Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 2

This is the seventh consecutive Airwaves I’ve attended with Holly and our friend Norberto. Counting the first two nights of this year’s festival, that means we’ve seen 32 nights worth of official, on-venue performances – over a months worth.  And last night as we walked home, tired but fortified with late night street hot dogs, we all agreed on one simple fact:

The line-up at NASA last night (Thursday) was the the BEST full slate of bands, start-to-finish, we’ve ever seen playing together at the same location.  Ever.

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But NASA wasn’t our first stop of Day 2 of Iceland Airwaves.  Instead it was Mengi, a small space created and managed by artists used for intimate musical and other artistic performances.  It was a great little location, and on this night hosted a showcase of artists associated with one of my favorite labels, Lady Boy Records.  The first two hours were given over to a menagerie of individuals working together, moving in and out of the performance area, including Nicolas Kunysz, Sindri Geirsson, and Frímann Frímannsson (a.k.a. “Harry Knuckles“) that yielded a range of experimental electronic sounds, some beat driven and others not.  Next up was russian.girls (above), a side project by Guðlaugur Halldór Einarsson of Fufanu fame.  His set was exceptional – some heavy beats, at times moving into industrial, and also utilizing his guitar and effects pedals to contribute to the music in some very un-guitar-like ways.  Holly and I are big fans of the tape he put out with Lady Boy, and his performance last night just solidified russian.girls as a band to watch in our minds.

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Then it was off to NASA.  I wrote yesterday about our excitement that NASA is back open and part of Airwaves, and while we were certainly going to make sure to see some shows there, it was just kind of a scheduling fluke that we found ourselves posted up there for both of the first two nights.  Norberto and I really wanted to see Bubbi & DIMMA and HAM, while Holly was stoked to see Operators, so we figured we’d get there early and stake out a good location.  The fact that Börn was opening the night made it that much of an easier decision.  We’ve seen them live before and I’ve reviewed some of their music on the blog.  Börn’s style of raw punk rock has attracted some international attention, with a nice interview by Noisey and a recent month-long US tour as evidence.  They played a high-energy set that seemed to be over before it began even though it ran a good 25 or so minutes.  Next up were Icelandic post-metallers Kontinuum.  I’d heard of them before and seen them on various Airwaves schedules, but for whatever reason we’d never caught them live.  And after last night I’d like to travel back in time to some of those past Airwaves and tell myself to stop being a douche and to get out and see Kontinuum, because I dug their set.  The five-pieces includes three guitar players and they make full use of everything that offers, putting up a wall of dense and at times intricate guitar sounds.  A very pleasant surprise.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

That moved us into the heart of the night’s line-up, starting with the relatively recent partnership known as Bubbi & DIMMA (above), which last night featured most of the members of Icelandic metal band DIMMA (minus lead singer Stefán Jakobsson), with the man who is one of the originators of punk rock in Iceland, Bubbi Morthens, doing vocals.  We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from this pairing, but figured with this much musical talent in one place it had to be good.  And it was outstanding.  Bubbi burst out like a caged animal, rocking a Ramones t-shirt and looking more than a little like Stone Cold Steve Austin, and he exploded all over stage throughout the set with his energy and intensity.  I believe most of the songs, if not all, were from Bubbi’s extensive catalog, and the fans, both young and the not so young, sang along throughout.  Musically I stand by my assertion that Ingo Geirdal is probably the absolute best guitarist on the planet who you’ve probably never heard of, and his shredding was all over the music, so much so that at times I found myself watching him and not the prowling Bubbi.  The three of us agreed, without any need for detailed discussion or debate, that this set was one of the five best individual musical performances we’ve ever seen at Airwaves.  Period.

That brought us to the American/Canadian group Operators who are all the rage right now, and after their set I can see why.  A little bit of the Kills, a little Bloodgroup, and a lot of great beats and synths had the crowd dancing throughout their 30+ minutes.  I will definitely be checking out more of their music when we get back home.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

All of which led us to the apex of the night, the inverted pinnacle of hell that is the doom metal of HAM.  We are HAM!  We’d secured a spot up on one of the side risers just to the left of the stage, which was the perfect venue for watching the band, watching the crowd, and going deaf.  They opened with one of my favorites, “Dauð Hóra,” getting the head banging off to an aggressive start and the floor ate it up.  From there it was a ten-ton metal assault on our ears as the band tore through a briskly paced set that ran roughly 40 minutes.  The crowd seemed to wane a bit at the half way mark, and it felt like they would be running on fumes across the finish line… at least that is until HAM began their final song of the night and played the opening chords of their arguably all-time classic “Partýbær” (in English – “Party Town”), a song prominently featured in the popular Icelandic movie Sódóma Reykjavík.  A mosh pit immediately erupted on the floor in front of the stage which quickly engulfed roughly 30 or so active participants as well as a number who were in-and-out at various times.  It got somewhat intense, but showing all the characteristics of a classy pit when two people hit the floor late in the song a space immediately opened up and others reached down to pull them onto their feet.  We are HAM.  You are HAM.

We left NASA spent by happy, and partially deaf in our left ears.  Day 2 of Iceland Airwave is in the books, and it was a doozy.  I can’t wait to see what Day 3 brings.

Börn – “Börn” 7″

Börn just completed a month-long U.S. and I was bummed that a work trip caused me to miss their Seattle show.  I enjoyed both the cassette they released under their old name Norn as well as their 2014 self-titled LP.  I made a point of going to see them at Iceland Airwaves last year, catching their show at Húrra that kicked off the festival and where they played a hard, edgy set to a surprisingly large crowed for so early on a Wednesday night, coming away even more impressed.

bornairwaves Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

Not only was I disappointed about not being able to see them live again, but to add insult to injury Börn brought copies of their brand new four-song 7″ to sell at their shows.  I didn’t want to miss out on getting one of these, and fortunately my friends at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records were more than happy to make sure to put aside a copy for me when they took delivery of their store copies.  And yesterday what did I find waiting for me in my mailbox?  The new 7″, along with a pair of CDs I’d ordered.  These are the things that make a record collector’s day.  As I understand it the record came in various colors… mine is sort of a bluish-gray.  I saw a picture of a light green one on the band’s Facebook page, but I’m not sure how many different versions there are.  Thank God I’m not a completist.

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I was struck immediately by the first track, “Engan Skal Hungra,” a very post-punk sounding number with a low, driving rhythm, a simple and very effective guitar that gives shape to the song, and of course Alexandra’s powerful, emotional, angst-ridden singing.  If there’s such a thing as post-post-punk, this is it.  “Einskis Virði” is the most jarring song on the record, with its doomish low end, repetitive bursts of high end guitar, and desperate vocals, all combining to stop you dead in your tracks and involuntarily ball your hands up into fists.  The EP closes out with another purely post-punk number, “Niðurvald.”  This is where Anna’s guitar truly shines, working more like a musical paintbrush than an exclamation point, creating an almost constant swath of sound over the top of the bass and drums.  She’s so good on this track that I actually had to make a point of going back to listen to it again because the first time I was so focused on her playing that Alexadra’s vocals sort of moved into the background and became more like a fourth instrument and I needed the second time through to hear her.  This isn’t a mixing problem – the vocals are right there to be heard.  This is just some great guitar playing that distracted me from the other elements.

I’m impressed with the overall mix on this record.  All four performers have their space and can be clearly heard (I wasn’t so focused on the guitar on “Niðurvald” because of the mix, but because it was so damn good!).  Júlíana’s bass and Fannar’s drums are every bit as critical as the guitar and vocals.  But don’t take my word for it; you can check out all four songs for free HERE.  Börn’s sound is continuing to develop and mature, and I’m looking forward to seeing (and hearing) more from them in the future.  They’re not officially confirmed yet for Airwaves 2015, but I suspect they’ll be playing a bunch of shows again this year and I’ll be sure to search them out.

Iceland Airwaves 2014 – Day 1

We hit the streets of Reykjavik running this morning, going down to Sandholt Bakery for coffee and pastries before heading over to what is perhaps my favorite record store in the world, Lucky, to get my fill of vinyl.  And fill up my bag with vinyl and CDs and tapes did Ingvar and Gestur.  Not only did they have some stuff I’d requested on hold, but they also put together a pile of recommendations for me to go through, and about an hour and a half later I waked out with a pretty health score, all of it Icelandic music, including some stuff for friends back home.

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Time was limited today as we were meeting some friends for lunch, but that didn’t keep me from stopping by Reykjavik’s newest music store, Reykjavik Record Shop.  I didn’t have enough time to go through all the stuff there, but I did pull the trigger on a Þeyr 7″ that I’ve been wanting for some time.  I’ll likely head back tomorrow to keep digging.

After lunch it was down to KEX Hostel to see Kiasmos, the new electronic partnership between Janus Rasmussen, best known as the male vocalist in Bloodgroup, and Ólafur Arnalds.  The duo have a new album that just dropped, and hopefully my copy will be waiting for me in the mail upon our return from Iceland.  The pair packed the house and played a relatively short 20 minute set that was available as a live stream on KEXP radio.  They killed it, and by the reception they got it was obvious that there are a lot of people keeping an eye on this pairing.  We also got a chance to meet and say hi to Life in the Vinyl Lane reader Leana who was working the merch table at KEX, which was very cool.  Hopefully our paths will cross again on this trip.

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Next up was Good Moon Deer at an off venue in the lobby of movie theatre, Bíó Paradís, a surprisingly good place to see a show.  We’d seen Good Moon Deer last year and came away impressed with their combo of experimental electronica combined with a live drummer, and this year was no different.

After dinner it was down to the tough choice of the night – where to go for the on-venue program.  Holly and I decided to post up at Húrra for the entire evening, as we liked how most of the card there looked.  The evening opened with the punk rock stylings of Börn, a band recently reviewed here and one getting a lot of international attention.  Personally I think they are one of the few bands to take the foundation laid by some of the classic Icelandic punk bands like Purrkur Pillnikk and Þeyr, and give them a more modern punk twist.  Great set.  Next up were a pair of electronic performers, Seattle’s own Vox Mod and his blistering set of high energy beats, and the psychedelic electronica stylings of Iceland’s own dj flugvél go geimskip (photo below), who’s blend of innocence and sincerity combined with some hints of Japanese and Persian stylings made for a truly unique experience.  From there it was the competent (the bass player was fantastic) indie of Sindri Eldon & The Ways, then a couple of punk bands, Muck and Pink Street Boys.  Muck’s music generated an impressive mosh pit that lasted throughout their hardcore set and, no joke, resulted in one fairly nasty cut to a mosher’s forehead, while Pink Street Boys pounded the audience with a wall of sound and noise that eventually also gave rise to a pit.  Ghostigital closed it out with a robust 50 minute set and absolutely destroyed the place, taking control of the crowd early and combined stream of consciousness industrial and some classics from their albums.

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After leaving Húrra we made a stop at the hot dog stand for some of the famous Icelandic franks and dodged the drunks on our way back to our apartment… worn out, but ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

Börn – “Börn”

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might remember a post I wrote about a cassette I got by an Icelandic band called Norn.  I wrote all this stuff about the singer, and it was jacked up, because not only was I wrong about who I thought was the singer, I was even wrong about the singer’s gender.  I made some corrections, but left my errors up there for all to see as a monument to my own dumb-assery.  Such is life in the vinyl lane.

Well, it turns out Norn are no longer Norn, but they are in fact now known as Börn, and in fact The Band Formerly Known As Norn has a new record out (released July 15), and yes it’s even on vinyl!  As soon as I heard about it, I put in an order with my friends at their label, Paradísarborgarplötur, and they shipped a copy right out to me.  From Iceland to my mailbox in Seattle in about a week.  Not too shabby.  So I get a second chance to review this band.  I’ll try not to mess it up (as much) this time.

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One thing is apparent right out of the gate on Börn – the sound is a lot more clear than it was on the tape I have.  And I say that guessing that the tape was supposed to have that metallic-tinged, distant sound that sort of defined it.  For this record Börn are more up front about their playing and vocals, which is great because they are a solid group of musicians.  The guitar work is tight, especially on “Ef,” and the vocals are clear and edgy.

 

The overall vibe is on the post-punk side of things, at least to my ears, with a sort of somewhat dark and seemingly tuned down vibe, which gives it some weight and a legitimate mood.  “Bara hrós” is probably the track most generally representative of Börn’s overall style, and its probably my favorite song on the record after about 3-4 listens.  “Auðn” is the gloomiest number, and the one that reminds me the most of the Norn cassette, though even this piece of raw darkness sounds great.

At seven songs and about 21 minutes, it’s a pretty quick listen, and like their tape, Börn can be heard online if you just go HERE, so you have no excuse to not go give them a listen.  Try something different.  And if you like it, buy it!  Better yet, treat yourself and order the vinyl before it’s all gone, because I suspect this one will be hard to find soon.