On our third day here, Reykjavík is getting a bit too comfortable. I took the first chance to sleep in and went for a morning walk (I still can’t get over the city’s amazing landscape). I discovered a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant, Tacobarinn, and stumbled upon my first off-venue Airwaves show of the week. And then finally, the Iceland Airwaves fest officially began.
Packed in front of a wall of equipment in front of a wall of glass stood Birth Ctrl, set to play the third show of their newborn project at Bió Paradís. The duo, as their Facebook page states, is DJ BJ Bing Bong and MC Curly. The two were energetic on stage, dancing and smiling as the frontman cheerfully sang “I don’t want to wake up again,” along with nostalgia-filled lines of past relationships. The contrast between music and lyrics was clear, but they support each other well. It is clear that Birth Ctrl is a necessary emotional lifeline for the duo.
Birth Ctrl is inspiring in their innocence as a band. They performed with the spirit of a new-formed band and had the crowd wondering if they should start one too. The duo performed with just a pair of samplers and a microphone and blew through one synth pop tune to the other. Their songs have a knack for catchy synth melodies, and their arrangements are interesting, always introducing new melodies or switching to a convincing bridge. Light bell tones, subtle drum loops, and cruising synth leads jump out when least expected. Birth Ctrl is a bedroom pop band through and through. The duo is lovable, the songs are catchy and relatable, and the live show is not one to miss.
Kristín Thora quietly took the stage of Harpa Kaldalón thanking the audience and her band before she introduced the first song as “Currents.” What started as an isolated acoustic guitar track grew into ripples as she looped herself. Her bandmates came in, subtly, when the song hit its understated peak in a cyclical, beautiful ambience in movement resembling currents.
As Thora described, the entire set was bound with the inspiration of nature. The closing track, “Drift,” featured the natural sounds of an ocean. Thora described the piano-centered piece “Blue” as being written about sitting on a bus in a blue winter. And as the songs pulled nature’s spirit into their core, they moved that way too. Thora rarely finds a steady tempo with her band. Instead, they play off each other, relishing in pushes and pulls and spontaneity. The four-piece played intricate and delicate parts independently, but mindful of one another’s movements. Their performance was helplessly enveloping.
Though the performance was nearly all instrumental, Thora and her bandmates found a different sort of emotional connection with the audience. The band’s extreme but effortless focus on texture in sound was beautiful. Thora conceived the songs, but her bandmates helped bring them to life. They played with an abandonment of rhythm and attention to motion that one can’t help but be lost in.
“I’m so stressed,” Myrra Rós said to a packed crowd in Harpa Kaldalón. This was the first of many self put-downs from Rós, though she hardly missed a note throughout the show. Rós is an Icelandic independent songwriter backed by a six-piece band for her live shows. With six musicians comes full sounds, complete with a violin and cello. Though the music of the night was beautiful, there was something about the show that didn’t click.
Maybe it was the predictable songs or generic songwriting. Or maybe it was the odd mix that put drums and vocals to the front while the lead guitar and strings were hardly audible. Rós’ songs were rich and thoughtfully orchestrated, but there was a lack of new ideas or interesting arrangements. Her stage banter was often distracting, especially when exclaiming “didn’t he write the most beautiful piano part!” so the crowd couldn’t actually hear the part she was praising (it really was a beautiful part). The performance was cheeky, calm, and pretty, but unfortunately boring.
A man in the back of the venue cheered and smiled through every song. The crowd responded well to Rós’ banter and modesty, and they clearly embraced her music. Maybe, to some people at least, the beauty of the music outshone her familiar sounds.