From Iceland — The Big Sleep At Harpa Kaldalón

The Big Sleep At Harpa Kaldalón

Published November 3, 2013

The Big Sleep At Harpa Kaldalón

Kira Kira, an experimental noise band fronted by Kristín Björk Kristjánsdóttir, opened up Harpa Kaldalón with a song I imagine is similar to the sound of a dinosaur being born. Kristín is that girl you went to art school with, she interchangeably plays electric guitar and a hand held audio mixer that emits different (and seemingly pointless) noises that she plays theatrically but without direction. If it’s making sense in her head, it’s not translating outside of it and the redemptive quality in listening to her music was her enjoyable discourse with the audience about spirit animals and how our multinational backgrounds and brief time together made it possible for us to share everything. She plays with a drummer (loud), two trombones (often unable to be heard beneath the drums) and a trumpet player. When the brass was heard, it was as if they had been instructed to play a series of notes without any rhythm. Kira Kira might make a nice backdrop to an interpretive dance or mixed media art exhibit, but having it played at you in a small concert hall is confusing and effusive.

Kira Kira also struck a chord with my exhaustion of female Icelandic acts painfully trying to sound cute throughout a performance. Whispers into the microphone, soft coos and high-pitched yelps are all great elements to be infused into a song, but after awhile, like a 25-minute Airwaves set, listening to songs sung this way starts to make you feel like you’re at a kindergarten birthday party or a puppet show, like Kira Kira’s did.

Which is why Ylja was so refreshing.  The two front women of Ylja, singers and guitarists Bjartey Sveinsdóttir and Guðný Gígja Skjaldardóttir, have found vocal soul mates in one another. They simultaneously trade and share vocal harmonies that are brilliant and beautiful, like a couple of folkier, less depressed Fiona Apples. Smári Tarfur, the band’s slide guitarist, is an essential part of the band’s sound and infuses their harmonious blues-folk with a bluegrass sound. The cutest part of the performance was that everyone on stage couldn’t stop smiling throughout the performance and that is something I will never get exhausted from.

Follow-up act, Sarah MacDougall, is not as boring as her name sounds. She hails from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory of Canada, and her music invariably brought me back to the summer after I turned 20-years-old, when I got stuck in Whitehorse for a night while hitchhiking to Alaska. Her music sounds like that place – rugged and sweet; beautiful and challenging. Her sound is Northwoods country, contemporary but with elements of old bluegrass. Sarah also plays with a slide guitarist who switches to electric mandolin at times and an upright, electric bassist who is the most badass strings player I’ve seen all weekend. Her instrument is decorated with a beautiful engraving of what looks like a white birch and when she plays, she becomes like the secondary limbs of the instrument.

Mikhael Paskalev drew the longest queue of the night and I didn’t see it until it was too late… I hopped out of Harpa Kaldalón for some fresh air and came back to a line of 30 or so people waiting to hear him play. I got in for the last two songs, which were like ’60s surf pop and the most lyrically playful I’d heard that night. Mikhael’s voice is high and sharp and works beautifully to make poppy indie folk similar to The Tallest Man On Earth. He got a few rows of people dancing and several girls asking him to take his pants off. He didn’t oblige.

But Nini Wilson made up for it by playing a saga of naked-themed songs. Nini Wilson is three very charming boys who describe themselves as “guitar, electric guitar, drums and lavender oil.” This is fairly true to their live performance. They sound like a lot of rock bands you probably heard in college – their lead singer sounds a bit like the love child of Dave Grohl and Trent Reznor. The guitarist played neat little electrifying solos and the drummer is animated and played both harmonica and maraca (kudos for the first maraca of the weekend). Their first song was simply about nakedness, though a more existential nakedness of being. The next song was a celebration of nakedness followed by one about exploring nakedness; the last song was about putting your clothes back on. At one point they literally did whip out a small bottle of lavender oil and, after passing it around amongst themselves on stage for a quick sniff, they passed it through the crowd so everyone could chill out. This was the perfect set-up for Estonian jam band Jakob Juhkam Band.

I have been to a Phish festival. If you know the band Phish, you’re either laughing at me right now or your nodding your head in affirmation, smoking a spliff and maybe reading this while watching funny YouTube videos. I Have a soft spot for jam bands, so while others left after discovering Jakob Juhkam Band was an ambient instrumental funk band, I got lost listening to them and getting nostalgic for the time in my life when I wore a lot of tie-dye. The sound was refreshing, and funky. The bassist was awesome and played a mixed bag of sounds using his bass pedal. The keyboardist took the place of any vocals and played masterfully, switching between ambient tinkering and full blown, train barrels up and down the keys. I liked them, others seemed to be interested in something else at 23:00 on a Saturday night.

It was probably good that Jakob Juhkam Band vetted out the sleepiest in the crowd, as listening to Tape was like getting slipped an Ambien. Tape was a very ill-timed band to play the last set at any Airwaves venue. The set-up on stage looked promising for a high-energy band when one of the members brought out an electric box of neon cables that looked good for mixing or making Sin Fang-esque sounds. When the show started, it just got lost in the monotony of the bands cautious and uninventive noise rock. The guitarist literally repeated the same riff for 10 minutes while the keyboardist sent waves of snoozy melodies ashore the canals of my ears. I started to fall asleep and woke up to see the tech guy leaning his head against the wall dozing off. When I noticed people leaving, I went against protocol and followed them out. Tape did little more than stick to my mind in my post-Harpa Kaldalón sleep.


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