We were still fighting off colds, so that forced us into a more chill mindset going into the last day of Airwaves. I made a trip down to Lucky Records around lunchtime to grab all the stuff they were holding for me and spent an hour or so back at hour place removing price stickers and getting all my purchases boxed and arranged for the trip home the following day. Man, this is a lot of stuff! But more on that in the next post.
We were back at Lucky later in the afternoon to see hip hop artist Cell7. This was our third time seeing her, and by far the best. She gave off a relaxed vibe and had some fun with the crowd, who had fun in return. If you haven’t checked out her 2019 releaseIs Anybody Listening? you need to track it down and give it a go. Her soul-infused style is exactly what we needed on a cold afternoon. In talking about the show later my buddy Ingvar, who has seen her perform way more times than me, he also noted it was the best he’d heard her.
There were some last-minute additions announced to the schedule at the Iceland Airwaves Center and one looked intriguing. PPBB describe themselves as “electro-funk”, and their debut track was titled “Shitballs”. Seemingly in contrast, however, their full name is the Post Performance Blues Band. So what to expect? Who knows, so I’m in!
And… I certainly didn’t expect this. It’s hard to explain the PPBB set. It was a blend of electro beats and performance art and avant garde and lyrics about the sensation of drinking and screaming about loving sorbet and a gold lame outfit and a member zipping herself up in a black bodysuit which included a full face mask then crawling on the floor through the crowd… So in other words, epic. I have no idea how the music comes across without the performance, but they have a few tracks on Spotify and you can be damn sure I will be checking them out.
After a quite home-cooked dinner in our rental apartment, we mustered enough energy for one more foray, walking down to Sirkus to see our friends from Revenge of Calculon play an off-off-venue set. Strolling into the joint it was looking very, very dead, with the band and their friend DJ Sue comprising about half the people in the room. But a few more folks made it down by showtime, including a pair of very well-dressed and very drunk 60+ year old local ladies who seemed to take a particular shine to bassist JC9000, and the guys played as if it was a packed house.
After a delicious breakfast of ham and cheese on some amazing rolls from Brauð & Co it was time to hit the mean streets of Reykjavik to do my part in contributing to the local economy by buying as much music as possible. I spent a good 90 minutes flipping through Icelandic titles at Lucky Records, coming away with a substantial stack to be put aside so I can true-up with them at the end of the festival. From there I popped over to Reykjavik Record Shop, where my man Reynir was holding an Icelandic pressing of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy for me, and I also grabbed some electronic weirdness by Pang, the vinyl version of Egill S’ Tonk of the Lawn, and a late 70s rocker by H.L.H. Flokkurinn that I bought exclusively for the motorcycle greaser cover.
My last stop of the afternoon was Pan Thorarensen’s label/store/venue Space Odyssey. Pan is best known for his electronic work as Stereo Hypnosis and as part of Beatmakin Troopa. With Space Odyssey he gives his fellow travellers in the realm of electro-weirdness a place to perform, and also records their live in-stores for super limited edition cassette releases. I picked up the first six in the series last year and since then he’s added another 20 or so titles. I grabbed another seven on this visit, as well as three new 7” lathe cut records and three Stereo Hypnosis CDs. Any time I can support the small label and independent artist, I’m in!
Our first show of the night was the dub reggae set of Omnipus over at Lucky Records. I have a copy of their new record in my stack of stuff to buy over there and I’m looking forward to giving it a listen when we get back home. Per one of the band members they only pressed 200 copies of this, so get it while you can.
Next up was the mighty Revenge of Calculon, the luchadors of electro-sleeze-funk, and I came prepared with my luchador mask and my custom lucha libre track jacket courtesy of Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane (see below, with me to the left giving Ingvar a fist bump while the band plays).
I also made my filmmaking debut, as lead luchador Rob asked me to shoot random footage of the show using his fisheye lens GoPro for use in a future music video. I’m confident there will be a Grammy in my future for this! As for the show, it was off the hook as one would expect.
After enjoying a well-earned pizza we headed out into the night, catching russian.girls over at Hurra. The last time we saw a russian.girls performance it was a solo gig at the Mengi art space, restrained and experimental. This time around it was a three-piece with more beats than you can shake a drum machine at. A top-notch show in front of a packed crowd.
The next two artists we saw shall, well, remain nameless. At a festival like Airwaves you often find yourself going into shows blind, and more often than not you see something cool. This time… not so much. So I’m not going to talk crap about performances I didn’t enjoy, because these folks clearly have talent (the were selected to play) and just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s bad.
We had a few bands we wanted to see late in the evening, but unfortunately both of us have been hobbled by colds and we simply ran out of steam around 11PM and called it an early night, returning to our apartment to eat the last of the pizza and hang out for a bit. We gotta be rested up for the festival’s final day tomorrow!
Has it really been three years since our last trip to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves? COVID turned everything into a blur, the last 2.5 years seeming both impossibly long and short at the same time, the weeks, then the seasons, then the years moving along like a smear across the table of life. After returning home from Airwaves in November 2019 I didn’t step on an airplane again for over two years, which is certainly the longest flying drought I’ve had as an adult. So stepping aboard the Icelandair flight from Seattle to Reykjavik the other day was a little strange, but also incredibly comforting, as if a little bit of my life was coming back to me. As an added bonus we get a beautiful display of the northern lights as we passed over Canada, setting the mood and getting us into the right frame of mind.
After checking into our apartment we hit the streets, grabbing coffee and pastries at Reykjavik Roasters as we watched the light of day begin to touch the highest parts of the city, the sun sneaking its way up over the horizon. It was as if we’d never been gone. I was thinking about this the other day – excluding cities I’ve actually lived in, I’m confident I’ve spent more nights in Reykjavik than any other city in the world except Los Angeles, and that’s only because I used to travel to LA so much for business (one year I made 24 separate trips from Seattle to LA).
We caught up with our friend Rob of Revenge of Calculon fame and grabbed lunch, along with a handful of the band’s new 7” Battle-Atomic Disco-Wow! / L.S.P., then opened our festival at my favorite record store in the world, Lucky Records. There we caught up with our friends Oscar and Sarah and were treated to a bump-bump-bumping techno set by Andartak. So good! While there we got the hot tip that our friend and KEXP DJ Kevin Colewas spinning at set over at Smekkleysa, aka Bad Taste Records, serving at the opening for a surprise, intimate show by Apparat Organ Quartet in celebration of their 20-year-old self-titled debut receiving its first ever vinyl release.
We hustled across town to secure our spots. The show was set up in a relatively small room, and as we got closer to AOQ’s set it became clear that this was going to be another of those classic Airwaves Deathtrap™ scenarios – a tiny room packed to the gills, people filling both stairwells completely to the point where the one door that led outside could barely be opened due to the crush. But we’ve seen this movie before and the crowd was well behaved… and besides, we probably couldn’t have gotten out of there without actually climbing onto the table where all the keyboards were set up and using it as a platform from which to leap and grab the landing railing to climb our way to freedom. Which seemed a bit excessive, so I grabbed a can of beer from the table and rode with it. Regardless, the show was a blast.
Originally we planned on hitting our favorite pizza joint for dinner, but the AOQ show threw a wrench into our plans so we grabbed a street hot dog and high-tailed it over to Gaukurinn for a couple of shows. The opener was the Icelandic band Sameheads (below), who brought a youthful energy to a strong set of post-punk indie-rockers. Man I have missed seeing and hearing live shows in small venues! These guys were a lot of fun. Next up was the man we’d specifically come to Gaukurinn tonight to see, Janus Rasmussen. Probably best known for his work with Bloodgroup and, more recently, the ambient house duo Kiasmos, I was excited to see what the Faroe Islander had in store for us.
I knew we wanted to get to the Art Museum in time to see Amyl and the Sniffers, so I fully planned on leaving Janus’ set a little early. That is until it started. And I saw God.
For 40 minutes Janus, accompanied by a violin player, poured warm beats upon the crowd. Synaptic connections in my brain that had shrivelled away from disuse during the COVID malaise sparked with interest. The crowd moved. Heads and bodies bobbed as Janus held us in the palm of his hand like a caring and knowing father, leading us out of the darkness and into the light. I felt a connection to the entire crowd, our experience at the same time anonymous and shared, and gave up on any thoughts of leaving early. I’d stay in this room forever. Call my work, tell them I quit, and have my last paycheck sent to Gaukurinn. I’ll still be here dancing with my people.
Despite the near-religious experience of Janus’ show, there was no time to stop and reflect. We had more shows to catch! We popped across the street and were surprised to see no line at the Art Museum, so in we went. We caught the last half of Júníus Meyvant’s set and moved forward into the spaces left behind by his fans during the set change. Amyl did not disappoint, the Aussie punks blowing up the joint with their fast-paced blend of punk and garage rock. Amy Taylor dominated the stage, prancing, stomping, and strutting as if challenging anyone, and I do mean anyone, to try to come up there and just try to take that mic from her. No one dared take her up on it.
We had potential plans to see a few more bands to close out the evening, but with only two hours of sleep over the last 30+ hours, we decided to call it a night so we could be up-and-at-‘em for Day 2.
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 Calculonfame 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.
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.
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.
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.
What Revenge of Calculon looks like
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”
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”
“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…