If body odor has a home, someplace it resides while waiting to attach itself to your body after a hard workout or just some poor decision making, that address is the basement of Reykjavik’s Bar 11.
But more on that in a bit.
Iceland Airwaves 2015 officially got underway on Wednesday, and that means my record shopping also began. And given how much stuff I bought, it may have also ended because I have to figure out how to get all of this stuff home, which will be no easy task.
I spent a couple of hours at my favorite shop first thing this morning, flipping through the Icelandic vinyl at Lucky Records and coming away with a number of gems. Newish releases by Pink Street Boys, Futuregrapher, Fufanu, President Bongo, and more were augmented by some OG classics like Purrkur Pillnikk, Fræbbblarnir, and Rikshaw. I added a handful of CDs for good measure before heading up to Reykjavik Record Store where I picked up a few more gems, including a vinyl copy of Legend’s Fearless and a personalized signed copy of the new record by Manu Delago, known for his hang playing, at his in-store event. My record bag was so heavy by time I stumbled back to our apartment that I’m pretty sure I tore my rotator cuff.
As for the music, we showed up at Bar 11 just before 3:30, when Elín Helena we due on stage, but arrived to find a small group of people huddled outside and the front door locked. It wasn’t until about five minutes after the scheduled start time that someone advised us that we’d have to enter through the back door and go downstairs (because Bar 11), which would have been amazing to know sooner. Adding to the confusion, the band on stage was not Elín Helena but instead a relatively young, but pretty talented, group called Vára who played a somewhat punkish style in the stinky, stale basement.
After a break for dinner we walked a few blocks to the 12 Tónar record store to hear Gusgus‘ President Bongo perform his newly released electronic album, Serengeti. One of the electro geniuses behind Gusgus’ sound, Bongo didn’t disappoint with an intriguing 30+ minutes of non-stop music inside the cramped upstairs of the store. I’m looking forward to giving the new record a more detailed listening when we return home.
From there we headed down to the venerable venue NASA, the first place we ever saw an Airwaves show all the way back in 2009. NASA has not been part of Airwaves for the last three years, having been closed down with plans on demolishing it to build a hotel. Thanks at least in part to the local community, who did not want to lose such an outstanding concert hall, NASA was saved, cleaned up, and added to the list of official venues for this years’ Airwaves. It was so freshly remodeled we could smell the paint inside.
Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015
The first band we heard at NASA on Wednesday was the Icelandic duo Wesen, featuring vocalist Júlía Hermannsdóttir (also of Oyama) and electronics guy/vocalist Loji Höskuldsson (also of Sudden Weather Change), who impressed me with their darker style of electro-pop. Next up was Halleluwah (above), whose self-titled album came out earlier this year and was reviewed on the blog HERE. Simply put, they stole the show and won the night with their blend of 1920s/1930s style updated as a more modern electronic sound. Rakel Mjöll was absolutely and endearingly wonderful on stage, an expressive singer with an unusual voice, one perfectly suited to the music the band is currently playing. After that was Royal, the project combining Borko (of FM Belfast fame) and Futuregrapher (of Futuregrapher fame), who played a surprising uptempo set featuring some truly quirky songs that quickly won over the audience.
Then it was time to take a move in the hip hop direction. The feminist collective known as Reykjavíkurdætur burst out onto the stage all wearing what can be best described as flesh-toned undergarments. Not lingerie – but just practical stuff to wear under your clothes. Known for their political/feminist presence and songs, much of that was lost on us due to our inability to speak Icelandic. There was, however, one song sung in English. And it was about the joys of anal sex. In detail. So there’s that. Next was Gísli Pálmi, who gained international cred recently for knocking out (literally) Bam Margera of Jackass fame at a festival earlier this year. Gísli and his Glacier Mafia (their term, not mine) put on a fast paced set. The beats were excellent, and though Pálmi at times appeared to try almost a little to hard to be truly hip hop, I have to credit him for his energy, delivery, and stage-presence – the man knows how to put on a show and he had the crowed bouncing and, after removing his shirt, a few of the ladies standing near us eyeing him like he was a steak and they had just given up being vegetarians.
Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015
That took us to the closing act, Retro Stefson. Now, I’m not going to be ridiculous enough to imply that Iceland somehow has the market cornered on party bands, but I do know this – two of the funnest party bands in the world are FM Belfast and Retro Stefon, and on the occasions that the two combine as one on stage it’s a total blow-out. We first saw Retro Stefson when they were still a fairly young band back in 2010, and they’ve grown leaps and bounds since then. It had been a few years since we’d seen them at Airwaves, though, and frankly they started off seemingly a little slow and uncertain of one another. But the positive vibes built quickly and by the middle of the set they had the crowd in the palms of their hands, even running a dance contest on the main floor. They still have it, and it was the perfect way to end the first night of the festival.
If this is how good the rest of the week is going to be, we’re in for some good times and not a lot of sleep.