Over the past year, Iceland’s electronica scene has been bolstered by the arrival of boutique record label, Hljóðaklettar. With releases such as ‘Dress Up’ and a series of high-profile gigs (culminating with their night at this year’s Iceland Airwaves), they’ve been instrumental in increasing the profile of an often-overlooked area of Icelandic music
But on a quiet Thursday evening, it all seems a million miles away as a handful of people are hunkered down at in Venue to listen to the latest instalment from Hljóðaklettar. Or rather Hljóðaklettar ‘Basic Version’, as there are no lights, dry ice or audiovisual show on display. Just some wired machines in total darkness. There will only be the music to keep us compelled.
Such is the low-key nature of tonight’s venue, when Rúnar Magnusson took to his seat and started to play we didn’t notice at first. However, this was quickly rectified. Rúnar, with an intense looking face that could see him cast in an Icelandic version of The Punisher, is a man who makes ‘organic drone’. Beginning with an organ sound that slowly grew like creeping vines over crumbling slabs of bass, it was sprinkled with field recordings of what sounded like falling water and birdsong. It all sounded like Italian drone artists such as K11 and Fabio Orsi, who like to create such eerie sounds in graveyards and abandoned churches for fun. He finished off his set with guitar growls and feedback that was suggestive of his latest release ‘Options’. A well structured and textured start to the night.
Compared to the layered sound of Rúnar Magnússon, the music created by Pétur Eyvindsson sounded positively simplistic. Starting off with big chunks of ‘80s-style electro beats with aggressive farty synths, it suspiciously felt a bit like Madonna’s ‘4 Minutes‘, but luckily this is only temporary as he blasted into an early EBM style beat that segued into a motor-ish chug not too dissimilar to an angry Suicide. And to confirm the lo-fi set up of the evening, instead of using a lamp or fancy orbital-style flashlight glasses, Pétur simply used his lighter to see what he was doing. Keeping it real!
As Pétur wrapped up, Rúnar joined him and together they became the musical combat unit Vindva Mei. Adding Rúnar’s drone with Pétur’s rhythms, they started creating a profane racket that sounded like a looped industrial beat. Well we thought it sounded industrial as we found it nearly impossible to ascertain the rhythm from the crunching noise that was overloading everything. Towards the end it all started to get a little monotonous. I had to take a break outside before I was forced to start trepanning my skull to relieve my head pains.
Now while BJ Nilsen may not be a recognisable name to many, in electronica circles he’s a pretty big deal. This is especially true in Iceland where he’s worked with Stilluppsteypa, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Evil Madness as well as The Borg masters of Hljóðaklettar themselves. Currently working on the sound design for the upcoming production of King Lear at Þjóðleikhúsið, tonight was to be his debut gig in Iceland. And what a gig! He created a sublime sound that truly touched your emotions as he scaled the source wall of the perception of movement and sound. And….. oh wait a minute. Sorry I’ve just written from a different review from my notebook. Apologies about that.
Ok here’s what REALLY happened. BJ started off playing an excruciatingly loud single note. He kept building on its harmonics until it resembled something that could be used in military tests to give mice brain tumours. It seemed to be having this effect on a group of people in sitting in the corner (who may or may not have been on psychedelics at the time) as they looked as if their souls had been fractured. Then, once he introduced a huge block of white noise that sounded like a malfunctioning volcano that made us all cower a little, BJ grabbed the microphone and started screaming at the top of his voice as if he were in AMFJ or Severed Crotch or something. It was at this point we realised that BJ Nilsen was totally hammered…
All of this continued for several minutes, whereupon he decided he’d had enough, switched of all his equipment and staggered to the bar to have a pint, leaving only the hissing mains hum from the PA system. After several minutes drinking and people wondering if the hiss was part of the act, BJ then realised that something was up, so he went to the sound desk and put on…. Neil Young! Rock AND Roll! Free live tapes of the evening’s events were passed around to everyone and we were all ushered into the dank wet evening, our ears still on fire.
As I write this review a few days later, I’m still trying to work out whether I witnessed a truly awful, incoherent display of trashy noise, or an edgy display of catharsis that did away with the pomposity that often devils most electronica artists when they play live. I am going to settle this with my music review 8-ball (shakes ball). Eat more Cheese? Stupid 8-ball…..