The first real day of summer in Reykjavík was about to end and I headed out to NASA to the Rite of Spring festival with almost no idea what to expect. The programme for the evening included the jazz trio Flís featuring Bogomil Font, Petter Winnberg and 100% Dynamite. Even though we knew the work of the first two acts, we had been informed that they’d be playing all new material.
All the tables in the place were taken when we arrived, but we were welcomed to share one with Torstein, a middle-aged Norwegian who was there by himself. He was happy to have some company and to casually inquire about our marital status. The audience in general was diverse. As I skimmed through the audience I realised it was a good deal more diverse than the typical festival crowd. Young couples mixed with teenagers, Rasta women and the whole age range of singletons. Everyone in the audience seemed to be laid back after a day of sun. Even so, Flís took long enough to get onstage that a few people started banging against the wall in protest.
When Flís started, they immediately won over the audience, including the super-friendly middle-aged skinhead at the table next to us, who particularly enjoyed lyrics about quotas. When keyboardist Davíð of Flís shouted out a question about whether Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson would get a quota (standard issue protest banter these days, as Ásgrímsson and his family established the fishing quota system, and profited generously from it), the skinhead shouted, “Oh yes he’ll get the whole thing.”
Flís’s blend of calypso music and humorous, sometimes political, lyrics completely won over the audience. Wherever you looked there were smiling faces and wiggling bums. This moment could have been a perfect end to a perfect day.
But funky Flís were only the first band of three to hit the stage. Swedish pop singer Petter Winnberg was next, presenting new material from his latest solo album. He showed up with a big Swedish band of twelve.
I cannot express the letdown when Winnberg turned out one melodic pop song after another. Perhaps had he not followed Flís, or had it been a worse day, or if we had all been hungover. But as it was, Winnberg’s set was more than a disappointment, an anti-climax after the exhilaration that came with Flís. By the end of the act, NASA was nearly empty. So there were only a few yawning viewers left when 100% Dynamite came onstage. It seemed an impossible task to pep up the last few.
100% Dynamite is something like a self-contained portable nightclub, with two DJs and a guy with a microphone claiming, repeatedly, that, “Now the party will begin.” The party, of course, did not begin. As we followed the last of the crowd out, I ran into one of Reykjavík’s best DJs, who heartily tried to convince me that this music was the best in Reykjavík that evening – but the feeling of being at a school dance was a bit too much … so he gave up as well and joined us as we headed out into the summer night.
The mix within the audience the next evening was hardly as diverse as the night before. There were on one hand exchange students and on the other hand cosmopolitan Icelandic couples.
First onstage were Stórsveit Nix Noltes, which normally include a few more band members, and I did miss some of the instruments. It didn’t matter though. They were sublime as usual.
I had never before seen their svelte giant guest vocalist Böðvar Guðmundsson, but he was absolutely fabulous. Wherever you looked you could see semi-wiggling Icelandic bodies sitting firmly in their seats due to the lack of alcohol in their blood. There were only a few exchange students honouring this fantastic band – people from countries where dance is not an indication of blood alcohol level.
The next band was Kal from Serbia: six handsome men dressed in black with big smiles. The music wasn’t as wild and upbeat as with the Nix, but the vibe was similar. The Icelanders in the audience seemed to think the rhythm was a bit more dance-friendly and crawled to the floor. One of the exchange students came up to me and informed me, “If you’re not sweating, it’s not good,” so I rose to the challenge and danced my ass off.
The atmosphere was getting pretty hot at NASA when Kal was getting ready to leave, the internationals screaming, “You have to play all night long!” while sweat dripped from the walls.
On the final night, KK and his band Blue Truck started the evening with some powerful rhythmic blues. The audience, who were similar Friday night’s eclectic mix of Icelanders, seemed to enjoy it. After a few songs, KK offered to give a beer to anyone who would dance. The whole audience looked a bit awkward, but finally, three lively rural ladies came forward and started dancing. The rest of us sat back, relieved.
All the band members of Blue Truck were absolutely fascinating characters, to say the least. I do have to mention the most fascinating member, the bass player. I have never seen a more sincere bass dance, and hereby encourage all bass players to check him out and maybe nick a few moves.
Salsa on bagpipes – how can you be anything but curious to see that? The Scottish band Salsa Celtica were the final act of the festival. They were without a doubt the best band of the nights we attended. The joy and happiness they brought their guests at NASA that night is indescribable. It was a band of 11 artists playing saxophones, banjos, flutes and an adorable bagpipe.
The crowd went completely crazy and NASA’s dance floor was packed with wild Icelanders looking like graceful señoritas doing the Riverdance.
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