With its eclectic line-up and stunningly, modern, no-fuss layout, Reykjavik Art Museum was a perfect place to spend a Friday evening at Iceland Airwaves.
The first thing that strikes, walking into this Papa set, is a singing drummer – imagine such a thing? It never really ceases to amaze me, particularly when none of the power and rhythm that drums are responsible for is compromised; in fact the massive snare crashes are a central part of their sound. The guy holds sticks like most hold a mic or its stand – it’s just immediately impressive to watch.
Then there’s the songs: chunky, American, indie rock that floats through it’s verses with effortless ease before sizeable choruses take hold; it’s quite impossible to stand still, as the decent-sized crowd attests.
There is something brilliantly nostalgic and 2000’s about the “Ooh woo’s” of their songwriting and the wholly satisfying breakdowns. Elements of Birmingham’s Peace are muddled in with the gentle organ-based sounds of The Antlers (if they were drenched in some Californian sun perhaps) and slices of Fun. to create what becomes, increasingly through the set, this happy LA rock-pop sound.
It sits precariously between really great and mildly inoffensive but nevertheless is a more than decent way to kick off an exciting Friday line-up at the Arts Centre – tapping feet and dad dancing aplenty, especially upon the unveiling of a smashing ‘Because The Night’ cover.
With little more than an artist bio in mind, I went wandering through the, now decent sized, crowd asking what my expectations should be; “kind of dream pop?” I was told and, as genres go, that’s not a bad introduction to Borko.
“Can you say it? Borko!” shouts the bubbling bear-like frontman after their first song, in front of a suspiciously Windows Media Player-esque projection. The call and response works in his favour though, and the seven-piece band move swiftly into another intuitive track, based around a journey of ear-catching chord progressions and wiggling basslines.
Some of the beats that fidget underneath the generally warm sound keep you on your toes as well. It’s a big sound once his mini brass section of trumpet and trombone kick in; this is definitely when they’re at their strongest and most interesting.
It brings to mind Beirut, with its funkiness but sub-textual sentiment, however by the final track – a flashing, crashing, monster of a song – you realise the power that the seemingly gentle giant possesses: bright white light pours out across the bare venue enticing a genuinely festival-like atmosphere – somewhat unexpected but massively satisfying.
As rare as they appear to be “technical difficulties” must be something of a nightmare expression for artists, when the technology that they are so reliant on jeopardises the presentation of their work.
Painfully gutting then that Copenhagen’s electro pop songstress Karen Marie Ørsted aka MØ – certainly one of my most anticipated performances of the festival – had to suffer such a fate after just a small handful of tracks.
The in-your-face, punchy sounds we have become used to following MØ’s live shows just never really felt present throughout the short set, but to her energetic, wonderfully endearing credit she powered through the opening gambits, giving momentary glimpses of both her song-writing and performance quality.
‘Waste Of Time’ and the Diplo produced ‘XXX 88’ sounded almost as frenetic and attention-grabbing as usual, with the venue – as packed as I’ve seen it – shooting approving or pleasantly surprised glances to one another; a quite transfixed audience-member next to me couldn’t help but document the latter track in its entirety with its wonderfully abrasive, bassy production.
A clearly distressed Ørsted reappeared once techies had done their best to remedy an apparent lack of power and apologised to the warm, understanding crowd – it made for very difficult watching, when an artist with such talent and promise is unable to deliver due to factors out of her hands. Luckily for this fan, she comes to the UK in three days time – fingers crossed London’s XOYO has no such issues.
These three Icelandic sisters, bolstered by the technical talents of producer and DJ, Oculus, came together with the aim of projecting house music in a genuinely live fashion, singing sugary top-lines over familiar-sounding, nostalgic piano refrains. And that is exactly what they do.
However, it takes Sísý Ey far too long to get into their stride tonight, as confused, out of sync dance-moves and strangely un-coordinated outfits take the attention away from the relatively dull and obvious melodies. The dashing lights in front of them and act as a further distraction and the set really appears as if it could have been just as successful played-back to the room of revellers by one man and his MacBook.
That being said, with the final song of the set, ‘Ain’t Got Nobody’, comes a fairly major glimmer of hope; something seems to click, and the somewhat juvenile EDM turns into brilliantly engaging house. No longer are they floating in limbo, awkwardly somewhere between The Saturdays, Bat For Lashes and a naff house DJ, but it feels like the dark, atmospheric house of Duke Dumont or Ben Pearce. It is a track that wouldn’t feel out of place among the accessible house members of daytime UK radio playlists and, if they push on from this gem, Sísý Ey could be really on to something.
I don’t believe you can underestimate the importance of fun in a live show. It’s probably a cliché but if performers look like they’re having fun, there’s no doubt it rubs off on those around. Of course it takes more than this to create an enjoyable show, however for Retro Stefson, it is a very key ingredient.
The mini rabble dominate the Art Museum stage, oozing charisma, character and energy, and that’s before we’ve even thought about the sounds they’re projecting. It is a tropical fusion of pop, reggae, funk, jumbled together in a multi-coloured ocean of noise. Hints of Dispatch, Sublime and Bedouin Soundclash provide the juxtaposing warmth from the Icelandic favourites before balearic piano riffs take hold, giving the swarming venue the relentless rhythm to keep dancing, non-stop smile on face, to the early hours.
And it does go on until these early hours; the baying crowd, having been commanded to jump by endlessly energetic frontman Unnsteinn Manuel Stefánsson, don’t seem to know when it’s over. An improvised rave takes hold and, thanks to the quality of their playing and obvious experience together, you feel it is a rave that could still be going strong for the duration of the festival – wonderful stuff.