Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Day 0

October 31, 2017.  Halloween Night.  The night I learned that there is still hope for rock ‘n’ roll, that it does indeed have a future.  And that future has a name.

It’s name is Alchemia.

We’ve made it to “Day 0”, the day before the official start of Iceland Airwaves.  So far my personal theme for this year’s Airwaves is “Near Misses”, as yesterday I managed to just miss connecting with my friend Leana at Dillon when we left just as they were coming in; I missed my friend Bryan popping into Lucky Records, not because I wasn’t in the store, but because I was actually digging through some stuff in the back while he was in the front; and I missed a chance to connect with LITVL reader Paul not once but twice, last night at Dillon and this morning when we were both having breakfast at Prikið… though to be fair Paul and I have never met in person, so we only pieced our near misses together today after a forensic review of Facebook posts and photos.  Hopefully we’ll cross paths again at some point this week.

The off-venue schedule didn’t get going until the afternoon, so I found myself back at Lucky Records for a while.  Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I took care of all of my shopping yesterday; but I’m an addict my friends, so I walked out of there with a handful of A-Ha 12″ records for Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, a few tapes, and sweet copy of Gildran’s 1988 Hugarfóstur to fill a hole in my collection.  Tomorrow I think I’ll be making my second pass through Reykjavik Record Shop, and there’s still the flea market on Saturday… so many records, so little time.

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And of course we were back at Lucky Records later in the afternoon to begin our off-venue evening.  Opening the night was the hardcore two-piece PHLEGM, a bassist and drummer who brought some serious intensity to their performance, doubly impressive considering that they’ve only been working together in this project for a few months.  Up next was a band I recently wrote about, Mosi Frændi (left), an OG punk six-piece that reunited to put out a new release in 2017 called Óbreytt Ástand.  They gang opened with a cover of the Icelandic punk classic “Ó Reykjavík” before transitioning into their original material, both old and new.  It was a solid performance, all the more impressive considering the small size of the Lucky Records stage, one that wasn’t large enough to hold the entire band.  We may check them out again later this week at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Which brings us to the aforementioned saviors of rock ‘n’ roll, a band we almost missed because we considered heading to a different venue following our dinner break.  Fortunately for us we headed back over to Lucky to see Alchemia.

There was a time when hard rock and standard heavy metal were popular.  I mean really popular.  Like there were actually singles from these genres in the Top 40 and they got radio play on stations across multiple formats.  But to some extent those genres imploded, victims of the excesses of the late 1980s glam metal scene and its eventual descent into self-parodying absurdity, finally succumbing to the death-blow it was dealt by grunge with the release of Nevermind in 1991.  A few bands like Metallica made it through to the other side, but the rest found themselves more or less relegated to the ghettos of hard rock radio and their rabid, and still substantial, core base.  Many people would lead you to believe that the days of long hair and denim were destroyed permanently, but much like the concentrated evil in Time Bandits it continued to smolder, retaining its life force and the potential to infect the world once more in concentrated form.

Alchemia is the hard rock word made real.

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The four-piece (above) caused my brain to boil inside my skull.  Up front they have a pair of guitarists, both of who are adept at shredding and ear-splitting solos that are an air guitarists’ dream.  The bassist breaks the stoic bassist mold and looks like the happiest guy on the planet who can’t believe his good fortune at being able to lay down some heavy licks with his bandmates.  And the drummer… each snare hit sounded like a rifle shot as he thrashed around behind the tiny kit like Animal. (♠)  They flat-out killed it tonight and made a believer again out of this formerly lost soul who was convinced the hard rocking metal of his youth was permanently relegated to the retro tour circuit.  They were everything I love about the genre – fast, loud, and with just a bit of a sense of humor.  I went straight to the counter after the set and bought a copy of their 2014 CD Insanity, and I’ll be doing whatever it takes to track down their self-titled 2011 debut (both appear to be available on Bandcamp).  I can only hope the CDs sound even a fraction as good as Alchemia was tonight.

From there I’d have been perfectly satisfied to go right to the airport and fly home, mission accomplished.  But… damn, the festival hasn’t even officially started yet, and if I can find a surprise like this on Day 0 there’s no telling what the next five days will bring!  So we soldiered on, down to KEX Hostel to catch the afro-beats of Bangoura Band (below), an ensemble that seemingly included some kind of solo by all of the ten or so members performing tonight.  Their funky brand of reggae and African influenced beats was a crowd pleaser.  They carried us to the night’s finale (at least the finale for us…), Kiasmos.  I just wrote a week or so ago about their latest release Blurred, and the pair didn’t disappoint the completely packed house at KEX, who were swaying and gently bouncing throughout their set.  We couldn’t even get close enough to the stage to take any decent photos, so you’ll just have to take our word for it that the guys were excellent as usual, playing a mix of old and new tunes.

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After that it was off for a quick late-night hot dog and then to bed, as Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane and our friend Jason arrive in Reykjavik tomorrow morning, bright and earlier.  The on-venue schedule doesn’t even start until tomorrow, and as near as I can tell I’m already about 10 bands deep.  But I’m definitely ready for more.

(♠)  Yes, I know Animal was a Muppet and that doesn’t seem very metal on the surface.  But have you ever seen him play drums?  Have you??  That, my friends, is metal.

Kiasmos – “Blurred” EP (2017)

kiasmosblurredJanus Rasmussen and Ólafur Arnalds are back at it again with another new EP released under the Kiasmos name.  The pair, both successful in their own rights, have garnered quite a following in the EDM world with their style of uptempo ambient that successfully combines quiet, almost classical passages with deep, organic, pulsating beats.  Their latest effort, the six-song Blurred (two of the tracks are remixes), came out a few weeks ago and my vinyl copy just arrived in the mail.  And it’s excellent; from the packaging to the sound quality, no detail was spared.

Certainly ambient electronica is nothing new, nor is incorporating classical instruments and components into electronic compositions.  What Kiasmos does better than anyone, though, is merge the two with a fluidity and poise that is surprisingly coherent, blending the flows of ambient with more beat-driven EDM to give us something special.  Something calming that also forces your body into motion, changing your velocity without you even realizing it’s happening.

Blurred doesn’t deviate from the Kiasmos “formula”, so if you like their prior work you’re going to enjoy this EP as well.  I’d love to seem them push the envelope a bit and possibly even have Rasmussen put vocals, even if just sampled, to one of their tracks – he’s a talented singer as is evidenced by his work with Bloodgroup and I think it would add an intriguing element to Kiasmos’ sound if used judiciously.

I’m bummed to see that Kiasmos is only playing one set at Iceland Airwaves this year, and it’s actually on Tuesday night, the day before the festival officially kicks off.  Fortunately I’m heading to Reykjavik a few days early this year and will be able to catch their set, because they’re not to be missed.

Kiasmos / Rival Consoles – “65 / Milo” (2009)

This is the very first material released by Kiasmos, all the way back from 2009 and a good three years before their seminal Thrown EP.  I’ve know about this split release with Rival Consoles for a while, but I’d never found a reasonably priced copy from a US seller (international shipping ain’t cheap), so it sort of jus stayed in the back of my mind for a while.  Turns out it was one of the first used records I came across during my digging at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records during Airwaves, though, and thus became the first item in what was eventually a fairly large pile of vinyl.

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Kiasmos contributes two songs to the A side of this album, “65” and “Walled”.  And man, this isn’t the Kiasmos I know at all, a far cry from the ambient dance music the duo are known for.  The BPMs are higher, and so is the low end – these tracks don’t have the deep, rich low end I associate with Kiasmos’ more contemporary tracks.  The songs have sort of an insistent quality to them, not quite frenetic but more that feeling you have when you are in the zone, doing a lot of things at once really fast, knowing full well that you’re killing it right now but that any second it could go off the rails if things don’t continue to fall perfectly into place.  It’s intriguing to hear this and think about how differently Kiasmos sound today.

Rival Consoles is London producer Ryan Lee West, and his opening track “Milo” kind of takes things in a chiptune-y direction, with lots of bleeps and bloops.  It’s not totally Nintendo though, as there are some nice sonic shifts and the low end is a bit deeper than Kiasmos gave us on side A.  I actually like it a bit better than the Kiasmos side, though the two compliment one another quite well.

It’s always interesting to hear a band’s earliest works, and getting a chance to spin some OG Kiasmos was a lot of fun and more than a bit intriguing.  In this case I’m a bigger fan of their later works, but the frostiness of 65 / Milo definitely has a time and a place.

Iceland Airwaves 2016 – Day 3

Today’s post is a bit like a time machine.  You see, Life in the Vinyl Lane went dark sometime during Day 3 of Iceland Airwaves, apparently due to some failure on my part in not responding to a validation email about the site’s domain name.  I wasn’t able to get that straightened out until we got home from Iceland, so now I’m sitting here on Tuesday trying to remember what the hell I did last Friday.

To keep things in sort of a chronological flow, I’m actually going to write individual blogs for Days 3-5, and post them retroactively to the days they should have fallen on the calendar. So while I’m writing this on November 8, it’ll actually appear on the blog as if it was posted on November 5 thanks to the magic of the internet.  A very simple example of why you shouldn’t believe something is true just because it’s on the web.

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Our musical schedule opened with another trip down to KEX Hostel, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues in Reykjavik, to see the hip hop collective Digable Planets (left).  They’ve certainly made an impact in the music world over the years, but I have to confess ignorance of their catalog.  That being said, after their Airwaves performance I’m going to definitely need to get my hands on some of their stuff, because they tore it up at KEX.  Rapper Ismael Butler (aka Butterfly) has Seattle ties and is part of Shabazz Palaces, so there’s a local angle there for me as well.  Definitely a top-notch show.

While on the trip our friend Andy pointed out that there were little plastic toy army men glued to various signs, ledges, and window sills throughout the city, something he’d noticed on a separate trip to Reykjavik earlier in the year.  This led to us spending a lot of time looking up as we walked around town and snapping pics of the various army men and other small action figures/toys we found about town… including one army man on our second floor apartment window sill.  We actually got to the bottom of the mystery while having a pre-lunch beer (hey, we’re on vacation…) at Prikið when we asked the bartender what the deal was.  He told us it was a guy who worked at the arcade/toy store across the street who everyone referred to as the “Toy Distributor,” and he was pretty thrilled that tourists were actually noticing this renegade street art.  Only in Reykjavik.

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After dinner we posted up in Harpa for the night, bouncing back and forth between the north and south rooms.  First up was the intriguing aYia (above), an ethereal electro trio performing some spacey ambient jams accompanied by some female vocals.  Not normally my cup of tea, but the whole thing came together with an intriguing fragility that made them a very enjoyable listen.

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Next was a band that is almost sure to make my end of festival “Best Of” list, Dream Wife (right). These ladies flat out rocked, blasting us with killer pop-punk riffs and fronted by none other than Rakel Mjöll, who we immediately recognized from her previous work with Halleluwah.  Dream Wife gives Rakel a chance to step away from the classical cabaret style vocals of Halleluwah and instead get a bit down and dirty, a fun contrast with her at times very young sounding voice.  Bella Podpadec kept the bass hard and funky throughout the set, driving the band forward.  And as for guitarist Alice Go… damn, she was one of the two best guitarists I saw on a stage anywhere at Airwaves (the other being DIMMA’s Ingo Geirdal) and she can go toe-to-toe with anyone; she’s got serious chops on the axe.  The morning after this show I was bouncing all over town looking for a copy of the band’s recent release EP01, and I finally found a copy on baby blue vinyl over at the flea market, so you’ll definitely hear about Dream Wife again on Life in the Vinyl Lane.

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Then it was time for DIMMA (left), a band that impresses me more and more every single time I see them perform.  They’re unquestionably one of the most talented bands, top to bottom, not just in Iceland but anywhere in the world.  Now, I confess, part of my appreciation of DIMMA is because I love their style of music – 1980s style heavy metal, with intricate guitar work and soaring vocals.  After their set I was talking to another American about them and he commented that he was really impressed with their sound, which got us talking about metal in general and me making a comment along the lines of “I love that they play that 1988 style of metal that I grew up with”.  The guy immediately looked down and started shaking his head and his girlfriend started laughing, so I figured they thought what I said was pretty stupid.  But no.  It turns out my man is in a 1980s metal cover band that is actually named 1988!  What are the chances of that?  I should have bought a lottery ticket.

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We stayed up front for the next band as well, Seattle’s own Thunderpussy.  If there was a trend for this year’s Airwaves it was definitely the seemingly massive increase in female bands, and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.  We’d met the ladies from Thunderpussy briefly at The Sonics’ show at KEX earlier in the week, so we were stoked to check them out.  And they brought it.  There are all kinds of reasons to love Thunderpussy’s style of hard rock / sleaze metal, and while the photographers couldn’t get enough of guitarist Whitney Petty (right) and singer Molly Sides, I personally couldn’t take my eyes off of bassist Leah Julius who was absolutely murdering those bass lines.  Julius doesn’t get fancy, she just comes to play, and play hard, shredding her side of the stage and looking every bit the part of a rock god.  This night just kept getting better and better.

We took it down a notch for the final set, grooving out to the atmospheric electronica of Kiasmos (below).  The room was absolutely packed solid with swaying, sweaty bodies, including a few who were only still standing due to the concerted efforts of their friends – amateurs!  This is Airwaves, kids; you have to pace yourself when you’ve got sets starting as late as 2:50AM on a Friday night/Saturday morning; you can’t be passed out at 1:00AM!  We didn’t stay for the whole set because despite their great laser and video show there really wasn’t a lot to actually see as part of the performance, so we called it a night and picked up a late night slice of pizza on the way back to our rental apartment.  It was a full day of great shows, and probably one of the best beginning-to-end days we’ve had at Airwaves.

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Ólafur Arnalds – “LateNightTales” (2016)

From hardcore punk rock to neoclassical to electronica, it feels like Ólafur Arnalds has experimented with just about every type of musical genre that exists.  At the ripe old age of 29 he finds himself at the forefront of the growing modern classical movement.  As the notes on the back of LateNightTales‘ jacket tell us:

Right now we’re standing at the intersection where techno meets classical music and it sounds mighty fine.

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I was surprised the other day when I came across this June 2016 release, as I hadn’t seen anything online about Arnalds releasing a new album.  Though, to be fair, LateNightTales isn’t exactly an Ólafur Arnalds project – he’s directly involved in only four of the 18 tracks that make up the double album, three credited as Ólafur Arnalds and one as part of his fantastic ambient electronic duo Kiasmos, all of which appear to be previously unreleased.  The other 14 tracks are contributed by an interesting assortment of artists, a few of who like Samaris, James Blake, Rival Consoles and Hjaltalín that I’m familiar with, but also others who I haven’t heard before.

This latest curated LateNightTales release is pure chill, songs for the evening time when you’re hanging with a small group of friends, or maybe just by yourself, relaxing, talking, unwinding, grooving…  I wasn’t familiar with this series of compilations until checking out the label website and was surprised to see a couple of dozen of the these collections put together by artists like Fatboy Slim, The Flaming Lips, and Django Django, and it’s an interesting concept.  It appears that a number of LateNightTales releases include cover songs by the curating artist, and in Arnalds’ case he teams up with vocalist Arnór Dan of Agent Fresco fame (who was also featured alongside Arnalds on the brilliant track “Old Skin” on For Now I Am Winter) to cover Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” which Arnór handles beautifully.

Arnalds’ own material is, of course, excellent.  But of the artists he selected I came away most impressed with the more uptempo ambient of Rival Consoles’ “Pre” and the rich beats of Jai Paul’s “Jasmine (Demo)”.  Spooky Black’s “Pull” is another high point, with its haunting vocals that seem to float on top of the undercurrent that is the music and the beat that has a surprising kick to it for such an ethereal song.

I’ll have to keep my eyes open for used copies of other albums in the LateNightTales series – it’s a cool concept and I could see getting into some of these if the price is right.