Once More, With Feeling
Þýski Barinn – formerly known as Bakkus – is a great venue for seeing a rock band. There’s a sizeable stage and an ample dance floor, but seemingly devoid of chairs in the concert area. For this reason, early arrivals sat on the floor along the back of the wall, looking like stranded passengers at an airport. They weren’t sitting for long, though, as Jón Þór soon took to the stage.
One of the things which I think makes Icelandic rock distinct is that this country is influenced, musically, by more or less equal parts America and mainland Europe. This makes for an interesting montage of sounds, yet somehow emerges as its own creature – there’s a lot of clangy guitars, generous use of crash cymbals, dead-simple bass, a hyperactive rhythm, and a slew of other qualities that I can’t really describe beyond copping out with “I know it when I hear it.”
Jón Þór is a penultimate example of Icelandic rock, as tonight’s show proved. He has an unassuming sincerity about his stage presence, coming across neither as a pompous rock god nor a twee, self-deprecating manchild. He clearly believes in the songs that he’s playing, which makes them an enjoyable experience. His vocal stylings, a sort of Johnny Rotten-esque petulant snarl, goes well with this driving pub rock. Much more enjoyable, though, is when his songs are crafted beyond simple verse-chorus-verse-lead – when he fleshes out an arrangement to its fullest, his songs go from being competent to outstanding. I hope that as he develops his solo career he’ll continue to work on arrangements.
Next up was the polar opposite, sound-wise: the voice and acoustic guitar of Elín Ey. Here, we were treated to some genuine confessional folk. I know she’s been called a blues artist, but that really only applies to the lyrical content: being a jilter or being jilted. The guitar work this night was there to provide a simple and understated backdrop to her voice – sparse as a single candle lit in a small, dark room, and just as intimate. I found her English lyrics a bit on the predictable side, which was an unpleasant distraction from her frankly amazing voice – full, solid, clear and unaffected. In fact, when she sang her only Icelandic song – the lyrics written by her great-grandmother, she told us – I was actually moved. She also did a cover of Elliott Smith’s “Between The Bars” that was truly great. But as much as I hate to say it, she should find a lyricist. Her English lyrics are just a little too trite to do this incredibly gifted singer justice.
While these two acts couldn’t be more different from each other, I thought it was a good idea to put them together. The contrast was appealing, and it was especially enjoyable to see two gifted performers who are clearly still exploring the full potential of their talent.
-By Paul Fontaine
Intoxicate Me Now
In the spirit of full disclosure, this insane little experiment being once again over, I will admit that there are a lot of things I would rather be doing right now than be at this concert. Mainly, those things are sleeping. I mean, yeah, actually, all those things are sleeping.
I mention this not only as a reminder to myself and to my editor (and to you, perhaps, dear reader) that I AM ONLY FLESH AND BLOOD, but also to acknowledge that today marks the triumphant end of a five-day concert-reviewing marathon through the course of which I saw over 30 sets, and wrote about 10 of them. If crowds had not blocked me from seeing ONE. SINGLE. SHOW. on Airwaves Wednesday, that number would certainly be closer to 40.
Now, I’m not going to pull a Ragnar or a Christian and say that this will be the last time I do this. Because it probably won’t be. But sometimes, like for example at 23:00 at Þýski barinn on Sunday night, I need a gentle reminder as to why-dear-God-why this is worth it. This year the reminder materialized—as every year it inevitably does—during the set of Icelandic disco-revival band Boogie Trouble. (I realize Sometime played before Boogie Trouble, but for the purposes of this narrative I’m starting with the latter so please just relax.) Boogie Trouble have great taste—combining covers of the epically dirty Villi og Lúlla by Icelandic disco legends Þú og ég, and Toxic by Britney Spears with equally saucy original material. But while they got the crowd to move, their sound was not as good live as it has been in some radio/TV recordings I’ve heard of them.
What I found most interesting about Boogie Trouble’s set, actually, was the crowd it garnered. They drew curious ears from a variety of local artists including members of Retro Stefson, Just Another Snake Cult, Mr. Silla, Rökkurró, Ojba Rasta and Hermigervill, to name a few. This is perhaps mainly a testament to how insular the Reykjavík music scene is, but to me it is equally a reminder as to what makes this festival great:
Because this city and its music scene are one.
Every Airwaves Sunday I protest and every Airwaves Sunday I remember this again. That Airwaves works because Reykjavík is in essence a glorified festival ground; it is a play pen, a crib—safe, secluded, and full of young people who think they can do just about anything because there is always a net there to catch them. Young people who not only think they can do anything, but do. Do everything. Like decide to start a disco band and when they do—all their friend are there to dance.
Perhaps I should say, just for reference, that there is a little bit of sexiness missing from the efforts of Boogie Trouble, despite everything. Singer Klara Arnalds’ voice follows the music too faithfully sometimes, a disco beat ought to feel more inverted, bouncing off the vocals like a rubber ball.
The beats of Sometime were certainly more refined, but the overall effect was to me somewhat less interesting. Their songs just don’t grab me, don’t compel me to move; the vocals—though interesting in their own right—don’t complement the beats in the most effective way.
When the sets had ended there was a happy buzz among the mingling crowd. A group had even gathered of the writers and photographers who had helped make possible the sick feat of covering every single one of the 254 on-venue sets at this year’s festival. People who also make things happen. Do three things at once and when the disco plays, they too, dance. The curse and blessing of this tiny town: We are here, we are one, and the time is now.
-By Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir