be good. Walked in and the atmosphere was reminiscent of a subsidised summer day-camp at a community centre.
22:30 – DJ tent – AK:
Delicious smorgasbord of danceables and crowd pleasers.
22:54 – Atlantic Studios – AB:
Was I the only one to flash Kurt Vile a heart sign just now?
22:58 – DJ tent – VÞ:
People wearing jeans and t-shirts are standing on the picnic tables outside the DJ tent, literally dancing with the wind. They are soaked through but smiling.
23:00 – Atlantic Studios – Liam Harrison (LH):
The icy cold breeze and the ridiculous rainfall has definitely made it harder to appreciate the acts. There’s something about almost being blown over in the queue for an elbow-grease fried burger that can eradicate that. Nonetheless, Kurt Vile took the stage at 22:00, sauntering on with some figures seemingly covered head to toe in long hair. Immediately settling into ‘Wakin On A Pretty Day’, his distinct laconic drawl is familiar with the crowd and they start to warm up, but only partially. Vile (& The Violators), whilst putting on a good show, fail to have the chops to truly warm this crowd up much over the atmospheric assault outside. Nonetheless, the Violators, despite their laid back, green-voter persona, are a tight live band. The drummer hits hard, the bassist/guitarist pulls out a classic Fender Bass VI to use on some melodic basslines and Vile vies with his guitarist for phased-out soloing space. The results are uplifting alright, but many of Vile’s songs seem to blend into one another. His voice appears frail and quiet beneath the competing instruments and as much as he serves as a crowd pleaser, I fail to see a fully won-over crowd by the time of his exit.
23:00 – Atlantic Studios –
VT: Yeah, I don’t know how to describe it. He has a special style. There’s something unique about him.”
AK: “About a dude on an acoustic guitar playing folk music?”
23:30 – DJ tent – VÞ:
I’m dancing in a puddle next to someone who’s wearing a full-bodied bird costume. This festival makes more sense the less it makes any sense.
00:30 – Atlantic Studios – AK:
My head is soothed into exploding. Everything Mogwai play is stunningly beautiful. And they need use so few words.
01:30 – VÞ & AK:
02:00 – LH:
Hopping on the coach back to Reykjavík from Ásbrú, I’m almost at a loss of words to describe the works of Glasgow post-rock legends Mogwai. Their set was bracing, as they effortlessly transitioned from pin-drop silences to ultra-heated noise freakouts at the drop of a hat. Most importantly, they’re loud. Incredibly loud. Even at a safe distance from the stage, their songs are roaring enough that they’re reduced to static in my ears. Sweet, beautiful, colourful static. Songs such as ‘Remurdered’ skitter about, its murmuring synths giving way to a climactic finale that mixes tribal drumming with pseudo-white noise blended synth and guitar work. Yet for all their kinetic energy, Mogwai’s incredible talent comes from the emotion that their music provides. Their encore features all three guitarists mixing and intertwining guitar feedback. It’s loud enough to almost smash a hole in the roof, but never threatening or ominous. This is music to close your eyes and drift off to, intangible yet identifiable, forcing out emotions you didn’t even know existed within you, all created by a bunch of inoffensively dressed, middle-aged, balding guys from Glasgow. They butter up their songs’ endings with the occasional pleasantries, muttering ‘takk’ at the end of occasional songs, but their presence almost doesn’t matter, these songs are emotional without any blemished vocals. As I sat there listening to the band blast through their older catalogue, Mogwai’s transcendental musical mastery took over. I closed my eyes and found some places via music that I didn’t quite know existed. After the seering set, it’s time to head back to the excursion airport link back to Reykjavík, ears ringing, but looking around, safe in the knowledge that that killer set was almost spiritual for a lot of the crowd in addition to me, and that despite the fantastic ending to the night, perhaps the best is yet to come…
02:10 – AB: CONFIRMED: THREE HEADS EXPLODED DURING MOGWAI’S SET. MAINLY DUE TO TEN RAPID TRACKS AND INDUSTRIAL GRADE GUITAR PEDALS WREAKING SONIC HAVOC!!
The whole bastard Friday – Ragnar Egilsson
Feeling negative. The warthog is cranking up my hate machine. The paintstripper winds, freezing cold and desolation are making me exude misery like an infected sore. The hills are alive with negativity. I am one squid ink risotto away from Steve Albinian levels of negativity. I’m taking a negative approach.
Speaking of Negative Approach….
ATP Iceland is being held at Ásbrú, the formerly abandoned navy base by Keflavík, currently serving as semi-populated affordable housing complex for students, young parents, etc. So basically a less criminal Detroit. Except Detroit is an industrial nightmare where techno and Motown soul were born. ATP Iceland at Ásbrú is a retirement facility for indie rockers past their prime. If Keflavík is a syphilitic warthog (it is) then Ásbrú is the boil on that warthog’s ass.
I did summer as unskilled labor in a construction crew over there years ago. My dad worked on the base for most of my life. I am well acquainted with this place. The sun does not graze those hills. Sorrow is its only harvest.
Alrighty, let’s talk music!
I skipped Low since they’ve always seemed to me only marginally more vibrant than actual silence. The Swans skipped out on us since Michael Gira’s immune system shuts down like a panic room every time somebody mentions Iceland. I missed HAM searching for the worst press facility on the planet, guided by a fellow journalists who’s sense of direction leads me to think he’s medically unqualified to review music (and a monkey could do this job).
That leaves us with Kurt Vile, Shellac, Mogwai and members of tomorrow’s bands moonlighting as DJs in the wedding tent.
Shellac was pretty damn amazing for the most part. As cynical as I’d like to be about the idea of standing with other aging indie fans, being flagellated with nostalgia, it did give me a pleasant, warming feeling to see Shellac do their thing. The politicized ranting was obnoxious as always. Some of the stunts felt forced – such as parading with a snare drum, disassembling the drum kit, jumping in guitars-first after an extended drum section (Shellac is big on drums). But I’m not complaining.
Bumped into some friends I grew up with from one town over. Traded the drum stick Shellac threw into the crowd for a pinch of cheap [censored] from an old acquaintance working in the nearby aluminum smelter. He’s a drummer and a huge Shellac fan – it was the right thing to do. This may have impaired my ability to tolerate Kurt Vile´s druggy Cali nonsense even more than normally.
Mogwai I was catching for the second time in my life. First time was 13 years ago during their first visit. I can’t say the music moves me as much as it used to back in those days but hearing all those playground classics like Mogwai Fear Satan did make the pleasantly warm Shellac feeling return.
Ended the night debating the existence of ghosts with a woman who’s couch I used to haunt. If this was a real, fancy music review I’d come up with a clever title referencing how I’m being haunted by music I used to listen to etc. But I have an hour long bus ride into Reykjavík ahead of me and I’m going to fall asleep listening to a podcast about the virtues of solitude (The June 19th episode of In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg – I recommend it) RE
Bus trips to ATP festival provided by Reykjavík Excursions.
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