From Iceland — A Three-Man Orchestra

A Three-Man Orchestra

Published October 10, 2023

A Three-Man Orchestra
Photo by
Helga Laufey Ásgeirsdóttir

Goth post-punks Virgin Orchestra’s release show was a hit

Having arrived fashionably late to the show, I was surprised to see that the band had actually started. After living in Reykjavík and attended my fair share of performances, this was a first. To be fair, Virgin Orchestra’s release show was held in Harpa – a venue I can’t imagine being lenient towards the academic quarter.

After being shown to my seat by an impatient usher, I scurried into Harpa’s Kaldalón hall. It’s possibly one of Harpa’s best, as it positions the performing act at the bottom of a diagonal slope. The audience is made to look down on the artist, at least literally.

A band based on misunderstanding

In one of the regrettably few 200-seat capacity venues remaining in Reykjavík, Virgin Orchestra’s release show started out with an original piece written by the band members, performed by “Iceland’s most exciting and up-and-coming instrumentalists.” Or so it said in the press release. Instead of relying on an independent act, the band decided to curate a new orchestra. “It’s our friends from LHÍ,” confessed singer and bassist Stefanía Pálsdóttir after the show.

The audience is made to look down on the artist, at least literally.

Virgin Orchestra entered the Icelandic music scene comfortably in early 2022, demonstrating that goth is certainly in fashion, and no, it’s not just a phase. Their debut split single “on your knees/give in,” supplied listeners with a bombastic example of their shoegazey darkwave on which they expanded on with their debut 2023 LP Fragments.

Their name is derived from a misunderstanding between Stefanía and guitarist Starri Hauksson, originating from a brainstorming session. Mishearing what Stefanía pitched, Starri thought she suggested the name Virgin Orchestra.

In addition to their music, Virgin Orchestra is notable for the fact of being a rare addition to legendary label Smekkleysa’s roster. Their signing came through Stefanía. “I had released my solo album, Monstermilk, through Smekkleysa last year. That came through my connection with Curver [Thoroddsen]. We were on our way to sign elsewhere with Virgin Orchestra, but that fell through,” she explains.

Following the orchestral sextet, a changeover consisting exclusively of obscure Velvet Underground songs and music by Einstürzende Neubauten took place. These kids are art-school graduates, so this type of intellectual curation is expected and lauded.

Leather-clad goth-rockers tired of life

The band ventured on stage. All clad in leather pants, they later claimed to always perform in them. A wall of sound hit me as the band started their first song, “Intro.” Guitarist Starri glanced a smile to cellist Rún Árnadóttir who promptly started playing her electric instrument. Virgin Orchestra’s music is cold yet airy – cool and collected, with no discernible shortcomings.

A wall of sound hit me as the band started their first song, “Intro.”

The act hammered out their set list without pause. One must contain great fortitude to resist the urge to not acknowledge the audience in the tense moments between song changes. Luckily, singer and bassist Stefanía Pálsdóttir did, only to speak welcoming remarks before their last album track.

Lathered in reverb throughout, Stefanía’s vocals sung rhythmically on top of the mountains of sound. For only three people, they pack quite the sonic punch. Kevin Shields would be proud. Stefanía is even wearing a My Bloody Valentine T-shirt.

Towards the end, the band showcased two brand-new tracks bearing all the similar features of a Virgin Orchestra track – albeit slightly dreamier and more trip-hop inspired. “We are working towards a new album,” Rún tells me. Starri joins in the conversation, having been busy with loading out. “It’s a step forwards,” he says, explaining that the trio will emphasise a bigger sound than before, accentuating the ‘Orchestra’ part of their name.

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