From Iceland — Alison MacNeil's Second Sónar Day: Sorrí

Alison MacNeil’s Second Sónar Day: Sorrí

Published February 14, 2015

Alison MacNeil’s Second Sónar Day: Sorrí
Photo by
Matthew Eisman

It’s Friday night and I am completely sober, leaving my car in the underground parking at Harpa. The presence of young men standing in groups drinking beers and the flashing colored lights that have replaced the usual yellow glow of this garage. I wonder if the car is safe briefly before deciding that my car is too much of a wallflower to be picked on by these young men, whose intentions may be more pure than I give them credit for.

I have one plan tonight – to see Ghostigital. I see them at every Airwaves festival and since they are now playing Sónar, I’m even more enthusiastic than usual. I have high expectations for the sound of the concert, as most of the times I’ve seen Ghostigital in the past, they’ve had to compromise on sound quality at the smaller clubs in Reykjavik. Ghostigital plays music with a wide sonic character and they are an excellent fit to the stated objectives of Sónar: music, creativity, and technology. There isn’t a group in Iceland that fits those three words better.

I arrive just as they are starting to play. The crowd isn’t packed, but the people who are there are clearly listening to the music, which is a relief since there is nothing more discouraging than an audience that isn’t actually paying attention. There are more people dancing to them than I usually see, which is interesting. It’s great music to dance to if you can get past the initial shock of hearing something different. This isn’t easy listening, but you are enriched as a human being for the experience if you can let yourself have it.

I’ve seen this band a million times before, but I can tell you some of the things I think when I see them. I find myself wondering why Elli spends so much time trying to fix his headphones on his ears. They always seem to be falling off his head. I can’t imagine that he can actually hear anything through the storm that Curver is conjuring onstage. Ghostigital’s auxilliary players (meaning anyone other than Curver and Einar) are not always in the mix from what I know about how Curver mixes the music. I’ve tried it before. It’s like screaming into a hurricane.

Einar is very fit for 50. I don’t have anything nearing that kind of energy. I briefly consider whether Ghostigital would make good workout music and quickly decide that, no, it wouldn’t.

There is a woman dancing on her own in the back of the room. She’s completely in her own world. She stops midway through a song and rejoins the rest of the crowd, perhaps her friends. Maybe she told them she was going to the bathroom, but she actually just went to the back of the room to dance. Maybe her friends don’t approve of her dancing. I forget about this woman. There are younger women taking glamour shots of each other at the side of the room to the pulsating beats. Younger than me anyway. Duckfaces abound. I laugh out loud and wonder if someone thinks I’m on drugs. I think there are many people on drugs here, but I am not on drugs. I remind myself that we are all invisible to each other 95% of the time and I leave the room.

If I see nothing else at Sónar, this will have been enough, I think. That would be something. Offer to write for Grapevine, see exactly one band, and then go home. I consider my burgeoning career as a music journalist and decide to stay for one more band.

Prins Póló starts in the same room a little later. The room is full now and considerably more fucked up than an hour before. Some kid pushes roughly past me for the second time tonight (second push, different kid) and for the second time I feel a hand brush my chest. I consider playing out the end of Return of the Jedi and throwing the young Emperor down the ventilation shaft to his fiery blue death, but decide that the prison time isn’t worth it. As the band starts playing, people start singing along and jumping up and down. I have never really seen Prins Polo play before and I have had no idea about how popular they appear to be until this very moment. I’ve known the people in this band for many years and I know them now as the makers of those vegetarian sausages, Bulsur. I consider comparing this crowd to their sausages and think better of it.

As a new listener to Prins Póló, I have to admit I’m not really impressed. I’ve agonized over whether to say so or not for most of the day afterwards, but there you have it. The whole experience feels very sterile and, for lack of a better word, designed. Which is not to say I have anything against design. I just don’t get this design, or if I get it (which is also possible) I just don’t like it. The playing is competent, but there is nothing edgy about it. It feels like a commodity, packaged. The crown symbol covers the back of the stage like a beacon of mediocrity and the beat just thumps on. I wonder why this band is playing at this festival.

The crowd continues to get more fucked up. I go look out the window at HB Grandi for a while.

Being sober in a drunk Icelandic crowd always feels a little dangerous. You become aware of the slobbering, intensifying stupidity that is steadily encroaching on your personal space. The urge to spill a drink on myself becomes almost irresistable, if only to throw them all off my scent. I then realize that this is probably ridiculous. A man passes me when I’m standing in the hallway, stops, turns, and sways on his feet looking like he’s going to strike up a conversation. I don’t make eye contact. I resolutely resist making eye contact. He stumbles forward and then turns on his heel and waves his hand back at me making some “pssffffttt” sound. We are unfortunately on the ground floor, so no Star Wars re-enactments are possible at this juncture.

The third and final act of this tragicomic night is soundtracked by AMFJ. Well, that’s not exactly true. There is a DJ playing in Kaldalon before him. Lounge music played a little too fast. I felt like I was dining out at a fusion restaurant after too many pills. Actually that’s not exactly true, because that’s never actually happened. I actually just felt like the music was being played too fast, but I thought it would be too boring to say that. Do you trust me more now that I have stopped lying to you?

Yes, AMFJ.

Watching him start his set, I wondered if he was going to try to hurt me. Because I can relate to noise music sometimes. The lonely buzz in your head. But I really hate it when they hurt you with their noise. When the distortion and the volume and everything is beyond the beyond and you have no choice but to plug your ears. I know Adalsteinn somewhat, so I know he’s a gentle soul. Still, it’s always the quiet ones, so I was ready with my fingers if things looked like they were going to go all Ghostbusters up in here.

In the end, he played a Shephard tone through some pedals and some other things that reminded me of a malfunctioning refrigerator I once recorded in a truck stop on the autobahn a few years ago. I think I still have those mini-discs somewhere. Maybe AMFJ would like to use them.

I think I would like to have him come and play in my house. Perhaps at my wedding if I ever marry. Thinking about that makes me immeasurably sad and I go home.

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