From Iceland — The Norðurljós Is Thoroughly Rocked

The Norðurljós Is Thoroughly Rocked

Published November 2, 2013

The Norðurljós Is Thoroughly Rocked

Several times during their show, someone in the Apparat Organ Quartet told the crowd, “Apparat loves you!” And we all loved them right back. Apparat Organ Quartet are musical bad-asses, but they have a sense of playfulness that is utterly infectious. The band is three gentlemen on keyboards and one precise, hard-hitting drummer (after the show, I heard that his wife had a baby that same day — so cheers to him for playing the show, and so magnificently at that.) It’s just incredibly good fun.

Apparat resembles a hard-rocking Kraftwerk, ’80s synth-pop band the Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”), and maybe a little Devo. A couple of them take turns doing vocoder vocals, and although there are no guitars whatsoever, the music rocks hard, with big, anthemic melodies and catchy riffs driven by those powerful drums.

The band is unknown in the United States, but here in Reykjavik at the Norðurljós stage there was a big crowd who knew enough to throw the band’s sign, a letter A made with both hands, during peak moments. I thought I was in some beautiful alternative universe where Apparat Organ Quartet is huge. It was as blissful as this jaded New Yorker will ever get.


I was in the tight little space between the Harpa Norðurljós stage door and the stage last night and suddenly found myself right behind the two lady singers in Goat. Wearing masks, they were dressed up like a cross between a belly dancer and some Hindu deity, hopping up and down and talking excitedly. They were so pumped, they didn’t even notice that I was sharing this tiny little space with them. Then one yelled to the other the Swedish equivalent of “Ready! Go!” And they sprinted up to the stage. That set the tone for the whole show.

Goat is from obscure village in Sweden, and they prefer anonymity, so the entire band plays in black masks or burkas, so you can’t see their faces, and dashikis. They play huge, bass-heavy grooves, full-on Fela-rock that connects Parliament-Funkadelic with ’70s space-jammers like Hawkwind and Can. In concert, it’s one long mastermix, more a ritual than a rock show.

Those masks are kind of ominous, the grooves are low-end dark, and the band comes off as some weird cult, but wow, they play some powerfully booty-shaking music. “Boy, you better run to your mama now,” the two women chanted, then cackled like witches as the band reached an infernal crescendo. By the time the singers brought out a floor tom and took turns banging on and then dancing around it, I thought of the Butthole Surfers too, with their dark, weird joy.

“Louder? OK, I’m going to turn my voice up to super-obnoxious!” proclaimed Fucked Up singer Pink Eyes, and with that, the band launched another blitzkrieg of distortion and organized mayhem.

The band provides a sonic and physical backdrop for Pink Eyes — a burly fellow of piercing intelligence, he is both genial and ferocious. You just don’t see that very often. During the frequent long instrumental passages, he jumps into the crowd constantly, partly to provoke them and partly to include them. And although he spews a full-throttle, blood-curdling roar throughout the set, he’ll take time out to praise the beauty of Reykjavik and talk about going whale-watching with his wife and kid. That is punk rock.

Fucked Up make that rarest of birds, ambitious punk rock— their most recent release, David Comes to Life, is a 78-minute double album, and they achieve a similar effect live, as in last night’s 13-minute-long magnum opus, “Year of the Dragon,” wave after glorious, deafening wave of electric noise. The monolithic wall of three guitars and bass make an overwhelming sound that almost entirely overshadows the melodies and bludgeoning riffs, not to mention Pink Eyes’ fiercely intelligent lyrics. It’s tempting to compare it to shoegazer music — more than one critic has compared their immense, layered guitar sound to Smashing Pumpkins — but it’s so relentlessly aggressive. There is nothing to do with epic hardcore but to surrender to it; if you let it, it’s overwhelming in the most sublime way.


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