From Iceland — When Reykjavík Visits Rotterdam

When Reykjavík Visits Rotterdam

Published December 7, 2007

When Reykjavík Visits Rotterdam

It is cold, but serenely clear tonight. The atmosphere feels transparent, as if Rotterdam is opening up its sores to be assuaged by the healing music invading for the weekend for the Reykjavík 2 Rotterdam festival. It is also quiet, very quiet on the streets. Rotterdam rarely lights up on weeknights. A few degrees colder and this would easily feel like Reykjavik. The city feels like it is waiting for the music to wake up, or like the weather joined the bands for the trip. Either way, all is serene.

Latern/Venster, the night’s venue, is quiet, so off to the bar for a few Belgian ales while waiting for the show to start. It is Mr. Silla and Mongoose, along with Hafdis Huld tonight. The louder acts are playing at the opposite end of town, a good twenty-minute walk away.

Forty minutes on and the lovely Silla and her musical companion, Mongoose, roll through an introspective and whimsical set of flowery pop tunes. Melodically little is afoot. The progressions are awash with silence, only awakened when Silla rouses the soft pokes of electronic samples, ukulele and keyboard with her voice. Songs built on airy, atmospheric huffs sequencers and programmed beats flick and flutter over enchanting vocals and simple, plaintive accompaniment. This is beautiful music, inherently Icelandic inasmuch as it is built upon a pathetic fallacy and forever influenced by that relationship. Yet, this is not transplanting me back to Iceland; I remain in Rotterdam. But Rotterdam feels much nicer now.

I have to leave Latern/Venster now. Reykjavik to Rotterdam is split between two venues and Apparat Organ Quartet is due to begin at Waterfront, the other venue. Splitting the festival makes little sense, as it ruins any festival ethos developed, but it is justified. The organizers split the genres, placing the mellower stuff at Latern/ Venster and the harder stuff at the grittier, rougharound- the-edges Waterfront. I refuse to miss Apparat Organ Quartet, so I walk and get lost. I stumble around the pier for twenty minutes before finding the venue halfway through Apparat’s set. Immediately, the walk is worth it. This band is fucking brilliant. On stage a nerd, made up of four keyboards and a drummer, is mastering every single old Nintendo theme, adding electronics and freaking out. Urgent blips and bleeps soar from this and that keyboard, buttressed by steady earfuls of trance, house and acid-jazz. ‘Romantika’ is a progressive beast well worth the impending seizure, while ‘Cruise Control’ melts the walls, providing a perfect addendum to the performance at Latern/Venster. I can see why this music needs to be separated, as the bands would not share the same stage in Reykjavik either. Unfortunately, the losers of this scheduling conflict are Rass and Hafdis Huld, both artists I was looking forward to. Oh well, it is only Thursday and besides, it’s late and the last train is leaving. ‘Till tomorrow.

It is Friday night now and I am back to the awkwardness that permeates Rotterdam. It is more alive, but still odd. This city must be perfect for some, but I’m uncomfortable here. It feels too ‘North-American’. Tall buildings steal the sunset, cars dominate bikes and everybody seems like they are in some perpetual, never-ending rush. So tonight, I will stay put. I’m going to remain at Latern/ Venster, as it’s much closer to Centraal Station. This time, the lounge dividing the concert space and the secondary venue – housing screenings of Sigur Rós’ Heima – is packed. Getting a drink at the bar proves an ordeal. Last night the venue was half-empty, as if Iceland forgot it shipped a small army of musicians to the Netherlands for this. Tonight, however, both Icelanders and locals alike are out, sharing pints of Belgian ale alongside conversation. There is an aura of success afoot. Reykjavik to Rotterdam feels rooted, almost habitual tonight. The festival is turning a corner. In 2005, a similar event took place – a Scandinavian Music Festival of sorts. The event was a good idea, but financially it proved tough on the promoter. 2006 was spent regrouping and relocating to Reykjavik from Rotterdam, before finally returning back for another shot. Now the festival is burgeoning outwards, introducing the sights and sounds of Reykjavik throughout Europe. Copenhagen and Berlin are scheduled next year, and the conversation tilts towards discussing both. Being here is utterly rewarding. Everyone is a part of something – proof that life is beautiful when you travel and swap experiences. And good music is borderless.

Lost in Hildurness is opening up for Seabear tonight. Armed with a cello, a harp of sorts and a whole slew of samples and delay effects, Hildur embarks on crafting a melody of sorts within a cacophony of ambience, settling down twenty-minutes later to just her and the cello quivering away delicately to escape all the noise. The one song she decides on is, again, a perplexing, weatherinfluenced adventure, but instead of searching for songs within the slop of sound, Hildur remained too content on achieving nothing, and whatever she tried to accomplish on stage suffers as a result. Too much ambience becomes just that, only ambience. There are no songs here. Everyone else loved it, though, so count me as the odd man out. Besides, one musical mulligan is permissible. Thankfully, Seabear rectifies the scenario with an embracing set of countrified folk and lo-fi pop set to violins, keyboards and yet more samples. The theme of quiet over loud continues, as the septet crafts a mass of songs soft enough to break under the weight of a paperback. It all sounds rather cute. Very, very cute. There is no angst whatsoever, but there need not be. Ever heard of anything proven to be too cute? Exactly. Again, there were schedule conflicts and subsequently, winners and losers. This time, Reykjavik! and Mammut lost. I heard both performances were loud. Go Figure. I also had to fly to London on Saturday, so I missed the final night, one headlined by múm and Rökkuró. My friends gloated about being there.

This festival has left a lasting impression. Reykjavik to Rotterdam is not simply about the music, nor is it about showcasing, or at least trying to showcase Rotterdam. This was a cross-cultural exchange of hospitality, where one country lent an ear to another that wants nothing more than to scream from the rooftops. Icelandic music continues to expand geographically, as the roads Björk and Sigur Rós paved are weathering through an endless exodus of creativity. Reykjavik to Rotterdam just proves, once again, that the world is listening intently, despite the scene residing thousands of miles away. For a country so ridiculously isolated from everything else, Reykjavik to Rotterdam made the two cities feel like neighbours, as if they were just across the river from each other, bickering away like neighbours. I would have preferred the festival to be in Amsterdam, but the promoter, who now lives in Reykjavik, is originally from Rotterdam. He wins.

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