Another example of the proliferation of new electronic crews in Iceland, we saw local crew I [heart] RVK teaming up with London event crew ATG to promote their DJs and producers upstairs, and Breakbeat.is in charge of the downstairs line-up.
Dubstep’s all-encompassing influence was clearly felt in the upstairs sets and snuck downstairs with many of the Breakbeat.is bands as well (despite seemingly flying the banner of straight DnB). It got to the point where I wondered why they didn’t just label and promote it as a dubstep event, the local scene doesn’t need to have it spelled out for them but it probably would have clarified things for any foreign visitors.
Not much has been said about the dubstep scene in the Icelandic mainstream media, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Árni Matt at Morgunblaðið gave it a nod at some point, sprawling musical encyclopaedia that he is. To say that the dubstep genre has come up strong in the last few years would be an understatement. The genre that started out as garage’s autistic cousin has in the last 4 years managed to infiltrate nearly every tangent of electronic music –in Iceland, and across the globe. It might be the crossover potential that’s made it so appealing to producers young and old. Aside from the spawning pool of 2-step, DnB and dub, the style has found fans in audiences as diverse as metal-heads and experimental noise musicians. And once Pitchfork and the Guardian started alerting their devotees to it, there really wasn’t any going back. It’s always dangerous to try to pin down a movement but to me it’s always sounded like garage grown up. It’s slow and weary, with youthful enthusiasm and technocratic hopes replaced with urban cynicism and nervous flashbacks to the Caribbean homeland. Determined and plodding as opposed to the Uzi beats of its youth.
It’s the soundtrack to a dreadlocked dystopia of bad voodoo and clenched mechanics, its seething menace and wobbling thumps putting it closer to a kind of ambient metal – tough but coolheaded.
Burial’s click-clacking 2step beats and ethereal city-soundscapes did most of the legwork in opening up the genre to the general public, an odd development since he was far from representative of the rest of what was happening in the scene when he started surfacing. Other pioneers include Skream, more melodic, more industrial and probably the truest manifestation of the form. And with Kode 9 at the heart of it, heading the Hyperdub label who’s roster was to define the sound but an originator and innovator in his own right, whether it’s with the apocalyptic nightmare worlds he conjures up with Spaceape, or by leading the “Funky” reboot in 2008. The funky style being less bass-intensive, grimier, livelier and overall better fitted to the club environment – more clubphonic than Xbox and hydrophonic.
Lately, it’s been Zomby, Rustie and King Cannibal leading the charge of innovation. Zomby with his recent hardcore and rave forays, Rustie by fooling around with an 8bit and trance influenced sound. King Cannibal – terrifying and verging on noise, falling over the verge with his collaboration with Scorn (an electronic offshoot of death metal pioneers Napalm Death), but lately slipping more into the techno-territory.
Some have followed these innovations, some have not. Some have stayed behind, tending the wilted blades of Caribbean fauna peaking out of the city’s cement, others moving to greener pastures, some taking dubstep with them in search of new horizons, others leaving dubstep behind almost entirely, with only the occasional postcard and awkward hello.
Right. So that was my half-assed attempt at a dubstep introduction. Back to the clubnight.
Those who had started full-force on Wednesday got an easy comedown with Panoramix that opened up the lower floor of Jacobsen. Pleasant-enough by-the-book dub, deep and duly paced. The odd band placements in the Wednesday line-up were seemingly abandoned for a more logical gradual progression in tempo, which was good. Panoramix isn’t set on reinvention, he stood his ground in his grandma’s beach hat, whisking us to a quiet place on wings of reverb. Didn’t move far beyond what Nightmares on Wax were doing back in the day. Fitting, decent, but nothing to phone home about.
The hand of the professional DJ was felt again (touching up your bathing suit area) as the sound was gradually tightened up with Subliminal. Subliminal played a set of atmospheric DnB, dubby, like breakcore slowed down to a crawl (which is like using a Formula 1 racer to pull a cart). Zomby’s rave-fiddling excursions galaxies away.
Upstairs I managed to missed Airloop but caught most of Rack n Ruin. They played sunny old school DnB and breakbeat. Some of his own invention, the rest a DJ set. The upstairs space at Jacobsen takes longer to fill and he suffered for poor attendance.
Back downstairs, Hypno mixed 2-step by-way-of Burial, with a brighter sonic climate. Less of a dubstep emphasis. I’m on the fence when it comes to Hypno. It wasn’t bad but it could have used some more punch and grind, the song structures need a spine of some sort and I just wasn’t seeing it. So I went upstairs to check out Elvee.
Elvee was a pleasant surprise. A stone-faced girl doing a DJ-set with some personal frills and flourishes. The crowd really started to take off. And speaking of punch and grind, the lady was like a millstone. A great set although, the UK MC jargon she sampled between the songs got on my nerves a bit. Is it too much to ask to ask we leave that shit behind? I guess it is…
Hypno’s downstairs set was followed by a long awkward pause due to some cable problems. Venues really need to take care of having something to fill up these gaps with, it seems Icelandic venues opt for one out of two policies, either play nothing at all between sets or play something ridiculously inappropriate (see Creedence Clearwater at Sódóma punk concert).
Raychem (still figuring out how to pronounce that) came on after the pause. Downstairs was empty for the most part now. Deep breakbeat with the legally required dubstep dalliance.
Muted was what I felt best suited the downstairs surroundings of Jacobsen with the claustrophobic pillow nooks and Persian lounge chic. Muted from Egilsstaðir (if his MySpace is to be believed) played loungeworthy downtempo ambient DnB. Good enough in it’s own right, but still fairly dull. The party was upstairs anyway, so I opted out of seeing Kalli & Ewok for the hundredth time.
Overall, downstairs was a letdown, basically a row of inanimate and interchangeable faces doing an alright job but not blowing anyone’s socks off. Most were confused, fluctuating across the board stylistically with innovation but just came off as unfocused. The crowd never really took off downstairs.
Upstairs Elvee was handing the baton over to Klose One and Illa Man brought in by ATG, who proceeded to gleefully punch the solder out of his Mac. Klose One took a predictable page from the book of Zomby, lacing his set heavily with retro hardcore but with a guiding line of gut-stabbing DnB and washes of window-rattling dubstep. The crowd loved it and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rave influence were to stay on in Iceland for a while. I don’t mind it but it’s getting trendy and a little tiring. You can’t argue with a gleeful crowd like that, but it left no lasting impression beyond the dent in the plastic beer cup that I clutched impatiently.
I would like to conclude by praising the staff of Jacobsen. I’d forgotten my debit card at the bar earlier that night, and when I got back the staff practically ran to meet me with it. I’ve spoken with the owner on a few occasions with him always coming off as a reasonable and approachable guy. Same can be said for the doormen who, at least in my experience, seemed a far cry from the regular breed of hate-fisted cokefiends you’ve come to expect in the Icelandic club scene.
Conclusion. It’s hard to have to choose DJs over a line up of live musicians, but upstairs was where the party was at. Overall it was alright, I guess. I’ve had better. I’m going back to bed.
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Posted October 16, 2009