First venue impressions: Gamli Gaukurinn is clearly not one of the better attended venues for the start of Thursday’s programme.
Cell 7: Ragna, a female Icelandic rapper going by the moniker Cell 7, is releasing her first album next week, and kicked off Gamli Gaukurinn’s hip-hop night. Her pedigree includes Subterranean, one of the first Icelandic hip hop bands of note who were popular in the late mid-late ’90s. Her comfortable, confident and charismatic stage presence was a welcome relief after a fairly sizable absence from the scene. Her performance called to mind the likes of MC Lyte, Roxanne Shante, and other true female pioneers of the genre. Cell7 opened with “I Spit 90ies”, a kind of raison d’etre explaining her whole musical hip-hop aesthetic “I spit hot fire for the sake of woman/Warming up, I’m the only girl in the game from miles away”. Backed up by soulful vocals courtesy of Sunna Ingólfsdottir, deep beats with interesting samples, excellent stage presence backed up by total charisma and fierceness. She got the small crowd of about 60-100 people on her side from the moment she got on stage and kept them enthralled and engaged the whole set.
If anything could be changed, I’d like to see her rap more about her experience here in Iceland as a female rapper, certainly a unique perspective, especially for a veteran like her. She’s clearly got lyrical skill on the microphone (I’m docking points because she rhymed “dragon” with “dragon” at one point), and is comfortable enough rapping, but how about getting even more personal, more intimate? Cell 7 is adept at the braggadocio expected of rappers these days, but also demonstrates lyrical depth: “I represent to the fullest, I’m a feminist.” As far as the Icelandic acts of the night went, I am pleased to say she was head and shoulders above the rest of the lot, both in terms of musical content and performance.
Original Melody: Very much a fun loving, story telling, sample heavy rap group. Entirely English lyrics, a definition decision for a rap group in Iceland. They didn’t quite strike the high note that Cell 7 brought, and considering that she’s one person to their 3 (+ a DJ) that’s sort of extra-underwhelming. They were at their most successful when they incorporated their mix of rhymes and samples with backing from live instruments such as saxophones. The song “SPDP” had some of their best lyrics and most introspective thoughts, both on the genre and their place in it. They opine: “Am I unoriginal for dissing unoriginality?” Despite some self-professed rustiness trio put on an admirable show, and were excellent showmen in spite of some technical difficulties and awkward pauses. The flow was weak at times, and they did a bit too much call and response for my taste, tiring out the crowd. For my Icelandic hip-hop going dollar, their set started off strong but gradually weakened, and some songs dragged on about a minute too long. When Original Melody brought a choir out for their last song, I found myself fairly excited, but it was only for a bit of backing vocals, and I would’ve liked to see their talents better taken advantage of.
Gísli Pálmi: […]
Kött Grá Pje: Kött Grá Pje: The rapper and his three-piece crew won the audience over with a solid showing of Icelandic party rap. Kött Grá Pje is somewhat reluctant in taking up the mantle of a rapper; he is described as an “esoteric, sometimes mislabeled as a rapper” on the Airwaves site. Which is fair, considering the entirely Icelandic lyrics, proto dub step beats, filled out with a theremin-ish and Wagon Christ-esque sound. All told, he and his crew were a solid act that paved the way for Úlfur Úlfur’s following performance.
Úlfur Úlfur: And they didn’t disappoint at all. The performance was solid, just as expected, with loads of interaction, a really nice moment with Emmsjé Gauti , some backing with guitars courtesy of Agent Fresco, tight flow, and took the same brand of Icelandic party-rap that Kött Grá Pje offered to a more refined place. It is what it is, got the crowd moving and set the stage for Young Fathers perfectly. This is the sort of Icelandic approach to the genre that Gísli Pálmi could learn from, admittedly still lacking in lyrical substance to me. Once again, I would remind our dear readers that I am a hip-hop curmudgeon and as such, my purism regarding the genre is perhaps on the extreme side. If you’re going to be a party band, there’s no reason the lyrics can’t be meaningful as hell upon further examination as well.
Young Fathers: God fucking damn. Grungy, dirty, sexy, interesting. After a long night with some grueling performances to sit through, and some pretty alright ones as well, this was pretty much the exact show I was looking forward to experiencing. A ruthless, uncompromising, punky, explosive performance that utilized every inch of the stage, and some of the crowd floor as well. At times, the performers seemed possessed, writhing about on stage, backed only by a pounding drum courtesy of a live percussionist and thundering, laptop-produced bass. Their weirdly-off kilter flow, while occasionally accompanied by more traditional rapping, struck me as similar to that of cLOUDDEAD, and lo and behold: they´ve been signed to the same alt/post-rap label, anticon.
As much as it’s unfair and an oversimplification to refer to their music as merely “hip-hop”, it’d be equally unfair to not call it that. This may be extremely fresh, but make no mistake, it is hip hop. It may be lo-fi, it may be grimy, it may be dark and clubby, but it is hip-hop. If you like texture, thought, depth, grime, roughness, and yes, hooks, in your hip-hop, these may be the guys for you. On “I Heard” they offer: “Telephone the father sat on the arm chair with a pint and a smoke/Sure, no more back handed compliments but the dishes are still in the sink,” evoking notions of a broken home, at once deeply personal and aloof. It’s worth mentioning that they´re from Edinburgh, Scotland, a country that has produced almost no other internationally significant rap groups. In terms of raw musical content, as well as their performance, every single act in the night could take a cue from their stagecraft, as well as the raw and uncompromising aspect to their sound.