Nite Jewel is just one girl, Ramona Gonzalez, her laptop, and a cheesy old synthesizer. Her entrance is super casual, and after a personable introduction she kicks in her backing track and starts rolling out a number of smooth ’80s lo-fi revisionist grooves.
I’m more and more convinced that Harlem’s sound system isn’t particularly suited for live performances. I’ve experienced show after show there where I just can’t hear the vocalists at all. Depending on where you stand in the room the sound varies drastically, from deafening bass in the back to resonant and muddy in the front. But no matter where I stand I can’t find her vocals. They float spectrally in the murk. Perhaps because of this the songs sound like they meander and never really pick up or sound definite. The keyboard lines she plays to accompany the backing tracks seem a bit uninspired. The saw-pad synth preset sounds dry and adds to the mud.
I’m starting to lose interest when from the wash I manage to pick out that she’s covering Heroine from the kings of meander, The Velvet Underground. There it starts to come together — the rhythm driving an almost droney groove, the repetition in the lyrics, inducing a sort trance.
From there on out her beats get stronger, more upbeat and dancier. The songs start to sound more defined. Her vocals work like Grimes’, in that they add to the texture and add definition to the song’s arrangements. Much of the sound is still lost in the ambience, but this only heightens the hypnotic effect of her reptetions. It draws us in. When at the end she casually steps off the stage into the crowd as casually as she came and the room floods with white light, it’s like waking from a really nice dream.
Here is an Icelandic band that for some reason I’ve never seen before (it might be because their name sounds like they would be bad). They have a DJ, drummer, and a Fender Jaguar-yeilding, Hawaiian shirt-clad guitarist. I have no idea what to expect.
What comes out is hard to describe. But I will try anyway. Freaky space-age bachelor pad. Dystopian exotica. Spacey trip-hop goth. Techno death rock. Ok, I’ll just try to break it down. Their songs are mostly based around 4-bar repetative grooves on the backing track with two or three chords max, with live drumming and twangy guitar accompaniment. The DJ plays a talking drum, and then a melodica, then a trumpet, then he’s fiddling with knobs, and he’s also the singer. The songs’ grooves hardly change, but these various instruments help give them some arc. The singer/DJ’s stage presence is cool, detatched and almost trancelike, at once laidback and intense. The lyrics are spoken or chanted rather than sung. Unfortunately I can’t make out a single lyric, but that can be attributed to the strange resonances in the PA system. The drummer chews his gum in time with the song. The repetitious grooves build an intensity reminiscent of Joy Division, Bauhaus, or even the Doors.
This band is pretty cool, and totally strange.
Now it’s starting to get late. Most of the other venues are wrapping up for the night, and so it’s time for the DJ dance party to kick in.
That brings us to Ficknhindsem. Um, Efknidsim…? Uh. A pair of affable house music dorks — and I mean that endearingly — step out onto the stage, “Hi, we’re Fucking Handsome.” Oh!
What else can I say other than that as soon as they started spinning some vinyl the place got bumpin’. For the next hour the straight four to the floor beat did not stop, as the groove seemlessly transitioned from one to the next. FKNHNDSM split their time between turning knobs, motioning the crowd to cheer, and documenting the whole spectacle on their iPhone.
The next DJ is the also affable Oculus in his trademark red cavalry jacket. His set is more hands on, as he fades and filteres the constituent sounds. The thumps are groovier. The transitions are more pronounced. The party carries on…
Terror Disco is the most dynamic and eclectic DJ of the night. Disco, electro, techno, I donno. People are having a great time. He’s got a remix of Heard It Through the Grapevine. He’s got a remix of Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson’s funky Vegir liggja til allra átta. It’s getting really late. It’s not late by Reykjavík standards, but it is considering how early everything started this evening. Half the room looks lobotomized, and I’m not sure they know where they are. But at least they know they’re having a great time.