Reykjavík Music Mess Saturday was apparently a lot of fun, at least if you were part of the Grapevine’s elite team of reviewers and know-it-alls. What happened? Read on to find out!
THE NORDIC HOUSE
AMFJ: CHAINED-UP DANCING BEAR
Arriving at the Nordic house with literally seconds to spare, I am slightly disappointed to find that there are barely a handful of people who have turned up to watch the evening’s entertainment. There is also a very weird hushed atmosphere, possibly due to the fact that the restaurant in the next room and the library are all still open for business But those that did turn up were treated to a hit and run performance of brutal industrial power electronics from a seriously malevolent individual.
AMFJ’s setup is simple. A laptop and a couple of pedals is all he uses. But unlike most current noise/industrial artists, he doesn’t use them as a technological shield to hide behind. Throughout the entire performance, AMFJ rocks back and forth during each track, screaming, spitting and snarling his words in pain and anguish, not unlike a chained up dancing bear. You can almost smell the sulphur and decay oozing from his pores. His music has also undergone a quiet evolution in the last couple of years as well. What started out as simple blasts of ‘noise’ have become stronger and more structured, almost militaristic in their execution.
At the end of his set AMFJ simply powers down his laptop, hops off the stage and calmly leaves the room before anybody realises what has happened. There really aren’t many people in Iceland who do what AMFJ does. And this is something we should be thankful for.
HELLVAR: A RMM HIGH POINT
Oh, Reykjavík Music Mess, why you gotta be so poorly attended?
In a flurry of power chords and beats, Hellvar drove the old and wild vestur into Nordic House. Highlights included femme-to-femme vocals in dialogue over hard, unrelenting rock and righteous bass riffs. Audience members even had the opportunity to pose questions on an impromptu Kant vs. Plato debate posed by a band member during a guitar swap. Hellvar proved one of the festival’s high points as they closed their set when jagged bad-assery charged their final song.
TOMUTONTTU: HAPPY, BUBBLY NOISE
Most people think all noise music is the same, but in fact it comes in many different flavours and is rife with subgenres. Tomutonttu makes happy, bubbly noise. His music could be used to soundtrack a pleasantly transformative acid trip in a French arthouse film. Like acid, good noise music has a way of taking over the brain, expanding to fill all areas of consciousness, like fog rolling into a town.
Tomutonttu constructs his music out of various oscillating tones, looped samples and various other bits and bobs. By carefully layering his sounds across the aural field, ranging from high to low pitch, from staccato to drone, rough to smooth, he satisfies the brain’s every sonic craving.
It was thus a cruelty on the part of Tomutonttu to stop playing just I—and most of the audience—was getting lost in a pleasurable daze. He ended his set abruptly after playing for only ten or fifteen minutes, seemingly surprising himself just as much as his audience. He stood on stage awkwardly for a few minutes, then said “takk” and the stunned crowd clapped half-heartedly. Once Tomutonttu left the stage one of the audience members asked loudly: “Was this great?” After a moment’s reflection, he answered his own question: “Yeah! This was fucking great!” The audience backed him up with a chorus of affirmative whoops.
It was a fairly odd concert experience. Tomutonttu made a vice of the virtue of leaving the audience wanting more. But the scant time we spent inside his musical world was a pleasant, shared illusion. I suppose that expecting anything else of an artist whose name translates to “dust elf” was folly. If fairytales have taught us anything, it is to expect no more than momentary joy from the Fey Folk.
FOSSILS: SURPRISINGLY INTIMATE
It is easy to liken Fossils to Japanese noise legends Ruins. Both are a bass and drums duo, playing their intricately fashioned songs loud and fast. The names are even thematically similar. But once you get past the initial resemblance, Fossils’ distinctiveness reveals itself. They have a flavour of hardcore, missing from their illustrious predecessors. Their songs resemble what would happen if you smashed a stack of the Dischord Records’ catalogue and put the pieces together willy-nilly.
People who do not go to noise-rock concerts would be surprised by how intimate they can feel. Fossils add to that ambiance by facing each other when they play, often making eye contact, keeping track where the other is in the song, giving the effect that they are having a meaningful personal experience they have invited other people to share with them. The band also talks with the audience, asking them to come closer, even engaging it in conversation and exchanging corny jokes (talking about their music: “We have a meat concept… the next song is ‘Raising the Steaks’”). For the last song Fossils invited the audience up on the stage and had them scream during certain moments. The stage creaked under the jumping, dancing, yelling audience.
This concert reminded me why I sought out noise concerts and hardcore shows when I was younger. The connection between performer and audience is unparalleled and rarely exists in other scenes, even ones that have a reputation for intimacy. You just try to stage-dive of the top of a singer-songwriter’s piano. I am telling you, it will not go well. Despite looking like they were on leave from the army, Fossils proved themselves the friendliest band I have gone to see for a long time. The music was damn great too.
ORPHIC OXTRA: NOT TOO SHABBY
Like many bands who can be described with the phrases ‘Balkan’, ‘ethnic’ and/or ‘klezmer’, Orphic Oxtra tread that fine line between being a good time party band and blatantly peddling in musical tourism. And while there is often a slight reserved air about their performances, tonight sees the band loosen up a little. Due to the lack of people in the audience, the dozen or so members spread out from the stage and into the crowd. This is an improvement, as it gave each member a little space to do their thing. The music was of course the mix of furious swirling waltzes, simmering dirges and pumping oompah rhythms. Not too shabby in the end.
Mind you though, perhaps they should undergo what can be the ultimate Eastern party band test by performing with four large bottles of vodka on stage while someone shoots live ammunition over their heads. Now THAT is something I wouldn’t mind paying to see.
MIRI: PRETTY HOT
Icelanders are habitually late people. Being the first scheduled band, not to mention being the first scheduled band at the ripe hour of 21:15, Miri did not play for a full house. Actually, Nasa was empty. EMPTY! Miri were pretty hot though. And they kept things exciting, mixing some grippingly intense moments in with otherwise pretty chilled out jams. Such was their song, ‘Ég á heima á Íslandi’, (“I live in Iceland”). This was math rock for lovers of math rock. People around me were totally crushing on guitarist Óttar Brjánn.
BORKO: HORNS GLISTEN LIKE GOLD, VOCALS NOT SO MUCH
There is something inherently impressive about a horn section. Yes, it’s true, human eyes widen with wonder at the sight anything shiny, but Borko’s horn section had more going for it than a default evolutionary instinct.
In a lot of ways, the horn section made Borko. The combination of the electronic and acoustic instrumentation pleasantly blended together, but the vocals were, at best, satisfactory. At points, I yearned for him to jump out of his matching baby blue shoes and hat and give his voice some substance and power. Either that, or not sing at all and let the instrumentals have the whole stage. Though Borko’s modest voice is more acceptable on his 2008 album, ‘Celebrating Life’, than on stage I would have liked to see more vocal passion. But then, on the very last song, Borko gave me my wish: He roused his vocal cords from their slumbers and screamed. Finally.
SIN FANG: GIVE US A SMILE, SINDRI
If Sindri Már Sigfússon was pulled over by the cops while under the influence, I have no doubt his illegal activities would slip through the cracks of persecution like a cod in some hungry Brit’s hands: The man can keep a straight face. And he did so during the entire show Saturday night at Nasa.
There is no doubt ‘Summer Echoes’ echoes with excellence. But his performance, like his face, was straightforward: few dilly-dally differences between the album and live versions of his songs.
Though I can only speak for myself, an impressive live show entails recognisable tunes that the artist weaves with subtle differences. I need something to prevent my eyes from drooping with the desire of my bed and headphones. Beds are, by default, more comfortable that concert venues, so I only ask for the musicians to try to entice me with a balance of familiarity and innovation. And he did rouse my musical nerves at points, but overall, I prefer Sin Fang in the comfort of my own home. Some bands are like that, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. This homey character entails a certain intimacy. However, because of Sindri’s elusive facial expressions, it was hard to figure out what he was going for as a live performer.
LOWER DENS: SO FUCKING BORED
These guys came all the way from the United States and looked so not excited to be here! Damn, they looked so fucking bored and aloof! Damn, they were shoegaze! Damn, they looked the part to a T. Though often drowned out, Singer Jana Hunter’s voice was captivating. Music enthusiast and frequent concertgoer Davíð Roach Gunnarsson says, “They are a rockier version of Beach House. Good, but not great.” I think they were something like gooreat!
KIMONO: STAR-POINT PERFECT
After sedate and seductive Lower Dens, the audience showed their pulse as kimono put on a clinic on how to rock the fuck out. So here we’re talking arena rock. Drum medleys electrifying. Was that even a Queen allusion buried in the set’s middle? kimono are impressively tight in their raucous complexity. Star-point perfect.
LAZYBLOOD vs. REYKJAVÍK!: EXHAUSTING
Soon after Lazyblood took the stage, the hellmouth was officially declared open.
Classified as a red supergiant, Lazyblood is one of the largest and most luminous stars known. A moving target at best, Lazyblood appears to change shape periodically. Because of limb darkening, variability, and angular diameters that vary with wavelength, Lazyblood remains a perplexing mystery. To complicate matters further, Lazyblood has a complex, asymmetric envelope caused by colossal mass loss involving huge plumes of gas being expelled from its surface. There is even evidence of stellar companions Reykjavík! orbiting within this gaseous envelope, possibly contributing to the band’s eccentric behaviour.
Reykjavík! is a hot blue supergiant with an absolute magnitude of -5.25. Reykjavík! has been known since antiquity and has been of widespread cultural significance. Reykjavík!’s relatively simple spectrum has made it useful for studying the interstellar medium. Fans believe Reykjavík! is only 10 million years old, but has evolved rapidly because of its high mass. Within the next million years, Reykjavík! may turn into a red supergiant and explode as a supernova.
Erna Ómarsdóttir (half of Lazyblood) is one of the most gifted creators I’ve witnessed, and her circle of collaborators constantly fascinates. In both Lazyblood and Reykjavík!, the complex arrangement of necessary anger, playfulness, social conscience, theatrics, feminism, and virtuosity makes for a potent concoction I can’t resist. Their promising collaboration ‘The Tickling Death Machine’ was stage-tested last night and it was, for this ancient reviewer, intense in its energy and eventually exhausting. Still, I wanted more, and I don’t mean length. I wanted to see that initial hellmouth scream and possess and consume those stalwart souls left standing in Nasa. I missed Haukur Magnússon’s presence, whose playfulness complements and accentuates Bóas Hallgrímsson’s always engrossing athletic and ecstatic stage antics. I ached to see a stunning physical duet between Erna and Bóas. Mostly, I wanted to see something I hadn’t yet. Maybe next time, loves?
QUADRUPLOS: SHORT AND SWEET
The crowd was pretty sparse by the time Quadruplos got up to do their thing, but they took it in their stride and played an energetic set of all of about twenty minutes, before NASA closed for the night.
The whole evening was obviously running really behind schedule, as Reykjavík/Lazyblood didn’t finish their set until around 3.30am, an hour after Quadruplos was set to start. However, those who turned up or stuck around for Quadruplos appeared to enjoy the singular sound the band laid out, and anyone too tired/wasted to dance indulged in a bit of vigorous headnodding.
The group consists of two DJ/producer guys, Tomio Newmilk and Mongoose, basically making a whole lot of noise….Well, a whole lot of noise that works somehow. They were joined throughout the gig by a girl and guy rap duo that broke the stereotypical ‘rapper’ style, at least in terms of their dress sense, the girl donning some sort of awesome cat suit (I think). Always nice when people break the mould.
Though it wasn’t the gig to go to if you wanted to take a chill pill, their high energy, grinding, pounding, experimental style worked. If not for everyone, then at least for the few present for the gig. In all honesty, it’s not easy to take this kind of intensity for a long time if you are not in on the vibe, so in a sense it was good their gig was short and sweet and just gave a taste of what they offer up. Something a little bit different. That makes your bones rattle.
-Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir
(Slideshow pics by Alísa Kalyanova and Vanessa Schipani)
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