From Iceland — Ups And Downs At Gamli Gaukurinn

Ups And Downs At Gamli Gaukurinn

Published November 2, 2012

Ups And Downs At Gamli Gaukurinn

There may be gale force winds trying to blow festivalgoers towards the sea tonight, but there’s not a lot that the weather can do to dampen spirits. The sky’s clear, the northern lights are glowing and there are some seriously good sounds to be heard around the city. With that in mind, we head to the atmospheric loft space Gamli Gaukurinn for an evening that is set to provide an extremely diverse range of music.

There may be gale force winds trying to blow festivalgoers towards the sea tonight, but there’s not a lot that the weather can do to dampen spirits. The sky’s clear, the northern lights are glowing and there are some seriously good sounds to be heard around the city. With that in mind, we head to the atmospheric loft space Gamli Gaukurinn for an evening that is set to provide an extremely diverse range of music, swinging from the downright sublime to screeching fuzz rock. And there’s even a bit of nudity in there for good measure too.
Reykjavik’s own Morning After Youth are the band selected to open tonight’s proceedings, a melodic rock four piece led by a powerful vocalist named Finnbjörn Hv. Finnbjörnsson. The crowd that greets them is small in size but receptive, and the band do a good job of warming up their attentive audience with charming inter-song chatter. Swirling guitars and falsetto vocals fill the room, with a highlight of the set showing itself to be new single ‘It Might Be Wrong’, a track which the band have apparently spent “the last three years making in the studio. With no windows. That’s why we’re so pale.” Finnbjörn’s vocal range is impressive throughout the show, the singer having clearly looked to the Buckley school of vocal training for inspiration. However, the overall impression is slightly underwhelming, perhaps owing to the lack of crowd atmosphere and early slot, or perhaps due to the fact that their sound, although delivered seamlessly, feels a bit derivative.
It’s another home grown band that takes to the stage next, as Reykjavík’s Leaves fill the evening’s second slot. Performing ten years after the release of their debut record ‘Breathe’, Leaves prove from the offset that they are very much masters of what they do. The band’s sweeping three part harmonies appear effortless, and the confidence emanating from the stage could only come from a band that have known each other and played together for as long as they have. The plentiful crowd is receptive and sonically, the set is excellent. And as the show draws to an end, the five piece really allow themselves to let loose, the gentle opening notes of the set culminating in a sound that’s much edgier, and much more dynamic than the show’s opening sounds. With three albums now under their belt, Leaves prove themselves to be, quite rightly, stalwarts of the Reykjavík indie scene.
It’s clear that a complete change of direction is in store next as The Echo Vamper begin to load their equipment onto the stage. The room fills as the Danish/British duo reveal their gear, guitarist James Brook preparing a reel to reel tape machine that will provide the band’s backing track as a theramin is placed to the right of the stage. Vocalist Iza Mortag Freund cuts a striking figure, walking on to the stage to reveal an outfit comprising nothing but extravagant fur sleeves, with just a few gaffa tape crosses in strategic positions preserving her dignity. It all looks very promising, and as the duo launch into their Kills-esque brand of fuzzed out rock, the crowd gets excited. Looking to early ’80s New York rock and roll for influence, there’s a real attitude to be witnessed on the stage, but unfortunately, the guitar/backing track/vocal concoction comes across as weak and the duo’s sound doesn’t live up to the visual aesthetic. There’s no doubting that this is a great performance, however we get the feeling that attention’s not been drawn to the duo for quite for the right reasons tonight and as the band exit the stage, we feel a bit cheated by what looked to be a very promising show indeed.
By Francine Gorman

Fans of concentrated, angry bass-driven slacker rock are well served by Sudden Weather Change. The homegrown four piece take minor equipment problems in their stride tonight, buoyed on by a small but faithful crowd of fans who lose themselves entirely in the fuzzy psych swirls that radiate from each song.

It’s not quite convincing enough though – their performance is perfunctory when it should feel vital. There are some moments of promise when the interplay between guitars and bass infuses a darker metallic amongst the more traditional alt-rock sound – and it becomes a more welcoming landscape for the vocal snarl of frontmen Bergur and Logi. ‘Blue’, a song about the Icelandic economic situation, is a standout – but it’s not quite not enough to sustain the set.

Beijing’s Nova Heart constantly wrong foot the audience. Just when we think we’ve pinned them down as the latest band pushing a sophisticated (and incredibly well done) deconstruction of the best post hi-NRG left field dance (think ESG, Tom Tom Club, Liquid Liquid) with a steely Martin Hannett matte laid on top, they decide to roll out some trickling, drip-down electro behind it.

Then singer Helen Feng decides to go all Debbie Harry on us, a Boy-era U2 guitar kicks in and a trance beat takes over.

It’s then that you realise what lies at the core of this glorious exploration: it’s a distillation of every major musical movement from the late ’70s to the early ’90s – punk to rave and everything in-between, compacted through some febrile minds and then translated into a performance filled by an uncapped theatrical energy. The three members of Nova Heart are as arresting as hell too: mohair-clad vamp Feng cast alongside her lanky chief music maker guitar player and a powerhouse pixie-drummer.

There’s a lot going and at times it threatens to fall apart, especially when Feng beats a tambourine off her chest like her heartbeat depended on it then humps a floor tom to an early grave. Still, what remains are three musicians entirely invested in their art and the audience gets this – when they leave the stage, the sense of disappointment is palpable. Certainly one of the standout performances by a clear mile this year (and we’re only on the second day!)

How much of a damn do people give about Haim at this point? Well quite a lot, it would seem. The three sisters have ridden a wave of buzz to Airwaves, turfed by acclaim from blogs and glossy monthlies. The former happily dig their revivalist AOR while the latter simply loves being able (for once) to cover a hip-as-hell band that have both attitude and looks to match. There’s no denying they look good onstage and have enough sass to endear the crowd to them.

Predictably, the assembled masses in Gamli Gaukurinn are a mirror to their ascent. The fashionistas of Reykjavik are here, alongside musos and a bunch of other Airwaves headliners. There’s even a rumour that Björk is somewhere in the room too.

As with most bands who carry the weight of such expectation on them, they’ll be made or broken by their upcoming debut and seeing them live at this point, one can’t help but wonder how they’ll sustain their USP into a long-term thing. The songs are solid enough, tapping into a groove that’s equal parts Wilson Philips and Fleetwood Mac but that’s also their problem. Referencing guilty pleasures so perfectly (and they do) is as dangerous as drawing influence from the niche.

There’s a distinct lack of emotional connection between the audience and Haim’s set tonight. Their songs can sometimes sound glossy, over-performed. Exaggerated drawls and faux-hand gestures take precedence over their (quite brilliant) musicianship and those superficial elements become their defining trait. Sure, people are getting off on the vibe and personalities of the girls but strip that away and the whole enterprise becomes fractured and distorted. Authenticity counts for much in such a bloated creative market and they have some way to go to to prove theirs is dyed-in-the-wool rather than assumed.

By Paul Bridgewater

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