Grapevine Airwaves 2013

November 5, 2013

Confusing, Lovely, Twerking, Pre-Flight Entertainment


Music Overview

  • Artists: RetRoBot, Hellvar, Emmsjé Gauti, UMTBS
  • Venue:  Harlem
  • Time:  Sunday
  • The Good:  Mostly
  • The Bad:  Rarely
  • Reviewed by: Árni Árnason
  • Photo: Brynja Huld Óskarsdóttir

For Iceland Airwaves’ last night at Harlem, four of our writers joined forces to give you a definitive account of what went down.   

CONFUSING RetRoBot – Árni Árnason

I find RetRoBot’s name confusing, as I have no idea where to place the accent. And it seems to me they are dealing with that very same problem, but in regards to their music. They play indie-electro-pop-rock something that jumps from sounding like Talking Heads to White Lies to Klaxons to Bowie albeit, all under a blanket of french-electro synths that mostly sound a bit stale. This confusion is most apparent in their guitarist. He’d  play dull Prince style funk guitar without a hint of sex, but then launch into beasts of Robert Fripp inspired riffs. Whilst I really enjoyed their moodier/darker bits that showed those glimpses of madhouse music a la Byrne/Fripp/etc the crowd seemed to prefer the four-on-the-floor-hands-in-the-air dance side of RetRoBot. They had total control over the crowd, which culminated with them getting the whole room to crouch in anticipation, and then jump on what proved to be a rather unimpressive drop. Their show was a hell of a lot more energetic than what I was expecting for a Sunday night, and it was a great way to give the weekend a good sendoff.


Hellvar’s description on the official Airwaves site made me quite curious to see them perform. I was expecting an indie-band with nice vibes and big smiles. For the record, Hellvar are none of that. In fact, I had a hard time pinpointing exactly what Hellvar were going for.

Hellvar’s performance felt a bit clumsy. The band frequently fidgeted, sometimes posing like a hair metal band, sometimes sometimes playing air instruments. None of that that felt really fitting with the music or the overall performance. There’s more: The singer had a third eye painted on her forehead. This bothered me for a long time. What’s the point? Is it meant to esoteric? Or is it about making fun of esoteric statements? I normally like to engage with and interpret symbols like this, but in this case it simply appeared  silly.

Hellvar’s music  can be described as “grunge-inspired rock,” on top of which the female singer whines and emotes. I felt there was something there, but that something was continually obfuscated by a vague and unpointed performance and by the fact that the music was frankly too loud, riddled by too many guitars (four electric guitars is always overkill). I

I can see why people might be into Hellvar, but what they served up on that last night of Airwaves was definitely not for me.

Brynja Huld Óskarsdóttir – TWERKING AT HARLEM

Emmsjé Gauti jammed and slammed at Harlem Sunday evening.

The 24 year old rapper  Emmsjé Gauti is certainly (and thankfully) not afraid of any form of music criticism. As he stated after his first song at Harlem on Sunday night (paraphrased): he takes his own right to make his music like he wants to.

This young artist started making music in 2002, at the age of thirteen, when he released his first song, so he’s been a fixture of the local hip hip scene for a long time. His show was loud, dynamic and the crowd ate it up. The songs were swell hip hop, infused with a dash of metal-punk. His emceeing is good, but the accompanying music was too loud for people to be able to hear his lyrics – which he recited  with confidence and swagger

Emmsjé Gauti gives a fun stage act, with various artists joining him on the stage, including Unnsteinn Manuel Stefánsson and Logi Pedro Stefánsson from Retro Stefson and Arnar Freyr Frostason of Úlfur Úlfur. During the show, he hails the crowd as the crowd hails him, he tells random stories about his music, he jumps, he slam, he jams. Overall, his performance was  upbeat, loud, sweaty and way better than I dared hope for.


After five days of non-stop Airwaves shows, with ears ringing and a mounting sleep deficit, you wonder what kind of person is interested in watching a rock band perform on Sunday night at midnight at Harlem. “I’m not here to see them, I’m just here to stay awake before my flight at 4am” was a response I was given that seemed most logical to me.

I will hand it to the six  Icelandic guys in wifebeaters known as UMTBS for performing on a very high energy level to a room of full of tired and hungover people, and enjoying doing it.  They shredded, they shrieked, they pressed keyboard buttons, they screamed, they harmonized, they headbanged, they did a lot of stuff — probably too much stuff. I wasn’t really sure what was going on.  With aggro punk-lite vocals and cutesy synth parts, a generous comparison might be pop-punk like The Death Set or Matt & Kim, but they were bouncing around from sounding like Rage Against the Machine to Tullycraft within the same song, making them sound like nothing and everything at the same time.

I asked an Icelandic man if he could translate some stage banter for me, but the man said he could not translate it because he didn’t understand what the singer was saying and maybe it wasn’t even Icelandic. This seems like a parable. In any case, kudos to UMBTS for helping people stay awake for their flights and having fun doing it.



About the Author

Árni Árnason
Árni Árnason
I'm Árni. I'm a Genitalia Art enthusiast, a collector of trivia and I like spending my afternoons taking long walks on the beach and arguing for the sake of it.


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