At the 2021 Grapevine Music Awards, there was a tie in the highly coveted “You Should Have Heard This” category. Both of our winners—one a theremin savant, the other a local supergroup—were so incredibly fantastic that the panel decided to not even choose between them and instead just give them both the applause they deserve. We are therefore so excited to declare this to the world: You should have heard Hekla and RYBA, and if you didn’t, what on Earth are you waiting for?
You Should Have Heard Hekla
The Grapevine Music Awards panel is composed of experts from many disciplines—we have techno fanatics, rap connoisseurs and many things in-between. None, unfortunately, are theremin devotees. In fact, most of us know very little about the instrument, but all were still completely enamoured with the eerie theremin stylings of Hekla Magnúsdóttir and her ‘Sprungur’ EP.
“I like to explore new sounds with the theremin. I like to create terrifying sounds and big sounds in contrast with thin high pitched sounds,” Hekla explains. “I guess it explores negative space or kind of a big black void of sound. On ‘Sprungur’ I was exploring imagery of mythical beasts and the dark cold winters.”
And it’s visceral imagery, one panel member confirmed, referencing the beginning of the first track “Velkomin,” which features growling voices of horrific creatures welcoming the listener to the show. This then meanders into a haunting, atmospheric, six-song wild ride.
The panel concluded that Hekla really found her own on this release, proving that she not only knows her sound, but that she’s confident in it. “I think the theremin is not an instrument you typically think could be emotional, but Hekla has found deep and intense emotion in its tones,” one panel member raved. “This is something that should be applauded.”
While the theremin often brings up thoughts of old sci-fi scores or “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys (which incidentally does contain a theremin), for Hekla, there are infinite sonic possibilities within the oft-misunderstood instrument.
“I think it offers the most interesting way to compose for me. I love to improvise and make long loops on two loop pedals and then pass them through other effect pedals, so many happy mistakes can also happen then,” she says. “Playing the theremin is more like playing a voice since you don’t touch anything, you more just visualise the sounds. It has also, therefore, allowed me to get more and more into the graphic notation that I make for my theremin compositions.”
Hekla plans to continue her interest in graphic notation by releasing a graphic notation guide for those who want to learn the theremin this year. She’s also working on a larger experimental piece for cello, theremin, and voice. “I don’t want to make more songs, I just want to make long pieces of difficult experimental music in 2021,” she admits.
“Out of all the winners, I can’t wait to see what she does next,” one panel member concluded. “Can someone please give her a film score? Can you just imagine what she’d do with that?”
You Should Have Heard RYBA
RYBA’s 2020 debut album ‘Phantom Plaza’ (read a Track by Track on it here) meanders seamlessly between beat-driven and jangly rock ‘n’ roll, 90s trip-hop, shoegaze and everything else. “It’s a kind of supergroup, with seasoned members of other projects, including Grísalappalísa, Kælan Mikla and Andi,” one panel member raved. “An obvious sensibility for texture and drama is present. Fine-tuned vibes echoing the past so elegantly into the present.”
The fact that RYBA didn’t get more attention this year was a sobering fact for many judges, and so the group was a shoe-in for the “You Should Have Heard This Award.”
“RYBA does have a pre-RYBA history, which happens in Poland starting with a project or a film titled ‘RYBA’ about a foreigner who is fired from a Polish fish store for no reason and goes to a club to reflect on his life,” the band told the Grapevine. “The film has no punchline but an existential take on the saying ‘fish on dry land’ with a touch of italo disco by Andi. After that project, we started the band RYBA playing noise rock with a few Polish friends.”
Now, a few years later—and a return to Iceland—they’re a seven-member collective with backgrounds varying from music to film, visual art, and performance.
“This project began as a platform for us to play music that shows who we are and where we come from. When this band started to grow to the form you see today, it was only the three of us playing much simpler punk with only guitar, bass and drums. We did not know that after each concert the band would hugely evolve and every time a new member joined, the music started to form to a signature sound of RYBA,” they explain.
The panel members applauded the band’s unique sound, all agreeing that they are the only ones in the country doing what they do. “There is no comparison,” one judge put it. “You hear them and you know instantly that they are doing something completely out of the realm of what we’re used to here. They have a sound that’s derived and inspired by so many vastly different inspirations that it’s coalesced into something unrepeatable.”
When making ‘Phantom Plaza,’ there was one simple rule: You could only use what you already owned. “That’s why it went in this sampling direction with basic instruments—bass, guitar, drums, sampler, the basic stuff. The project became about finding ways to work with these kinds of limitations and finding people/colleagues who could work well together, for us that was a total success,” they said. “The album is exactly how it should be, it has a pretty wide spectrum and we definitely explore a lot with genres and layers kind of inevitably for some reason.”
“I see the album usually as a psychological voyage which was supposed to happen a few decades ago but it’s happening now like a ghost. It has some unresolved business,” the group continued. “This album is not trying to meet anyone or help society to become better, more like using it and reflecting what we see in it a little bit like a ghost.”
Looking back on ‘Phantom Plaza,’ the group is extremely proud of what they made, but now they’re only looking towards the future.
“Our debut has had a good release and we can’t wait to play ‘Phantom Plaza’ live when we release the thing physically,” the band concludes. “We want to use this chance to thank Alex Racziński, Baldur Baldursson, Hanna Rose, Kolfinna Nikulásdóttir, Hampus Nordenson, Albert Finnbogason, Myrkfælni, Margrét Rósa Dóru- Harrysdóttir and of course Hörður Gabriel for their existences and support.” We at the Grapevine would like to thank them too.
RYBA is currently working on their second effort, which, we predict, you should also listen to.
You can read about all of the winners of the 2021 Grapevine Music Awards here.
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