The first act to show up on stage at Amsterdam on Friday night was Hip-Hop/Reggae producer Nolem. Nolem has been around for years and his production has provided the backbone for various rappers, some of which he invited on to the stage last night. The best moments came in the form of revisiting material he recorded a decade or so ago, but the fact that anything new he played fell on dead ears is a tell tale sign of how relevant his production is in 2013.
I’ve often found myself wondering if the Icelandic language lends itself to being rapped with any sense of flow or feeling, and tonight didn´’t really further the argument in either direction, as it was almost impossible to hear what these rappers were talking about due to the incredible density of Nolem’s production. This density was augmented by the addition of a drummer and a turntablist and therefore there was very little sonic space left for his guests to make themselves intelligible. I could only really hear what was going on when he closed his set by inviting the group Forgotten Lores to join him on stage in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their album Týndi Hlekkurinn, and that was simply down to the fact that four rappers are clearly capable of making more noise than one.
Ramses conveniently averted this aforementioned Icelandic poetry dilemma by relying almost entirely on directly translating tired old American Hip-Hop cliches. Unfortunately for him, that was about as inspiring and entertaining as subtitles to The Bold And The Beautiful. There are a few rappers in recent history that have made very successful careers out of simply proclaiming their superiority without ever actually saying or doing anything – such as Snoop “What’s My Mothafucking Name” Dogg – and this is clearly the route that Ramses has decided to take. For half an hour he repeatedly shouted things like “I’m a rapper, I am music” or “put your hands up if you like this MC,” and even tried to make the age old East coast/West coast war locally relevant by rapping about Kópavogur’s dominance over other greater Reykjavík postcodes.
I would have felt envious of the foreigners in the crowd that didn’t clock what sort of an assassination of a musical genre they were witnessing, but Ramses did his best to make his point internationally understood. He came on to stage to Gary Glitter’s Rock ‘n’ Roll part II, insisted on wearing sunglasses in the darkness at Amsterdam and shamelessly sampled LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out. The whole thing was infuriating.
I wouldn´t be surprised if Amaba Dama were the biggest band that have ever graced the stage at Amsterdam. A mass of musicians – including a very welcome horn section – Amaba Dama describe themselves as a reggae band. I would have liked to argue that a two-drop drumbeat and and some off-beat chord stabs don’t automatically make reggae, but that point is essentially useless in this context as whatever you’d like to call Amaba Dama, they were by quite some distance the most entertaining thing I saw at Amsterdam that night.
The place was packed out and heaving with a couple of hundred people dancing to their sensual, albeit slightly robotic, and very enjoyable beats. Their sparks of brilliant lyricism was delivered with commendable conviction by their three vocalists, but as their set went along the musical direction got a little bit lost. We were treated to a mucky bass solo and a full on cock-rock ending – neither of which one would normally associate with reggae – but again, any nitpicking criticism is pointless as they achieved what they set out to do, by keeping everyone – including me – dancing for the entirety of their set.
Skurken was next up and his job was clearly to kick off the “electronic” second half of the evening. He didn’t provide much in terms of a live show, as he was alone behind a laptop and some gadgets with buttons. But that’s not entirely his fault as Amsterdam doesn’t have anything in terms of lights or production. Skurken took the audience on a journey through recent history of electronic music by playing a mix of stuff ranging from downbeat trip hop, some drum’n’bass, a touch of acid house and even some stuff that could have been on early 2000s Warp compilations. Skurken’s love of filter sweeps and layered beats was the only running theme through this otherwise schizophrenic genre cocktail. His work is all impeccably mixed and beautifully constructed and therefore finally tested and displayed the soundsystem’s full potential. The sound guy was certainly having fun and his glee was so apparent and infectious that it was impossible not to enjoy it.