From Iceland — Airwaves 2019 Wednesday Super-Review: Magical Countess Malaise, Cowboy Orville Peck & Much-Enjoyed Misery

Airwaves 2019 Wednesday Super-Review: Magical Countess Malaise, Cowboy Orville Peck & Much-Enjoyed Misery

Published November 7, 2019

Photo by
Art Bicnick

Day one of Airwaves down and to call The Grapevine pumped would be an understatement. Here’s what went down in the fun and chaos of Airwaves last night, brought to you by our semi-frayed, somewhat frazzled and partially euphoric festival super-review team.

Of course, make sure to check out our Airwaves: Tuned In podcast, hosted by the Grapevine’s best friend Tim Pogo. In this first podcast, Tim speaks with Sindri Már Sigfússon of Seabear and Sin Fang; legendary Icelandic rapper Cell7, and Airwaves booking director Sindri Ástmarsson. Listen to the new podcast every day by following us on iTunes or Soundcloud or Spotify

A night of masquerade

At this first night of Airwaves, I started out by seeing Halldór Eldjárn at IÐNÓ. The town was packed; I had originally tried to enter the Hard Rock Café to see una schram, but the place was way over capacity, and even an arrogant journalist with a VIP bracelet was turned away. So fate stepped in and steered me to Halldór’s concert. And what a wonderful concert it was. Halldór killed it at Airwaves two years ago with his brilliant electro set at Húrra. While that show was energetic, this was a little more relaxed, following his new album, which is the moon landing. As expected, it was a strong performance, and proof that Halldór is still growing as a musician.

Next off was a completely different kind of venue—Hressingarskálinn—which I went to to see Ásta, a solo performer in the folk genre. The place was packed and I had to watch from afar. In fact, I barely saw her, and worse off, I barely even heard the music. That said, Ásta is incredibly charming and reminds one strongly of early Ólöf Arnalds or Joni Mitchell. She’s one of the debutantes at Airwaves, while she obviously lacks experience, the songwriting was beautiful. “Sugarbað” in particular is a fantastic ballad. Ásta delivered it with heavy emotion after she explained to the crowd the inspiration behind the song and broke down into tears. That said, I didn’t hear a word of it either because of her quiet voice and the noise and clamour from the bar. Perhaps she needs a smaller venue. Or more confidence. Overall—Ásta has some serious potential.

Then it was off to hipster-country. Literally. The masked cowboy, Orville Peck played at Hafnarhúsið in a fancy red cowboy suit. After a few songs, I realised that it’s just country played and sung by a man with a red trendy mask. The music itself was not my cup of tea or brand of whisky, but it definitely had some charm. He was at his best when playing rock’n roll. It was actually borderline boring when he slowed things down. It just reminded me that it’s just some fucking country-music and not that unique in itself.

So I fled to another masked performer, Mighty Bear, who played at Gaukurinn. It was more of the same from them that I’ve seen and written about before. Still with that crazy mask. Still incredibly fine and strong songs. Still not that good of a singer. That said, the show was probably the best one of the night. The visuals were brilliant and Mighty Bear has come a long way as a performer, but I think they should consider collaborating with a stronger singer. Then again, when they hit those raw rock notes, they were on fire.

It was a decent first night of Airwaves. The places were packed, and the atmosphere was good. The festival is much smaller than the last one, and one can feel it. Looking forward to the second night though. VG

Hitting hard before hitting home

Some people like to start music festivals with the lo-fi stuff and ease into the heavy metal as the night goes on. Not me. I start with heavy metal and ease into the lo-fi stuff, so naturally, I started Wednesday night with Blóðmör at Dillon. I was really excited to see these guys perform, and they did not disappoint. In fact, they absolutely shredded my face off with new and established material alike. At the end of the set, Haukur, the guitarist, threw his pick and I caught it. I’ve never felt like such a superfan.

I moved on from there to see indie rock giants, The Holy at Kex, but the venue was full and I couldn’t get in. They did have the show live-streamed in a room downstairs with beer and seating, so I had a beer and caught the first half. However, I couldn’t help but notice how badly I wanted to be in the venue. Watching the set on the screen just wasn’t the same as watching a live band. What I saw was really fun, but there were other bands I wanted to see, so I left.

I headed down to the Hard Rock Café and waited for them to open the doors so I could see Flammeus. The best way I can describe these guys is four blonds who know what’s going on. The lead singer has a beautiful voice, and the rest of the band backs him up in perfect harmony. The lyrics are entirely in English, despite the band being from Iceland, and they illustrate that whoever wrote these songs has the soul of a poet.

I moved on to Hressó and caught the tail end of SIGGY, the half-Icelandic singer/songwriter who lives in L.A. She makes this really great R&B that I can only describe as ahead of the curve. And yet, her music has a genuinely old-school R&B feel to it. Then Ásta took the stage and broke everyone’s heart with her gut-punching lyrics about lost love, and emotional chord progressions to suit them. I left Hressó with tears in my eyes. Whoever he is, Ásta, he’s an idiot and he doesn’t deserve you. SPO

Bow down then cry

My first Airwaves night started late due to the fact that the Grapevine has a new issue coming out on Friday (!!!) that needed attending to. That said, I tried my hardest to soak up as much as I could and I think I succeeded.

Running as fast as I could to the Reykjavík Art Museum, I arrived inside exactly at the moment that Orville Peck entered the stage. The line outside went around the block, so I was immensely grateful for my press pass, and I kinda felt like a spoiled bad bitch cutting. Sorry to everyone in the line that was a bigger Orville fan than me. That’s probably most of you, tbh.

I can’t really figure out how I feel about Orville Peck. He’s quite good live—his voice is almost exactly like Hank Williams and you can definitely tell that he absolutely, genuinely, whole-heartedly, and most importantly, unironically adores old-school country music. Singing about rodeo queens, Las Vegas, and being remembered in Kansas, one forgets that he’s actually a queer guy from Canada. There’s some weird fetishisation/appropriation of Southern/Western Americana going on, and again, I don’t exactly know how I feel about it. While I do believe that Orville is celebrating the tropes of country music, here’s where my problem is: I really don’t think the audience is. Some of the people next to me were dying of laughter the whole time, and others were discussing how he’s re-inventing the genre. What?

Look, I have to give Orville props for making country music palpable for those who wouldn’t be caught dead listening to anything on the American country music charts. But I’m a born and bred country fan, and being very acquainted with the genre, I have to admit his songs are pretty generic. If he was in a flannel shirt and work boots, rather than a glittery vinyl mask, I guarantee he would not be playing at Airwaves and being covered by Vice and Pitchfork. That said, for those into the Orville sound, I’d recommend checking out Old Crow Medicine Show and other such bands. I think they have a similar appreciation for the country tropes and “cool” vibe, so if you’re friends catch you listening to it, you won’t be embarrassed.

Orville Peck at Reykjavík Art Museum – Airwaves 2019. Photo by Art Bicnick

I left Orville before the end to catch an artist I’m substantially more passionate about: Miss Countess Malaise. I’ve been somewhat unhealthily obsessed with her since the release of “Goth Bitch” a few years ago and just a week ago, she finally dropped her first EP ‘HYSTERÍA’. Without hyperbole, it’s the best Icelandic hip-hop release of the year, or even the last five years. Now the Countess doesn’t perform often too often, and she’s never headlined her own show, so this was a pretty big night for the ruler.

I walked in to Prikið exactly as she started and within seconds, I was transported into a dark, sexy, pulsing dimension where I was an evil alpha female battling foes in an edgy anime. Unlike normal Prikið shows, there was no stage, so the Countess stood on the box in vinyl pants and lingerie, grinding her ass as she sang about getting eaten out, getting money, and getting rid of fake bitches.

The crowd was majority female—a rarity for a Prikið rap show—and it made this amazing safe space where girls were dancing like hoes, nodding their heads, and overall just entering this gothic dreamworld, where they had the power. Countess Malaise stepped into her own. She was powerful, sensual, and her rapping skills came out in full force. At one point, after her one sad song, she gave a shout out to mental illness, which made the entire crowd cheer. Fuck yeah.

Immediately after it was over, I ran back to the Reykjavík Art Museum for Une Misère. I’ve been a massive fan of them for years. In fact, I look back at their performance at the Wacken Metal Battle Iceland a few years back—which they won—as one of the best shows of my life.

Photo by Nicholas Grange

Now I’ve never seen them in such a big venue, so I was excited to see how they’d fill the space. They’ve also recently had a line-up switch, so I was equally interested to see how that panned out.

But immediately: I have to say this was Une Misère at its best, or rather at its most miserable. They started with a bang, an almost seizure-inducing lightshow, and a heavy wave of sound that actually got me to headbang—which I rarely do. The energy of the band is almost mind-blowing. Their singer, Jón, runs around the stage throughout the entire show, shoving the microphone in his mouth, mock-purging—it’s weirdly emotional, and to be honest, kind of hard to watch their shows without feeling some shared inner-pain.

It was also nice to see they had some superfans in the audience who knew every word to every song. This band is on the rise, and I couldn’t be more happy for them.

Their last song, “Damages”, is, as it always is, dedicated to a friend of the band who committed suicide. Now, I recently had a friend pass for the same reason and the song really hit me, which I didn’t expect. I actually teared up, which, granted, I do during essentially any movie or TV show, but it was still an unusual experience to be in a crowded metal show and feel so emotionally affected. I didn’t like it, but maybe I needed it. HJC

Hit the ground running

And we’re off! I have a real fondness for multi-venue festivals. Despite the long, dark nights and cold weather, Reykjavik is a hive of activity, the hotels filled with journalists and photographers, musicians and punters, all here to celebrate the rich and varied culture of music in Iceland. For writers like myself, we often only get to see our far-flung friends and colleagues a few times a year at events like this, so there’s an incredible joy in coming together to get tipsy at drinks receptions and charge ‘round the festivals catching as many acts as possible.

After consuming a considerable amount of free red wine, we drifted into the hall at Reykjavik Art Museum to see the opening act of the evening—Kælan Mikla. One of my Norwegian colleagues had seen them at another festival and was not a fan, but we convinced him to give them another go. I don’t think he changed his mind, but I personally enjoyed the performance. Kælan Mikla’s music is dark and synthy with driving bass lines. It’s not something I would choose to listen to when sitting at home one evening, but viewed live, it takes on another life. The musicians wore long, black, witchy dresses, and danced like evil fairies. The visuals they had projected behind them added to the atmosphere. But after a few songs, I’d had my fill and our Norwegian friend was hinting heavily that it was time to go, so we moved on.

Kælan Mikla at Reykjavik Art Museum – Airwaves 2019. Photo by Art Bicnick

We popped over to Djúpið, a basement bar ‘round the corner, where I knew there was a folk music session happening. I wanted to show my visiting colleagues the variety of music making that happens here—it’s not just all Monsters and Men, there are people creating and collaborating everywhere. The room was full of fiddles, whistles, guitars and the like, and the atmosphere was warm and encouraging. I bullied everyone into ceilidh dancing with me and we sung along with an Icelandic folk song.

Next to Gaukurinn to see Hrím. Hrím have emerged from a long hiatus with a new EP, and I think are one to watch. Ösp Eldjárn has a great voice, which works beautifully over the atmospheric soundscapes her bandmates weave. I have a feeling they are set for big things.

We piled back into Reykjavik Art Museum for Orville Peck. My colleagues started comparing their step counts on their apple watches. The masked cowboy crooned in his signature velvet baritone, and it was a perfectly pleasant affair… but after a few songs, I was bored. Orville is a good lyricist and his aesthetic is brilliant, but the songs are samey and after a while seem to blend together.

All and all, a good night, which set the tone well for the festival. Tonight is the big one for me—there are so many great acts programmed for Thursday, I won’t know where to turn. Can’t wait. JG

Meditation and enthusiasm on the dance-floor

Ah, Airwaves Wednesday. Nice to see you again! I started my night-off with on a familiar note, seeing Kælan Mikla perform at the Reykjavík Art Museum to a pumped crowd. They reflect a gloomy vibe which reminds me now of the soundtrack from Twin Peaks—a good thing—more than ever. Their backing sound-modulation is now more drum-machine-heavy, and I can’t say no to that.

Kælan Mikla at Reykjavik Art Museum – Airwaves 2019. Photo by Art Bicnick

I ventured into foreign territory at Iðnó, where an event called INNI—with a stellar line-up including Sóley and Skúli Sverrisson—took place. There I caught the set of one Stefán Elí from Akureyri who performed his very first set in Reykjavík. He was bursting with enthusiasm and positivity on-stage as he played a set of songs with the aid of a loop-station and electric guitar. Keep an eye out. Then Halldór Eldjárn—who recently released his first solo-album ‘Poco Apollo’—took the stage and performed new material. It was deep and rumbling bass and restrained string samples played in a meditative fashion. Deconstructed club music ?

I left Iðnó with feelings of warmth and knowing I’d be back for the last act. Now it was time to go to Prikið to see Countess Malaise perform her EP ‘HYSTERÍA’ to her loyal fanbase who jerked excitedly around the moderately-sized Prikið dance-floor as she rapped about pleasing yourself and allowing yourself to feel confident. Some would say that she ‘slayed’ tonight, some that she was ‘savin’ lives.’ I say, she was playing from the depths of her heart and that’s something
that should not be taken for granted today.

Having never seen or listened to Une Misère, I went to see their performance at the Reykjavík Art Museum. They are a sleek, black-clad rock band with a good dynamic who delivered a well-polished set of songs to get angry too. Since I’m not really the mosh-pit type—no disrespect intended for this dance-style—I stayed mostly in the back and had a beer.

Photo by Nicholas Grange

At Hressó, happiness entered my heart again at Tómas Welding‘s set which he performed with a couple of supporting singers. This on-stage newcomer has previously produced songs with Bríet and Glowie yet proved here that he has a voice-of-gold as he played a mix downtempo pop and indie rock.

Then I saw a new collaborative project Separate Boys, which includes Kjartan Holm, Sin Fang and Francesco Fabris perform a noisey wall-of-sound. As Kjartan Holm and Sin Fang fiddled around with computers, Fabris—perhaps the least recognised in the group—is an astronomer who is tonight played a large modular synth, creating rumbling waves of bass that seemed to enter the very cory of the audience. Some people lay on the Iðnó-hall floor to feel the bass full-on. A truly introspective and experimental vibe and an interesting way to end my Airwaves night this year. AJDF

Read more about Iceland Airwaves here.

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