ANWIYCTI – “A New World If You Can Take It” (2014)

I always try to do my homework before Iceland Airwaves, checking out at least a few songs from any bands I’m not familiar with. It can definitely help when you’re trying to plan out your night. I remember doing this exercise before the 2017 festival and landing on the page for ANWIYCTI because I had to do a double take. Wait, there’s a band from Hong Kong playing this year? Cool! Their lineup is three bass players and a drummer? Wha…? But I was 100% intrigued. We managed to catch half of one of their sets and it was what you’d expect – loud, pounding, percussive.

I’ve had ANWIYCTI in the back of my mind for a while and decided to order their album during one of those Bandcamp “all money goes to the artist” Fridays. The album, the title of which is the full phrase that makes up the acronym, came out in 2014 in a numbered limited edition of 500 on white vinyl (which you can get HERE). And it’s not exactly what you’d expect given that three-bass-attack lineup. There’s some dark dreaminess here, a fluidity that isn’t exactly shoegaze but something more nuanced. Sure, the low end is right up front and in your face, but it’s not always pounding, the edges instead smoothed over with thick layers of long sonic waves. Definitely something different and worth checking out.

MAMMÚT – “Sun and Me” / “Fire” 7″ (2020)

MAMMÚT have been part of the Icelandic music scene since 2003. While they haven’t been the most prolific band, with four full-lengths and a handful of singles and EPs to their credit, it seems like they pop up fairly consistently. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve seen them live – I know the first time was at Iceland Airwaves 2010, and I’d guess probably another 3-4 times since then. We most recently caught them at Airwaves last year in the big room that is the Reykjavik Art Museum and they blew the doors off.

Their new album Ride the Fire comes out later this year, and in advance of its release MAMMÚT put out a limited edition (of 300) 7″ featuring the tracks “Sun and Me” and “Fire”. While early MAMMÚT relied heavily on the sheer power of Katrína Mogensen’s vocals, these new tracks are richly layered, less a sonic assault and more a warm embrace. “Sun and Me” is dream rock at its best, textured and undulating, the sound taking up every fraction of a second. That’s offset by the quiet, not-quite-acoustic “Fire”, it’s twangy western-style guitars providing a companion to the almost whispered vocals. The tempo picks up slowly during the second half of the song but the wave never quite breaks, instead just quickly shedding its momentum and coming to a stop.

You can listen to the two songs from the single on Bandcamp HERE, as well as order a copy of the 7″. Or you can go to the band’s website HERE and get both the single and the new album.

Iceland Airwaves 2019 – Reflections

It was great to be back in Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves after a one year absence, with the added benefit of this being a milestone for us – our 10th Airwaves.  It’s bizarre to think that as someone closer to 50 than 40 I’ve attended an Airwaves during over 20% of my years…

Because we missed 2018 this was our first time experiencing the festival under the new leadership and with the shorter four-day format.  There were considerably few bands in 2019 than in 2017, and perhaps even more noticeable way fewer off-venues.  My understanding is that the fee for being an official off-venue increased significantly, and based on the numbers I heard from folks in town the cost was prohibitive for many of the small businesses that hosted shows in past years.  This was also the first time I remember hearing people referring to Airwaves as a “showcase festival”.  With all that in mind, there wasn’t as much music happening as in years past, and bands played significantly fewer shows.  Despite that, there was plenty going on and we got into the groove of the slower pace, taking advantage of the extra time to connect with friends.

And friends were the theme of Iceland Airwaves 2019 for us.  While I missed the music last year as I sat in the basement of my workplace and desperately worked with the team to try to get a software release done in time, at the end of the day what I missed most was seeing all of our friends.  So this year we made a point of connecting with everyone possible, while also making some new friends along the way.  Some folks weren’t sure if they’d be coming back in 2020, but by the end of the week most of them were already talking about early bird passes being available.  The smaller, more intimate feel of Airwaves, and Reykjavik in general, creates these opportunities to build relationships, and that’s a big part of what makes it special.  If you’d have told me in 2009 how many people we’d know and stay and touch with due to Airwaves I wouldn’t have believed you.

Best Venue:  It was a strange year without Harpa, and while KEX Hostel was elevated to on-venue status we somehow never made it there.  In fact we spent most of our on-venue time at the Reykjavik Art Museum, which while adequate is never going to be anyone’s favorite spot.  Ultimately I come away with feeling that once again Gamla Bíó is the best place in Reykjavik to see a show, despite the fact that we only saw one band perform there (Glass Museum).  The strangest place we saw a show was definitely Waldorfskólinn Sólstafir, a local school where we were surrounded by kids.  You’d never see that in the US, my friends.  Here if a bunch of foreigners show up at a grade school, someone is calling a SWAT team.

Best Show:  For the second Airwaves in a row I’m going with Hatari (below).  To say that their set is a performance would be an understatement, and since I also love their music it was more or less a no-brainer.  A super close second was a bit of a surprise – the off-venue Lucky Records show by Hermigerville.  Not only did he have half the crowd actually dancing, but he also dropped in a couple of The Magnetics covers since he’d performed as part of their retro set the night before.  We ended up missing that show because it conflicted with Hatari, so it was awesome to catch a few of those old 80s-style synth bangers.  Honorable mentions to Mammút, who I hadn’t seen in forever and who sounded fantastic, and the up-and-comers Blóðmör with their straight-ahead style of classic metal.

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Best New-To-Me Band:  The winner here is definitely Lydmor.  We’d never heard of her before seeing her at Hressó and her performance was one of those experiences where even if you’re not 100% into whatever is happening at the moment, you’re still captivated by it and don’t want to leave because you know something completely different and unexpected is right around the corner.  I’m not sure how this will translate to listening to Lydmor’s music without the live component, but I’ll definitely be checking out some of her stuff.

Coolest Music Purchase:  I bought a TON of stuff this trip.  So much, in fact, that I couldn’t fit all the vinyl in my DJ carry-on bag which left me with a hard choice – try to pack some in my suitcase or spend a bunch of money to have it shipped.  I opted for the former and the guys a Lucky provided me with a solid box and some extra 12″ cardboard pieces, and after strategically deciding what I’d put in my suitcase (i.e. less expensive stuff) and what I’d carry on (more expensive stuff) we got the box into the suitcase surrounded by clothes and… it worked <phew>!  The finally tally was something absurd like 45 records of various sizes, probably 25 CDs, and a fistful of cassettes.  Restraint is not my strong suit. Plus I had a lot of catching up to do after having missed a year.

As for the coolest purchase, well, it’s actually something we picked up in London at Sister Ray prior to heading to Reykjavik – Sensational‘s debut album Loaded With Power.  I pretty much never find Sensational vinyl in the US and this was released by a German label, so I was stoked to find it.  Honorable mention for the super limited (edition of 20) Blóðmör demo tape Á Hljómleikum that a friend snagged and held onto for me.  Those guys are definitely going places and this stuff will be even more impossible to get in the future.

Biggest Regret:  There were a few bands we missed who I’d like to have seen, especially Agent Fresco and the Biggi DJ set.  However, the biggest miss was not seeing Berndsen perform at a clothing story, because everyone who went said it was off the charts.  And having seen some photos, it clearly was.  So I’ll make a point of catching up with the big redhead next year.

 

We didn’t see nearly as many bands in 2019 as we have in the past, even when you account for the Airwaves being one day shorter.  Typically we’d see somewhere from 35-40 performances in five days, but this time around that number was probably in the low 20s.  And I’m fine with that.  In fact I liked not feeling like I just had to be on the run all day every day, tracking down show after show like I was just filling out a checklist.

I’d say there’s probably a 90% chance we’ll be back in Reykjavik in 360 or so days for the next installment of Airwaves.  Hopefully we’ll see you there.

Iceland Airwaves 2019, Day 4

This is our first Airwaves since the festival was shortened to four days.  It seems weird to be heading out on Saturday night and knowing “this is it”.

We opted to pass on the big closing show at Valshöllin, opting instead for a more low-key evening.  We started with Hermigervill‘s early evening set at Lucky Records.  We’ve been to a ton of shows there in the past, but this was the first time we’ve seen people dancing and grooving and Herigervill bombarded us with his funky beats.  As an added bonus he trotted out a pair of jams he’d performed the other night with the early 1980s synth act The Magnetics, which was super cool.

From there we headed to Hressingarskálinn, aka Hressó, where we caught the tail end of Sunna Fridjons set while settling in for the band we were there to see, :PAPERCUTZ, Bruno Miguel’s project that this time saw him performing with a female vocalist.  Their set was low key and fun, though the PA did give them a few problems here and there.  After that was local electronic artist Einar Indra and his unique approach, one that is sometimes freed from the constraints of traditional song structures to provide something both atmospheric and environmental, yet also neither at the same time.  It’s hard to explain with words (clearly) and it definitely holds your attention.  Last up, at least for us, was Danish musician/DJ/singer/performer Lydmor.  Artists take risks when they get on stage and do something that’s way different that what others are doing, and often it fails flat.  Honestly that’s what I thought was going to happen as Lydmor’s set opened, but she reeled me back in with a performance that was both familiar and unpredictable, her approach seemingly changing instantly and leaving you constantly wondering what was coming next.  I’m not entirely sure how this will translate to a non-visual album, but I’ll be checking out her stuff when we get back to the states.

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And after a late-night hot dog (left)… it’s over.  At least the official festival is done.  We still have one more full day in the city to catch up with friends, and to try to figure out how I’m going to get all these records, tapes, and CDs home…

Iceland Airwaves 2019, Day 3

Day 3 began with me sorting out my big stack of potential purchases from Lucky Records.   Turns out I’d put aside way more stuff than I realized, so much so that I may in fact be throwing away at least one pair of pants to make room (♠) enough in my bag.  I may need to re-evaluate my willpower.  But not until we get back home from Iceland with all this vinyl.

From there we hooked up with Rob of Revenge of Calculon fame for lunch, then caught up with him again later to see is solo set at Lucky Records in the afternoon.  It was every bit as funky and dirty and sleazy as we’ve come to expect from Calculon (below), and the crowd was definitely into it, including the one lucky fan who came away with his own luchador mask thanks to his dancing efforts.

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That took us to the on-venue portion of the evening, and for the second time this trip we decided to post up at the Reykjavik Art Museum for the entire evening.  The first two performers were pop-centric, Icelander Hildur and Norwegian Anna of the North.  Hildur’s set was reflective, the artist providing a bit of context for each song before it began, while Anna of the North was about unadulterated energy and joy.  Next up were Icelandic rock veterans Mammút (below), a band I believe we first saw all the way back in 2010, and man they have come a long way.  The music was tight and Kata’s vocals powerful, drawing tons of support and energy from the crowd, especially the Icelanders.  It was one of the best sets of the festival so far.

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And that, my friends, brings us to Hatari.  Ah, Hatari, a band loved by some, hated by others.  They garnered significant attention as Iceland’s entry for Eurovision 2019, the finals of which were held in Tel Aviv, for their pro-Palestinian statements prior to the finals, their pre-final release of a collaboration video with Palestinian singer Bashar Murad, and capping it off by showing a Palestinian flag on live TV immediately following their performance.  So again, loved by some, hated by others.  They’ve also received criticism for appropriating certain subcultural fashions on stage.  You can decide for yourself.  As for me, I clearly like their music, having ranked their four-song EP Neysluvara as my favorite release of 2017.

The show at the Art Museum (below) was, of course, a spectacle of bondage and fetish fashion cocooned in a story arc of impending global demise.  There were dancers.  There was a video projection.  There were lasers.  There were canisters shooting showers of sparks.  There were guest performers, including, I believe, none other than Murad himself. And there were beats, growled invectives, and falsettos.  In other words, it was absolutely fantastic.

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Three days in the book.  One more to go…

(♠) Seriously.