[An earlier version of this review mistakenly claimed that the venue was selling bottles of water for 500 ISK. While initially confirmed, further research has revealed that this information was erroneous, due to a series of misunderstandings, rendering the reviewer's observations obsolete and inappropriate. Bottles of water at NASA cost 250 ISK during Airwaves, and one could apparently obtain plastic cups from the bar, to fill in the bathroom sink. We would like to sincerely apologise to the staff of NASA and the club's owners. Sorry guys. We'll do better next time, promise]
Since I last saw Samaris, they seemed to have added a couple of upgrades to their electronic sound. You can tell that beats man Þórður Kári has been listening to his influences a lot and tightened up his act. There’s now electronically altered bass vocals and electronic bongos (Fever Ray), and some heavy cocktail lounge dub bass on (James Blake).
But like putting a conservatory extension on a house that has subsidence and dry rot, all these changes can’t alter the fact that their music has glaring deficiencies. The clarinet just adds nothing at all to the sound, while the vocals of Jófríður had all the dark sensuality of a bed littered with stuffed toy animals.
Cheek Mountain Thief arrived on stage wearing knitted woolen hoods, like a krútt version of Secret Chiefs 3. The brainchild of one Mike Lindsay, he was one of the blokes in folktronic pioneers Tunng (I always imagine myself as a Yorkshire man whenever I say that), who came to Airwaves last year and loved the place so much, he moved to Húsavík, alas just as the penis museum was shutting up shop and moving to Reykjavík. Even the band’s name is taken from the local mountains of Kinnfjöll (which means cheek mountains, see?).
Starting off by calmly stating ‘this is biological music’, the music retained a similar feel of his old band, but a bit more organic and mellowed out. Some of the more energetic songs had a bustling folk feel to them, with the highlight being Sindri Sin Fang coming on to do some guest vocal. It was all nice and not too demanding to the senses. Mr. Lindsay himself seemed a sincere, if rather serious man, looking all straight faced, even when recounting the story of how he got to be on this rock. Mind you I did see him smiling and laughing later on, so perhaps it was just his game face on stage.
I decided to use the break to get some much needed hot dog fuel. When I returned, I could see that the queue outside NASA’s front entrance was about 50 metres long and the women’s toilets had turned into the equivalent of a Stalinist bread line. Something tells me that the doormen are in for a rough ride tonight.
By the time Young Magic plug in their shit, the place is now packed and the hubbub is deafening. It’s rather interesting the number of acts these days who are melding shoegaze guitars with modern electronic beats. Oh, and the use of a floor tom drum (which was going to be thrashed to within an inch of its life by most of the acts throughout the night). Either way, the rhythms of their dreamtronica BOOMED and the vocals of Melati Malay were stark and almost haunting. It wasn’t quite as dark and foreboding as the likes of Unison or HTRK, but they still tapped into that same enigmatic netherworld of inspiration. While there wasn’t much in the way of blood sacrifices on the dancefloor, there was mucho head nodding and warm cheers at the end of their set.
While I chatted to our lovely photographer Hörður Sveinsson, I noticed a very disturbing situation around us. While he talked to some nice pretty ladies, I checked my local environment to find that we’re surrounded by pretty women everywhere. I’m not taking about five or ten. No, it’s more like hundreds! My god they’re breeding out of control! This is almost as bad as the infamous cane toad explosion they had in Australia. Suddenly I felt very old, sad and creepy just existing in the same space and stealing the same air. This made me rather depressed. To be honest, at that moment they should’ve just taken me out back and shot me. Then used my generous amounts of body fat to make into soap and scrub sets for all the lovely women here.
The ‘80s is the cultural zombie gift that keeps on giving isn’t it? How else would Niki And The Dove exist? The result of a dirty weekend between Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper in a hotel in downtown Stockholm, their electro pop was full of the bombast of ‘80s power ballads. On top of all that, there was the band’s ‘look’, with their big hair and jumpsuits, the face-paint, shiny leggings, over-sized t-shirts and the ‘dancers’ doing aerobics dance moves. The kitsch was laid on with a trowel you had to use both hands with. At one point I was thinking that maybe I was being too hard on their music and stage presence, but then they brought out the hula hoops, whereupon I simply thought ‘Fuck. THAT!’ However I seemed to be in a cynical minority as the crowd were showing signs of life, fist pumping to the songs at the end of their set.
By now NASA was so bloated with people trying to see tUnE-yArDs, I was reduced to being squashed up against the wall at a corner by the side of the stage, like a bug homicide on a car windscreen. The second they started playing though, it became obvious why they were so in demand. Their loose jazzy beat music also hearkened back to a facet of ‘80s culture, but it wasn’t the plastic glare of synth pop. Instead it linked into the beat sampling methods of early hip hop as Merrill Garbus created short live drum sample loops to form the base rhythms for the band.
And the voice! My god! You are very unlikely to catch singing and noises as distinctive as those from Garbus this Airwaves (Björk excepted) as she wailed, belted and thrummed her vocals cords in a style via Kinshasa and Kingston. And when she started to blast out Gangsta, it all finally boiled over as the crowd kicked off major style. Man it was totally fresh!
You know, I really shouldn’t talk to people as I nearly always seem to put my foot in it. While Bonnie Tyler and The Dove were playing, I found myself chatting with a nice man who clocked that I’m reviewing the night’s music. He then introduces himself as the manager of the next band, Clock Opera.
“Well I hope you really like us,” he says.
“As long as you don’t suck, I’m sure I will,” I reply. Man, why do I do this???
But luckily for him, Clock Opera didn’t suck. In fact they were the best act of the night. They were more intense and rocking, and less melodramatic than what I’ve heard on their records. It had that hyper-emotive rousing electro indie that you’d expect from the likes of Frightened Rabbit (are we sure they aren’t Scottish?). The track Once And For All, for example, with its glistening piano synth noise was the sound of Angel buttsecks, all pure but dirty at the same time. All the while the lead singer jerked and twisted as if he was trying to rid himself of imaginary bees in his trousers. Now tUnE-yArDs were great, but this was the first time that evening I found myself really grooving and dancing to the music. Get in!
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs is the story of a boy named Orlando (the son of Mr Oizo), who creates his own fantasy world when he discovers his dad’s old rave records one night while dressed in his favourite blue Godzilla pyjamas. His music seemed to be a journey of nearly every electronic music style of the past 20 years, not settling on one particular style .The music had at different times acid, garage, drum and bass and jungle, and Ibiza trance. While his stage show didn´t quite blow me away (the only one ever to really pull off the whole party carnival thing has been Basement Jaxx. The dancers were lovely though), his music is slick and very energetic. The crowd at the time though were so lubed up on booze and bacteria, he would have had to REALLY suck to piss them off. There was crowd surfing, moshing, and minor molestation. It looked and felt more like a HAM concert. I was really worried there was going to be some serious carnage when he got everyone to do Klezmer style dancing on the last track, but thankfully there was only the odd bruise and broken bone. Bosh!
We reach the final straight as Bloodgroup get themselves ready. It’s fast approaching 2:45am and while NASA was still really busy, there was a small but noticeable drop in the crowd from before. And there was also a real drop in energy and body popping from the crowd when they started playing. It looked like the crowd blew themselves out with the previous act. It didn’t help Bloodgroup’s cause that they started off with two of their slower numbers. Maybe they should have been put a little earlier on tonight’s bill where they would have generated a better reaction. But thems the breaks of playing festivals gigs I suppose, and Bloodgroup are consummate electro pros as they grind and pop their way through their set, their playing tighter than a gnats arse. The fact that I am still dancing away to the likes of This Heart past 3am and not slumped in the corner trying to climb into my own shoe, is a testament to their prowess.
I eventually glide out into the night to seek the sweet, sweet release of my bed. You know what? Despite my initial reservations and getting pissed off at the venue, I think this night went way better than I would have imagined.