Gamli gaukurinn is a bar with a small stage in one corner. It is in no way perfect, but with the addition of Harpa Concert Hall to the Iceland Airwaves list of venues, I do kind of miss going to shows at these seedier little venues that smell of stained beer and where the bathroom is always like a scene out of a Mad Max movie. Such places have done much more to foster a music scene in Iceland than Harpa ever will. Think of these bars as the angel investors in a hot new startup. Harpa is very much a venture capitalist, looking to cash in. Both are vital to the success of the company, but their motives might be a little different.
Certainly, some of the bands that I have seen playing in Harpa so far, feel much more at home on a stage like this one. Eventually, some of them will need to take the next step and graduate to the bigger stage, but right now, I can see some of the struggle with the transfer. They seem a little out of their element. Not that you would notice, if you hadn’t been paying attention to that band before. Now I have managed to get this review thoroughly off track, so lets all try to gather ourselves and return to the previously scheduled programme.
The first order of business for the night was a healthy fivesome called Gang Related, with a line-up that includes some veterans of previous Airwaves festivals. They play the type of guitar driven indie rock that one would usually associate with the UK, and do so fairly competently. The songwriting is legit, building to something bigger, and they sound like they could carve out a niche in this genre and have a sustained career doing so. However, they did nothing incredibly memorable, but had me tapping along for most of their set, which is usually a sure sign that at least I am not bored. They do have a side to them that sounds decidedly more punk, and I like that side better. It came out in a few of their songs towards the end, and briefly reminded me of the early Botnleðja catalogue.
Next up was a band out of Seattle called Kithkin. They packed in the crowd, obviously, as all the buzz was that this was a breaking band, and rock journalists of note were present to see them. Their set got off to a good start with some heavy drumming, screaming and general attempts at catharsis. I remember thinking, “hey, that’s interesting!” But by the second song, they lost my interest and never recaptured it. They did have a lively stage performance, which is worth something, but you will likely not see me queuing up to see them again in the future.
The night’s discovery was a local band balled Grísalappalísa. Some members of the band have enjoyed moderate success with other bands, most notably Jakóbínarína. They have generated a lot of talk as the band to see in Iceland lately, and this was my first opportunity. They start with a lot of bravado, and continue to build on that for the remainder of their set. This is angst ridden post-punk, infused with poetry, and the occasional saxophone solo that incited the first mosh pit of the evening. I loved them.
Oyama were next up. They have also been gathering steam for a big release lately. They have been labeled as the next big thing out of Iceland, and there is a reason, and although I would probably put my money on some other band to the next success story, they warrant a mention. Now, My Bloody Valentine is obviously going to be mentioned in every review that this band will ever get. That is probably unavoidable, considering there musical direction, and for the most parts, they hold up well against that comparison.
Easy now, I am not putting them on the same level as MBV, that is hallowed ground right there. But they have that dreamy shoegaze thing down pat, with the occasional outburst of spellbinding noise rock. They have excellent songs and in some ways, Singapore Sling might be a more apt comparison. It will be interesting to see how far this sound can really take them. They should enjoy a few years on the festival circuit for sure, but generally this is not the type of music geared to the lowest common denominator.
Brynja Huld Óskarsdóttir takes over:
- Andrea Johansen, Lola Hammerich and Benedicte Pierleoni-Nielsen blew the Cool Factor Friday night at Gamli Gaukurinn.
As I walked into Gamli Gaukurinn late Friday night I had no idea what to expect. The band I was about to see was a combination of 17 to 19 year old Danish girls, who according to the description on the Iceland Airwaves website play stoner rock and grunge. The venue was packed as the girls were setting up, the crowd a rather male dominated but in-between some grunge-loving girls like, like myself (at least when I was as a teenager). Baby in Vain were about to start.
The band features two guitarists and a drummer, Andrea Johansen, Lola Hammerich and Benedicte Pierleoni-Nielsen, and the fact that they do not have a bassist does not hinder them in the slightest. The drummer, Benedicte Pierleoni-Nielsen, was brilliant and definitely made up for the bass with a nice, thick and constant bass drum.
As soon as they hit the first note the crowd went for it. As I stood in the back I slowly started slamming my head to the music. For someone who hasn’t listened to grunge rock for years, I have to say they got me straight away with Sweetheart Dreams, with lyrics like “Don’t humiliate yourself and pretend that you love me and I love you. Superficial relationship – no way out”. Great, dark teenage grunge.
These girls obviously know what they were doing, constantly communicating with the sound guy, asking him to add monitors, reduce the guitar or up the vocals. It tickled my feminist self to see these girls, as young as they are, being so confident and knowing exactly what they are doing, with an average age of not even 20.
In fact, their cool factor eventually shot through the roof. Andrea and Lola are not afraid to sing, scream and even howl into the microphone, driving the crowd into a frenzy.
Their filthy grunge rock is rife with riffs and screeching vocals, and their lyrics have some sort of hopeless gravity to them. The experience leavesin you wanting to listen. If this is Danish rock, I want more. There, I’ve said it.I wish had been this cool when I was 17.
Gamli Gaukurinn, an Airwaves mainstay venue since the start, is perfect for the rock ‘n’ roll monster that Canada’s The Balconies turned out to be . The air was already thick with excitement and sweat after the previous band, so The Balconies enjoyed a crowd that was already well warmed up, the floor filled with people: indie-rock lovers, middle-aged men and fuzzy young rocker-types.
Jackuie Neville (vocals) resembles Zooey Deschanel – long thick black hair and feathers in her hair. She is a crowd pleaser and has a natural talent for getting the crowd moving. Her voice has amazing strength and Jackuie has great control over it. I get the sense that she could probably sing anything from sweet lullabies to Mozart’s Magic Flute.
She is closely supported by a bassist, a second guitarist and a drummer, who provide proper backing to the singer’s amazing vocals. This formula works out perfectly.The flow in the show was spotless – they erupted on stage, and the boundary between band and crowd was non-existent. As they played their single, Kill Count, it became obvious that the room wasn’t filled with random Airwaves visitors, but with fans who were there and knew what they were looking for.
Since they started playing, The Balconies have moved from being a basic indie pop act, evolving into a full-fledged rock monster. The development is fitting, and they are definitely moving towards some amazing music. Their show was a constant barrage of appealing energy, sweating, dancing, moshing.
I loved every minute. The Balconies are still scheduled to play three gigs at Airwaves – I dare you to seek out their next show.