Wild Imagination, Screaming Butthole & Piano People: Inside Norður Og Niður - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Wild Imagination, Screaming Butthole & Piano People: Inside Norður Og Niður

Wild Imagination, Screaming Butthole & Piano People: Inside Norður Og Niður

Published December 28, 2017

Photos by
Art Bicnick & Magnús Andersen

While one of our reviewers was being thoroughly wowed by the opening night Sigur Rós performance, the rest of our review team was fanned out across the Norður og Niður festival taking in everything from krútt piano ballads to raging metal to the “Gloomy Christmas” ensemble performance. Here’s what they found out.

The Piano People, And One Cynical Bastard
Words: Valur Grettisson

It’s fair to say that i belong to the “krútt-generation.” I liked Belle & Sebastian, thought Arab Strap was some progressive stuff, and adored Mogwai. I was absolutely enthralled by Sigur Rós. And I believed in nature, the good of humankind, that everybody should be nice and elfish. A few years later (around 17 to be exact), I became a cynical bastard like the rest of us.

To be honest, this was my biggest flaw at this interesting festival, held by the members of Sigur Rós in Harpa. The festival’s name is cynical too, in a way. It’s an Icelandic saying and means “go to hell.” Perhaps we can establish that Norður og Niður is a hellish “krútt” (“cute,” in English) festival, and a brutal retro moment from Iceland’s biggest pop culture revolution for decades, which was, of course, led by Sigur Rós.

My journey through this hellish krútt fest started out with one of the Múm twins, Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir, also known as Kría Brekkan. You know these twins: they were on the cover of a Belle & Sebastian’s “Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant” LP. The other twin, Gyða, played cello to support her sister.

Of course, Kristín Anna started out whispering in Icelandic, only to realise that most of the guests were English speakers. Then she repeated herself in English, but forgot to talk into the mic, so no one really heard what she said. She did that frequently, like she didn’t really understood the functionality of the mic between songs. Fair enough. That’s just how these krútt kids roll.

“It was impossible to hear the lyrics, which I think were in English, but her voice was also refreshing, in a weird way.”

Kristin showed her audience that she is an incredibly skilled pianist, but not so much as a singer. Her pinched voice went from being like a repressed bang into being like a sheepish, wavering cry. It was impossible to hear the lyrics, which I think were in English, but her voice was also refreshing, in a weird way. Her compositions were interesting, and i liked their complexity. But it felt undisciplined and uneven at some times. The cynical aspect of me didn’t really like the tiresome krútt aspect, but it was a decent concert.

Alexis Taylor is best known for being one of the singer from Hot Chip. His beautiful and melancholic voice is one of the core reasons that I loved that band, so I was quite excited to see him playing his solo stuff. The set was simple—Alexis played on a piano, with few exceptions, where he played an electric guitar.

Alexis is not as skilled pianist as Kristín Anna, but his songwriting was quite disciplined. He’s a guy that wears his heart on the sleeve, and the lyrics sounded genuine and sincere, which takes courage. But the downside of the concert was that it became repetitive. In the end, the songwriting became downright cheesy when he sang “I’m your puffin, I’m your walking, talking puffin.”

Well, in Vestmannaeyjar, we eat puffins for breakfast. Literally.

In the end I asked myself a simple—and perhaps cynical—question: Would I have sat through the concert if it wasn’t Alexis Taylor? The answer is; probably not.

So, all in all, it was a slow start of the festival. I blame the cynic in me for how I experienced these concerts, but i will do my best to draw out the good old “krútt” from myself before the end of it.

Giant Screaming Butthole and Other Christmas Songs
Words: Grayson Del Faro

The first performance I saw was Skólahljómsveit Austurbæjar. It began as a fairly traditional high school music recital artfully arranged on the stairs but quickly devolved into a hoard of teenagers with musical instruments running around like a frenzy of wild animals, blowing whistles. The audience that began watching with eager excitement slowly dispersed with their eyeballs and heads throbbing in pain from the endless piercing of the whistles. But hey, nobody attending a festival organized by Sigur Rós could expect anything less disorienting to get into the mood.

The opening ceremony continued the back-and-forth swing from experimental to traditional with a screamo-version of an Icelandic folk song, a chilling performance by KÓRUS, and a sombre chanting of rímur—traditional Icelandic epic poetry—by the premier chanter of said poems himself, Steindór Andersen. Every performance of his is like a visit from the Ghost of Iceland Past and no other ghost could better begin a festival celebrating darkness.

Next up was the Gloomy Holiday showcase, where artists were invited to perform their own “gloomy” covers of holiday songs. Although I am a staunch hater of Christmas music, I hoped that perhaps a bleak re-envisioning could perhaps redeem it. Sadly, I was wrong. Save for Peaches and Ragga Gísla, most of the artists just took songs that were agonizingly irritating and turned them into something agonizingly boring and twice as long. In the interest of holiday cheer and brevity, I won’t dignify the specifics with description here. Alexis Taylor, however, stripped the torture away from the Christmas music torture-hour and kept only its chill-out vibe for the final performance on his solo tour. It was mostly simple, clean, and beautiful piano ballads toward the front, but he built it up toward the end by mixing in deep, synthy collaborations and even a Hot Chip tune later on. He ended with some unexpected but very welcome soulful guitar-shredding.

“I learned that I would literally, truly, deeply, gladly rather listen to a giant screaming butthole than Christmas music.”

Then came Blanck Mass to swallow us whole. I was unprepared for what I would see and hear. It started with an ungodly cacophony of inhuman static, bleeps, booms, and screams barely recognizable as music. Set to a giant screen of uncannily uncomfortable visuals, the assault of sounds slowly rattled into more and more melodic arrangements until the crowd found themselves mindlessly dancing to a video of a supermassive, pulsating sphincter set to some alien replica of dance music. I loved every single slimy second of it.

In short, today I learned that I would literally, truly, deeply, gladly rather listen to a giant screaming butthole than Christmas music.

A Tour-de-force Of Wild Imagination
Words: Jessica Peng

Seeing Kristín Anna live was an absolutely refreshing experience. She had such great control over her voice, effortlessly hitting high notes with a whispering volume. The piano melody was fluid, like a flow of consciousness, taking your imagination to wild places. It was like entering a true fairytale land listening to Kristín narrate her unique stories.

Icelandic rockers DIMMA took the Silfurberg stage with force and energy. Having been around since 2005, the Reykjavík-based band opened the set with explosive guitar riffs and bass rhythms. The energy was immediately contagious, and the crowd started to get moving.

Besides the music, there is also plenty to see and do. Flow VR at Norðurbryggja on the first floor is a must-do. You have a couple of meditation locations to choose from, all of which are based in Iceland. The narrator will then guide you through a relaxing meditation. The first day of the festival was a tour-de-force, and we can’t wait to see what the second day has in store.

Read more about Norður og Niður here, and read our review of the opening Sigur Rós performance here.

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