Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 2 (“…and a cassette”)

For the first time during Airwaves 2013 I’m writing with most of my brain working – not hallucinating from lack of sleep on our travel day nor at 2:30 AM after a complete day of concerts.  So hopefully I’m more coherent, because if not I’ve got real problems.

We went over to Lucky Records today to pay for and pick up all the stuff that I’ve had on hold, and even I was surprised at the volume, which is what happens when you ask to have  a few things put aside, but spread out those requests over the course of weeks.  That being said, I was stoked about what I had waiting for me, both the stuff I picked out as well as a few nuggets Gestur and Ingvar put aside, like a super limited edition múm picture disc, a couple of 45s, some random CDs, and yes, my dear readers, even a cassette.  Let that last part sink in for a minute.  This wasn’t a vintage cassette like the Snarl II compilation I wrote about recently.  Oh no.  This is brand spanking new industrial insanity dual effort from Iceland’s own AMFJ and Auxpan, and I’m looking forward to checking it out… assuming, of course, I still have a tape player floating around in my garage somewhere.  Either that or I’ll have to sit in my wife’s car.

I have a stack of cool stuff to listen to when I get home, including new material from The Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band and Emilíana Torrini, plus used stuff by Björk, Purrkur Pillnikk, and some almost completely unknown Icelandic bands (well, at least unknown to anyone not from Iceland!).  As near as I can tell I got about 27 records and 21 CDs (and one cassette!) so far… and frankly I don’t have room for much more – though I still need to hit up the flea market on Saturday.  I can’t wait to get home and start listening!  I’m not as much looking forward to cleaning all these records and having to reorganize my shelves… but that’s the price you pay.

We weren’t too inspired by the off-venue program today, but we had one band we wanted to catch – the industrial duo known as Ghostigital.  Not too many bands can be as intense and weird as Ghostigital while still being awesome.  This marked the fifth time we’ve seen them at Airwaves and as usual they did not disappoint, this time playing a small stage on the top floor of Reykjavik’s opera house Harpa, with the setting sun coming in through the angular windows on two sides and a crowd who was ready to get after it.  And they brought it.  There were a couple of songs from their latest album, Division of Culture and Tourism, plus a few I didn’t recognize.  The small crowd (maybe 75 people?) was way into it and some people were seriously rocking out.  This moved solidly into second place in my personal list of best shows this year, behind only Legend.  We also caught part of Good Moon Deer’s set, some nice experimental electronic played by one guy on the controls and the other on the drums.

[BREAK…]

OK, while earlier I told you how amazing this post was going to be because I wasn’t sleep deprived… well… it’s now about 2 AM and we just got back from our second night of shows, so bear with me.

We spent most of the evening back at Harpa catching heavy metal and punk type shows.  Momentum opened with their brand of psych metal, though it wore on me a bit as there wasn’t a lot that differentiated the songs in their set.  Dimma, however, looked, acted, and sounded like rock stars, like metal gods from the bygone age of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.  The lead singer knew how to strike the poses and flat out hit the notes all the way through.  These guys are a new favorite, and I’ll be looking for some of their stuff before we leave.  Endless Dark followed with their own brand of quasi post-hardcore, a relatively large band with not one by two vocalists – though to be fair one was more a shouter/growler and the other a singer.  Regardless, they were hard, fast, and awesome.  Muck was next, and we saw them live when we were last in Reykjavik back in April.  Some decent punk, but while I didn’t think it was anything terribly special, they probably had the largest crowd in that room tonight.  Sólstafir was the band we really came to see, and while they were good their sound was a bit droning, sort of Icelandic cowboys (based on how they were dressed) singing like old Alice in Chains.  Their style is a difficult one to pin down – I think their music takes a conscious effort to truly appreciate.  A lot of people are way into them, and I feel like this is the kind of band I should totally love, but I just don’t quite get them.  We snuck out of there a bit early to head over to another room within Harpa to listen to a few songs by Yo La Tengo, who were decent in a kind of folk rock way.

After that it was off to the waffle truck for some amazing waffles before taking a chance and strolling to Dolly Bar downtown to see if our friend Ingvar, aka DJ Lucky, was still spinning his Afro-beat dance set there.  We’d only found out about this earlier in the evening, but we were able to catch the last 10 minutes or so in a packed sweat-box full of dancers, drinkers, and people snorting unknown substances.  At one point I saw a guy in a police uniform walking through and thought some folks were going to get busted, but Holly pointed out that his shirt was unbuttoned pretty much down to his pants, so… probably off duty?  Tough to say.

Oh yeah, and we saw the northern lights tonight just up the street from our apartment.  So check that one off the list of things to see.

God I need some sleep…

Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 1

Wow – what a day!

Iceland Airwaves 2013 officially kicked off today with a full slate of on and off venue shows, and we made an effort to catch as many of them as possible.  After starting off with some cappuccinos and pastries at Sandholt Bakery, it was back to Lucky Records to spend some quality time digging through the Icelandic sections – new and used, vinyl and CDs.  I added more stuff to my growing pile of music and plan on picking it all up tomorrow – so look for some details in an upcoming post (plus reviews of tons of Icelandic music over the next few months!).

That wasn’t all we did at Lucky.  We also ran into fellow Seattle music blogger Travis from Guerrilla Candy and caught five different off-venue shows:

  • Bellstop play a sort of blues based, edgy rock that reminded me a lot of The Kills; picked up their new CD
  • Saytan is all hard rock, all instrumental, all the time
  • Fura is a new project featuring two members of the awesome Icelandic band Bloodgroup, with the addition of a female singer (not the same one from Bloodgroup).  This was their first ever live show, and their sound was a little like the Tracing Echoes album, but with sort of Western (as in Western movie…) and surf sounding guitar.  Pretty solid and definitely a group to keep an eye on.
  • Bruno Batova is a talented Italian pianist who plays a fairly classical style of his own compositions; I’m going to try to track down his CD tomorrow
  • Epic Rain have their own unique hip hop sound – I’d almost call it “ragtime hip hop,” with a sort of 1930s speakeasy kind of feel to it; caught them last year as well, and the improvement in their performance is noticeable

After that the on-venue schedule kicked off, and our first stop was the Reykjavik Art Museum to see hard rock/punks Grisalappalisa, followed by none other than my favorite Icelandic band Agent Fresco, who were fantastic as usual.  Agent Fresco treated the crowd to one new song and filled out the rest of the set with classics from A Long Time Listening, much to the crowds delight as was evidenced by how many of them were singing along.  Listening to their emotionally powerful rock never gets old.

After that we popped across the street to Harlem to catch Legend, though they weren’t scheduled until midnight which gave us the opportunity to hear three other bands while we waited.  Tonik is a great techno duo who we caught at Faktory in 2011, and they still sound solid.  Love & Fog looks like a “normal” band, but they’ve got a much more electronic sound that really pushes the vocals down in the mix to focus on the music.  Nolo was my “best new-to-me band of the night,” with a great set with solid beats and modulated vocals that had a lot of the ladies dancing.

And that brought us to Legend.  Who flat out killed it.  Killed.  It.  My friend Tristen and I talked about this show a few weeks ago and both wondered if seeing Legend now that I’m familiar with their sound and songs off of Fearless would be as good as the shock of seeing and hearing them totally cold at Airwaves last year, an experience he and I did a joint blog post about.  Well, it turns out they’re awesome, even more so if you know (and love) their songs.  It was a high energy assault with the smoke machine working overtime and some aggressive head-bobbing and dancing in the crowd.  Harlem is a pretty tiny venue – the signs indicate the maximum capacity at 150, and I promise you there were considerably more than that there for the bands prior to Legend.  But I think Legend’s style isn’t as easy to swallow for a lot of Airwaves attendees, so it was a more sparse crowd, but one that was way the hell into what Legend brought to the table.  Absolutely the show of the trip so far.  Legend has a joint-7″ single coming out along with Sólstafir in December, a release limited to 300 copies (and I already have one on order, thank you), and I believe some new songs in the works.

Wrap up the night with a 1:00 AM hot dog, and you’ve got a near perfect night.  I can’t wait to see what Airwaves and Reykjavik have in store for us on Day 2!

Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 0

I have been awake continuously for over 31 hours.

I’m pretty sure at one point I fell into REM sleep while trying to have a conversation with someone.

Traveling east is hard, especially when you have a long flight that leaves locally late in the afternoon and arrives in the early morning hours.  If, like me, you can’t sleep on the plane, you’re in for a world of hurt as you have to try to gut it out.  While the cold temperatures and somewhat breezy conditions help, the second you walk inside into someplace heated you find yoursef losing the will to stay awake (and misspelling words in your blog).

That being said, Life in the Vinyl Lane had a great time in Reykjavik today.  We had great burgers and pizza and caught up with our friends at Lucky Records to see two shows:  Cell 7 (female hip hop) and Amada Dama (reggae – left), both of which were quite good.  I also found time to get some new ink, adding a turntable tattoo to my current body art wardrobe courtesy of Siggi Palli.  Tomorrow the festival kicks off in full force and I plan on hitting the stores to do the bulk of my vinyl shopping.  I’m sure there will be more to follow.

But for now, I need to shut this puppy down and try to get back on a relatively normal sleep cycle.  Or barring that get my “second wind” for about the seventh time today… though to be honest, each time is shorter than the previous one, so I can see the endgame rapidly approaching… I just need to beat it to the punch.

No Sleep ‘Til Reykjavik

The waiting is the hardest part…
— Tom Petty

I’m hanging around my house, waiting to leave for the airport.  In seven hours or so Icelandair flight #680 will lift off from Seattle to take us to the home of Iceland Airwaves, the promised land, Reykjavik, and I’ll be counting the hours until we land.  Tom Petty was right.  Waiting sucks.  Thankfully there’s a payoff at the end.

This will be the fifth consecutive Airwaves for me, Holly, and our friend Norberto.  Every year the festival seems to get a little bigger (approximately 7,000 passes sold this time around), we discover new bands, make new friends, and have an even better time than we did the year before.  Reykjavik is a great city and has become like a second home to us – we’re already looking forward to pizza at Eldsmiðjan on the night we arrive, lunch at the Noodle Station, and our annual Sunday night dinner at Salon, and coffee at Sandholt; buying records at Lucky and digging the crates at the flea market; catching up with our friends Ingvar, Gestur, Dr. Gunni, and others.  Yes it will be cold.  I come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow…  The winds will howl.  Eyes will water.  It will be awesome.

This year roughly 217 bands will take part in the “official” Iceland Airwaves.  I put that in quotes because in addition to the official on-venue shows that require a wrist band to get into, pretty much every nook and cranny of Reykjavik will have live music playing – so even if your band didn’t make the cut, you could easily play a week worth of shows in the off-venue locations around town.  Of those 217 bands, we’ve seen 34 of them before… which seems crazy, because with four festivals under our belts already I’d have thought the count would be higher.  Needless to say, though, we’ll be adding lots of new bands to our lists this year.

It’s only been six months since our last visit to Iceland… and I started the countdown to Airwaves as soon as we got back.  There’s no place in the world like Reykjavik.  We’ll see you soon…

Lou Reed – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal”

Lou Reed died today.

You don’t need to tell you who Lou Reed was, or about how influential his musical was both with the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist.  The late Lester Bangs wrote about Reed more effectively than I could ever hope to, so I’d point you in that direction (keeping in mind that Bangs was pretty gonzo in more ways than one).  I never went through any kind of Lou Reed phase, other than thinking “Walk on the Wild Side” was a pretty cool song back when I was in high school, probably as much because it had the audacity to say “…and she never lost her head, even when she was giving head…” as for any other reason.  That and the Velvet’s version of “Heroin” that appeared on The Doors Movie Soundtrack.  He had his hits, he had his epic commercial and critical failures, and he had whatever the hell Metal Machine Music was supposed to be.  His career was also the cornerstone of the creation of “Advancement Theory.”  He did it with the Velvet Underground, he did it solo, and he even did it with Metallica in 2011’s Lulu.  He pretty much did it all.

I’m not entirely sure why I bought Reed’s 1974 live album Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal a few months ago.  It was probably because his name just seemed to keep coming up over and over and over again in the books I’ve been reading about punk and popular music.  It was recorded live, so I figured it might capture some of his raw energy, and it was used, so it was cheap.  So why not.  I think I only listened to it once before hearing the news of Reed’s passing today, but it seemed as good a time as any to dust it off for another listen.

Probably the most notable feature of Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal is Reed’s great backing band.  The guitar playing is fantastic and the group does an excellent job of building the framework that Reed needed in order to play the part of “Lou Reed”.  Nowhere is that more evident than on the 13+ minute version of “Heroin,” a song with slow, lethargic, smack-inspired pacing that gradually picks up tempo in a way you don’t notice initially, but eventually becomes a building wave of music and lyrics that spirals seemingly out of control as it reaches it’s apex… but the band always keeps it in control, just moments away from flying apart into a million pieces.  It’s a brilliant piece of work, one that is perfect for the song.  And, of course, only Lou Reed can follow up a song about heroin with one that is at least in part about taking speed, “How Do You Think It Feels” (“How do you think it feels / When you’re speeding and lonely?”)

I won’t say that Reed left us too soon.  He was 71 when he died and had by his own admission put his body through a tremendous amount of drug, alcohol, and sex related abuse, and though all that was seemingly long behind him he still required a liver transplant earlier this year.  He lived an interesting life to say the least, experiencing some of the highest highs and the lowest lows that life had to offer, and he left behind a substantial body of work, one which he indicated represented the story of his life just as would a novel.

RIP Lou.