It’s been almost a year since I first wrote about Kiasmos, back when their four-song debut EP Thrown came out. On the strength of that release I pre-orderd the two record vinyl set of their eponymous LP due out this month, and I had to seriously resist the urge to buy it when I saw it in the stores in Reykjavik… thankfully it was waiting in our pile of mail when we returned home. We had them circled on the Iceland Airwaves schedule as a must-see, and when we saw they were going to be playing at KEX Hostel, well, let’s just say we decided we needed to get down there super early to stake out spots in the front.
Kiasmos are Janus Rasmussen and Ólafur Arnalds, both well regarded and accomplished musicians prior to teaming up to create their own brand of ambient dance techno. Rasmussen was best known for his work with Bloodgroup, probably more as a vocalist than for his musical work, and we’ve also seen him live in another of his many projects, Fura. Arnalds is well known for his blend of classical and techno, perhaps surprisingly so since he got his start as the drummer for the hardcore band Fighting Shit. I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting both of these guys in person, ironically both in Seattle on separate occasions, and can’t say enough about how pleasant and engaging they are as people.
Their live show at KEX was one of the first, if not the first, things happening on the festival’s opening day (though there were some other off-venue performances on Monday and Tuesday in other venues), and since it was off-venue and therefore open to everyone we knew it would be packed. So we got there an hour early, staked out a spot right in the very front, grabbed some beers, and waited. And it was totally worth it – the guys played a great set (<– secret! You can watch the full live set from KEX HERE… at least you can as long as it remains posted there. They start at around the 40 minute mark of the video.).
Kiasmos was released by Erased Tapes Records, and they did it up right – a two record set on clear vinyl (at least the early releases are clear…). With only eight tracks they’re only putting maybe 13 minutes of music per side, ensuring that you’ll get that deeper, richer experience you’d normally associate with a 12″ single. A free download code is included, though not on a separate card – it’s actually a sticker on one of the inner sleeves which would be easy to overlook, so make sure if you buy the vinyl you look for the code. I know I want the digital download because I’m more likely to use my headphones on my iPod… and Kiasmos makes great headphone music.
Kiasmos’ style is difficult to describe. I labelled it as ambient dance techno, and I suppose that’s as apt as anything else. This isn’t active dance music with high BPMs, it’s slower, dreamier than that. But rest assured, you can dance to it, but I find myself swaying as much as dancing when I hear it. The keyboards are most noticeable in the quieter moments when the beats slow down and drop back in the mix a bit, and it’s as if the the keyboards and beats sort of alternate as to which is taking precedence depending on the pace.
How do you describe the ethereal nature of this type of music? I don’t know… I haven’t figured it out. What I do know is that Kiasmos’ songs connect with both the brain and body in a deep, primal way; not with the rawness of high intensity techno, but like a warm blanket and hot drink on a cold night while you sit on the sofa in front of the fireplace. It’s even difficult for me to pick a best song – to my ears Kiasmos isn’t eight distinct songs, it’s one long song, the description of one mood. If I absolutely had to pick one, it would probably be “Thrown,” though that could be bred from familiarity since I’ve been listening to it for longer than most most of the others. But I love the beat that starts it off, slowly and quietly building, and the use of the chime/xylophone sounds.
Kiasmos is great for both active and passive listening. If you’re paying attention and getting into the flow you’ll feel all the beautiful currents and detail, but if you just have it on the background it’s very pleasant and will still have some moments that capture your attention. The more I hear electronic music of this type, the more I think I’ve been missing the boat for way too long. Time to get off the shore and set sail. Let Kiasmos show you the way.