From Iceland — Art Museum - Saturday

Art Museum – Saturday

Published October 17, 2010

Photos by Hvalreki and Páll Hilmarsson
a)Holy shit, this place looks awesome. It’s about time Iceland had a real pop/rock venue that is aesthetically pleasing as well as comfortable, and the Art Museum, bedecked in all its Airwaves finery (huge speakers, tasteful lighting) might well be the finest we have to offer. Although people had been waiting for a while when they finally open the doors to the main hall, there is a pleasant, congenial air of understanding in the room; no-one feels hassled or let down.
b) Will Icelandic people ever figure out how to get good acoustics in a room? Probably not, but they try so hard… ironic, really. The Art Museum is more criminal for how much of a waste it is. All this finery and all that corporate money could never make a concert hall out of an open-air hall in the centre of a building. Add to that the idiocy of having all the biggest names of the festival play one venue, thereby guaranteeing excessive crowds and lines, and you’ve got a first-rate cock-up on your hands.
c) “WHO GOES OUT TO SMOKE HAS TO GO BACK IN LINE” has been printed on photocopied A4 sheets and blue-tacked or taped to various walls and columns in the Art Museum. I can see why such brutal and badly grammatized action has to be taken: it’s crowded as all hell in here, and I find myself wondering if that metal-and-glass monstrosity by the harbour will ever be used as an Airwaves Venue.
a)  Spleen United are fantastic, all forceful synth loops, sultry vocals and bracing, battered rock drums. It really is criminal how underutilized live drums are in techno music; it always sounds so kick-ass. But these guys are beyond that. They’ve become masters of the hi-hat, knowing exactly how it fits best into every song, and they’re actually just pretty spot-on with everything. It’s great how all four of them obviously varied but overlapping tastes and styles, and this is especially apparent live.
b)   Good God, this arrogant, whiny, perfectionist techno bullshit has been done to death, why isn’t anybody getting sick of it? I mean, it’s great when you’re heart’s into, but this just feels so cold, so structured, like they read about making music by reading an instruction manual. All the clichés and hooks are there, every T crossed and every I dotted, but that’s hardly an achievement these days.
c) After chatting with Árni Matt for a while in the front hall (and hoping he doesn’t notice how high I am), the doors to the concert hall open and I wander to the front to be close to the stage… that’s where Árni says the best sound is, but I can’t admit to being thrilled by the concept of standing here for six and a half hours taking notes. Spleen United start, 35 minutes late, and the room is washed in blue light. People’s faces gleam with excitement and the applause feels real.
a) Bang Gang’s solemn and heartfelt rock is such a striking contrast to front man Barði’s dry, irreverent humour that it’s hard to believe the songs and the jokes between are the product of the same mind. And although the perfect simplicity of his songwriting and soundcraft has long since established, his real strengths lie in arrangement; his instinctive juggling of verse, chorus and bridge is nothing short of masterful.
b) Someone needs to stop Barði from Bang Gang’s sadistic love affair with the Am-F chord progression. There’s a reason Placebo aren’t famous anymore; they milked this chord progression dry, leaving nothing but foul crust and warm spittle, but even that cocktail would be preferable to the distinctly fake-sounding sugar water that constitutes Bang Gang’s ‘music’ these days. Oh well, I guess it proves the power of persistence: write the same song again and again for fifteen years, and eventually, someone might like it.
c) Spleen United finish and I search desperately for another spot to stand. Going upstairs is futile; all the chairs are taken, and I end up leaning against a railing behind the mixing desk with a friend of mine. A girl, there with her boyfriend, makes eyes at me, and I smile back, trying to wistful. She doesn’t strike me as the cheating type, but if neither of us had significant others (and I didn’t have to cover shows til five AM), there would be no doubt as to how this night would end. Barði from Bang Gang teaches people to clap differently, which is sort of an interesting social experiment, I guess.
[Enter Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir] a) Tunng functions very much like a band; on stage they are making eye contact, smiling at, and dancing with one other, and their apparent ‘togetherness’ reflects really positively in their music. In fact their set feels sort of like a folk-revival meeting, the audience near the stage bopping pleasantly along to well-coordinated, optimistic electro-pop that take on a folk-y flavour when paired with various soft percussions and vocal harmonies.
b) This is getting a bit repetitive, and the singer doesn’t look to be enjoying herself at all. Maybe it’s because at times you can almost hear people talking over the band. Like when they tried to freeze in the middle of a song but the effect was ruined because the majority of the people here seem to be more concerned with socializing and drinking than listening. Case in point that Icelanders equate ‘entertainment’ with alcohol.

c) I keep getting daunting reports of the line outside, which apparently extends all the way to Kolaportið flea market. I am thus effectively quarantined inside the museum, along with, it seems, everyone I’ve given a bad review over the past three days. I duck upstairs and an American woman asks if she can take a picture of what I’m wearing. I say yes and then immediately regret it, trying to suppress any inkling of self-satisfaction.
[Exit Vala] a) Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman is feeling the love. The non-stop chanted chorus of ‘Evening/Morning’, sung back at him by a full house of drunk Icelandic people makes him beam with love, and by the time they play ‘Always Like This’ a few songs later, he’s fairly drenched with it, basking in it. And deservedly so: they are excellent, guitars and loops echoing around clever drums and powerful basslines, all beautifully led by that amazing voice, that sonorous, bashful voice, so private and yet so irresistibly ingratiating.
b) Watching the latest London rock band roll off the factory and onto an Airwaves stage really is getting predictable. It’s all there: the disco drums, the jangly guitars with their analog delay, the fuzz bass, and oh, look, the singer even has a funny voice that everyone does a bad impression of when they sing along… well, somebody has to do it, I guess. We have to find some way to distinguish one Airwaves from the next. “Was that the year they had Klaxons, or Kaiser Chiefs?” “I don’t know, but I remember they had Bloc Party that year, and not Bombay Bicycle Club, and maybe The Bravery.”
c) I slip out for a slightly cheaper beer and come back, finding it remarkably easy to make my way back to the front of the hall. Raindrops falling through a hole in the tarp over the venue make most people shift to avoid it, but everyone is so hot and sweaty by now that the cold water actually feels kind of nice. Sweat, beer and rain have now formed a big puddle close to the edge of the room, and I have another encounter with a pretty blonde girl who hangs my sweater and jacket on a door fixture, saving them from the wet floor. She has a nice smile, but the fact that she uses the same perfume as my girlfriend brings me back to the real world. A beer can comes flying from the very front, adding to the small piles that are collecting against the wall. I find it interesting how the singer from Bombay Bicycle Club directs the rest of the band, and how subservient to him the other band members seem to be.
a) Robyn has turned herself into her own work of stylish pop art, bounding across the stage between her lab-coat clad cohorts in an effortlessly charismatic performance. She is all righteous pomp and swagger and brings the night to an epic finish; the best songs’ poptastic hooks made ever-so-much-more rewarding by the seemingly boundless energy in that room. There is a reason people wait so long in that fucking line. Going to Airwaves and not seeing something in the Art Museum is like going to a dinner party and missing the main course, or watching porn without the money shot: distracting and entertaining, but in no way fulfilling.
b) A hungry crowd awaits Robyn, and the excitement is tangible, but in the end, her show is nothing but a disappointing and tangled mishmash of gimmickry and mediocrity, her unconvincing ‘dancehall queen’ attitude and adequate vocals nowhere near enough to disguise the music’s complete lack of imagination and inspiration. Her performance is, however, only a natural culmination of a night of overblown excess that is built on the flimsy foundations of clichéd songs and hacky mediocrity. I leave, thinking anyone entertained by this may find Jerry Bruckheimer’s films a bit too brainy and Carrot Top’s comedy a bit too out there.
  c) A roadie wipes off Robyn’s mike with a cloth before she comes onstage; I’ve never seen that done before. Pink and green lighting accompany her, and I sing along to ‘Cry When You Get Older’ and try and get into it, but feel weird… maybe people are just too drunk or it’s too crowded, but come on, you guys wait God knows how long in line, fight your way to the front and you’re just gonna stand there doing nothing during the headline act? Whatever. I’m really thirsty by now, but don’t dare ask any of the people around me for a sip of whatever they’re drinking, even though one of them is a girl I went out with a few times and I know her quite well.

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