From Iceland — What Went Down: Sónar Thursday Capsule Reviews

What Went Down: Sónar Thursday Capsule Reviews

Published February 19, 2016

What Went Down: Sónar Thursday Capsule Reviews
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Angel Haze’s powerful rapping, Milkywhale’s triumphant pop, Ellen Allien’s teutonic techno, Páll Oskar’s golden armour—it’s hard to call what our Sónar team loved the most from day one of the festival. Read on to decide for yourselves.

Eli Petzold

When Auður performed his spare R&B in Kaldalón, I thought he was moving through some viscous ooze of smooth and cool. His choreographic lexicon—isolated gestures, sudden jerks, recoveries—add layers of depth and feelz to his candid, colloquial lyrics of love. Hot. I was pleased to stumble into the project All Inclusive, a collaboration between electronics duo Mankan and choreographer Martin Kilvady featuring dancers from the Icelandic Dance Company and the Reykjavík Dance Festival. Mankan twisted knobs, offering a minimalist soundscape backdrop for the dancers’ carefully chaotic journey thru beeps and boops. The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra performance ends (who knew it was going on?) and hundred of Brahms enthusiasts lookin’ nice pour down half the main staircase as dynosian droves ascended on the other half. Walking into Milkywhale, I joked, felt like going to church—Milkywhale are cathartic to dance to, in part because singer Melkorka makes it clear that you’re dancing with her, not to her—a sappy/happy energy-sharing cycle. Something—perhaps the size or reluctance of the crowd to participate—seemed to limit the possibilities last night. The new material is promising—I’m hoping to go full sweaty sappy dance mode next time they play.

Gabríel Benjamin

Earlier today I heard of clinical trials showing acoustic vibrations could heal blood vessels.Angel Haze‘s sound had the same effect on the bits of my brain that had grown jaded with hip-hop. Her spitfire beats, catchy hooks, deep bass, and brilliant voice blew whatever expectations I had out of the water. Páll Óskar finished the night with a nostalgic set that was by far the least geared towards outsiders (but was fab for locals that have grown up with his music). The dance performance, however, transcended all language barriers.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Grayson Del Faro

Alright Sónar, let’s talk about Day 1. Quite frankly, we can do better. Don’t get me wrong; I think the artists are holding up their end of the bargain. For one, Auður, filled the cold, chill, danceless Kaldalón with some human soul, and let me tell you: he was goddamn charming.  Angel Haze laid it all down, and Milkywhale tore it back up. I heard Páll Óskar even pulled off some kind of golden armor. They’re doing it right. But not us. Don’t make me be your mother about this, but were we or were we not starting fights and stealing each other’s coats? Not cool, man. And ladies. And everyone else. This is Reykjavík. We like to be nice to each other. And dance. And go home with our own stuff. And dance there too. So let’s get together, get our shit together, and fucking dance, okay?


Hannah Jane Cohen

Reykjavikurdætur was my favourite of the night—it was the best I’ve seen them since their awesome Secret Solstice show last summer—they dressed in white, and performed with huge enthusiasm. I still don’t understand any of their lyrics, but I still pretend that I do. Although, I was standing next to someone that knew every one of their lyrics. Reykjavikurdætur super-fans are a thing now, and deservedly so. Earlier in the night I caught Auður, who I knew from our hip-hop issue, and his performance was interesting—I couldn’t make out who exactly was singing, but they were really lively, running around the stage. I was most excited for Angel Haze, and she didn’t disappoint. The crowd got behind the performance, and it created an atmosphere that she thrived in.


John Rogers

It was a surreal experience to walk into Sónar Reykjavík this year and find a tide of grey-haired septuagenarians pouring down Harpa’s main stairway and out into the night. If they were curious old-age ravers whose energy didn’t even last to the end of simmering trip-pop unit Vök, they missed out by leaving early, because Reykjavíkurdætur delivered a big-stage show that felt like their graduation day. Sometimes said to be more about fierce energy than vocal prowess, their Sónar performance was rich with both. Next door, Good Moon Deer’s choreographed dance-troupe stage show was surreal and diverting—a suitably aesthetic accompaniment to his clipped, restless, nervy electronica. Milkywhale brought their A-game, with dancer, singer, frontwoman and lightning-rod Melkorka overflowing with a sense of profound glee that’s every bit as infectious as their pop earworms. Sounding even better than usual through the sizeable soundsystem, Melkorka managed to fill the big stage with her indefatigable presence—with such catchy songs and playful, boundless energy, Milkywhale are destined for great things.


Jón Benediktsson

I guess it has become a theme for one of the Grapevine team to be smitten by Reykjavíkurdætur each festival we cover, and this time it’s me. I know I’ve seen them before but it felt like the first time—they have truly grown into the supergroup they showed flashes of in the beginning of their career. Good Moon Deer had a dance troupe with him and delivered the all around best performance of Thursday night, though it may not have matched the energy of Reykjavíkurdætur. I now believe that you need at least seven people on stage for a show to be good.

Ragnar Egilsson

Angel Haze was huge: a powerful female rapper, a force to be reckoned with, a survivor—all of that, and a great stage show. Catch her if you can. Ellen Allien was amazing. What she played was simple and a little 90s. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it hit that German technological repetitive wünderspot perfectly—she’s a legend for a reason. I somehow managed to miss The Black Madonna which was a damn shame, but props to Ruxpin and Yamaho for the 15 or so minutes I caught of each of their sets. Overall, tonight was a good gateway into Sónar Reykjavík 2016.

Sveinbjörn Palsson

Good Moon Deer had a lady with a plant on her head on stage. I’ve been mesmerised by his performances before, and I was psyched to see the RDF contributions, but I arrived fresh from a hectic work-day, and the performance was a bit too outré for me this time. I envied the people getting into it a bit. Me and my partner in crime skulked off next door where Angel Haze stood—a tiny figure on a huge stage—and commanded the crowd. I ran into a former classmate from art school, a graffiti legend turned proper suburban dad, who told me that he didn’t know anything on the program, so everything was an amazing discovery. His eyes radiated the joy of discovery. I went out for a smoke, met some ageing youngsters, a very friendly ex-girlfriend and the same lady looking for the same rolling tobacco that I met at last year’s Sónar. On my way back, my body was sucked into the café on the ground floor, and I had a nice sit down. This is what music journalism is about, eh? I wish i could write a few paragraphs about the percolating sound of the coffee machine and the bustling crowd, but the place was empty and the machine was off.

My main event for the evening was starting, Ellen Allien. A one-way love-affair 14 years in the making, I first heard that name when she organized a concert in Reykjavik for her label BPitch Control at the museum of modern art. I made a poster, it had a picture of my washing machine on it. Knock-off Bjorkian graphics – millennium style. Never met her, didn’t know her, just remembered the funny name. A couple of years later the compilation ‘Futurism’ from City Rockers ushered in the age of Electroclash, after a period where the electronic boom of the 90s had waned, and as it reached us at Art School, we had a sound and identity. Ellen’s ‘Stadtkind’ typified that sound, a rejection of modernity—a return to the simplicity of the 80’s, but louder, angrier and noisier, yet somehow often wistful and beautiful. Electroclash pushed all our different buttons, but that song made Berlin iconic for so many of us that probably half that group of friends ended up living there at some point. Fast forward just over a decade, I’m with my friend from art school—it’s the third time we see Ellen DJ together, and probably his tenth. This time her sonic palette is resolutely of the nineties, iterations of the sound of a 303 synthesizer persist between tracks, rave organs and familiar drum machines (I’ll spare you from more of my sonic trainspotting). It was the decade of my teenage years cleaned up and idealized for a new generation, but with the same sparse Berlin aesthetic—always loving, never pastiche.

Sónar Crowd

We capped the night off in Kaldalón, where Drippin played a set of mostly Trap music for a sitting crowd. Menacing horror-movie chord progressions painted a sonic portrait of the struggles of urban youth and the hopelessness of the trap houses for the crowd of dancing youngsters in expensive clothes. For a minute I felt a bit superior, until I remembered the menacing tones of early drum ‘n’ bass emanating from pirate radio stations in council flats in London somehow perfectly catching my youthful mixture of confusion and rabid excitement. I remembered that this all comes full circle again and again, that youthful vigor is contagious, and that I should stop thinking like a music critic, and take in a new experience at face value—and maybe even move a bit. And so I did.

Milkywhale Sónar

Adalsteinn Jorundsson

Good Moon Deer at Sonar Hall was great. I think he was unlucky with the sound in that particular room but I loved his beats and that performance overall was enjoyable. I wandered around, caught a half of the energetic Angel Haze show. I was kinda looking for my friend and assuming I would find him there, but I didn’t. Neither was he to be found at The Black Madonna show. Maybe he was in too deep into the calypso house for me to perceive him. I came back to Sonar Hall to see Milkywhale, and met her fanclub. I really enjoy her shows—she has this carefree bubbling, giggling thing about her that is so contagious, and makes you wanna jump and shout and giggle with her. Overall, this was a fantastic opening night—it’s nice to have a smorgasbord of interesting, innovative music in our city.


Link to the Sónar’s Photo Album.

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