We first encountered Une Misère at Iceland Airwaves 2017, and it was one of those magical examples of going to a venue to see one band (in this case Hatari) and being unexpectedly blown away by another. Une Misère’s live performance hits you like a runaway semi truck, barreling along at breakneck speed with utter disregard for any obstacle in its path. The sonic and psychic destruction is that complete, and we walked away that evening big fans. We saw them again just a week ago (below), and trust me when I tell you they haven’t lost a step. In fact they may even be picking up speed.
I kept tabs on them after that first exposure and was surprised to find their only output were some digital downloads on their Bandcamp page (and I strongly encourage you to check out 010717HERE). How did these guys not have a deal, even one with one of the smaller Icelandic labels, to put out a physical release? Well, it took a while, but earlier this year it was announced that Une Misère were releasing their debut LP Sermon, and on Nuclear Blast nonetheless. I was lucky enough to track down a copy of the gold splatter edition while in Reykjavik last week (edition of 500), and this will be the first of many posts on Icelandic releases over the next few months as I dig through the pile of stuff we brought home.
For background on the band I refer you to a feature from earlier this year in the English language Reykjavik GrapevineHERE. The wide-ranging interview included all of the band members and provides a solid background into their history together and motivations.
Sermon captures Une Misère’s live intensity, a crossover of hardcore and thrash, aggro and insightful, the embracing of life’s pain that is necessary in order to overcome.
Struggle to fight the pain within, I won’t give in, I won’t give in. Push on, Push every word you say, They won’t hear you, Blame me, Feel my vengeance. — “Voiceless”
The power of the music comes at you from every direction. Pounding drums that sometimes transition suddenly to double bass and then back again, rage-fueled vocals, and not one, not two, but three shredding guitars fill the sonic space. But Sermon is well mixed and there’s room here for everything. “Failure” is the song that sticks out the most, a jam that maintains the core elements of Une Misère’s sound while being very intentionally structured. Yes, it has speed and power, but it doesn’t rely on them so much as it does sculpt them in a way that creates a specific shape and form. “Overlooked/Disregarded” is one of their earliest works, dating back to 2016, and it’s as powerful as ever on Sermon.
This is a killer record and a must-listen-to for those of you who like the hard stuff. You can sample it online HERE.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
Day 2 didn’t know if it wanted to be rainy or sunny in Reykjavik, so instead it decided to be both at the same time.
But a little rain couldn’t stop us and after sleeping in we hit the streets just after Noon. Our first stop was the retail space/office of FM Belfast‘s Lóa, who posted on Facebook yesterday that she’d have some pre-release copies of the band’s new album Island Broadcast available. The vinyl copies were still in transit, but I picked up a signed copy of the CD as well as a signed print drawing she did of the entire band (Lóa is an accomplished artist across multiple mediums). After that it was off to Bíó Paradís to catch the electronica set by one of our favorite Lady Boy Records alumni, Andi, who as usual did not disappoint with a fun mid-tempo set. From there we popped over to Íslenski Barinn for some lunch, and while there heard one of the most unusual live performances we’ve ever experienced at Airwaves.
When people ask me “what kind of music do they play at Airwaves” my canned response is “everything but country and jazz”. Well, the opening song by this female duo in matching dresses who go by Bergmál seemed to effectively cross country off the list with a somewhat comical song about how not remembering someone’s name is about the meanest thing you can do. But then things took a turn for the surreally weird with a song literally about women farting. And then came the pièce de résistance, a song called “Your Anus Is Not of Uranus”, which helps clarify the fact that the planet is not the same thing as, well, you know… your anus. A song that includes the lyrically incredible Biology… and astronomy bitches… the four of us were laughing so hard that we were all in tears. That was followed by songs about necrophilia and menstruation, because of course it was. Just check out their video. You’re welcome.
Later in the afternoon we headed over to KEX Hostel to catch the Russian new wave/punk band ГШ/Glintshake(below/left), a show that was being broadcast live back to Seattle (and across the planet via the black magic of the internet). And man did they hit it out of the park. With a funky rhythm section and sometimes jangly, sometimes disjointed guitars, they maintained a old-school punk rock edge with a pop aesthetic. We scored a spot right in the front and as always at the KEX shows the sound and lighting was perfect. As soon as the show ended I get a text from my buddy Travis in Seattle telling me he’d just heard this band live on KEXP and that I had to check them out… and it was the show we literally just saw. I’ll definitely be trying to track down some of their albums.
After a couple of beers at the KEX bar it was out to the beautiful theater Gamla Bíó for some metal and industrial. Godchilla opened up the on-venue evening and delivered a heavy sludge metal set that was thick and driving. Next up was Une Misère (right), a relatively new Icelandic hardcore band that provided an unexpected shot in the arm that hit me like a dose of meth. (♣) With three guitars this six-man outfit came out in straight aggro style, got in our faces, yelled at us, and drove nails into our skills with the sheer wall of power they produced. Une Misère came, saw, and conquered all before them and left us all impressed.
And then shit got weird.
Like, really, really weird.
The band I was most interested in seeing tonight was Hatari (below), (♠) who have built a reputation not only for their music but for the extremeness of their visual performance. Some folks who saw their show at KEX earlier in the festival were uncertain about the whole thing but the high stage and dark room of Gamla Bíó was the perfect setting for their brand of harsh IDM. The place was packed and the mood just right when the guys came out dressed in their best bondage gear and proceeded to tear our faces off. The sheer performance was impressive, with all three members staying within their on-stage personaes throughout flanked by a pair of female dancers who looked like they walked off the set of one of the Road Warrior movies… at least until they opened up their black fanny packs (yes, fanny packs) and started throwing suckers into the crowd. It was pure, controlled insanity and the crowd lapped up every last drop of it. Their new album just dropped and you know damn well I picked it up. While the CD will lack the stunning visuals of the live performance, the music in and of itself was outstanding and I have a feeling it’s going to be in regular rotation upon our return. We ran into the guys later in the evening, and they couldn’t have been nicer and more reserved. Holly and I agree that this was definitely one of the Top 5 shows (out of 300 or so…) we’ve ever seen at Airwaves… and might just be #1.
Following that we bounced out to Gaukurinn where we saw an interesting trio of performances. First up we caught the tail end of the set by CeaseTone, a sort of modern new wavy group. Next was the enjoyable singer-songwriter tunes of Soffía Björg who held the audience in the palm of her hand throughout her 30+ minute performance. Then it was Hong Kong’s A New World If You Can Take It (ANWIYCTI), a band featuring three bass players and a drummer. Their low beats were intriguing, though might have benefitted from higher pitched vocals to offset the chest-pounding low end.
That brought us to our last stop of the night as we popped next door to Húrra. There we caught the tail-end of dj. flugvél og geimskip who absolutely packed the house and had requested in advance of the show that people vape during the performance, all the better for all her crazy lighting. But we were there because we had an appointment with the good doctor. And by good I mean bad. And by doctor I mean the yellow rubber-glove-wearing Dr. Spock (below). It didn’t take long from the start of the set for a fairly substantial mosh pit to break out in the small confines of the Húrra performance space, and the crowd and band fed off of each other’s energy throughout the blistering punk/metal set. The “Sons of Ecuador” killed it, as did their insane Beach Boys cover and interlude featuring Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer”. Horns and raised fists all around.
After a late-night hot dog, interrupted by three dudes not wearing any shirts screeching around in a BMW convertible with the top down at 1:00AM, it was time to call it a night.
Two days down, three to go!
(♣) Disclaimer: I’ve never done meth. I enjoy having my teeth too much for that.
(♠) Not to be confused with the 1962 John Wayne movie about big-game hunting called Hatari!, because that would have been even weirder.