From Iceland — The Day the Hippies Took Over the Park

The Day the Hippies Took Over the Park

Published August 11, 2006

The Day the Hippies Took Over the Park

The Sigur Rós show in Miklatún was a success, of sorts. They are probably the first Icelandic band to arrange a free outdoor show that wasn’t part of an event or festival; in fact, they practically created their own festival. There were stands selling candy floss and pizza, people were camping out with blankets and lawn chairs. Hell, we were even blessed with adequate festival weather.
Particularly amusing in this case was the idea that random families showed up to be culturally aware for music that absolutely befuddled them. They stood around, looking all beautiful and happy with their 1.92 children as Amiina, the opening band and then backing orchestra, confused the hell out of them. And although their faces displayed great puzzlement (which they of course attempted to cover up with their oh-isn’t-this-nice faces), they couldn’t have been as confounded as those who spend a lot of time in the music community were irritated. Amiina’s music was as depthless as their live performance was pointless. It was like watching a long build-up to absolutely nothing, unless you could call their closing number, a collection of bleeps, plinks and pings self-indulgently clonked out to a Casio SK-1 demo beat something. They were awful, so bad that they were upstaged by a moment of ear-splitting feedback in the middle of the set. They were like an exercise in how to put as little effort as possible into music, while still attempting to pass it off as music.

An Amiina fan
To understand the animosity some of us feel towards Amiina, you must stand in our shoes as we converse with a fan. Watching the show, we noticed that the only people who openly enjoyed Amiina’s set, asides from the obvious friends-of-the-band, were die-hard, fascisistic Sigur Rós fans, who have embraced the Krútt movement so fully that anything else just sounds like noise to them. When I snickered contemptuously at Amiina’s attempt to use a saw in two of their songs, a concertgoer turned to me with an I-know-better smile on her face.
“You don’t like these guys, do you?”
“I’m still making up my mind. You?”
“I like all music,” she said, causing me to reflexively clench my fist. “Especially when it’s free,” she added, grinning conspiratorially.
“Æla played a free show on Thursday. Did you see that?”
“Æla?” she said, looking baffled. “I didn’t know about that. What kind of music is it?”
“Punk, punk rock,” I said, using a term I hated in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
“Huh, that makes sense. Everyone’s doing punk rock these days. It just seems so unoriginal, you know?”
I said nothing, simply turning back towards the stage and letting out a long, doleful sigh as Amiina played half-full water glasses and a xylophone whilst meekly mumbling something very squeaky into their microphones.
Coolest festival on the planet…with dogs
The wait for Sigur Rós was characterised by people swelling towards the stage in anticipation, but the funny thing was that no one seemed terribly excited, it was as if the fun had already started and Sigur Rós was just a sideshow attraction. Indeed, when people spoke of the Miklatún show, it often seemed as if there had never really been any question as to whether or not they’d go, something that transcended the typical Icelander’s love of free stuff.
It was as if everything that has been over-hyped, overrated and generally overdone about Iceland was coming to a high water mark in Miklatún that evening. Sigur Rós were in the middle of a cross-Iceland tour that celebrated Icelandic nature as a threatened treasure, and environmentalists certainly are raising hell about the whole thing. Sigur Rós will also play by the infamous dam construction site in Kárahnjúkar, which means that they’re not only flying the flag of a tragically hip and unbearably fashionable music scene, but also fighting for a nature reserve that may or may not exist in a few years’ time.
So in effect, Sigur Rós have become a face found on both sides of the ‘hip Iceland’ coin. If you like Sigur Rós, not only are you chic and cutting edge fashion-wise, but you’re also environmentally aware, thereby making you the coolest motherfucker on the planet, and who wouldn’t want to claim that title?
The huge crowd at Miklatún, estimated to have peaked at over 15,000 people, was certainly evidence of that. Easily half of the people there were not there to see a concert. They were taking part in an event. For those not in the know, Icelanders taking part in an event are somewhat similar to the teachers who supervise senior prom. They stand around watching, smiling politely as they watch everyone. Occasionally, they’ll mumble to each other something like, “Oh, isn’t this lovely,” hoping that by being there and having a good time they’ll appear hip and cool and youthful.
People brought their kids. Toddlers, infants, pre-teens… the whole fucking circus came to town. Some people even brought dogs. For the most part, the Sigur Rós fans didn’t really mind, what with the kids and the dogs being so cute and all, but friction started to build as the night went on.

Amor Vincit Omnia
Sigur Rós walked onstage dutifully applauded by all in attendance and played a fairly standard show while the sun set behind the decidedly ad-hoc looking stage. Jónsi’s characteristic mewl sounded better drifting across the open air than it does within the confines of the stadiums they usually play in Iceland. The nameless songs of their “( )” album were particularly well-received, and it’s quite possible that they hit their peak with that album. It finds astonishing purity in its anonymity, and the well-rounded and simple guitar-bass-drums orchestration is much more defining for them as a band than the skittish experimentation of their earlier works and the playful folk of Takk.
But the moment that defined Sunday night at Miklatún came not during one of the nameless songs, but during the several-beat stop in Ágætis Byrjun’s Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása. The song had been drifting through its characteristic folk haze for about five minutes or so when everybody in the band stopped playing simultaneously. The bemused snobs who were trying to appear cool and cultured of course knew nothing of Sigur Rós’s music, and instantly started clapping, thinking the song to be over. The Sigur Rós-krútt fascists were evidently greatly insulted by this, for they started to shush everybody, putting their fingers to their lips and hissing at anyone seen applauding.
This, I thought, was snobbery taken to its highest limits. A bunch of clueless enthusiasts had come to see a band they knew nothing about and ended up getting drenched with saliva by people who somehow assumed that by being intimately familiar with the band and its songs, they were somehow empowered and allowed to go around shushing people for clapping.
At that moment, I wrote everyone off as idiots. I can’t decide which group of people I hold in greater contempt. The only place in the concert area that I found solace (as well as a semblance of intelligence) was under a low tree just to the right of the stage, where some people had taken to lying down and closing their eyes. “We’re just enjoying the weather,” one of them said, and it was hard to dispute the fact that Sigur Rós had been very lucky in that department; the sun shone warmly as it sunk, and there was no wind.
“Besides, I’ve always felt this was the best thing to do at Sigur Rós concerts,” another said as he lay on a blanket with his eyes closed, slightly drunk. I looked at the blanket next to his, where a young couple lay embracing. Fucking hippies, I thought, stifling a yawn. But maybe they were on to something.

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