Sisters Jófríður and Ásthildur take the name of their musical project from an infamous two headed Mexican circus curiosity but the sound of Pascal Pinon mostly betrays such a startling allusion. “We’re shocked to see so many of you here”, they say, visibly affected by the heaving crowd at Iðnó – but not shaken enough to cut through their quiet swagger.
Their set is a controlled and near flawless performance, with a remarkable absence of twee – despite Jófríður apologising that it might be “too cute for everyone,” as two more (younger) sisters are ushered onto the stage as their backing band.
These are songs touched by melancholy, autumn notes that punctuate the fragile surface more frequently than not. Notes that find reference points in the same Lynchean suburban darkness that Angelo Badalamenti composed for. It’s a sweet match of opposites and the very thing that makes them such a beguiling combination – and a strong opener for the festival’s line up at Iðnó. Jófríður’s a beguiling presence, saying just enough to connect each song together but ultimately letting to music – and the girl’s resonant vocal arrangements – do the most important talking.
sóley was for me one the highlights at Airwaves 11. A talented member of Seabear and Sin Fang, her first record dropped last year and showcased a remarkable talent for both composition and sonic invention.
Live, the backbone of her music is a triangulation of the modern classical, an inventory of clicks, hisses, growls, slashes, and that honeyed vocal that drips bruised vulnerability. She’s peddling a sound that sketches vividly for its audience, flecked at times with the noirish.
Tonight her set choices are a somber match for the chill on the Reykjavík streets that seems to find its way into the venue on occasion. A new song dedicated to two Irish friends sees rumbling guitar and organ lines laid beneath her darkly lullaby voice. She even jokingly labels the prosaic ’Smashed Birds’ as “a party song”.
An ill tuned guitar threatens to derail things at one point, as does a timing problem that means a ‘final’ song isn’t delivered in the traditional sense. But her natural effusiveness shines through and attempts to school the (mostly English speaking) crowd in Icelandic smooths things over enough to keep the punters from baying for blood. It’a a carefree, warm gamble and one that wins our trust. Still, an extra few minutes – and a final song – would have been the icing on the cake and given her the chance for a more rounded set. “I am being told I have to leave the stage now”, she explains, clearly more than a little annoyed – and it’s a sentiment the crowd obviously share.
An opening gambit of giving out yellow paper crowns while your band strike a synth groove behind you in one of the more unorthodox ways to endear a crowd to you – and indeed, the sight of the front quarter of Iðnó’s capacity clad in paper regal headwear is as odd as is it amusing. Who would have thought that Prins Póló were once labelled as “The shyest band in the world,” by the New York Times.
Despite the goodwill and theatrics, the local boys are perhaps too much for a gaggle of Grimes clones holed up near my feet – they leave shortly after the hats are distributed and it’s ultimately their loss.
While there’s nothing intrinsically original about the six piece tonight – it’s shuffling, euphoric indie pop stuck somewhere between a pre-stadium era Simple Minds and mid-’90s transatlantic indie – you can’t fault the execution. It’s music writ large. And what they lose in songwriting innovation is made up for by a workmanlike performance ethic that offers a stage presence – and a big sound – that befits a bigger venue than this grandiose 19th Century house can offer.
Admirably, mostly Icelandic is spoken between the (also mostly Icelandic songs) and the crowd aren’t at all fazed. It could be a gamble but there are enough devotees here tonight and the alcohol is just starting to kick in too. The refrain of ‘Lúxuslíf‘ (“Welcome To My Paradise/Rumour has it as quite nice”) finds the first singalong of the evening giving way to a party vibe that only lags at a few uneven points in the set; a song introduced as a ballad doesn’t sit well – but they’re redeemed by the stomping synth of ‘Frightened Mass‘.
Sin Fang‘s emotive indie pop hits the wrong foot for the first third of their set. There’s evidently problems with timings tonight at Iðnó for every band playing, with both sóley and Pascal Pinon denied their concluding song. Sindri Már Sigfússon, another Seabear alumni, opens proceedings by explaining that “we are going to play some songs very fast”, clearly hoping to triumph over such issues.
And the uncertainty translates into some loss of confidence until new song ‘See Ribs‘ helps the band find their footing. It’s classic Sin Fang – accomplished, exciting, frenetic. Some jovial sparring between Sindri and sóley over something he wrote in this year’s Airwaves booklet follows (“I’m probably not going to be there [for sóley's shows] as I’ve seen her a million times”).
‘Clangour and Flutes’ is the highlight of the set – all blustery, reverb heavy guitar and wandering vocal lines that the crowd respond to innately, hanging off every line. By the time they leave the stage, we’re once again left wanting more – and, yet again, another ten minutes to give their set a greater sense of structure and narrative would been kind.
By the time FM Belfast close Iðnó’s line up, there’s no room to even turn around, let alone buy a drink (or indeed, swing a cat). The boys (and girl) are afforded a hero’s welcome when they finally march onstage but most of us are left peeking through gaps in the crowd to catch glimpses of their overtly physical cut-and-paste take on electro.
They’re more than just the bastardised Giorgio Moroderists we know from the brilliantly fun ‘Underwear’ though and experiencing them closing up a very effective snapshot of homegrown talent is a glimpse for me, an outsider, into that moment where music and place become synergous. The band’s energy bounces around the room, back and forth between the stage and the first two thirds of the room and it hold until the final song comes tumbling down.
There’s still around 100 people still queuing outside, sad to have missed such a triumphant end to tonight’s line up, a truly incredible opening night for for Airwaves.