From Iceland — River Gods

River Gods

Published November 3, 2012

River Gods

Hold the phone. Iceland is over indie-rock? As the night went on at The Reykjavík Art Museum, I noticed that I could have been doing jumping jacks, the venue never filled, and the infamous queue was non-existent. The stormy weather earlier may have contributed to this, but it struck me as surprising that this seemingly popular UK band –I gather from their album sales and big record deal- couldn’t draw more of a crowd.



Nolo contendere is a legal term that comes from the Latin for “I do not wish to contend.” Last night the Icelandic synth pop lo-fi duo, Nolo gave exactly that impression. In a rather sweet way it looked like they just wanted to be there, two guys in jeans and t-shirts pressing stuff and singing. This may seem like a simplistic description. What can I say? Brown cardigan. But that covers what happened on stage. Oh, the one with fluffy hair got a guitar out once, it was green or something.

This may give you the impression that I disliked them, in fact their un-gimmicky set up was quite refreshing, the irony and weirdness was all to be found in the strangely bare layering of synths over a steady base line. There was a bit of organ and a bit of guitar jangling here and there, snare cymbals and the like, but their real strength lies in their vocals and lyrics. With references to New Romanticism and New Wave, their voices had a great tonal harmony that drove the set, not to mention lyrics that were both clever and non-sensical, yet managed to tell a story. Their track “Romeo” was one of the more stand out ones of their set. And I particularly enjoyed the wilfully blurry textures of the last track, in which they played with overlapping vocals, singing nonsense lyrics about strawberries.

Whether or not they need to buy neon face paint to step up their live show is up to them. Maybe they’re not that band. However, I found the pauses in between the tracks…well…irritating and a bit lazy. This genre demands a more agile hand that grabs you by the brain and doesn’t let go.



Útidúr are a strange bunch, they have this hit single (in Iceland) called “Fisherman’s Friend”. That was good, actually it saved the set, because up until then I was getting a bit worried that the musicians were confused as to where they should be. That was their most pop-chorus driven track, however, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it was the easiest listen.

The stage presence felt forced and ego-ridden, the two main singer’s vocals do not quite harmonise, causing a jarring, that reminds me of Faroese Folk-singing. The male voice sings in a distinctly low bow like way that curves under the main line of the songs, whilst the female vocals were soprano, and too meaty on top of his un-refined, stringy vocals. The violinist who also pitched in with some managed his voice much better, creating an earthier sopranic tone that breathed life into the harmony, rather than lording over it.

The set began well, with a song from their debut album – one that they have, quite obviously had more time to refine. With a reference to traditional Icelandic folk singing, the two female vocalists built up a creepy harmony of sopranic heights and washed the room with atmosphere. I was taken. Then there was some Spanish matador singing that cut me off by the umbilical cord. I wasn’t sure if the male singer was tone deaf at first, and then I tried to enjoy it with my bendy ear – the one that likes discord – but it wasn’t quite on the side of joyously fucked up anti-harmony either, the whole set from then on sat in a weird no-mans land eating grass and doing cartwheels.

The best thing was far and away the violinist. Both engaging to watch and delightfully demanding of the ears, she stole the show. The conversations that the violin, trumpet and keyboard had between them were full of tension and just so tinglingylingylingaly morish. It was almost a shame that the build up involved the rest of the band petering the song out rather than the violinist exploding on stage with streams of fire coming from her every pore.

That being said, I always feel inspired and good about life when a group of people are trying out new things, even if I don’t always feel they work in unison. Perhaps the best way to put it would be that there were lots of big ideas but they didn’t all fit into the same hole.



Most of the ensemble looked like they had been mis-directed and were meant to be playing at the metal night at Amsterdam. Big men dressed in black with wild frizzy hair and scrumptious beards stepped onto the stage with tambourines, maracas, a clarinet, a couple of trombones, snare drums, as well as a drum-set, guitars, base, keyboard and a singer. Got that? Okay…

Fannar on Rubik

A brand of world rock that is complete with a front-man that commands with purpose. The set began with an epic rock introduction, and went into some rhythmically alluring pop-rock before becoming more experimental, with hollowed out wood percussion sounds and electronic reverbs where the singer’s melodical vocals enjoyed themselves a lot more. This band is truly a collective, their sound is never obstructive or obtuse. The sometimes interesting video projections could have added coherence rather than been a sort of side project for some of the songs, and distinctly absent from others.

Driven, focused, basically good rock music with playful layering of genres that included folk and new country. As time went on, the songs became more varied  and the band were so in tune with each other that the delicious jams at the end of some of their songs made me write: “Dingly then BAM! Bring it home!” into my note-book. I think that’s a fair assessment.


You are witnessing Mammút. You get goosebumps. You want to sing but you can’t because you have a frog in your throat and are on the verge of bawling like a baby in the arms of a complete stranger. And then the beat comes back and bangs on your chest. And you’re strong as an ox.

Theatrical, all-consuming, and luminous, this band have been a staple on the Icelandic music scene for quite a few years now. Kata, the singer – last night, a  self-proclaimed river god – melts minds into liquid with her uniquely elastic vocals that get into your heart and jump out through your throat. The band is on solid ground, keyboards melting, and guitars providing sharp bursts along with the striving forwards of the drums.


The new stuff is a long time coming and despite all the will in the world I couldn’t decipher a new direction. The songs were, to be as blunt as a bull in a china shop, like their old stuff without the hits.

On the other hand, their set felt like a perfectly crafted album of beautiful sound, something, that like a river, flows effortlessly through the dips, curves and screaming winds of Kata’s Kjarvalesque vocals.

I could happily have watched Mammút all night without a cigarette break.

The Vaccines

The Vaccines

Hold the phone. Iceland is over indie-rock? As the night went on at The Reykjavík Art Museum, I noticed that I could have been doing jumping jacks, the venue never filled, and the infamous queue was non-existent. The stormy weather earlier may have contributed to this, but it struck me as surprising that this seemingly popular UK band –I gather from their album sales and big record deal- couldn’t draw more of a crowd. Perhaps it says something about the age of the ticket holders. If I had the hormones of a 14 year old I would have been so into this shit. But I don’t, so I had to call on my younger self to fully appreciate the show.

Here’s what she said:

“I really like the singer, he’s well fit. I’ve seen their videos and they are a bit cringing so I was glad to see them live where they could really just rock the fuck out.

How funny was it when the Icelandic guy sang the last song, I was FLIPPING OUT it was so good. Just like Slipknot or something, you know, slightly heavier and better.

The set was as tight as the singer Justin Young’s jeans, and there wasn’t a moment when I stopped jumping up and down, swaying and dancing. It was fast paced, Ramonesesque exuberance that just grabs your hand real tight and makes you dance before leaning in and kissing you.

Yeah, sometimes it gets a bit samey, and they have like one hit song that I know all the lyrics to because the school-bus driver has a compilation CD with that track on it.

It’s all about middle-class youth culture that I really identify with because we are just really all about hero-worshipping guys with long hair in jeans. Just like the song “Teenage Icon” goes, “Reserved and shy, your average guy. No piercing stare, just out of shape with messy hair.” It’s ironic, because they are LITERALLY teenage icons. (Attempt to raise one eyebrow and sneer).”

Thank you teenage me. That explains a lot, I was just getting bored.


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