From Iceland — Return to Form

Return to Form

Published August 26, 2006

Return to Form
Haukur S. Magnússon
Photo by

Who: Mínus and Langi Seli og Skuggarnir
Where: Sirkus
When: August 19th 2006
Feminist philosopher Sandra Harding is perhaps best known for her critique on Western science’s claim to complete and utter objectivity and “universal reason”. According to her, true math-like objectivity can never be had, as any- and everyone’s view of the world is ultimately dependent (and thus tainted) by his/her viewpoint. Unlike many so-called post-modernists, however, Harding’s answer to this conundrum isn’t that we should abandon our search for objective truth; although it may indeed be unattainable, some forms of discourse are clearly more objective than others. Her solution comes in the form of a method she calls ‘Standpoint-epistemology’ and entails that those engaging in any form of discourse examine and divulge factors in their values and viewpoint that may affect the conclusions they draw. She claims that by embracing these ‘stronger standards’ for objectivity, we’re that much closer to drawing truthful and unoppressive conclusions about our subjects.
As I have no interest in writing oppressive lies, here are some things to bear in mind while reading the following concert review of local legends Mínus and Langi Seli & Skuggarnir:

  • I am a member of a band that shares a practice space with Mínus.
  • I have been a big fan of Mínus ever since they released their first album. The only five-star review I’ve ever written was for their last album, Halldór Laxness. In that review, I used many exclamation marks.
  • Mínus kind of scare me. No, not kind of, they just plain scare me. I am afraid they will beat my ass if I give them a negative review.

That said, Mínus’s Culture Night show at Sirkus was in most respects fucking awesome. And opening band Langi Seli & Skuggarnir were pretty awesome too. Yeah, it was a good night.
The annual Culture Night festival has in the decade or so since its inception evolved into some kind of monster, with many of its guests reportedly leaving out the whole ‘culture’ bit in lieu of drunkenly wandering through downtown, taking in the occasional happening or concert here and there. This year’s festival wasn’t any different and I was confronted by quite many drunken wanderers as I made my way to Sirkus’s back yard at 8 p.m. to catch the much-hyped appearance of Mínus and Langi Seli & Skuggarnir. In retrospect, that whole atmosphere contributed greatly to the show, as both bands play a kind of music that invites and encourages drunken stumbling, vomiting, bathroom encounters and various other forms of debauchery.
Langi Seli & Skuggarnir are a rockabilly quartet that released their sole LP more than 15 years ago and have risen to near mythical status since on account of their supposedly legendary live shows. They took the stage to the applause of an interestingly mixed crowd of teenagers waiting for Mínus, wandering children and their intoxicated, middle-aged parents. Shade-wearing, leather-jacketed singer/guitarist Langi Seli certainly had the whole rockabilly look down to a T, while the bass player sported an electric upright bass that fully made up for what he may have lacked in the style department. The type of music LSS specialise in all sounds rather similar to my untrained ears; the main difference between bands in that genre being that for whatever reason, some simply suck while others do not. And LSS made it clear early on that they belonged to the latter camp. Technically proficient, rhythmic and driving, the music was meant to sound like music played by people wearing leather jackets and shades – and they did a fine job of it. My only real complaint about LSS’s show is that the fading daylight didn’t really become them, their songs really sound like they’d work that much better in a dark, smoke-filled environment.
Oh, of course, the show sounded awful, a problem that would remain throughout the night. Depending on your position, you would either hear only the bass or the vocals with some guitars creeping in if one tilted one’s ears at a certain degree. But it didn’t really matter. After all, this was Culture Night. And that’s not about sounding fine or even being audible. It’s about shaking, bumping and grinding – acts to which LSS provide a fine soundtrack.
After a brief encore, Mínus singer Krummi took the stage to announce that on account of some unforeseen problems, their show was delayed for a couple of hours and would take place after the evening’s fireworks display. Some people with acoustic guitars appeared and looked like they were about to play what I guessed would amount to some kind of hippie noodling. Wanting to preserve the atmosphere of decadence LSS had installed in me, I decided to flee Sirkus and check out what was happening downtown.
I am incredibly bored by hippies, noodling and Jeff Buckley, but no matter what those furry folk played at the Sirkus stage during Mínus’s delay, it couldn’t have been worse than what I was faced with downtown. I found myself stuck in hell, crushed, Roskilde-style, between groups of senior citizens and baby-carrying suburbanites, all the while being forced to listen to Mezzoforte’s absolutely awful take on elevator-jazz. In all fairness, the sound quality was good and they probably didn’t hit a false note. Problem was, they didn’t manage to hit a remotely interesting one either. Soul-less, technically shiny scale-driven garbage, Mezzoforte actually sounds like music written for robots, by robots. Satanic paedophile robots. In hell. The only positive thing about the whole spectacle was that it was kind of decadent, in a suburban way: amongst other things, I saw a man in his fifties spew a mixture of beer and cotton candy in front of his adoring family.
After a drab fireworks display, I somehow finally made my way back to Sirkus, just in time for Mínus’s second song. By that time, it was completely dark out and the crowd filling Sirkus’s back yard had grown considerably. In front of the stage, a small mosh pit was throbbing in time with the furious grind-attack of a Jesus Christ Bobby number whose name I forget. A squeal of feedback punched me in the back of the neck and all of the sudden I remembered just how much I used to get from watching Mínus perform.
This was indeed an important show for Mínus, with them returning to the stage after a year of recuperation and inactivity. Before their leave of absence, they had played some pretty bad shows, displaying a lack of imagination and passion with both their annoying cock-rock-like demeanour and new songs that didn’t seem to go anywhere. I walked out on them last year, appalled by an act that used to leave me inspired. As the show went on, however, it became apparent that the show was a much-needed and longed-for return to form for a band that had swayed off course.
As far as I could tell through the muddled sound, their playing was incredibly tight. Mínus is composed of some skilled instrumentalists who have played together for a very long time, bouncing off each other with a renewed vigour and energy. Their set list was a mix of songs off their last two albums interspersed with new tracks. While not exactly inventive, the new songs display a return to the more cacophonous sounds of JCB, blending melodic choruses with confusingly aggressive verses in a manner reminiscent of Laxness favourite Romantic Exorcism. The final outcome of their recent songwriting efforts will of course depend on the way they manage to present themselves in the studio without the aid of longtime collaborator Curver, by all accounts a big contributor to their sound.
The mosh pit up front got increasingly aggressive and reached a kind of climax in the midst of the furious and seldom heard Misdo. A group of bare-chested hooligans that included Messrs Handsome and Mista took to climbing onto the clear plastic sheeting that served to guard the stage from the possibility of rain. It looked unsafe and scary and for a second I was worried that the whole thing would collapse and kill the band, thereby preventing me from hearing how some studio time would benefit its new songs. For whatever reason, the plastic held up fine, but the threat seemed to hasten the night’s descent into noisy chaos.

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