Iceland Airwaves 2019, Day 2

We weren’t out too late on Wednesday night, so we hit the streets relatively early by Airwaves standards – probably about 10:30AM.  I headed straight over to Lucky Records to spend a few hours digging and building large stack of music to pick up later in the trip (see the Day 3 post…), before meeting up with the gang for lunch at one of our all time favorite joints, Noodle Station.  From there we popped over to Waldorfskólinn Sólstafir to see the hip hop duo Cryptochrome.  What was particularly notable about this show is that Waldorfskólinn Sólstafir is, well, a school.  So we were in a room that was about half adults and half little kids watching a performance, which is about as surreal as it sounds. (♠)  After that we popped over to Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar to catch one of our favorite Icelandic bands, and one we’ve never seen live, Foreign Monkeys.  And despite playing inside a bar nestled within a hotel, the Monkeys (below) absolutely crushed it with a blistering 40 minute set that included songs from their original album, 2009s , as well as the recently released Return.  Even the folks in our group who don’t generally gravitate to hard rock loved this set, with the strongest compliments being given to the drumming.  I know we’re only half way through the festival, but so far this has been my favorite show.

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After another record shopping detour, this time at Reykjavik Record Shop, it was time for dinner and the official on-venue portion of the day.  We started at Gaukurinn (formerly Sódóma) because we wanted to check out our friend Haukur and his metal band Blóðmör (below), and the young men did not disappoint, rocking our faces off with a blend of metal and punk, replete with long hair, head banging, and a Flying V guitar.  They destroyed all comers.  If these guys represent the future of heavy metal, then the future looks bright my friends.

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Blóðmör were followed by the always solid Kontinuum.  After that we bounced over to Gamla Bíó for Glass Museum (below), an intriguing Belgian duo who play instrumental songs using keyboards and drums.  The house was nearly full for their set the crowd responded with approval to everything the pair performed – clearly most folks in the room knew of them already.  Their style is hard to describe, the vibe more electronica than traditional popular music, with definite jazz and contemporary influences.  I know that may not sound like it should work, but trust me, it does.

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We wrapped up the night early as I’m still battling a cold I picked up during our flight from Seattle to London, but given how strong all five bands were today I don’t feel like I got shortchanged.  Plus we still have the festival’s two biggest nights ahead of us.

(♠)  When we arrived we agreed that if four guys, unaccompanied by children, showed up at a grade school to watch a musical performance, someone probably would have called a SWAT team.

Iceland Airwaves 2019, Day 1

After a one year absence, Holly and I and our intrepid friend Norberto made it back to Reykjavik for our 10th Iceland Airwaves together.  Joined by Tristen (4th Airwaves) and Andy (3rd) we are rolling deep this year. And while I certainly missed the bands last year as a work project kept me confined state-side, what I missed most was seeing the friends we’ve made over the years attending the festival, be they folks who live in Iceland or those who, like us, make annual or sometimes sporadic visits to this rock in the Atlantic.

But first, Holly and I spent a few days in London at the start of the trip.  We did so specifically to see A-Ha perform at Royal Albert Hall (below), a two-set performance that featured all of Hunting High and Low in order, an intermission, then another dozen or so songs from the band’s catalog.  To see such a great band perform at such a seminal venue was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we enjoyed every minute of it.  A-Ha still has it, that’s for sure.  If they ever make it stateside again, we’ll definitely consider a trip to go see them.

aharoyalalbert After seeing A-Ha on a Tuesday night, it was off to Reykjavik for the start of Airwaves the very next day.  By time we got into the city, dropped off our bags, and made our way down to get our wristbands it was getting close to 6PM.  At the media center we got to say hi to our friends Bob and Ingvar from Lucky Records before dashing into the night in search of food followed by the first band at 8PM.  It wasn’t relaxing, but it’s why we’re here. Some nights we bounce around from venue to venue, others we camp out in one spot all night.  For Day 1 we opted for the latter and headed to the Reykjavik Art Museum because we really wanted to see the opening and closing bands there, plus as an added benefit sandwiched in the middle was up-and-comer and recently signed Sub Pop artist Orville Peck.

And away we go! First up was the trio Kælan Mikla.  We first saw them live at Airwaves back in 2015 and I for one was blown away by the sheer emotion their songs were drenched in, all angst and doom and beauty wrapped into one.  Since then we’ve seen them two more times at Airwaves, and again a couple of months ago in Seattle opening for Test Dept. That Seattle show revealed a more refined and intentional band, one confident in their abilities but one that also felt like it lost a little of that raw edge, that slightly open wound that you just can’t help but pick at.  However, they brought that back at Airwaves, especially in the vocals.  They owned the big room with both their music and their presences and it was definitely the best all-around show of theirs I’ve seen.  Next up was aYia, an intriguing trio about who not a lot is known and who have not yet released any material in a physical format, though they do have some stuff on Bandcamp HERE.  This was our second time seeing them and they delivered a dreamy set comprised of fluid electronics and almost mystical vocals.

That brought us to Orville Peck (below), the country-styled masked crooner who seems to be taking the online world by storm at the moment.  And it’s easy to understand why, with his (and his band’s) unique style of dress, easy presence on stage, and songs about transvestites who work in country bars.  They played ’em fast and they played ’em hard, and while this generally isn’t my thing, Peck is a great performer and it was a fun set, one I’m glad we got to see.

orvillepeckairwaves Last, but definitely far from least, we arrived at the promised land – Une Misère (below).  With a new album, Sermon, due on the shelves any day now, they found themselves in top form, a five-man hardcore and metal attack that will tear your spine from your body.  They flat out attacked the audience, which responded with a series of mosh pits and a fair amount of head-banging.  As if that wasn’t enough, one of my all time favorite Icelandic vocalists joined them on stage for a song – Arnór Dan Arnarson of Agent Fresco fame.  Never one to shy away from screaming into the mic, Arnór and Une Misère vocalist Jón Már Ásbjörnsson battled it out to see who could shred their vocal cords first, ending in a tie as neither broke down nor gave in.  I’m very much looking forward to their new album.

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As an added bonus, we were able to connect with some of our friends as well.  “Scotland Paul” (♠) and members of his crew caught up with us earlier in the evening, followed by “Vancouver Matt” (♣) and Tanya.  Catching up with old friends and making new ones is one of the best parts of Airwaves, and we can’t wait to hook up with more of them as the festival continues.

(♠)  As we refer to him at home, as in “did you see what Scotland Paul posted on Instagram today?”

(♣)  See above

Hórmónar – “Nanananabúbú” (2018)

We first encountered Hórmónar at Iceland Airwaves in 2016.  They were fresh off their win at Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s annual “Battle of the Bands”, a competition that has launched some pretty decent careers over the last decade or so.  We were in a small club and this was one of their first live performances.  You could tell that they were a bit nervous, but also see that they were having a lot of fun.  We enjoyed their hard rock stylings and vowed to keep tabs on them.

Fast forward one year later and nervousness and swinging hair were gone, replaced by a heavy dose of swagger and L7-like intensity.  Gone too was that hard rock sound, replaced by something that was both more punk and more metal at the same time.  The photographic evidence is below.  I’ll let you make the call (top – 2016; bottom – 2017):

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The band’s debut was a four-song self-titled EP in 2016, which they followed with a full-length in August of this year.  The 11-song Nanananabúbú includes the four tracks from the original EP, but I believe all four were completely re-recorded for their latest effort.  The entire album has an insistent quality to it, a sort of underlying anxiety like a band that has so much they want to play for you but they’re afraid if they don’t get it out there quickly they might somehow lose the whole thing, like trying to hold onto a fistful of sand and watching as it runs through your fingers no matter how hard you try to keep a grip on it.  Highlights include the alternating passion and gloom of “Költ”, the stripped-down rocker “Kynsvelt”, and the oddly playful “Glussi”.

Nanananabúbú was released on CD as a limited edition of 100, but I haven’t seen that offered for sale anywhere so my guess is they’re long since sold out.  But have no fear, because you can still get the album via digital download from the Hórmónar Bandcamp page HERE.  While that is my format of last resort, I still broke down and purchased a digital copy because that’s how good it is.

Hatari – “Neysluvara” (2017)

From Iceland Music’s recent interview with the band Hatari:

Interviewer:  What is Hatari?

Response:  Hatari is a multimedia project that aims to reveal the relentless scam that we call everyday life.

Interviewer:  What is everyday life?

Response:  It is an ongoing parade in which we all take part.  A hyper-individualistic… pit… where our identities are commodities and mechanisms of social cohesion are systematically undermined.

Using music as a method for socio-political commentary is, of course, nothing new.  But this level of clarity is perhaps a but unusual.  The English language Reykjavik Grapevine asked Hatari for an interview to be included in their special Iceland Airwaves 2017 edition, and the band responded instead with a page-long passage from Noam Chomsky about neoliberalism.  They offer critiques of the capitalist system they find themselves living in, yet still release a physical album, a four-song CD that was selling for 2.500 kr (♠) and unabashedly entitled Neysluvara, which translates to Consumer.  The packaging is unique and thoughtful, as is the well-designed insert booklet.  There’s an acknowledgement on their part that these two parts of their project, the political and the commercial, on the surface appear to be at odds, but note that they themselves have grown up in this capitalist system and as a result are a part of it whether they want to be or not.  They dress in what could be described as fascist bondage chic. Their lyrics are dark and so are their videos.

And they put out what may very well be the very best album put out by anyone, anywhere, in any genre in 2017. (♥)

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There was a lot of chatter about Hatari’s live show as Airwaves 2017 got underway, and while we’d never heard their music we made a point of getting to Gamla Bíó early on Thursday, November 2 so we could stake out a good spot to catch the performance.  And right from the very start we knew we were in for something special.  The audience was rapt and the performance was, quite frankly, flawless.  There were costumes and great music and dancers dressed like the walked off the set of The Road Warrior who had fanny packs full of lollypops that they tossed into the crowd.  Musically it was IDM at its finest – it didn’t even matter that the vocals were all sung in Icelandic, because the cadence and venom with which they were delivered told you everything you needed to know.

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Shriveled fruits of vanished expectations
Keep the riffraff enraptured.
Spiritual bankruptcy
Sucks the marrow from initiative
And suffocates it in bitterness.
— “X” (translated from Icelandic)

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Neysluvara opens with “X”, a song that, based on lyrical translation, is a screed against the  rich and powerful who use their power to keep the majority down, scratching away to barely make enough to survive.  “Our daily bread / Is salt in our wounds”, we’re told in a raspy delivery over dark IDM beats.  “Tortímandi” (which translates to “Destroy”) maintains to pounding assault, but with the addition of some higher range harmonies that soar about the wall of pain the rest of the song delivers.  Things let off just a little on “Biðröð Mistaka” (“Queue Mistake”) with a less oppressive song foundation and more room for the higher pitch vocals to own an entire part, almost giving a sense of hope before the final third kicks in and the primary vocals pound the now-whispy higher ones into submission.  The EP closes with “Ódýr” (“Cheap”), and here again we gain the benefit of translated lyrics that accompany the video.  The pace here is much slower, the vocals more pained and desperate.

The years slip from you like breadcrumbs tossed in the trash.
They pile up on the heaps of broken dreams.
You look back and think:
Why did I sell myself –
Why did I sell myself –
So cheap?

It’s a fitting end, like a resigned sigh as life comes to an end and you realize your mistakes.   Certainly you can listen to Neysluvara as a treatise on nihilism, but in fact I think it’s the opposite, instead a call to recognize what’s happening and do something about it.  The what, of course, is entirely up to you; but as they say, the first part in finding a solution is recognizing that you have a problem.

I can’t praise Neysluvara enough.  I’ve played it at least 20 times, if not more, since our return from Iceland in early November, and as I mentioned earlier it will definitely appear on my Top 5 list for 2017.  Tracking down a copy may prove to be tough, but I believe you can access all four tracks at the band’s website HERE and leave you with the video for “X” below.

(♠)  Roughly $25 US.

(♥)  You’ll just have to come back to the blog on December 25 when I post my “Best of 2017” lists to see just how highly I regard Neysluvara.

Revenge of Calculon

By time Sunday rolled around during Iceland Airwaves we were all pretty well spent.  Holly was under the weather, we’d all been out super late the night before, and the weather had taken the kind of turn for the worse that the North Atlantic specializes in, that amazing combination of cold, heavy rain, and high winds that will leave you soaked (♠) and chilled to the bone within 60 seconds of stepping outside.  Since there wasn’t anything compelling on-venue closing out the festival we all strongly considered just sitting it out and chilling in our apartment, but I had that itch… I really wanted to see old school punks Fræbbblarnir who were playing an off-venue early evening set in the upstairs room at Dillon.  What eventually sealed the deal was that they were to be followed by a band called Revenge of Calculon who my buddy Ingvar insisted I had to see.  So Norberto, J and I braved the elements, got soaked to the bone on the four-block walk to Dillon, and caught Fræbbblarnir, who packed the joint full of locals and played a fun set.  When they wrapped we were able to grab some seats right by the stage and I got the chance to meet Life in the Vinyl Lane reader Paul in person after we’d been missing each other all over town during the week.

And then Revenge of Calculon hit the stage.  Wearing track suits.  And lucha libre masks.  And shit got weird.

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Revenge of Calculon come at you with one guy on the electronics and one guy playing funky bass, the music like the soundtrack of a 1970s blaxploitation sci-fi movie (♥), all bleeps and bloops and funky bass and audio clips from old films and TV.  They tore it up at high velocity and had a good sense of humor when their equipment suddenly went dead for a couple of moments during their set (did I mention the roof of Dillon leaks, and it was raining, and that water was dripping near the stage…?).  It was one of the two or three best performances I saw all week, and after the set I bought both 7″ records the band had on them, for which I was rewarded with my very own lucha libre mask!  As soon as we got home I ordered their other two singles as well – they were so good I wanted to have everything they had out. (♦)

The pace of the singles is more deliberate than that of the live performance, but the elements are all there and it’s funky as hell – if anything the studio versions are a bit heavier than the sheer recklessness of the live tracks.  “Hot Dog Man” b/w “Atari-Safari” is some radical stuff and my favorite of the four records, the closest you’ll get to their live craziness, feeling like it could all come off the rails at any moment, or at least that’s how you feel until you realize that in fact there probably aren’t any rails to begin with. “Meltdown” b/w “Neutron Star” is another great combo, particularly the B side with its vampire-movie-esque opening followed by a blend of creepy electronics, jamming bass, and hyper-modulated vocalizations that make it feel like you’re watching three different movies at once that somehow all seem to fit together like the pieces of a luchador’s mask.

All four singles are available on the band’s website HERE, and there’s a bunch of YouTube videos of their music you can check out.  My favorite, though, is the one they shot, edited, and released within a couple of days of their Airwaves off-venue show at Lucky Records – check it out below.  Beware the Revenge of Calculon… and watch out for vinyl with wet spines (see the 0:24 mark)…

(♠)  Though if you keep walking in the same direction, you’ll end up soaked on one side of your body and completely dry on the other since the rain is coming down at a 45 degree angle.  it’s weird.

(♥)  I know that’s not a real genre, but let’s be real – if Fred Williamson or Richard Roundtree or Pam Grier starred in a 1970s sci-fi movie you’d be all over that thing.

(♦) I believe there is also a five-song CD.