And so: Airwaves Saturday night. Our open-eared reviews team went back into the fray, deep in the heart of the Iceland Airwaves 2016, and found a tempest waiting.
Welcome to Metaphysical Saturday, day 4 or something of Airwaves. If yesterday was a theoretical virtual reality simulation, today is a Black Mirror episode. My only goals for today are sleeping past noon, showering (finally) for the good of all humanity and seeing socially-conscious rapper Kate Tempest at Gamla Bío at 11:30 PM. Simple enough. But my first goal is shattered as I’m lured out of my warm bed to brunch at Hverfisgata 12 with my review team comrades. Over breakfast pizzas and bloody marys we warm up for this evening’s spoken word artist with some dramatic poetry readings of booty calls received the night prior. Oh Iceland, you’re so romantic after 3 AM.
I’m doing a small hip-hop circuit tonight, so on my way to Gamla Bío I stop off at Valshöllin for a 90’s throwback with Digable Planets. This reminds me of being in middle school, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. Over at Gamla Bíó I have to fight queues and wall-to-wall people for a good spot to see Kate Tempest perform. She’s one of those artists that reminds you if you’re not angry you’re not paying attention. Her lyrics tell stories about the shitty, inescapable conditions and bad life choices — more like lack of any good choices — for those struggling in an increasingly unequal society. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing. It’s a message that resonates, particularly with this year’s political dystopia. This righteous anger is palpable on stage, with “Europe is Lost” being my personal highlight. It feels like she could start a revolution with her words. She might be the Bernie Sanders of rappers. If anyone asks, I’m voting for Kate.
Grayson Del Faro
Saturday took me from my favorite marine dance-pop genius Milkywhale to the pleasant surprise of delightfully funky weirdos Mosi Musik to the sexy smooth jams of The Internet. I could write any one of them short love letter, or at least thank them for filling my day with energy, groove, and soul, respectively. But we don’t have time for that now because we need to talk about Kate Tempest. I know, I know, everyone else is probably writing about her too, but even if every person who writes is writing about her it will probably still not be enough people writing about her. To say that she blends poetry with hip hop would be a criminal understatement. She is not walking the line between those genres as much as cartwheeling down it, alternating flipping off our fucked up modern society and giving out high fives when her hands are free. She commands attention with precisely timed jets of spoken word and deep sound. When she wants you to listen, you listen. Just when she thinks you’ve started to get the point, she drops the beat on your head without missing a breath. Her music is infectious, her concept ingenious, and her flow flawless, but it’s not the just about the performance. It is performance without gimmicks. It is hip hop without posturing or persona, poetry without pretentiousness or impenetrability. She is simply a storyteller, a fucking artist at telling stories. And like the best of the rappers and the best of the poets, she is telling real stories. They are stories that need to be heard and she tells them with a sincerity rarely found on any stage. She is not just the person who can save both poetry and hip hop for any poor soul who has given up on either genre. She might actually just save us all.
Hannah Jane Cohen
Though I live in Iceland, I don’t really know that much Björk. Is that blasphemy? I mean—it’s not prejudice, it’s just how it’s worked. I’ve listened to ‘Selmasongs’, ‘Post’, and ‘Biophilia’, but nothing else. Even so, I really wanted to see her live this Airwaves and so I was incredibly jazzed when I was given a spare ticket. We were on the third tier, right in the centre—essentially the best seats in the house. I listened to ‘Vulnicura’ in preparation—but I didn’t take in the lyrics, which allowed me to get the full heartbreaking effect of the album in Harpa. The album is about the breakup of a marriage and a family, and the lyrics really hit home with me. They were incredibly powerful, but so beautiful. I teared up during the performance, and needed some time to detox afterwards. Originally I had planned on following up Bey with the Aron Can/Glacier Mafia/etc. Party at Valshöllin but I couldn’t even do that. All that felt so superficial. I’m normally so down with some good old party/Subutex/Oxy rap but this time I couldn’t. I just wanted to sit alone and think. So yea, if you’re trying to figure out how dope Björk is, she was so dope that I couldn’t even watch GP afterwards.
It’s 4:18 in the morning—seven strangers are awake, but they’re not the only ones. It is probably raining outside and if nobody notices it’s not because we aren’t paying attention it’s because it’s always probably raining. And if you’re not catching these references, then I’m sorry you didn’t see Kate Tempest perform tonight. Seeing Kate was the first religious experience I’ve had in my life. Even when she spoke of children living below the breadline I felt like I was hearing words of the divine. And when those drums and bass kicked in, I was lifted. At the end of her set the crowd applauded like we had just won something—I don’t know what. Kate Tempest is victory.
Keep in mind I saw Kate after watching Björk perform ‘Vulnicura Strings’ for the first time in Iceland, not a simple act to follow. What made the Björk show special in a way only ‘Airwaves’ can, is that immediately preceding her I was watching Sturla Atlas perform in a hair salon on Laugavegur. Straight from dogs and children running on stage to assigned seating and “no cameras.” From families passing by on the way to Bónus to men in fur vests and women in shiny things (everybody wants to be a little bit Björk). From one heartbreak (“I don’t wanna talk to you/ feeling good on my own I don’t wanna be around you”) to another (“Without love I feel the abyss/ Understand your fear of death”). And all before dinner time. This is really a unique festival.
There was aYia and $igmund and Gangly and Lord Pusswhip and Nærvera. There were interesting talks with Greenlandic festival producers and obnoxious bar chatter which I can never navigate gracefully. There was soup for dinner. There was free beer at Harpa. All in all, it was an incredible night of Iceland Airwaves. But there was only one Kate Tempest.
Photo Credits: Björk by Santiago Felipe. Kate Tempest by Florian Trykowski. Milkywhale by Art Bicnick.
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