Arriving at Iðnó and taking in my surroundings, the first thought that entered into my head is that it looked a lot smaller than it did in the pictures, without all those tables and chairs. My second thought was that it was all so quiet and awkward, with very few people and nobody is chatting at all. It was an emptiness that was rather eerie and uncomfortable.
So when Dream Central Station started playing, it almost came as a bit of relief. A new band on the block, these guys are members of the smoking cool Vebeth music collective (Singapore Sling, Dead Skeletons, Two Step Horror, et al), so you kinda know what they’re going to sound like before they even start playing. After a strong opening number, they moved into their ‘stoic psych rock’ mode (think: Spiritualized) where all their music had a slightly same-y feel to it (most of the songs did seem to be in the key of A). However, their music was received with warm appreciation from the audience, only for the whole venue to fall into a tense silence between each song. In fact you only heard the lead singer talk once before they launched into the final (and best) song of their set. But it was a decent, safe start to the night’s proceedings. Afterwards, I managed to chat to the band in the bar, whereupon I found out the following
1: It was only their second gig
2: Their bass player is playing 17 times during Airwaves! How the hell is that even possible?
This acquired knowledge does put the playing of the next band Weapons into perspective. They’re a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ type of band, if said emergency being that you really can’t find any other band that could do plodding 4/4 indie rock. They’ve been doing this stuff for a while now and it looks as if they’ve reached a plateau in their playing, that they’re never going to get any better than this. It did all feel rather boring and uninspired. I sigh, yawn a little and scratch myself, while I go to take a consitutional.
It’s at this point where I made a fascinating discovery that I just have to share with you all. The ground floor toilets here are simply beautiful. I’m not joking at this. While most venues have urinals that barely consist of a bed of straw or a hole in the ground, upon entering the toilets at Iðnó, you’re confronted with the very model of taste and decorum. There are warm colours on the walls that were adorned with a nice oil painting (!), and there are fancy light fittings by the sink. Everything was so clean! I felt that i sullied the beauty and ambience of the place just by being there. I would probably have to go and do my business at the park behind the bushes.
‘’Ullo. We’re The Violet May and we’re from Sheffield’ is the not-very-raucous rallying cry of the next band, The Violet May. By now the venue has begun to fill out nicely and the atmosphere seems to warming up a bit. At first, part of me doesn’t want to like this band. Checking out their music before this evening, they seemed to press all my ‘bullshit bloke rock’ buttons till they got jammed. But after a while, I actually started to warm a little to their mild stoner riffs. The lead singer (who looked like the gangly Irish actor from The IT Crowd) is moving and stomping around like an albatross who’s just been told that his mum is a slag. By the end of the first song he’s already brandishing and waving his mic stand like it was a 5th limb. They’re pretty much your classic ‘everyman’ band, the sort of band where you could go ‘Hey I could do that’. They finish their set to rapturous cheers.
Caged Animals offer the first real change in tone and presence this evening. Dressed all in white, like a slimmed down polyphonic spree, they totally don’t sound like their recorded music. On record they sound twee and tinny but on stage here, their sunny pop sounds were more rounded and fuller. The bass kicked well, the guitars were shiny, and the lead singer projected a lot of warm soul to his voice. We also saw the end of the plodding 4/4 beat that was the predominant mode of delivery all night so far. However what at first feels like joyous spontaneity actually turned out to be merely a series of controlled explosions. For example on their last song, while they were ‘freaking out’, screaming and sticking out their tongues going ‘waaaaah!’, they all gave glancing nods to each other to denote what they were going to do next. It all culminated in the singer letting a couple of confetti bombs.
We’re chatting and nodding away to Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run while Sin Fang set up. Playing rousing, earthy alternative pop they certainly didn’t disappoint the now full Iðnó. At the heart of it of it all was Sindri Sin Fang himself. With his smouldering hangdog eyes (think a ‘70s Pacino back from ‘Nam), he sung in a swooning voice that was both pained and joyous. Taking numerous equipment problems in their stride (‘This mic stand is trying to ruin my life!’), they didn’t get flustered at the sound man coming on stage every two seconds trying to fix the numerous equipment bugs. Their only slight weak spot was when they played a new song in their set, which did have an unhealthy country twang to it. But apart from that, an exemplary performance.
And came Secret Chiefs 3…
All I can say is…. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WHAT WAS THAT?? The final act on the bill, they played some of the most potent, pulsing music, I’ve heard at an Airwaves concert for a very loooooong time. Even before they actually play, you look at them and think ‘this is going to be interesting’. Wearing all black clothing with pointed monks hoods while sporting instruments that look almost like regular guitars, there seemed to be a faintly mystical edge to them.
And then they started playing…
Their Sufi metal noise was the sound of the rock Diaspora, containing the sounds and rhythms emanating from Eastern Europe through Turkey and the Middle East all the way down the silk road to the Hindu Kush. If you were forced to give any kind of comparison, then it was a little like when System Of A down mainlined into their Armenian heritage. But the sheer intensity of their playing and performance was just so on another dimension to anything else that went on tonight. Their polyspasmic rhythms and fragmented riffs just showed up all the other music for the pallid white bread mush that it was. They also understood a certain little thing that is pretty much dead in a lot of mainstream music these days – dynamism. Not content with just playing at a set volume or speed, they would play with the pace and the level of their music, even having hanging dead air in their tracks, just to keep us on our toes. At one point, they did a cheeky cover of the John Carpenter Halloween theme, but with its quirky 5/4 rhythm, it never once felt gimmicky or derivative at all.
For most of their set I found myself all sweaty and febrile, moving, jumping and stirring in my own whirling dervish, very much in hock to the whole experience. And while the crowd wasn’t quite as manic as myself in their enjoyments, the euphoric cheers and whoops that greeted the chiefs at the end of their set confirmed that it was a job truly well done. We left Iðnó buzzing and skipping.
Overall, this was a night that started slowly but like any decent eruption, built up in atmosphere and energy before blowing its top.