From Iceland — Musings On The Occasion Of Sónar's Opening Night

Musings On The Occasion Of Sónar’s Opening Night

Published February 13, 2015

Musings On The Occasion Of Sónar’s Opening Night
Photo by
Gabrielle Motola

I want you to watch these before we go any further, because I want you, dear reader, to know that I find this concert series to be Absolutely Fucking Awesome. Or you can not, and skip the antecedents of why I think my articles should be read six paragraphs down. 🙁

For your convenience, I’ve marked that point like this: —

and naturally,

More than most others, these marvellous documentaries got me started on the road towards a downright obese… actually, sustained transfixion (sounds better), with electronic music. They state beautifully a perspective that I myself can identity with as a listener, producer, amateur historian—you know what? Fuck it—all-around music nerd, a do-it-yourself perspective that I can relate to. Why should you care? Well, because as a non-classically trained musician, I feel like all I can relate to you is the textual, theoretical, and emotional basis of performance, artist and sound, and to me, I don’t know about you, but to me, that severely limits any fair assessment of an event. It’s a bit frustrating to be always on the latter side of the “be must better than I can be” vs. “do the best I can” debate regarding prerequisites for being allowed to play on stage. Oh physiology, economic capital, time, class and practice… All too often I feel like most music reviews are essentially hackneyed, sensationalist hipster fodder, catering to an audience who isn’t stupid and can read between the lines, and so to compensate for this ballast within my own tanks, I have asked my friends, a student at FÍH who is working with another music outlet for this event and GV’s videographer, to help provide me with ideas, inspiration and commentary that’s based on music theory, a working knowledge of music technology and, of course, good humour. I believe this will help make the video, audio interviews and commentary I offer you less, shall I say, devoid of authority. I’ll try my best to incorporate some curveballs wherever possible to hopefully keep this journal interesting and moving forward (i.e., discussing my personal life in relation to the event, and various art theories and philosophies that are applicable to what I’m talking about). I think together we will arrive at a synthesis (no pun intended) of information which will help cut the bullshit out of what we saw and heard and eliminate fluff wherever possible. I can’t deny that I didn’t stay long at performances that I didn’t like so much, but I think that’s okay. After all, I just want performances to be good, and personally have a great desire to constructively cut wheat from the chaff. If this all sounds wayyy too serious and ponderous, I suggest tuning out now, mostly because I’m not the greatest admirer of fun in general, as I much prefer to get blown away by an honestly great act these days. I’m not one to like, just glibly “feel the music, man.” With that said, (Still here?) let’s proceed to day one at this most venerable festival, Sónar.

First thing’s first: my attraction to this festival. It is filtered through my existence as a pretty disgruntled musician in general (I have mostly failed thus far to make any ripples as a musician in my own right, and my lack of achievement fucking pisses me off. Sorry to be so negative—one might say that’s why I haven’t gotten anywhere. I need to find a way to wear a real smile on my face which can’t come off as fake) I myself have grown quite tired of eating from the PR trough at festivals in general, so when first approaching this event, I had reservations… but hold on, before the clarion call is sounded by Reykjavík’s cultural establishment calling for me to—perhaps quite rightly—shut the fuck up and toe the line, what I want to say is: Then I, like, actually saw what the festival was about and quickly became re-enthused. That’s not a bullshit statement, I believe, because of one detail that makes it all worthwhile: SónarPro/Sónar+D and it’s emphasis on the business, technology and networking of music.

Not to digress too far from what you want, but I think it’s important to say that I care about this festival not because it promotes a nation (even though I fucking love this country) or a brand of culture (even though I guess I’m almost categorically hipster) or something along those lines, but rather because it gives, in the words of one of the esteemed DJs playing at this year’s event, in reference to J.G. Ballard’s ‘Crash’, a glimpse of culture “five minutes into the future,” and to me, that concept is post-postmodern and transnational.

That’s right. I want to see where the technology of music production is heading. I want to see where the next avenues of electronic genre-mixing are heading, post-dubstep, post-trap, post-house, post-turntablism. Most importantly, in this critique I don’t want to be subversive, or ironic, or even earnest/deceptive, for that matter; it’s all equally boring to me. As long as I’m not post-interesting I think it’s fine. I care greatly for things to come. I want to see what the future has in store for ideas, as if peering through a crystal ball, therefore, aside where does that leave one to speak?

Well, aside from subjective experience, with tech, glorious, glorious tech, and to that end, perhaps in a manner which will surprise artist interviewees after reading this screed, in a nice, friendly, non-confrontational manner (if you are using NI Massive presets to establish a sound, I’m not going to call you out on it) but I do want to know what the artist is doing, how they are doing it, and why. That to me is the function of this event. Iceland is a small, remote country in the middle of nowhere, so we can’t really expect the magnitude of offerings that you would perhaps find at Sónar Barcelona, London or Stockholm, but hell yes, artists and engineers do have something to say up here in the cold North, and I’m determined to find out what it is. “Zzzz” is that you snoring? Okay, okay, I’ll get started then. What, what? 🙂 Sensitive self-awareness is boring. I am now the Overlord of Culture, all seeing, all knowing, knows the combination to the safe. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful 🙂

In the Beginning, it seemed appropriate to get a forecast of the future from the surveyor of things to come himself, Futuregrapher, and his performance partner for the evening, Jón Ólafsson. Here, have a listen. These guys started off the conversation I was having in my head by reconfirming something that I believe we all suspect; today’s progressive music is a confluence of styles mixed together. These gentlemen were very gracious with their time and for that I say thanks. On a personal note, they are also very friendly.

Jón Ólafsson + Futuregrapher

Subtlety. DX 7 Akai MPK mini? Two macs. intimacy. delayed samples paperwork ableton clip launching a castle on the hill the loudest audible sound was the swiping of rubber sneakers against the floor. a sense of closure with many of the passages. can you pluralize coda? a human, speed of life ambient track finalizing chords. fewer are the lines between independent music and the classical realm.. .utterly blurred. their mixer seems relaxed. the pentatonic black keys over all. a pleasant meander. its odd to see intimate music among multitudes. repeated vocal phrases. intimacy should be preserved, like in a little glass jar. the centre of gravity is everywhere. it is undoubtedly pretty. the acoustics in this chamber and lighting match the experience. i am a restless soul. i fidgeted a bit…inquisitive. some really interesting chord patterns. an omnipresent calm. i closed my eyes. a sea of smartphones alight, some marvellous themes. some definite themes. a celebratory hug. they did good to my head. I wish more people would have sat and listened.


I’ve never seen them before. My lips were dry as fuck. They have amassed quite the following. It’s nice to see so many people have disposable income after the meltdown. A sure sign of recovery? Cool photos of a marriage are projected behind them. Is there a correlation between youthfulness and this kind of music? I’m surrounded by no one. Maybe I’m starting to feel old and atomized. Do people desire estrangement, or am I just too fucking out there? I don’t feel hip enough for this audience. A lot of women. The camera lenses shutter. Synchronized movements…they are having fun.

I often ask myself why people like some bands, not sure. Maybe I think too hard. So many photographers. There must be something repellent in Icelanders, to not allow everyone to feel equal. I ran into too many fucking ex-lovers in this room, it made me sick to my stomach to recall how much of an asshole I had been to so many different people. I suddenly felt really like i don’t deserve to be in this country. It is minimal music. this band reminds me of my ex-girlfriend from Sweden. That’s not a point on the band.

Some cool moments. I felt like i was lost in an ocean of people, strangers one and all, an existence predicated on falseness… my life, and its ambitions, wasted by frivolity. All the lies, all that feels wrong, I just can’t have fun, and this music is clearly fun. Why are there so many women here? Why wouldn’t guys like this? High register of the voice. Whispery vox, crazy sub-bass. Very organized fashion and movements.

All of the sudden I felt violently ill…this became more and more apparent as I realized my writing was drifting further and further away from a noteworthy appraisal of the band and more of a whine about my own life.

Apparently, halfway through Samaris’ set, I thought I had a depressive episode and had to take leave for a few minutes in the bathroom. I recently went through a breakup of sorts, as well, I take a lot of ADHD medications for ADHD… properly, not as a miscreant would, and I think what happened was that I just took one pill too many in order to stay focused for writing and it mixed incorrectly with my antidepressants. I was fine again after I sat for a bit.

Back to the band.

I think Samaris has enormous potential. In so many ways they are unique in this country among other bands, if only for their innovate videos, song structures and deep, sensual—dare I say, implicitly seductive—rhythms. If they incorporate musicians in place of prepared tracks and diversify their vocal arrangements with different vocal colours and modes of affecting the voice, and perhaps expand the their usage of clarinet in future records, I think they’d really shine even brighter. The 19th century texts they utilize alone make them stand out with originality.

My apologies to Samaris for this fairly half-assed analysis. I need to treat my body better. i saw Tanya Pollock there, she’s given me some tough love about that shit.


I went down the stairs, fixated on how self-conscious about how I am about losing my hair, and wondering how many people above are staring at my bald spot as i descend the stairs, wondering if I should wear my beanie tomorrow, even after getting my trendy, Icelandic rockabilly, retro-futuristic haircut. seeing exes left and right…I have lied my way into this lifestyle. it must be weird seeing a guy write while walking looking really sick. i really shouldn’t mention girls at all during this post. it makes me look like an unprofessional, sophomoric douche bag.


a nice, meandering set. max for live on visuals? pulsating shapes. transposition shifts. what formula are these melodic algorithms based on. this band is all about tension and release.


watching all the guys adjusting themselves in the bathroom. holy shit! lots of people waiting for m-band at kaldalón.


Do yourself a massive favour and watch this!

I’m right up front for M-Band. I love the spinning chair imagery. He’s staring at the wall. I’m staring where he’s staring, a vacuousness. Look at all of his tools! A musician’s musician. Quite the enigma he can come off as. He restores faith, playing the chords. He’s real. His movements are real.

He does this headshake thing, which is startling. shoeless man. The man makes stepping away from the controllers, an epic experience. People pounding along. Near-religious chanting! honestly tasteful melodies. never ending never!!! astonishingly epic. I see heads bobbing all along, I checked several times. Toes tapped. No pretence in this man. Some people left during this epic track. Fuck that. I got even closer!!! His songs are like orgasms—complete with a heavenly, tension-building rising action, followed by release.

What a fucking statement.

Todd Terje/DJ Yamaho

I didn’t stay long for this. I’m not really a big fan of DJs and house in this context. What I heard was Madchester-esque house with a cool light show, I think I saw Todd on keys. It’s always nice to see people standing on each other’s shoulders. Good sound rig. I went down when i couldn’t fit or breathe really easily.

I watched a few minutes of DJ Yamaho, because for some reason I feel like she really deserves the respect she gets in the scene. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and she proved it on the decks, with some very tasteful deep house selections.

Valgeir Sigurðsson

I walked in to see Autechre alongside a cello player….

Actually, not at all, but that alone would have sold me. Valgeir worked various controllers and the computer, and his associate, Liam Bryne, which I briefly spoke with, played an instrument called a viola de gamba. Our interview is briefly interrupted by the lovely Mr. Högni Egilsson, who also wants to look at the instrument. it’s fun, listen 🙂

This performance was the other great surprise of the evening, two men, shrouded in darkness, save for the lamp on the music stand. a beautiful, simple atmosphere emerged. There were such beautiful overtones produced by this viola de gamba. The instrument has almost a tinny, metallic quality to it when bowed, it seemed. I truly loved the subtle, simple beauty of the passages, the darkness of them, their melody. Liam truly is proficient at this instrument.

It may sound strange to not have been preoccupied with the crazy amounts of house energy upstairs, but I myself will always choose the darkness, the subtlety, the dynamic over anything else. It’s just who I am, I suppose. these pieces were absolutely worth waiting for until the very end, so much so that I only was able to sleep for approximately three hours last night just because I felt it necessary to listen to everything. Well done men, well done. Bedroom Community definitely has my attention.

The end

All and all, in closing, in summation, in conclusion, in sum, at the end of the day, when you get right down to it, all I’m going to say, is that I had a great, bumbling start to night one. Many of the interviews I did, you’ll notice, are a bit off balance, principally because I never did anything like them before. as this event goes on, hopefully I’ll actually learn how to be more of like, you know, a real journalist again as this Cultural Explosion spreads its radiation over the city. My photographer pals (who will remain nameless) from previous events will recall much-to-my-chagrin antics, so I feel quite pleased in having been completely sober and genuinely composed tonight.

Ultimately, with a lot of what I’m writing, I’m not intending to harm anyone, so my apologies in advance if you’ve taken offence at anything I’ve said. in the end, the only person I want to take extreme liberties with is myself. this style of writing is crazy, but I can assure you, there will be a method to this madness, and perhaps some elucidation. Pussymode off.

The promoters and event staff have done a great job opening up today’s event.
Here’s to day two.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!