From Iceland — Grapevine Airwaves Super Review: Thursday

Grapevine Airwaves Super Review: Thursday

Published November 3, 2017

Photo by
Magnús Andersen & Timothy Lambrecq & Art Bicnick

Airwaves day 2: more drunk, more concerts, and more madness. Everybody agreed that one band ruled them all and we all got a bit of BDSM love. We didn’t catch them all, but like with Pokémon, it’s about the hunt; not the lame gyms.

John Rogers – A moveable feast
My Airwaves Thursday was a night of vast contrasts. It began quietly with JFDR, who took to the big stage of seated Þjóðleikhúsið theatre venue with a five piece ensemble. The players took her delicate, lyrical songs to some dizzy heights via semi-improvised Moog bass, electronic drones, vocal harmonies and sensitively played rhythms. It was the perfect venue for these climatic, collaborative versions of JFDR’s wonderful songs.

It was a polar shift from JFDR’s graceful feminine energy to Une Misère’s angry dude-rock across the street at Gamla Bíó. The singer stalked the stage, staring out the audience and thrashing around looking like a terminally frustrated metal Mark Zuckerberg. It was a refreshing burst of noise, but a couple of songs were enough.

Down at Húrra, Good Moon Deer played in a new configuration, with former Bloodgroup singer and solo artist Sunna on ambient, abstract vocals, and drummer Ívar Pétur Kjartansson retaking his place on percussion. It was a choppy, textural, propulsive set that brought to life Good Moon Deer’s experimental electronica for the live arena.

The performance of the night—and the festival, so far—came from Hatari. Their pounding, grimy electronic synth-pop sounded huge on the massive sound system of Gamla Bíó, and their hyper-theatrical staging, complete with gory visuals, BDSM harnesses and stiffly robotic backing dancers was confusing and absorbing in equal measure. Hatari are easily the most interesting new band on the Icelandic scene right now. It’s a mixture of disparate elements that shouldn’t work, but just absolutely does.

The final trilogy of bands were the cherry on the cake. Gangly’s slow-motion pop was mesmerising at Iðnó; Gyða Valtýsdóttir delivered a stunningly beautiful cello performance in a pin-drop quiet Fríkirkjan playing material from her ‘Epicycle’ LP with a stellar ensemble that included some sensitive guitar work from Shahzad Ismaily; dj. flugvél og geimskip rounded off the evening with a technicolour explosion of joyful, bizarre DIY pop. The international roster of Airwaves might be exceedingly slim pickings this year—but with such mind-blowing homegrown talents on offer, who cares, really?

Alice Demurtas – Up to hell and down in heaven
After Hatari’s performance on Wednesday at Kex I had already made up my mind to go see every single one of their Airwaves concerts, be it on-venue or off-venue. At Kex, I had to stand on a chair to be able to see them, and although the music was sick, the brightness of the hostel’s bar didn’t do them justice. The red lights in Gamla Bíó, however, were a step up. Hatari went on with their idiosyncratic pacific rage, spitting out their poetic tales of corruption, doom and darkness in a mesmerizingly raucous voice. I’m not a fan of steam-punk, but these guys are deadly sexy. Despite their political lyrics, Hatari make music you can dance to—and considering their grim worldview, you might as well do just that before death (or apathy) catches up with you.

Jazzed by the energy of Hatari’s techno-punk but in desperate need to tone it down a notch, I headed over to Frikírkjan where Gyða Valtýsdóttir played some celestial and exotic compositions with the whispery voice of an angel. Over at Bíó Paradís, Gyða’s friend Ásta Fanney performed with her band aYia in a dimly lit room, casting shadows on the walls in a fiery red shawl. Ásta’s breathy lyrics trickled down the audience like rivulets of water in a cloud of techno-pop. Finally my favourite song came, and while “Water Plant” is just as cool live as it is streaming on my headphones, I was expecting a more engaging experience. It’s almost as if the formality and vastness of the cinema had stolen some of the magic that usually hangs around Ásta’s performances, and while this was good fun I look forward to seeing aYia in a more intimate venue.

Elías Þórsson – Checkers with grandma
So, Hatari was amazing. Snorri Helgason Fritzl-ed a couple of minutes from my life. Grísalappalísa was cool. But we need to talk about Vök. The magical thing about the Vök concert at Iðnó was that I got to see the most amazing show at Airwaves 2007—the only problem being, this is Airwaves 2017. Do you remember The Knife? Do you remember Röyksopp? Do you remember Hot Chip? They were cool bands back then—and now you get to see them all merged into one meaningless nostalgia trip. I would have loved this a decade ago, but now I just think “meh.”

The worst part (or the best, I’m not sure) is that I didn’t hate it. They were pretty good, but there was just no point to them—it was as meaningless as a cool breeze on a cold winter morning. Not bad enough to make you freeze, not needed to cool you down… just completely pointless. And this was the Vök concert. Everybody was so mildly satisfied that nobody really thought they were at a concert. They felt more like they were doing a round of checkers with grandma or watching a new Woody Allen movie. There was a clear whiff of nostalgia to the time when Airwaves was truly the coolest. In fact, I shouldn’t be blaming Vök for anything. They are the embodiment of everything that Airwaves has sort of lost. Once Airwaves was the shit. It was the festival every music journalist in the world wanted to be allowed to cover. Now it’s … Mumford and Sons? Stale, derivative, boring, yet still here and still popular. So, this is where we are at. Vök are too good to be hated but too boring to be loved, and all of us are stuck in a musical purgatory with them. Welcome to 2017, everybody. Let’s just hope we survive long enough for 2018 to become interesting.

Hannah Jane Cohen – Heartbreak and perversion
Drama. Despair. Heartbreak. Apathy. Such are the only words needed to describe the beginning of yesterday’s Airwaves. What happened? American Bar must have changed their lineup abruptly, because Sycamore Tree was not playing at 17:30, Rythmatik was. Fresh from that humiliating defeat, I headed over to the Grapevine party at Gallerí Port. The place was filled to the brim as Sóley played some ethereal tunes. It was so full that I couldn’t even squeeze inside. Rejected again, I stood in the cold rain, much like Eric Draven. “Wow, I hope I will see an Airwaves show today”, I thought. “It can’t rain all the time.”

Disappointed now by two female singers, I scrolled listlessly through the Airwaves app until I saw that Skrattar was playing at Bar Ananas. Awesome! I headed over and luckily copped a seat in the crowd. The show was uncharacteristically calm and toned-down. Skrattar is known mostly for bizarre stage antics—punching people, screaming, drugs, etc.—but they just sort of stood there and grooved this time. It was a bit off-putting, and I think the music suffered, too. Their Skrattar-ness is what makes them popular because their tunes are much too simple to really stand up without a crazy stage performance. But hey—maybe it was too early or an incongruous venue.

After this, I went home and made dinner to prepare for the best part of my Airwaves weekend, which was coincidentally not at all related to Airwaves. What was it? I’ll give you a hint: 73 inches. Blonde hair. Pendulums. Camera. Squeeze. Russian Heroin. Click!

Yup, Hugleikur Dagsson and Páll Óskar were hosting a screening of Doris Wishman’s, ‘Double Agent 73’ at Bíó Paradís. I wrote my undergrad thesis on Wishman, who no one knows about, so finding out that I lived in a country with two other enthusiasts was heartwarming. It’s rare that someone wants to outwardly go watch sexploitation in a movie theatre, but I had more fun here than at any concert. Maybe I’m just a pervert.

Jenna Mohammed – Ian Curtis flashback
At first I was annoyed that Fufanu were ten minutes late for their set at Bar Ananas, but they were totally worth the wait. They needed a bigger venue—I don’t think I’ve ever seen a room so packed. I had to listen from the other room, because there was no way I could weasel my way through that sardine can. I think that’s a reflection of their future. All in good time, these guys are going to be huge, playing sold out shows around the world. As for their sound, they’re basically a refurbished version of Joy Division, just a little more dancey, with a modern spin. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing! The lead singer even looks like Ian Curtis. I was a little disappointed they didn’t play my favourite song “Bad Rockets” but maybe I’ll get lucky when I see them play at an official venue this weekend. They played a little over the usual 30 minute set—about 45, and for me, that’s the sweet spot. Not so long that you get bored, but not short enough to wish they played longer.

At Gamla Bíó I was suckered into seeing a band I know nothing about, Grísalappalísa. I’m trying to be open to new experiences but this time I wish I hadn’t. To be fair, their sound wasn’t all that bad. It was different, they’re rock—but jazzy? I have no idea, but they came off as a cool rock ‘n’ roll dad band. That’s not the worst thing but it’s just not what I’m into. The dad on the balcony fist pumping was the highlight of the show.

Charley Ward – Glorious camp and the crux of the matter
After a slow start to the evening with an accordion-driven set by Sóley at Gallerí Port, where a large proponent of the audience were actually sitting down, I was feeling sort of chill. But Airwaves is no time to relax, and my mellow vibe was smacked right out of me during Hatari’s gloriously campy set at Gamla Bíó. I didn’t really know what to expect, but everyone told me that I had to see them, and after bearing witness to their show, I shall now take up the mantle of encouraging other ignorant souls to also go forth and see for themselves. I’ve no idea what they are on about, but the bondage leather, booty shaking and intense 1000-yard stare was more than enough for me.

Reinvigorated, I bounced over to Iðnó, where I learned I must have experienced some kind of name-related brain fart while listening to the Airwaves Spotify playlist, as I fully believed that K Á R Y Y N was going to be a hip hop artist. Her soaring, meandering tunes were atmospheric, and I appreciated that the light show worked well to accompany the music. But all of her songs sounded the same, and ended abruptly, so I felt that they never really reached the crux of the matter at the heart of her angst. I hope you find some resolution, Káryyn (if that is your name), and I’m sorry for thinking you were a rapper. Last up was Vök, who I loved and thought were super fun. It was bassy and bouncy and despite having the tiniest stature, lead Margrét has a voice and a half. I was sad when it ended, but also very tired, because it was 1AM on a Thursday and I am old.

Grayson Del Faro – Yesterday Was More Than Okay
I began the day posted up at ODDSSON for their off-venue lineup. By “posted up,” I mean that ODDSSON is five minutes from my house so I could go home to be boring between bouts of being fun at gigs. Despite the hail and ODDSSON’s relative distance from the rest of the off-venues, the day was off to a strong start with sillus, a new solo project from Silla Thorarensen. Having performed backup vocals with Berndsen, Kira Kira, and in KÓRUS, no one should be surprised to know she has a killer voice. Her production skills, however, are their own triumph. By layering her own voice into a diverse, awesome, and occasionally challenging mix of sounds like beeps, clicks, fuzz, and synths, she infuses offbeat electronics with R&B vibes. Turning herself into a strange, sexy, synthetic chorus, she left me with one big question: where on earth did this red-headed white girl get so much soul?

After a pop home to be boring, I returned to catch Prim Waters, the new name for the solo project of artist Ásta Fanney (who would also perform later that night during Airwords under her own name and later with her band aYia). Although her calm, meditative acoustic set was invaded by outside sounds like the espresso machine, a fire alarm going off, and very loud Facebook notifications, she managed to incorporate these things into her performance with comedic charm and philosophical introspection.

Next came the worst part of my night: the line for Emilíana Torrini & The Colorist. (For those who didn’t make it in, don’t feel alone; even press and photographers couldn’t get in!) After spending half of the set in line, I managed to get into the best part of my night. I’ve been a fanboy of Emilíana Torrini ever since 13-year-old me stumbled across her music video for “Gollum’s Song” in the DVD extras of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. She is my precious! I didn’t know who The Colorist was but I’m glad she’s finally found a band to do her music justice, even if it takes eight of them. I was surprised by their ability to make even her saddest, slowest songs (like my all-time favorite “Today Has Been Okay”) into something lovely, lively, and even kinda funky. Then I wandered into Iðnó to see K Á R Y Y N, who I really really wanted to like, but I quickly got bored of her infinite loop of wailing and booming beats that allegedly form separate songs. I don’t believe it. It all sounded exactly the same. Spice it up, girl! Despite the lame ending, let’s just say that Yesterday Was More Than Okay.

Rex Beckett: A New World If I Want It.
I want a new world. I want to wake up and see new faces and new landscapes around me. I want a different way of loving myself and the people around me. I want to have the freedom to run across the water and stay on whatever solid ground without fear of prejudice, violence and hatred. I want money to disappear. I want consumerism to evaporate. I want governance to dissolve and the systemic structures of power to collapse into sparkling dust. I want warfare and weaponry to vanish in the blink of an eye. I want pollution to float away and environmental destruction to become planetary healing. I want to feel every human heart around me expand with love and compassion. I want to feel tenderness. I want to be rapt in passionate sexual congress with beautiful bodies of all kinds. I want to abandon the constraints of gender and orientation and embrace our fleshy exteriors as gifts. I want to let go of judgment, of control, of addiction, of shame, of anxiety. I want to look at the stranger next to me and smile and decide to be friends on the spot like we are five years old again. I want music to always be strong and powerful and give me intense emotions. I want music to be this good and to make me renounce other bands I adore for satisfying my spirit so deeply. I want to tilt my head up into the lights and let the tears stream down my face. I want to sing along to these songs I don’t know.

And now I know that there is A New World If I Want It.

Greig Robertson: Existential crisis and chicken tikka masala
The night began with Biggi Hilmars at Fríkirkjan, a church that proved an appropriate venue for his serene sound. Biggi’s background in scoring movies and TV shows was clear from the get-go and his ambient, Icelandic sound served as a divine, low-key introduction to a night defined by the forces of good and evil.

Without even the caffeine-rush of a Coke, let alone the debauchery of a beer, I was striding towards Hatari at Gamla Bíó, and without knowing it, towards the gates of hell—or quite possibly heaven. I can’t decide. I’m not sure a sound as soul-wrenching is possible without a Faustian deal with the devil, but if it is, everyone else may as well just give up on music now, because Hatari have completed it.

I finally found some middle ground at Kalli’s Hverfisbarinn performance, but I was so disoriented from the spiritual ambiguity of the night that I tried to enter the venue via a massive, impenetrable window. Once I’d received pitying direction towards the door, I took a deep breath and settled in to Kalli’s smooth, breathy vocals; the perfect, earthly antidote to my mental turmoil. At this point of relative existential stability, I decided to leave, further quelling my demons with a 450 ISK frozen chicken tikka masala. I shovelled down the microwaved sludge in the hope it would clog up my brain cells enough to get some sleep, and I can now reliably inform you it worked a treat.

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