In the terminology of “the industry” (read: the entertainment industry), the phrase “to pull a spinal” is reserved for situations where, despite the producer’s best intentions, larger than life expectations fail to be realised. It could be defined basically (if redundantly) as a live version of popular film Spinal Tap. The recent Jammfest music festival, which took place on Broadway during the first two days of September, had the word “spinal” written all over it. Despite the efforts of its well-meaning creators, it didn’t quite come off as hoped.
The concept was good enough: gather some thirty-odd bands and artists from the lively Icelandic music scene, have them play on two different stages, and end each night with a jam session in which members of various bands engage in a musical experimentation set. As so often happens with good ideas, Jammfest was yet another victim of poor execution. Giving off the impression that it had been concocted during someone’s drunken binge the previous weekend, Jammfest appeared to have been put into the works before any of its creators was sober enough to deal with logistical details such as publicity, or the choice of venue.
The line-up of artists was intriguing, despite the fact that the selection process may not have followed a strict criterion. The biggest trouble facing this festival was the promoter’s failure to make people aware that a festival was taking place. Jammfest’s publicity campaign seemed to rely primarily on word-of-mouth. Nine times out of ten, this treacherous means of building hype fails to yield the desired result. Oh, there was the occasional poster plastered to a wall downtown. The designer responsible for it should be forced to return his iMac to the store immediately, and take an oath that he will not purchase one again.
Another trouble facing this festival was the choice of venue. Broadway, easily capable of housing a crowd of 1000-plus patrons and, by all accounts, a good venue for a high school dance or a night with Ben Folds, is by no means a good fit for a rock festival. On Friday XXX Rottweiler’s stage drew the largest crowd. I counted around 40 people, probably half of which were members of bands that had either just come off stage or were preparing to go on. Broadway is too big, too posh, and too damn far away from anything else to ever harbour hopes of attracting concertgoers who don’t intend to drive home. Furthermore, an establishment that prices a single beer at 700 ISK is not likely to win over the rock crowd.
More than anything else, the recent failings at Broadway bring attention to a serious problem facing the Icelandic music scene: the need for a medium-sized venue in the downtown area that is capable of hosting an event akin to Jammfest in size and purpose. If steps are not taken to remedy Reykjavík’s lack of a suitable venue, the Icelandic music scene will inevitably suffer for it. Having spent small fortunes on promoting the city’s vibrant music scene, local authorities might want to consider further actions towards that end, if not for the sake of the art, then at least to protect their investment.
Criticism of venue and advertising aside, there were some reasonably good performances to be found at Jammfest. While the dual-stage set-up kept me from viewing all the artists, and hence rendered me unable to form much of an opinion on many of their performances, I did see Æla, a loveable punk foursome out of the Reykjanes peninsula. Æla has rediscovered the beauty of the once-lost early-eighties Icelandic punk sound. Front man Halli Valli’s voice and singing style is a dead-on re-enactment of Einar Örn during his Purrkur Pilnikk days and works well on the bass-driven ditty February, their best song to date.
I caught the last two numbers of rapper Bent’s set on the small stage, and, as far as I could tell, he really laid it down. I returned to the big stage where Noise had already set up and were about to take off. For fans of classic-style heavy metal, they may just be a godsend. They stay true to the genre and often do it justice, although they tend to sound a bit youthful or underdeveloped too: both sides were particularly evident during their cover of Alice In Chains’ Them Bones.
I had mixed opinions on Lokbrá’s performance. They didn’t enthral me. Admittedly, this may be because I tend to find the sound of the psych-prog-hard rock fusion they conjure to be, well, boring. On the other hand, as far as that sound goes, it must be admitted that they have a knack for it. They managed to get a large portion of the audience moving along with them and received a hefty applause at the end of their set. As noted before, however, a large portion of this particular audience does not exactly constitute a crowd. Those who share their musical vision might find it worthwhile to give them a listen; but, to my ears, too much of it sounds like sonic masturbation that isn’t going anywhere.
The best performance of the night was put on by the veteran hip-hoppers XXX Rottweiler Hundar, recently back together after a few years on hiatus. They absolutely murdered the first song and, incidentally, every song that followed. As mentioned above, they drew the night’s biggest audience, some of whom actually paid an entrance fee to see them. They switched it up constantly while onstage and worked the ‘crowd’ with great skill. They never looked back, and the energy they projected on stage was the key to their great execution.
As a result of I Adapt’s last minute cancellation, Brain Police were the final band to take the big stage. Little by little, these stoner rockers are winning me over. I like them more every time I see them perform. Their sound is heavy and tight, and frontman Jenni is a hell of a rock-and-roll singer. Their Jammfest performance was as solid as the audience was receptive. Rooster Booster, the first single from their upcoming fourth studio album is a genuine crowd pleaser that should hit home with any fans of the genre.
During the days (note: not weeks) leading up to the festival it had been promoted as the first annual Jammfest. The fact of its infancy may excuse some of the festival’s obvious problems in its first go-around. I only hope that its promoters will not be so discouraged as to not repeat the attempt. Learning from this festival’s failings would make for a better event next year and the music scene in Iceland could do with more small festivals of the kind. The Reykjavík Tropik festival that took place earlier this summer is a good parallel example. Sadly, both festivals were commercial failures, but I genuinely hope that Icelandic promoters are not down for the count.
To end on a high note: I found an untouched and discarded pizza on my walk back home. I wish that sort of thing would happen more often.
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