From Iceland — Back To Root Of It All

Back To Root Of It All

Published August 16, 2011

Back To Root Of It All

The 30th edition of the Grapevine Grassroots concerts shows off some of the series’ favourite acts – Enkídú, Arnljótur, Ahma, Sóley, and Nóló.
So this was the 30th Grapevine Grassroots concert? My god, has it really been that many? I could swear that it felt like it was only yesterday when the Grapevine and Arnljótur Sigurðsson half-inched a tiny PA and set up a series to root out (see what I did there?) and showcase fresh and interesting Icelandic music. And tonight, they were introducing some of their favourite artists who’ve passed through those hallowed doors.
When I arrived at Hemmi og Valdi, the place was packed to the gills and Enkídú was already toiling away at his laptop blast furnace. Enkídú’s set consisted mostly of electronics that had ambient noise loops and stacked synth sounds set to some decent trip-hop beats. You could say it was styled along the likes of Flying Lotus, but it sounded more like the equivalent of throwing his laptop down a long flight of stairs which is all well and good, if it weren’t for the chatting and general apathy from the crowd, which rendered his music interesting sonic wallpaper. Bloody ingrates.
Man, I love Arnljótur. The venerable MC and curator of Grapevine Grassroots always has a stuttering, slightly uncomfortable demeanour whenever he speaks to the audience, as if he’s trying to explain quantum physics to a bunch of unruly hipster squirrels. But don’t let that fool you; he knows what he’s doing. He even gave a sly dig at the audience at the start of his set (‘This is my music. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you’ll completely hate it. But at least I will have invoked some sort of reaction out of you.’).
With his intuitive tape manipulation antics, he kicked off with rather trippy bleeps and whoops with a growing bass throb creeping up underneath, before settling into a tropical hypnagogic dub sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Not Not Fun label (Matrix Metals, LA Vampires, etc). All vaseline smeared bass and chewed up reggae beats. He pulled out a surprise at the end when he started to sing over a track that sounded like a deranged kid’s TV show theme tune (Muppet Babies go mental?), as if he was DJ Flúgvél og Geimskip’s big brother. Very compressed and twisted.
This heavy dub feeling was further emphasised when Ahma started to play a wall of ambient noise that sounded like the winter sea at Vík before a heavy dub techno beat came in. It was all a bit Kangding Ray with an IDM chill more suited to an abandoned factory with lots of dry ice and blue arc lighting. With scuttling insect percussion and weird whale call sounds, it was tight and packaged rather nicely, even with it being played live.
But enough of all this electronic piffle. We want some REAL music dammit! And the call was answered with the next act, a ‘special guest’ tango music project whose name I never heard properly (I simply gave them the name ‘Tango and Cash’). Their rather short set was smooth musically with tight arrangements that sounded contemporary, only playing more traditional tango music towards the end. It certainly made a change and forced several yakkers in the audience to shut up for at least 5 minutes.
Sóley’s music is exquisitely poised with a dark, almost gothic sensibility that sets her apart from many of her contemporaries in the scene. But the fact that she had to help Tango And Cash pack up (she was the accordion player), then setup her own equipment in front of everyone—nearly blowing out the PA in the process—did slightly lack the air of mystery about it. You wouldn’t expect Bat For Lashes or Cat Power to do stuff like that would you? Also, because of the rush to get things set up, she started off like a flustered librarian who’d mainlined her eighth espresso in a row. Sentences would often drift into cul de sacs, or disappear into space altogether (‘and this track… err… well it’s… um… yeah, right!’).
But that all changed when she started playing. Playing a mix of old and new material, it was a stripped down affair that still retained a lot of the song’s mystery. We were also introduced to her new ‘loop track’ toy, which she used to create layered vocal tracks and ‘boom chikka chikka’ beat. A little rough perhaps, but it did the job in fleshing out her sound. She even got the audience clapping along to her track ‘Black Books.’ Judging from the new material, we can expect more decent dark pop in the near future.
Now many people I know really don’t like Nóló. Me, I actually have a bit of a soft spot for the little munchkins and their melted, warped psych-pop. But their sound is something best listened to on record. In a live setting, even on something as loose and ramshackle as a Grassroots concert, their sound tends to wilt under the restrictions of their equipment. They certainly can’t sing or harmonise for shit and some of the keyboard sounds set your teeth on edge. For example, their last song had hints of early New Order, only for them to spoil it when they started singing and playing jarring plastic piano sounds.
And this is a bit of a shame as underneath the clunkiness, there are some really stylish elements, such as the guitar, which has a dry, crystalline sound that’s unlike anything else you can hear around. And there are some sublime pop moments underneath the roughness. The bastard sons of Raw Sex, they would be a great soundtrack for entertainment on cruise ships.
Overall, judging from the music of the night, the Grapevine Grassroots concert series has to be doing something right to have gone on for so long and to have had such a decent success rate in finding new acts. Here’s to another 30 concerts.

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