Sunday night marked the end and, for many, the high point of fledgling music festival Reykjavík Music Mess. And all the shows were pretty great, even those that took place in the bathroom! Read all about it below!
THE NORDIC HOUSE
These guys looked real spiffy as they took the stage at The Nordic House. Formed in 2002, the band Ég has definitely been around the island a few times. They immediately proved to be full of a feel-good energy everyone can enjoy. Wholesome, that’s what I would call them. Their lyrics are pretty simple and fun. They sing about such things as having ten fingers and toes and about a TV being able to sell us shit (and they mean that literally). Those songs were from their newest album, ‘Lúxus upplifun’. They also played some great songs from their second album, ‘Plata ársins,’ which is Icelandic for ‘Album of the Year.’ That album was actually nominated for Album of the Year at the 2005 Icelandic Music Awards. How wonderfully perceptive of them? Anyway, I see them making for a great wedding gig or really any kind of party gig. The crowd, which was definitely intergenerational, enjoyed itself swimmingly.
MUGISON: OOZES CHARISMA
Mugison, who comes from the remote Westfjords, has made quite a name for himself in Iceland, and he plays abroad too. In case you weren’t following our Twitter stream, we had Grapevine affiliates running through the rain to get to the Nordic House for this act. Unbeknownst to said affiliates, when they requested their favourite Mugi track, ‘I Want You,’ the man had already played it (they should not have stopped to shoot a photo of a creepy statue of local poet Tómas Guðmundsson on the way!). But Örn Elías Guðmundsson, who played with a drummer and bassist, but often plays solo, promised a private show after the concert, and private show he delivered. Check out the off venue in bathroom concert:
And therein lies the charisma of Mugison.
Generally speaking, a concert audience comes for the music and can only appreciate so much banter, as another Grapevine affiliate noted (tweeted). But, truth be told, Mugison has a knack for banter and improvising lyrics (or making nonsensical filler noises) and both were thoroughly enjoyed by the Icelanders in the room.
Oh, by the way. Have you seen his AWESOME homemade mirstrument? You should see him play it; it’s even more AWESOME.
LÁRA RÚNARS: SURPRISINGLY ROCKING
As Lára Rúnars took to the stage, the crowd had thinned by almost half from the previous act. Presumably people were heading to NASA to make sure they caught the headlining act. This was a little bit of a shame, as Lára actually proved to be a bit of a surprise that evening. In previous times when I’ve seen her perform, she has been good but a little too ‘pop’ for my tastes. But tonight her and her band pretty much blew the bloody doors off. Who knew she could rock this hard?
The main reason for this was down to her rhythm section. Her bass player had his bass turned up to implausibly loud levels (while also playing with neon green strings to boot), while her drummer, who incidentally also played for Mugison just before, turned into a human sweat production unit as he pummelled the living crap out of his kit. Set wise, this gave songs like ‘Love’ a full on glam rock edge as Lára pushed her voice to match the band, while their cover of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ was slowed down to an almost dirge like blues thrash. I even had to step back on a few occasions to protect my poor little eardrums. A lightweight pop artist? Please don’t bullshit me.
AGENT FRESCO: AMPED UP JACKALS
Now somebody had to take one for the team and perform while festival headliners Deerhunter were on at NASA. But cometh the hour, cometh the classically trained art rockers as Agent Fresco came along to take the mantle. It wasn’t an exceptional Agent Fresco gig, which was mostly due to the paucity of numbers who had decided to stay and watch them, but they never deign to do anything other than give it their all. They kicked off with ‘Anemoi/ He Is Listening’ and ‘Above These City Lights’, which typically characterised the dual tensions that occur in their music as it shifted between operatic piano led pop and caustic metal riffage. It certainly made for a decent spectacle as singer Arnór Dan (who seemed to be channelling some kind of amped up jackal as his spirit totem), veered between near falsetto lines, nodule tearing screams and 100 miles-per-hour jabbering between songs.
There were also some surprises in the set as I found out that just about everyone in the band could play the piano (including the fraggle haired drummer), while the sounds coming from the track ‘Implosions’ (which I term their ‘house crossover song’) were actually made with a guitar and not a laptop.
In the end, the show was certainly not a disappointment to those who stayed ‘til the dying end.
KIPPI KANINUS: SEEK IT OUT
I was surprised to enter Nasa and see four people getting ready on stage. The last time I saw Kippi Kaninus play, admittedly a decade ago, it was a solo performance. Back then it was a just one guy, his laptop, and a collection of odd musical instruments. Now it was four guys, two drummers (one of whom was former Sugarcubes drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson), a brass instrumentalist and Kippi Kaninus himself, standing behind a laptop. Later on a ukulele player joined the ensemble.
The music was laid-back, pleasant electronica. Perfect for a Sunday evening, as one would expect from a member of Amiina. The defining element was the brass, tuba, bassoon and trumpet. It functioned a bit like a vocalist, the calm centre that everything else organised itself around. The drummers created interlocking patterns, which Kippi’s laptop noises rested on top of like a comfortable mattress on a box-spring bed. By which I mean they were thick, dense and I would happily go to sleep on them (which is high praise from an insomniac). The ukulele, meanwhile, was more of a source for sounds to be manipulated through an impressively large amount of effects pedals, rather than the plinky plonky toy instrument we all love to hate.
I admit that I was not super excited beforehand about seeing Kippi Kaninus so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the show. From what I understand, this was a one-off performance, but if they play together again, I recommend you seek it out.
SUDDEN WEATHER CHANGE: ROCKING OUT
Sunday night, especially early Sunday night, is rarely a particularly raucous time-slot for a festival performance. Everyone is hung over and digesting the creative juices of the last few days, so usually only a diligent few make it to these gigs. The Sudden Weather Change gig at NASA proved no exception, with the audience being, once again, rather thin on the ground. This didn’t really matter though, as these boys know how to rock things, so even though there weren’t many present, those who had made it were well entertained.
The group is a five man band made up of artists/art students, and certainly their sound and onstage presence could be described as somewhat arty. Fortunately, they don’t go in for OTT theatrics, and just rocking out with some distortion here and some feedback there which gives the impression of an aim for difference. They seem to break the mould without being too in your face with it, and this is cool.
Their sound is kind of old and this is somehow appealing, with moments in the gig hearkening back to the good old days of guitars and stuff, then other moments bringing in the joys of newfangled technology to warp things up a bit. A nice combo of old and new.
In all it was a good gig. Probably not the music for a cosy evening at home with your woolly socks on, but definitely right for warming up for the mighty Deerhunter, and they even managed to wrangle a few head bobs out of the hungover audience. Nice job.
-Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir
SKAKKAMANAGE: “SICK SHIT”
Skakkamanage have been around on the scene for a good while now. The first time I saw them, which must have been in 2000 or 2001, or possibly earlier, they were already fully formed in terms of the kind of music they make. While they play a fairly standard brand of indie-pop, they do not really sound like any other band. They have elements of lots of their predecessors, at times reminding me of Beat Happening, sometimes of Wedding Present or Orange Juice, and sometimes of a bunch of other bands that fall within the general rubric of indie-pop. Always, however, they sound like themselves. To some they can seem a bit samey, but I like that sound and will happily listen to anything they play.
Before I get to the concert I have to make a confession: Skakkamanage have a secure place in my heart like few other bands. I grew up a indie-kid and for a solid chunk of my youth they were the only band in Iceland playing indie-pop, so I could not help but love them. Their albums have soundtracked my life and a few of their songs are always on rotation in the radio station inside my brain. I even set a chapter in my first novel at a Skakkamanage concert, semi-gratuitously. I do not think I can ever dislike them or their music. Heck, if they released an album of distorted fart noises, I would probably defend it as a True Punk Statement (or something). Thus keep in mind that it is hard for me to be objective about them, but I will try.
Another thing I feel the need to mention is that seeing Skakkamanage playing Nasa at Airwaves 2007 is one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Most Icelandic bands, when playing a stage bigger than a coffee-table, stand about inertly, barely moving at all. The cute little indie band prowled the stage that night like they were possessed by the ghosts of Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was quite amazing to see. Even though I know that lightning rarely strikes the same place twice, I could not help but await the show with great anticipation.
When the concert at Reykjavík Music Mess began I was somewhat concerned because the sound mix was atrocious. The snare vibrated through every song, adding what amounted to tape-hiss over all the songs. The keyboard and guitar feedbacked wildly, much more than they were supposed to. This problem never got fixed, but after a while I got into the performance and forgot about it. It helped that singer and guitarist Svavar, gentleman that he is, shared his industrial-sized bottle of vodka with the entire audience.
At first the band was a bit rusty, playing and moving a bit stiffly, but about halfway through their set things clicked into place. The first few songs were fairly standard run-throughs, but as they played on, they loosened up and the songs started to breathe and expand. Somewhere in the guitar solo on ‘Now or Never’ the band reconnected with its good rocking self and things flew off. They did not quite reach the heights of four years ago, but I was too happy with what was on offer to care. They ended with a rousing, raucous version of ‘Colonial,’ during which Svavar and Örn, the bass player, got in touch with the spirits of Ronnie Van Zant and Leon Wilkeson.
As I said above, I love Skakkamanage, so it is perhaps not surprising that I liked the concert. So let me provide a less partisan impression. After the show was over I asked some of the people around me what they thought of the show, both Icelanders and foreigners, and here are a few quotes: “I really like it… the singer sounds like Jeff Mangum. That last song was anthemic.” “I am not much of a fan, their songs on record sound the same to me, but I liked them live.” “This was sick shit… sick shit” (that last one was a compliment, I’m pretty sure).
As I walked out of Nasa after the Deerhunter show, I heard someone utter these words: “Best fucking live performance by a foreign band on Icelandic soil.” I kid you not. And though I’ve only seen a few concerts here thus far, I can say with confidence that Deerhunter blew my fucking mind. Even the improvisations were perfect. At the end of a jam version of ‘Microcastle’ track ‘Nothing Ever Happened,’ Brad Cox moaned into the microphone what sounded an awful lot like the lyrics to the Patti Smith classic, ‘Horses.’
Their collective energy vibrated off the disco ball, off the sweat that dripped from the foreheads of the dancing concert goers; into my chest and the chests of band members from Sudden Weather Change, Sóley, Sin Fang, Reykjavík!, Lower Dens, and Nive Nielsen, who stood with me near the front. Surrounded by all that awe-inspiring talent, the entire weekend flashed before my eyes. Deerhunter’s performance marked the death of a wonderful weekend; a pleasant death that made you glad you had lived.
Deerhunter is now a decade old. They have gone through some rough times over the years, including the death of a band mate. As Cox remarked in an interview with the Grapevine: with age, the group has gotten tighter. Watching them perform, this bond and synchrony emanated from their instruments.
There is one drawback to witnessing a performance that melts the soul: When I went back home and listened to their albums (which I did immediately), something was missing. I experienced the real live opiates of Deerhunter and now Deerhunter à la sober recordings doesn’t really measure up. ‘Halcyon Digest’, their latest album, seemed flat on my stereo. What had happened? What had I done?
Cox’s last words before stepping off stage were “everything is broken.” Though it might be, I’m fine living in a musical limbo, a lingering rapture that has coloured my ears the hue of fluorescent grey.
(Bathroom performance video by Alísa Kalyanova)
(Slideshow by Alísa Kalyanova and Vanessa Schipani)
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