Published February 16, 2015

Ragnar Egilsson
Photo by
Gabrielle Motola

For whatever reason, I decided focus on frivolous listicles for this year’s Sónar. I’m a little burned out on the standard, oh-so-serious music review and wanted to do something playful and light from the perspective of an old fart trying to fit into a young man’s festival.

But after seeing some of the other Grapevine coverage, I feel that the artists, the festival, and the attendees deserve a proper review coming from a place of genuine appreciation for electronic music and what they’re trying to do with this festival. As a passionate fan of electronic music, I haven’t seen much coverage that spoke to my experience.

I’m a big fan of electronic music in general and I’ve never been more engaged or engaged with as many sub-scenes as I am these days. I’m following everything from Jersey Club and Ballroom to experimental techno and instrumental grime. I follow a dozen podcasts devoted to different types of electronic music, too many blogs to count, several online magazines, feeds, etc. I attend as many shows as I can and support the scene as much as I can. You get the idea. I’m just saying this so you understand where I’m coming from. There is music out there, most of which could be classified as electronic, which speaks to me and makes me feel all warm and tingly in my insides.

Besides, anyone who knows what I look like can confirm sightings of a sweaty Pillsbury doughboy dancing his ass off in the middle of the crowd Thursday through Sunday.

The festival

The festival has matured into a well-organized and diverse festival that manages to appeal to the whole spectrum of electronic music fans. I remember vividly back when there were barely any decent electronic live shows in Reykjavík, back when you could pick between eurodance nonsense and the, almost impressively, monotonous grind of the local drum n bass scene. Iceland Airwaves did a lot to fix that and now we have a whole festival all to ourselves. Of course it’s not flawless but seriously, how fucking awesome is that!

The crowd

It’s fun to play up the bacchanalian aspect of Sónar and throw sex and drug references around but really I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary for a music festival. People were surprisingly charged up on Thursday and I saw a fair bit of vomiting teens but I’ll chalk that up to Sónar appealing to a younger demo. Friday and Saturday were like a well-regulated weekend in downtown Reykjavík and that’s the god’s honest truth.

The music

I was crisscrossing between the SónarClub and the SónarHall stages on Saturday and didn’t get a chance to visit any of the other stages. Why they changed the names of the Norðurljós and Silfurberg auditoriums just for Sónar is anyone’s guess.

I started off with Yung Lean & Sad Boys, which were a far better live act than I would have expected. I almost wish it had been more of silly mess, instead it was a decent hip hop show with an inventive production. I was still in recovery from Friday and never managed to really sink my teeth into the show.

After Lean I managed to catch 10 minutes or so of the Japanese all-girl band Nisennenmondai. Just enough time to figure out how to spell their name for Twitter. A live band performing electronic music with traditional live instruments in a way that reminded me of the Austrian band Elektro Guzzi, which played Airwaves 2012. All my friends raved about the Nisennenmondai show, so in hindsight I probably should have stayed longer.

The Ryan Hemsworth show had a surprisingly low turnout. I guess concertgoers were having some trouble braving the light of day after Friday. A beautiful set from Hemsworth and unashamedly tender between pulsating beats and R&B flirting. Hemsworth charged through most of his best-known songs and would wave a rose around and a casual hello to the crowd in between tracks. One of my favourite shows of the weekend although I could have used a much higher volume (I was hearing full conversations during the set) and the crowd could have used a little wake-up slap. Icelanders really need to dance more.

Kindness was patently ridiculous to my ears and eyes. A fantastic backing band with charming and talented backing singers, fronted by the dictionary definition of a lanky Brooklyn hipster (think Hamilton Morris, the drug correspondent for Vice). Questionable lead vocals over a mixture of lacklustre cover songs and some beige originals.  The crowd seemed a little older and loving the brand of electro funk he was serving so I quickly decided to leave them to their fun and find something more up my alley.

Elliphant continued some of Kindness’s brand of cultural appropriation. A white girl serving up dubstep while doing her best Santigold impression and dipping into a Jamaican patois. But if you were able to get over that then Elliphant was able to back it up with a strong stage presence and did an admirable job of warming up the crowd for Skrillex.

Jamie XX gave an entertaining DJ set comprised of muted soulful UK beats dipping into a faster pace in between. The 30 minutes I saw were far above what you could expect on an average club night in Reykjavík but not engaging enough for a show this late on a Saturday night. It would have made for a nice Benji B mix but came up short next to Skrillex.

Have you seen that Key & Peele sketch about dubstep? Skrillex didn’t quite make my eyes bleed but it came close. It was big dumb fun for a big dumb fun night at the circus. Lasers, Icelandic flags, Björk remixes, Star Wars nods. It was chaotic and loud and what I’d imagine 4chan to sound like if you compressed it into audio and removed all the soul-scarring images of exploding anime genitals. I don’t a single person in that crowd walked away disappointed.


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