From Iceland — Known Unknowns: Mortal Orchestra Part II

Known Unknowns: Mortal Orchestra Part II

Published November 12, 2014

Chris D'Alessandro
Photo by
Matthew Eisman

After watching the Unknown Mortal Orchestra off-venue show on Friday, I internally told myself I would watch the off-venue feature gig at Harpa Norðurljós on Saturday so I could compare and contrast the two with a scrutinizing eye, like any good Doctor of Journalism would do. And so I did. The consensus? Well shit, we’ll get to that after a little wordy foreplay first.

It was Saturday night, their were long queues for everything and the air smelled of patchouli and smoked cinnamon, I’m just kidding, no it didn’t, I couldn’t tell you what the air smelled like because my nose was running from the chill in the air, but I was equipped with a flask of warming whiskey and I had just seen the dancing Aurora Borealis for the first time in my life. It felt like a blessing from the gods, the universe was on my side…

But the security guards at Harpa weren’t. After waiting in a queue to get to the upstairs of Harpa I was frisked by one of the security guards, as he felt my left pectoral muscle (where my flask was concealed in my breast pocket) he instantly had known what he felt, there was no way my pectorals were that buff and jacked up, he felt my flask of whiskey. I smiled wryly and offered him a swig, which he declined by saying “You can’t have that here, pour it out”. I had to forfeit my spot and pour out the whiskey out of the flask, I couldn’t just leave the flask behind, it has served me so well. I went through the entire process again, but I wasn’t frisked this time (should have just kept the whiskey), and I was finally on the upper level of Harpa. ZAAANG.

The gods have seemingly abandoned their favour on me, Norðurljós was packed and it smelled like a can of smashed assholes and I was without my warming whiskey. Darkness consumed me both literally and figuratively, the venue was dark and the emotional loss of my whiskey weighed heavy on my heart. I was a couple songs late but that didn’t matter much, I had already seen the bands glorious set the day before and had high expectations. I watched on, moments seem to come and go, blurring together without anything grabbing my attention, despite a good performance, the sound just wasn’t filling up the venue and resonating the same way it had at Bíó Paradís, I felt the disconnect.

I definitely wasn’t this close…


I won’t go into length about the set, musically it was good, but if I just wanted to just listen to them I would have put my headphones on and stepped outside and listened to the albums on my phone under the allure of the Northern Lights, I wanted the experience of actually seeing the band, but that was quite difficult to enjoy stuck by the doors of the venue. I realized then why I had been sticking to the smaller venues during the entire tenure of the festival, and the contrast experience of watching the same bands performance had solidified this notion for me.

So the consensus? Harpa venues are bumming me out man! They are like massive black boxes that dismantle any hope of a performer to audience type engagement. No intimacy. It’s like fucking with paper bags over each others heads… It sure as hell feels like a disconnect. A room without a view. A sound without a face…

I want Airwaves to retain its personable charm rather than mold into the grandiosity of commercial festivals like Coachella which seems to place more emphasis on what people are wearing rather than the quality of a bands performance. I know everyone won’t agree with me, but anyone with an opinion that differs from my own is wrong.

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