From Iceland — Músíktilraunir


Published June 10, 2009


It was that time of the year again; the time when youngsters emerge from their garages with stars in their eyes, hoping to follow in the footsteps of their heroes. It was Músíktilraunir time! And Grapevine was there, every step of the way!
Every year since 1982 (apart from ’84, when the contest was dropped due to a teachers’ strike) this has been one of Iceland’s most interesting and entertaining musical events. But this competition isn’t only a chance for young talents to shine. It has been the breeding ground of some of Iceland’s most loved outfits, with bands and artists from every genre gaining success and recognition through the competition. Whether it be the carefree pop of Greifarnir (1986), the crushing death metal of Sororicide (1991, then named Infusoria), Maus’s alternative radio friendly rock (1994), the hip hop sensation XXX Rottweiler (2000) and, more recently, the indie-rock stylings of Jakobínarina and Mammút to name a few.
Today one might think that with self-promotional tools such as Myspace and Facebook – and the Internet in general – bands would see less appeal in a contest like Músíktilraunir. Today, promoting your band and getting some attention has become so easy that the need for an event like this is often questioned. While it used to be one of the very few chances young up and coming bands had to get their names out there, today most of the participants have music available for all to hear, before they even decide to partake.
This year, like the last few, the final night was held in Listasafn Reykjavíkur. A big venue, mostly just used for the Iceland Airwaves festival (or once in a while for a well known international act such as Iggy Pop). There has been a custom for the previous year’s winners to open the final night of the competition, and we thus got to witness Agent Fresco perform. The band has gained so much popularity since they won Músíktilraunir that it’s hard to believe it’s only been a year. They did a good job and played with confidence and professionalism that belied their short time together as a band.
The first band of the competition, however, was Artika. They played emotionally charged and somewhat epic alternative rock. Next up, Captain Fufanu offered some danceable electronica. They mixed in some live keyboards and trumpet playing, which made their show more than just a staid lap top performance. The Vintage blasted out some 70s style stadium rock and did a surprisingly convincing job being only 15 years of age. Ljósvaki added some comedic anecdotes to his retro electro pop that unfortunately didn’t seem to amuse that many. Flawless Error brought back the grunge, Nirvana t-shirts and all. Their drummer, only 12, was probably the youngest performer of the competition and was quite impressive. Blanco jumped around howling like wolves, playing guitar solos and beaming with joy. However, they lacked a bit in the playing department and their songs were messy and difficult to follow.  
After a short break the first band on were Bróðir Svartúlfs. And, had anyone harboured doubts, they assuredly convinced the entire crowd they were indeed this year’s winners-to-be. The group played even better than the week before, and their singer/rapper was on fire, spitting out his lyrics with passion and attitude. Next on stage was Discord. Maybe it was the venue, but their proggy deathmetal just seemed to lack a little power. They did play well, and there was nothing really to complain about. The same problem also seemed to plague Spelgur. In a smaller, more intimate space, their cutesy folk songs had a lot of charm and hooks, but here they just passed you by without you hardly noticing them, which is a shame because they were a band that would have had a decent chance in MT this year. Melkorka were as epic as ever with their prog-pop rock and sounded good. The night’s last band, We Went To Space, didn’t seem to hit their stride. Their set was messy and their songs got lost in the room’s echo.
To no one’s surprise Bróðir Svartúlfs won the first prize, with Ljósvaki getting the second and The Vintage scoring third.
One of the biggest changes I have noticed in the last few years is the lowering of the average age of bands. While a few years ago, most bands would contain members over the age of 18; this year saw only a handful older than that. But that does not make the competition any worse. It just means younger kids are getting interested, and I’m sure this competition is an influence on that. And hopefully it will remain an inspiration for kids all over the country to pick up instruments and write some songs for many years to come.

This year there were four semi final nights with two or three bands making it to the finals from each night. Here are some highlights from the first four nights.
Friday March 27:
There were a couple of nice surprises on the first night of MT, the first and biggest being the affectionately named Miss Piss. They played some catchy, simple tunes that stuck in my head for days to come. The other thing that stuck out was Knights Templar’s singer, who had probably the best voice of the whole competition.
Saturday March 28:
Saturday did not have many standout points, apart from Earendel’s metallic assault. They played old school power metal with the required guitar solos, head bangs and vocal exercises.
Sunday March 29:
The biggest highlight of Sunday night was of course Bróðir Svartúlfs, who were excellent. Another good band that night was Wistaria, whose metal was a little more modern sounding than previous night’s Earendel, but just as entertaining. The biggest surprise of the night however was the vocalist for Spiral Groove. He sounded remarkably like Iceland’s pop legend Stefán Hilmarsson in his early days.
Monday March 30:
The biggest surprise of the whole competition was Pascal Pinon not making it to the finals. They were probably my favourite band of the whole event. They played nice acoustic indie-pop with a little touch of twee. Their vocals were very good and their songwriting skills even better. Monday night also brought us the only real hip-hop acts of the event. Egill Orðljótur and Lonogdon were a nice change of pace, but even though Lonogdon might have been slightly better in the beat department, both groups lacked in vocal delivery. Another moment of interest and slight comedic value was The Vintage’s first song. You can’t help but be a little amused by a 14 year-old singing a song called Let’s get it on.

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