John Brainlove: It’s safe to say that despite it’s ever-thriving music scene, Reykjavík doesn’t exactly have a rapid thoroughfare of touring acts. In fact, if you want to hear live music in one minority genre or another, you’d be better off starting the band you want to hear than waiting for them to pass through. Perhaps this is how Boogie Trouble formed. Probably the only dedicated disco-funk band in the 101 scene, they fill their chosen niche with style and panache. Their bouncy, playful songs are “designed to make people dance”, and they shimmy and jiggle accordingly, adorned liberally with cowbell and bongos, rock-solid rhythm work and virtuoso bass lines. Sure enough, even in this seated auditorium, most of the audience is dancing by the end of the final song. Boogie Trouble excel in every department.
Low Roar is the project of displaced San Franciscan Ryan Karazija and Icelandic drummer Logi Guðmundsson. They immediately slow things down with their sedate, muted, hymnal pieces. Karazija drenches his voice in reverb to the point of disguising the lyrics, which seems like a shame, but has the side effect of accentuating the echoing, narcoleptic feel of his music. It’s all so soothing that at one point I drift off a little, only to be startled back to reality a few minutes later by an unexpectedly harsh vocal outro that sounds like nothing so much as “heartbroken cat screech”.
Logi multi-tasks impressively at times, playing bass keyboard with his left hand while casually bashing out flawless snare rhythms with his right. He doesn’t crack a smile throughout, which seems apt for Low Roar’s rather serious but deeply dreamy set.
Me and a nice photographer called Iona place bets on what the next band, Hudson Wayne, might sound like. She says “indie-rock” based on the presence of three guitars on the stage; I say “some kind of Americana” based solely on the name. The truth is somewhere in between: Hudson Wayne play atmospheric slowcore with a country & western flavour courtesy of some twangy finger-picked guitar lines, bar-room organ and “howdy pardner” trumpet flourishes. I’d be willing to place a bet that their collective record collection contains plenty of Silver Jews, Nick Cave and Will Oldham, with some Black Heart Procession and Tindersticks hidden down the back. A couple of faster numbers seem to end before they’ve really gotten into their stride, all sung in a deep growl that often errs more towards a throaty mumble. The set drifts by amiably enough, without providing any real memorable moments. Hudson Wayne set out their stall clearly in terms of the type of sound they’re aiming for, but in honesty they fail to develop anything remarkable from the blueprints.
Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir: I didn’t expect the ’50s. But then, I didn’t grow up in Iceland and didn’t actually have a clue what to expect. So I arrived, clueless, to a full Kaldalón. The eyes of the audience were focused forward, as on the stage three men in a 1950s getup made rocks roll. It was Langi Seli og Skuggarnir and lead singer, the so-called ‘Langi Seli’ was slicked back, sun-glassed and swaggering to perfection, while his two counterparts played it cool. There was an awkward moment where it was a little uncertain if this was all horribly cheesy, like, collapsing in on its own cheesiness kind of cheesy, or if it was in fact just plain awesome. It took about two minutes for me to decide that it was most definitely the latter, and they are in fact pretty awesome.
They are one of those bands that have their thing sorted. They are not shooting for international stardom. They chose one theme, in this case, a pastiche rockabilly shtick, and they went with it to the end. It is this die-hardness which allows them to pull it off. A total lack of compromise and unwillingness to be ‘original’ actually makes them kind of original. Also the Icelandic twist on a tried-and-true sound works well for them. They have their fans, who were out in force in Kaldalón. While some of them were, ahem, more mature, there were also a lot of youngsters out there too. Looking down on the audience was a bit like looking down on a room full of those head nodding dogs people put in the back window of their cars sometimes. A sea of heads, nodding in time to the retro tones of Langi Seli og Skuggarnir.
They played a set of their obviously signature rolicking music and were rewarded with hearty applause. But all good sets must come to an end and cries for more (Breiðhóltsbúgi!) went unheeded, as they made way for Pétur Ben.
We were still caught up in retro mode with Pétur Ben, though this time less diligently so, and he (and his band) let loose an avalanche of clanging, pounding rock of years gone by. Unfortunately in the break before their set I had developed a pounding headache, so I probably didn’t get as much out of their set as I could have. It was however, a good show. I know this, because I enjoyed it, despite my grinding head, so they must have been doing something right. I particularly enjoyed the more mellow number he played (I’ll Be Here, if memory serves me right), not only because it spared me a bit aurally, which it did, but also because his lyrics got the chance to shine. While the edgy, impactful sound Pétur Ben had was both impressive and affecting, his lyrics also had a poetic quality to them which deserved the space that this more laid back number afforded. The audience spilled out into the aisles and, once again, lapped up the show, down to the last moment.
In the break I escaped to buy some magic beverage in the hope that it would soothe my aching head (it did!), and returned, fortunately refreshed in time for the next band. They were a while setting up, and I chatted to the guy next to me, a musician from Holland playing some off-venue shows. We were engaged in one of those fleeting festival connections, an interesting conversation about music and art when Shiko Shiko launched into their set.
To put it succinctly, Shiko Shiko is chaos in a bucket. Or, a cockfight in a cupboard. Or any one of many analogies which put something chaotic and fraught in a tight space. That is, heavy, chunky rhythms, chasing their tails down rabbit holes and so forth. They produced combination of weighty and melodic, sounds thrashed out of a myriad of instruments. This was not just any rock, but hand clenched into a claw and born at the sky rock. We were taken by the collar and given a good shake with their high energy performance. Stage antics abounded and the guy who was trying to prevent the microphone cord from tangling had his work cut out for him as they lept about the room. They were beautifully brutal and oxymoronic and left the crowd panting and dancing in their seats, wound up and ready for Danish 7-piece The Eclectic Moniker, who took the stage and next a closed Friday night’s line up in Kaldalón.
After the unmitigated riot that was Shiko Shiko, the more conventional sound of The Eclectic Moniker was almost relaxing. They rocked out, though not quite to the same extent, and played music that had a thick, rhythmic quality, with guitars that shimmered in a layer on top. Stylistically they took from a variety of places, spaces and times, too many to name in all. Their cheesy hair metal guitar riffs and grandiose performance style may have been a little OTT for some, though I found it worked well, especially over their slightly repetitive rhythms, which could have done with some variation at times. However, all was well that ended well and they, as with the performers before them, gave a good show. High points were the creative use of bling to play a guitar (just for a moment) and the seemingly pointless but fun jog the lead singer took around the room. Their set was well structured, with the energy building towards a crescendo at the end wherein they ended running around the room and jumping on chairs and using emotional blackmail to get the audience on their goddamn feet to dance. Nice work.
So ended Friday night. Dancing. After a night of rock, I was ready to rest my ears and headed off to document the evening’s events for future prosterity.