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.

Revenge of Calculon – “Electric Soup / Juicy Lucha” and “Sci-Funk / Lightning Bugs” 7″ Singles

It was one of those November Reykjavik nights that makes you want to crank up the heat, crawl into a fetal position, cover yourself with a comforter, and hide inside until morning.  Pitch dark outside, the temperature hovering around 40 degrees, the wind blowing like a pissed off banshee, and the rain… god the rain… drops the size of nickels coming at you from 45 degree angles and soaking your pants before you can even make sure the apartment door closed behind you.  It was the kind of night where you always tried to keep your back to the wind no matter what direction you were walking purely out of an instinct to at least keep your face dry.  Unfortunately the north Atlantic winds are shifty and no matter which way you turned, it was the wrong one.  But we were on a mission.  And while we arrived at our final destination Dillon four blocks later completely soaked, we were there in time to get a beer, go to the upstairs room, and see Revenge of Calculon.

Revenge of Calculon is hard to describe but I’ll give it a shot.  Take doses of Detroit techno and James Brown and Godzilla and Logan’s Run and cheap scotch and Thin Lizzy and ham radio frequencies and robots that can shoot laser beams out of their eyes and Sun Ra and Parliament Funkadelic, mix it all up in a blender, shock it a few times with a car battery, then serve it in a tumbler with a light coating of crystal meth on the rim.  Drink while wearing track suits and luchador masks.

Even the rain couldn’t stop Revenge of Calculon from extracting its pound of ear flesh from the audience.  You see, the roof at Dillon leaks a bit, anvil-sized drops of water falling seemingly at random, sometimes onto the floor, sometimes into your $10 beer, and once right smack-dab onto Sonic Abuser’s magical electro-board, shorting it out and stopping the sound with the suddenness of a stolen car hitting a brick wall.  But a quick un-plug-re-plug and they were back in business, picking up as if nothing at all had happened.  Fuck you, Reykjavik winter.  Revenge of Calculon has a show to do.

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What Revenge of Calculon looks like

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What Revenge of Calculon FEELS like

I was excited to hear that the duo had a new 7″ coming out this year, then doubly so when I found out they’d be releasing a pair of singles at the same time.  So I reached out to Rob, a.k.a. Sonic Abuser (the other half of Revenge of Calculon is bassist JC9000) to get the low-down.

Revenge of Calculon is dropping a pair of brand new filthy 7” singles at the same time.  Why did you you guys decide to give us the double dose of funk at once?

We’re not into LPs or 12”s so when we realised we had too many tracks to fit on a 7” it was an obvious choice to make.  I kinda like the idea of bringing out a double (mainly because hardly anyone does it, so it makes us look cool), and it’s interesting to match up the two singles to compliment each other in style rather than just two stand alone 7”s.

For “Sci-Funk” we went down with the P-funk vibe of constant driving groove with a classic vocoder riff going on and this track pairs up nicely with “Juicy Lucha” which is on the B-side of the other 7”.  “Electric Soup” is slightly more stand alone because it’s our second collaboration with our hip-hop hippie rapper Motormouf. It’s probably the first time we’ve come anywhere near to what you’d call a ‘song’ rather than just pure funkatronics.  I seem to remember watching a lot of old cop shows and reading about the legend of ‘electric soup’ which was the nickname given to an illegal booze drank in Scotland in the early 1900s. “hey, that’s a grand idea for a song”.

What are the inspirations that drive Revenge of Calculon? I assume the go beyond musical…

Now your talking!  To be honest, me and bassist JC had just come out of another musical project and wanted to have a complete break from the whole ‘band’ thing, so I was just messing around with ideas for an imaginary band.  The visual concept and whole mythology behind the masked duo definitely came first, the music just morphed out of it.  Musical inspirations are whatever has been mashed up in the back of my brain over the years, some on a production level and others that are more visceral.  I guess if I had to throw down a bunch of influences it be Frank Zappa, Beatsie Boys, Sly and the Family Stone, Primus, Public Enemy along with more soundtrack-based stuff like Bebe & Louis Barron, Bob Crewe, Lalo Schifrin and Wendy Carlos.  Big fan of Delia Derbyshire who was a pioneer of electronic music working for the BBC Radiophonic workshop in the 1960s.

The video for “Electric Soup” is amazing. I believe you reached out to some of your friends and fans and asked them to send in video clips of nighttime driving in their cities, right? How was the response? What cities do we see in the background?

Yeah, we really got lucky with our mates on that one. We wanted to act like players for the shoot, so what could be better than driving a big assed white Cadillac around, right?  But lets face it, UK streets don’t quite make the grade for a 70’s copshow style video.  We didn’t want to go down the green screen CGI route because it had to look very obviously fake to give it that Starsky and Hutch/Kojak vibe.  So we went back to using traditional projectors live on set.

Our director checked out a load of stock footage from all the 70’s shows and it was gonna be either New York or San Francisco, but it turns out that 1970’s stock footage is insanely expensive to licence so we had to come up with another plan.  Hang on, we have a bunch of mates living in these towns and they have camera phones right?  So we reached out to a few people and in the end we got our mates Marssy and Lyman who live in San Francisco to do some drive-bys.  Would have loved to have been there to see Marssy hanging out of the door of a moving car trying to shoot footage of liquor stores and strip joints!

The two records have a similar overall style, but each have their own flavor. What differentiates the two in your mind?

I guess the obvious difference would be that “Electric Soup” features legendary rapper Motormouf laying down riffs about dealing illegal alcohol and “Sci-Funk” is more of a dance floor funk thing.  The “Sci-Funk” 7” is actually a double A-side with the track “Lightning Bugs” which is by a band called Honey In The Swamp. Turns out they’re actually just some weird old dude with a bunch of crappy guitars and drums who got bored of producing electro-funk.

What are you listening to and getting inspiration from right now? Who are some of the new artists you’re into?

There’s so much tasty music around at the moment, I reckon everything I listen to influences me in some way.  Really into BCUC’s LP Emakhosini at the moment, Icelandic duo Kiasmos are always a fave and I’ve been rediscovering King Tubby.

I picked up a couple of singles (and a luchador mask – true story) from the guys at that Dillon show, and later ordered the other two from their web store.  And man let me tell you, it is some filthy funky stuff.  So when my copies of “Sci-Funk” and “Electric Soup” arrived I wasted no time getting them onto the turntable.

“Sci-Funk” / “Lightning Bugs”

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As Rob mentioned, this is a split release with Honey In the Swamp.  The Calculon track is called “Sci-Funk”, a jam that conjures up image of Battlestar Galactica cylons (not the new smooth ones; the old-school blocky monsters from the original series that looked metal pyramids on top of legs wearing rubber pants) dancing on Soul Train, all smooth low end and angular high end, their red-dot eyes kind of fuzzed out from drinking too much anti-freeze and staying awake for three days conquering the universe.  It’s groovy.  It’s sleazy.  It’s good for your soul and bad for your liver.  “Lightning Bugs” is more a lo-fi Americana experience, the guitar work and grooves and coffee-can-mic vocals still giving it a similar feel to “Sci-Funk” but coming at you from a completely different angle, one down on the bayou with dangerous crawling things all around.  Two disparate performers on one 7″, but they still fit together in a curious way – if you’d told me that “Lightning Bugs” was a Calculon track I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.  Pressed on blue vinyl.

“Electric Soup” / “Juicy Lucha”

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“Electric Soup” is, quite frankly, the jam.  Let me clarify with capital letters.  The.  Jam.  It’s one of the best two or three new songs I’ve heard all year.  Calculon’s brand of electro-funk acts as the base for Motormouf’s rap, a song about consuming and being consumed by the concoction known as electric soup (…mixing milk with cheap speed…), which sounds like it will both keep you up for a week straight and likely result in you waking up in a basement with no pants on, wearing a luchador mask, and surrounded by the remnants of burned candles and chicken blood.  And the video?  The video!  Check it out below and prepare to play it about a half dozen times straight as you get your funk on (and check out JC9000’s smooth moves!). The B side, “Juicy Lucha”, is like the soundtrack to a 70s blaxploitation film about a cop with a hard edge who protects his old neighborhood, all strutting polyester funk with a hint of danger, the synths putting a bounce in his step as his eagle-eyes scope out the streets like a predator.  Pressed on orange vinyl.

You can find these gems, as well as Revenge of Calculon’s other four 7″ records, over at their online shop HERE.  At £5 each you should definitely pick up at least a couple, because if you’re going to have a package sent from the UK adding an extra 7″ or two isn’t going to increase the postage.  I believe they’ll be at Iceland Airwaves again this year, so you might be able to grab some copies then as well.  And make sure to look for me at their shows… I’ll be packing my luchador mask, so I should be easy to spot in the crowd…

The Best of 2017

Unlike many Life in the Vinyl Lane blogs, I’m writing this one on the same day I’m posting it.  It’s Christmas morning, and out my living room window I can see the rare Seattle white Christmas in effect as we got about three inches of snow last night, which is a nice touch (it’ll be even nicer if it’s all melted off the roads by time I have to leave for work on Wednesday morning…).  But since we don’t have kids and both of us have very small immediate families, this morning is much like any other winter-time weekend, only with different holiday-themed coffee cups.

Going into 2017 I decided to start keeping a log to help me with my year-end lists, and while I wasn’t as diligent as I’d have liked it still was a big help, especially in the area of new releases.  There was a lot of great new music this year!  In fact, there was so much that the choices weren’t all that easy to make.  Since Holly and I both have project management backgrounds, though, we were able to come up with a solution – we created a scrum board of our favorite 16 releases of 2017 and then used a random number generator to select which one we would play every night as we worked our way through them.  And I’m glad we did, because there were some albums from earlier in the year that had fallen off our radars a bit, and man they sounded great when we came back around to them.

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In preparation I also spent a few hours combing through the top albums lists of various major (and minor) publications and blogs.  Perhaps even more so in years past I was struck by two things.  The first is how few of the albums on other lists I’ve heard.  In fact, when it came to the major pubs (think Rolling Stone, SPIN, NME…) I literally had only heard ONE album on any of these lists – Songhoy Blues’ Résistance, which appeared at #31 on the Rolling Stone list, though nowhere else.  The only other one I found was in The Quietus‘ top metal albums list, having heard and reviewed Sólstafir’s Berdreyminn.    So at least there’s that.  Only Dr. Rok’s list of Top 20 Icelandic releases yielded any common ground – I’ve heard 14 of these, which probably is indicative of the real issue here, which is that I listen to a lot of Icelandic music, and that stuff doesn’t generally make the year-end lists with a few exceptions.  And that brings me to my second observation.  I’m surprised how many of the bands on these lists I have never even heard of.  In fact, on most lists I’m lucky to have heard of maybe a quarter of the artists, sometimes less.  For a guy who writes a music blog, I sure don’t seem to know much about what’s happening in music.

All that being said, the scrum board has been taken down and the votes tallied.  So without further ado…

Top 5 New Releases In 2017

  1. Neysluvara – Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Midnight Champion – Legend (Iceland)
  3. Suero – Farmacia (Argentina)
  4. Space Cadaver – Space Cadaver (US – New Orleans)
  5. Sports – Fufanu (Iceland)

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There were two albums I knew were going to be in my Top 5 even before the scrum board experiment – Neysluvara and Midnight Champion.  They were clearly head-and-shoulders above all comers in 2017.  While Legend held an edge over Hatari by virtue of the fact that they put out a full album while their island-mates only gave us a four-song EP (and one that was only on CD to boot!), we were both simply blown away by Hatari.  Neysluvara‘s brand of IDM has been pumping out of my iPod almost non-stop over the last two months and it doesn’t get old.  If I’m being honest Hatari probably gets a little extra lift by the fact that we saw them live this year and they blew us away.  I get that that shouldn’t impact a top album kind of thing, but as Holly pointed out, this is a blog and music is a personal experience, and it’s hard to separate out those personal experiences from the music itself.  So as much as I love Midnight Champion, both musically and lyrically, I’m giving the top spot by Hatari.

Suero had fallen off the radar for a while and revisiting it reminded me of just how good it is.  If there’s one thing that separates it from Space Cadaver and Sports, it’s the sonic experimentation the Argentinian’s do.  Sure, it’s all electronic music; but it’s all over the board, from pure dance numbers to crazy experiments.  And I’d be lying if the personal connection we made with the Sima brothers earlier this year on our visit to Buenos Aires didn’t have an impact on my feelings about this album.  Space Cadaver is unquestionably my favorite metal album of 2017, and while I think it’s only available on cassette you owe it to yourself to get a copy and go buy a cheap boom box at the pawn shop so you can listen to it (or, of course, simply buy a download, you know, if you’re lazy like that), and Fufanu hit it out of the post-punk park with Sports.  From a genre standpoint I’m very happy with this Top 5 list as there’s great stuff here for people of almost any musical taste.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Farmacia (Argentina)
  3. Kuldaboli (Iceland)
  4. Revenge of Calculon (UK)
  5. Egyptian Lover (US)

I’ve already touched on the top two bands on this list, so let me move on to the next three.  Kuldaboli’s Vafasamur Lífsstíll 2015-2016 came out at the very end of 2016, and if I’d heard it then instead of early this year it probably would have made my top five new releases list last year – it’s that good.  I got to see him perform live at Lucky Records during Airwaves this years as well as chat with him for a few minutes – good dude.  We caught Revenge of Calculon live in the cramped, damp confines of Dillon on the last day of Airwaves and they killed it with their brand of electro-movie-horror-funk and since then I’ve picked up all four of their 7″ records.  As for Egyptian Lover… how had I gone this long without ever having heard the Lover before??  I can thank our friend Ingvar for this one.  We were chatting about music over dinner when he visited Seattle and was dumbfounded by my lack of Egyptian experience.  The next day at Silver Platters he walked up to me with a box set, pressed it in my hands, and said “you need to buy this”.  And he was right. Takk, Ingvar!

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

  1. “Tug of War” b/w “Give Me the Knife” – Connections
  2. Driving the Bats Thru Jerusalem – Bonemen of Barumba
  3. 20 Jazz Funk Greats – Throbbing Gristle
  4. Special Offer – Sensational
  5. Suero – Farmacia

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Four of the five items on this list have some kind of personal connection, actually resulting in me becoming connected with the artists.  The totally random pick-up of the Connections 7″ led me to former member Nolan Anderson and his lovely wife Catherine, who today perform as the Mad Andersons.  I was able to provide a ripped copy of the songs to Nolan, which he hadn’t heard in decades, and that made me feel really good.

My post on Bonemen of Barumba somehow found its way to former founding member Mark Panick, who stunned me when he posted on Facebook that he liked the fact that I obviously “got it” in terms of what the band was doing.  We later connected online, only to come to find out that we have a friend in common – the one and only Ingvar of Reykjavik’s Lucky Records.  Mark even sports a Lucky t-shirt in a video he was in earlier this year.  Ingvar struck again with Sensational, who I turned him onto during his trip to Seattle and who he then, against all logical odds, ran into randomly on the streets of NYC just days later.  That led to me Facebook messaging with Sensational a bit and buying some mail order from him.

Oddly enough Iceland also played a part in us connecting with Ariel and Diego Sima of Farmacia in Buenos Aires – their album Suero was put out on cassette by Reykjavik’s Lady Boy Records.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the brothers while in Argentina and picked up a bunch of their back catalog from them.  As for Throbbing Gristle… this one was purely about acquisition.  My local record haunt Vortex posted on FB that they’d just acquired a bunch of experimental stuff from a local DJ and I immediately wend down to the store where I scored a couple of great condition TG titles, a great opportunity to explore some of the early works of the pioneers of industrial music.

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. Hatari – Gamla Bíó, Reykjavik
  2. Sir Mix-A-Lot – Nectar Lounge, Seattle
  3. Metallica – CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  4. Revenge of Calculon – Dillon, Reykjavik
  5. GusGus – Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik

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I thought I had this list wrapped up about a week ago.  And I did.  At least until we headed out to Nectar Lounge on Dec. 23 and caught Sir Mix-A-Lot live, which forced me into a last-minute revision.

I covered the Hatari, Revenge of Calculon, and Gusgus shows in my various posts from Iceland Airwaves this year, and actually did the same about Metallica when I wrote about the live CD of this actual show.  Each of these shows gave me something different.  Hatari was a brilliant performance, an integration of stage presence and music; Metallica was a chance to revisit my youth, the first time I’d seen the masters of thrash live since the late 1980s; Revenge of Calculon was one of those great unexpected surprises you sometimes get at live shows; and Gusgus… what more can I say about Gusgus?  They gave us a 90 minute set that had the crowd swaying and dancing the entire time and were musically brilliant as always.

As for Mix-A-Lot, he’s Seattle hip hop royalty and his 1986 debut LP Swass spent a lot of time in the cassette player of my ’84 Mustang when I was in high school.  He did shows on back-to-back nights at the intimate Nectar Lounge (max capacity 400) in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood last weekend and we had a blast at the Saturday night gig.  In addition to some new stuff, Mix gave us a ton of classics like “Testarossa”, “Beepers”, “My Hooptie”, “Swass”, and even a little “Buttermilk Biscuits”.  Of course he also played his mega-hit “Baby Got Back”, but as a Seattleite and long-time Sir Mix-A-Lot fan there was one song I HAD to hear, and he gave it to us – “Posse on Broadway”.  Rest assured Mix fans, he’s still got it.  Posse up!

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
2.  Daybreak Records, Seattle
3.  Disko Obscura, New Orleans
4.  Skully’z Recordz, New Orleans
5.  Extremem Noise Records, Minneapolis

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Smekkleysa, Reykjavik
4.  Tempo Musica, Buenos Aires
5.  Reykjavik Flea Market

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I swear, much of these lists don’t change don’t change from year to year.  It would be a weird for Easy Street not to be #1 for me in North America given how often we go there, though the relatively new Daybreak Records definitely gives Easy Street a run for its money in the area of used vinyl.  Our trip to New Orleans didn’t yield a ton of music, but Disko Obscura’s collection of great synth albums was well worth the visit and the guy over at Skully’z turned us on to Space Cadaver and some good punk and metal stuff, which was cool.  I’ve been to Minneapolis a bunch of times, but somehow never made it to Extreme Noise, an oversight I was glad to correct this year – tons of great punk and metal there.  We have a trips to Portland (OR) and Denver already on the books for the first half of 2018, so I definitely have some more good record shopping in my future.

We didn’t do as much international travel this year has we have in the recent past, only visiting two countries – Iceland and Argentina (hard to say we “only” got to take two international trips this year… we’re super-fortunate to be able to travel as much as we do). Unfortunately the one thing we found to be expensive in Argentina was vinyl, which was seemingly completely out of whack with reality.  I found some exciting early punk stuff, but at $150+ per record US I just couldn’t do it.  I broke down and picked up a couple of titles, but our best success was in the tiny Tempo Musica where we loaded up on local CDs thanks to a lot of help from the owner (and some recommendations from a couple of guys working at a food truck earlier in the day!).  The rest of the shops are all in Reykjavik and you’ve likely heard me prattle on about them endlessly in the past, but all are great places to check out should you find yourself in Iceland.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti
  2. Lou Reed:  A Life by Anthony DeCurtis
  3. Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 by Cyn Collins
  4. Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!: The True Story of Frank the Shank and L.A.’s Deadliest Punk Rock Gang by Heath Mattioli and David Spacone
  5. I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell

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I didn’t do as much music reading this year as I have in years past – probably only 7-8 books total.  That being said, I’m comfortable in recommending all of these to you.  Art Sex Music is head and shoulders above the rest, giving us as it does a glimpse into the 1970s experimental scene in the UK by Throbbing Gristle member and artist Cosey Fanni Tutti.  Tutti isn’t afraid to let us know anything about her life and art, and her seemingly near-complete transparency makes for a powerful, if at times sad, read.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and her work.  DeCurtis’ book on Lou Reed was deeply researched and I was primarily drawn to the more pure biographical aspects of the narrative, not so much the minutiae of Reed’s individual releases.  Complicated Fun is an entertaining and informative oral history of the Minneapolis scene, one that in many ways is reminiscent of Seattle’s, while the last two are entertaining first person tellings of hard punk rock lives.  It also features our very own Kevin Cole from Seattle’s KEXP radio, as Kevin was a noted DJ and record store owner in Minneapolis during the era.  it’s a small, small world.

 

Well, there you have it, my faithful readers.  Thank you, as always, for your support and comments.  While at times the pure need to write overwhelms me to the point where I feel like it’s something I have to do in order to not spontaneously combust, Life in the Vinyl Lane doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it’s put me in touch with some amazing people over the years, perhaps no year more so than 2017.  And it’s these connections that make it a truly special experience.  So no matter where you’re reading this, I say “thank you”, and I’ll see you in 2018!

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.

Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Reflections

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Our 9th consecutive Airwaves is in the books.  Will we make it a nice round 10 next year?  I’m not sure, but things are leaning towards “no” as I have some work commitments that all come to a head right when Airwaves 2018 starts.  But that’s a big unknown at this point, and I’m still basking in the afterglow of a pretty solid festival.

On the surface this year’s lineup looked a bit soft – a lot of the big-name Icelandic acts that normally play Airwaves weren’t there this year, which was a bit of a bummer.  But it also meant that we’d see a lot more new-to-us bands, and that’s always an exciting prospect. And those bands delivered, some of them in pretty massive ways.

The move away from Harpa was a good one, IMO, bringing the festival back to it’s small-club-hopping roots.  I was bummed to walk past NASA last week only to see a crew literally in the process of demolishing it… I guess 2016 was truly the last hurrah of what I thought was Reykjavik’s best music venue.  I should have tried to snag something as a memento, but honestly seeing it like that was just plain sad.  The Hard Rock adds a nice new and suitably-sized location though, and Gamla Bíó is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues.  And, as usual, KEX Hostel and KEXP put on a fantastic off-venue lineup (like Russia’s ГШ/Glintshake shown below).  The only negative thing at all I can say about the KEX shows is that many of them are insanely packed; but that the way it is – they’re open to everyone, with or without a wristband.  We just get there early, grab some beers, and stake out our spots.

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I feel like I didn’t buy as much music this year as I have in years past, though in reality I still came home with a ton of stuff, including more than the normal amount of CDs as the flea market was VERY good for CD digging this year.  Of the 20 or so 12″ and dozen 7″ records I brought back, at least half were new-ish releases, whereas the CDs were almost all used and 10+ years old.  While we returned home on Monday evening, I also took Tuesday off from work and used that time, in part, to clean records and listen to CDs.  I’ve got so much incredible music to get to and share with you that I’m actually slightly anxious about how much stuff is on my To-Listen-To shelf.  But I know I’m up to the challenge!

So… on to my “Best of Airwaves 2017” list!

Best Venue:  There was a fair amount of competition in this category.  This was the first year we’d seen shows at the Hard Rock and the upstairs room of Dillon, and we saw some solid shows in each.  KEX Hostel was great as always, as was Gamla Bíó, and the Dr. Spock show at Húrra was off the charts.  But I have to pick one, so I’m going with Gamla Bíó.  It’s a great space, the stage is high enough that you can see the musicians even if the floor is packed and you’re short, and the sound was near-perfect.  Add to that the fact that we saw unquestionably the best show of the festival there (more on that below), I’m giving Gamla Bíó the crown for 2017 with an honorable mention to that tiny, crammed room at the top of Dillon (leaky roof and all…) where we saw some outstanding shows with a fun mix of locals and visitors.  We’ll make sure Dillon is in the regular rotation in the future.

Best Show:  There were a few legitimate contenders for this award, but I’m going with the freak-fest that Hatari (below) put on at Gamla Bíó on Thursday night.  Bondage gear, spiked masks, dancers who came straight off the Road Warrior movie set… it was a feast for the eyes and flowed perfectly with Hatari’s brand of in-your-face IDM.  The best one-word description I can provide is “captivating”; you simply couldn’t take your eyes off of what was happening on the stage.  The room was completely packed and it was apparent that the band had everyone’s rapt attention.  It’s easy to ride the emotional high of a recent show and say “that was the best show ever”, but I think the last five days has given me a bit of perspective and… that was the best show I’ve ever seen at Airwaves!  Holy crap it was fantastic.  Right up there with Gusgus at NASA in ’09 and FM Belfast at NASA in ’10.  It was the kind of show that makes me re-think both music and performance.

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Best New-To-Me Band:  Given what I just wrote above the obvious answer here is Hatari.  However, I’d like to recognize another band that absolutely crushed it, one that also put on a crazed live performance, and since it’s my blog, that’s what I’m gonna do.

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We only saw three bands on Sunday.  Frankly we almost came away only seeing one because a storm blew into town and the rain was coming down sideways in the early evening, but we decided to tough it out and head to Dillon in the late afternoon and it was there that we experienced the self-described “Lo-Fi Electro Funk Luchadors” that are Revenge of Calculon (right).  This had lots of elements that I love – sampling from movie clips, synths, electronic weirdness, funky bass, and luchador masks.  These dudes from the UK killed it, then brought it back to life with the power of funk.  It was a great performance on every level and I bought a some 7″ singles from the band after the show… and they even threw in a luchador mask!  Hail Calculon!

Coolest Music Purchase(s):  From a rarity standpoint I was glad to get my hands on a copy of Drýsill’s 1985 metal record Welcome to the Show, which is legitimately tough to find.  Same goes for The Magnetics’ 1981 synth record A Historical Glimpse of the Future. From a pure listening standpoint I was actually most excited about running across not one but two CDs from Bubbleflies and a comp by OG punks Fan Houtens Kókó called Gott Bít.  I played all three today, and at a combined cost of about 20 bucks I couldn’t be happier/

Biggest Regret:  I wanted to go see FM Belfast at the Art Museum on Friday night, but bottom line is I lacked the energy.  Our friends Norberto and J went and said it was awesome, and I’m 100% sure it was.  Fortunately we’ve seen them a number of times in the past, so I don’t feel too guilty about missing this set.

 

We’re not sure what next year has in store for us, and whether or not those plans include Reykjavik.  One thing is for certain, though – 2017 won’t be our last Iceland Airwaves.  With so many great friends in Iceland, and more joining the family every year, I just know that we’ll be back.  So Reykjavik, keep the lights on for us, and keep pumping out all of that great music.