From Iceland — England's Mountain Green

England’s Mountain Green

Published March 21, 2011

England’s Mountain Green

Hurts, Dikta & Retro Stefson @ Vodafone-Höllin
Sunday March 20, 2011

England’s fascination with campy, shticky, image-obsessed music has, after thirty years of cheesy Eurotrash, baby-faced boy bands, comeback careers from overweight middle-aged singer-songwriters, Christmas singalongs, Live Aid and all those fucking Spice Girl solo careers, produced the phenomenon known as Hurts.
Hurts is, ostensibly, synth-pop of the cheapest kind, lacing together tacky lyrics with clichéd, cumbersome beats and loops, with any sense of passion or integrity dutifully smoothed out by enough overproduction to make Smokey sound like GG Allin. Their sole saving grace might be the fact that they have the potential to function as a sort of gateway drug for kids, leading them to higher forms of pop or techno later on.
The kids who showed up to the shoddily converted handball stadium to see Hurts play when they returned to Iceland on March 20 certainly could have used a gateway drug or two; the glistening teen population of Reykjavík’s ever-expanding multitude of swollen, still-affluent suburbs was particularly well-represented, and I felt old and stiff at twenty-four.
Not that I minded so much. On the contrary, it was nice to go out and see the real Iceland, with their tight jeans, plaid shirts, low-top Converses and dodgy haircuts instead of the fad-driven hipsters running around thinking they’re better than everyone else, the downtown cooler-than-thous that have come to represent Iceland’s image abroad. The bleeding heart of Iceland is its suburbs and their teens, they control how we vote, what we eat and what our architecture looks like. Hats off to them. Especially their tight jeans.
They came to see a show, and having spent between 4.000 and 5.900 of their parents’ ISK to spend a night in an indoor sports venue with terrible acoustics and an unreliable sound system (more on that later), nothing short of Iceland’s glimmering best was thrown onto the stage for the warm-up acts… well, sort of. Retro Stefson masterfully disguised their complete inability to write a decent song with a robust and energetic live show, and everyone was suitably entertained by their antics. The crowd, although they’d come to see the glitzy foreigners perform, were enthusiastic and responsive to Stefson, which has somehow become one of Iceland’s most respected bands.
What is there to say about Dikta that hasn’t been said already?
When Hurts took the stage at a quarter to ten, they were, to be honest, kind of underwhelming compared to the multimedia extravaganza I’d been expecting, but I got over it quickly enough. Singer Theo Hutchcraft (to whom I’ll be referring to as ‘Butch Hutch’ throughout the rest of this review) was pretty endearing, actually, in his own fumbling, earnest yet devastatingly handsome way, chucking white roses to throngs of screaming teenage girls (and some middle-aged girls, as well). His voice sounds far better live than on record; competing with the cacophony of a live venue gives it that little kick in the pants that counts for so much, and is so desperately missing on Hurts’ recordings. They were progressing steadily through Hurts’ hit-laden set list without any major hitches… that is until the power cuts started.
In a shockingly Icelandic turn of events, the audibly overtaxed sound system gave out halfway through ‘Evelyn,’ sending the crowd into inexplicable cheers and applause as every instrument on stage (including, somewhat suspiciously, the acoustic ones) went silent. Butch Hutch tried his hardest to keep the crowd entertained with a few a capella refrains, but it was useless; the band stormed offstage to set things right.
It would be a good ten minutes before Hurts and their precious sound returned to the stage. They managed to trundle through a few more songs with about an eighth of the enthusiasm they’d had pre-power cut, before the inevitable happened: the sound died again, and this time people did not stick around. The teenagers, suspension of disbelief thoroughly yanked out of them, began to trickle out. Upon their return, even Butch Hutch’s suave omegasexuality could not convince the crowd to stay, and Hurts knew it. Ironically enough, they managed one tepid encore of ‘Stay,’ thanked Reykjavík for a lovely evening, and disappeared offstage to be replaced by tepid pop-champagne on the traitorous speakers.
I so want to believe the power cuts were irrelevant, and that I can form my own opinion on the band and their show. I want to completely disregard the outages and just think about the band’s performance (I wasn’t even going to mention them in the review), but they so affected the show in general that it’s impossible not to be influenced by them. In fact, they pretty much prohibit any kind of solid opinion on the concert being formed, other than the fact that it was a shameful and embarrassing technical failure that I sincerely hope will comprehensively kill the professional reputations of all responsible.
Because say what you will about Hurts, they deserve their moment in the limelight. They may just be the new hot thing (the operative word being hot – God damn it, Butch Hutch, stop making me question my sexuality), but such things are always worth paying attention to, if only for how they mirror the values of the society that produces them. Hurts, much like the white roses they fling out, are the perfect little tokens of cheap, shallow appreciation of temporary beauty and happiness so treasured by modern England. They are, as Mike Leigh would put it, the latest in a line of cheap thrills, and it doesn’t matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as they’re new, and as long as they flash and fucking bleep in forty fucking different colours.
But they do look pretty damn sexy doing all that flashing and bleeping, though.
Photos by Alísa Kalyanova. Check out her personal Flickr here.

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