Daily Blog, Day One: Iceland Airwaves

Bárujárn @ Café Amsterdam, by Andy Keil

Similar to Austin’s SXSW, Iceland Airwaves sets the city of Reykjavík alive with the sound of music. As with any festival, you can spend a significant amount of time planning which artists to see, but it’s not necessary.

After spending most of the day getting a bearing for Reykjavík, the night was spent traversing the 101 in search of sounds that to make the ears perk. A huge queue outside of the Reykjavík Art Museum for Beach House diverted our original plans and we continued to wander. Not far though.

The familiarity of surf rock guitars piqued our interest as we walked by Café Amsterdam. The three-piece Bárujárn was laying down an impressive set that attracted a crowd of roughly 50 people to gather. Calling themselves hard-surf rock mixed with psyche is a more than appropriate way to describe the band.

The voice of lead singer Hekla has a sort of metal bravado, which he carefully weaves into the guitar, bass, and drums. It’s also important to note that they sing in Icelandic, something a bit out of the ordinary for bands looking to garner some attention Stateside or throughout the rest of Europe. You don’t need to understand the lyrics to catch the groove these guys are laying down. Listen to one of their tracks on gogoyoko.

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Day One: Local Flavor, by Nicki Butler

From a remote broadcast half way across the world to a hip-hop concert, day one in Reykjavík comes with mad flavor and style.

We kicked off the day off at KEX stage where radio station KEXP 90.3 from Seattle set up a live broadcast from Iceland Airwaves.  It was there we met Kevin Cole assistant program director and afternoon jock for KEXP. After dealing with a blown breaker and lost signal, Kevin graciously sat down to drop some knowledge on his experience being at Iceland Airwaves and also the culmination of getting the live broadcast up and running. He gave great insight into just how to approach the festival not only from the broadcasting and journalism side standpoint but also how to get all you can out of this beautiful city of Reykjavík.

Mammút

MAMMÚT,  a local Reykjavik post-punk band with charm and charisma was the first up close and personal musical experience of the day.  They felt like you’re favorite band playing at your favorite local spot. That local spot being the KEX Hostel just off the ocean filled with a few hundred sweaty fans. Their sound is hard to describe. It seemed to contradict itself at times. Neurotic in delivery but so crisp and honest you had to give them credit for revitalizing creativity. Lead singer, Kata squeezed up front in between two guitarist and a bass player. Small in stature, she filled the room with her piercing vocals and avant garde scats, and shrieks over what felt tight chords brought by guitarists and bassist.  This incredible band definitely had my Airwaves starting off proper.

After sunset a belly filled with a delicious traditional Icelandic meal from Tapas Barrin, I headed to the Gaukur á Stöng for some hip-hop Icelandic style. BlazRoca is the name and rocking the crowd is his game. Clearly a hometown favorite among Icelanders, Blaz tore the house down with charisma a ruthless delivery. His rhymes, although completely in Icelandic, still engaged the crowd foreign festival goers.  Backed by his production team Madness4real and brother Cesar A. BlazRoca banged out song after song to a crowd that seemed to go from novice fans to all out devotees. Today’s energy is seemingly unmatched, but I can’t wait to see what Iceland Airwaves has up its musical sleeve the rest of the weekend.

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Iceland by way of New York City, by Aaron Pylinski

The camp was down to travel into the concrete jungle that is the Big Apple, Gotham whatever you want to call it; but only the brave few tend to venture into the seething masses that is Manhattan.  I haven’t been scared of anything since the summer of 2000; that was when I started to make a living of jumping out of airplanes.  New York City was a kitten compared to the straight-up combat that I was used to and a jaunt into its core was more than welcoming.  It beat sitting in the airport for damn-near 8 hours and I needed to release some over stock of surplus of energy from Riot Fest in Chicago from the Saturday before.

Flying into JFK, I looked out the window with child-like amazement.  My headphones blasted Bad Brains as the blond-haired debutant next to me was fixing her makeup.  I guess it only makes sense to dude yourself up before you touch down in Gotham.  Looking below, I could see the water was dark and the rapid decent brought on the feeling of spiral landing into Baghdad International Airport.  The white crests of the waves and the dark greyish blue water contrasted perfectly against the hulls of oil tankers and trash barges below.  As we drew closer to landing, I noticed the white sandy beaches were butted up against high-rise buildings and trash heaps.

After checking my bags, I hopped the E Train into Manhattan.  The New York City subway system rumbles underground like some metal subterranean worm.  Each hiss and crack from the tracks gives an air of speeding under the teeming masses above with a lightning quickness.  The subway car was filled with all spans of humanity, from the veiled Persian woman to the over-cologned Hispanic man in a Canadian tuxedo.  The speckle-painted floor was surprisingly clean dispelling the rumors of dirty New York subways; at least for now.

My tattooed arms caught the attention of the veiled Persian.  I watched her looking at me; her eyes scanning up and down my arms.  She caught me catching her and she dropped her gaze back down to her laptop.  My train rumbled to a stop in Midtown Manhattan and I’m up to street level.  I blew into an Irish pub called the Tempest and order up some adult beverages.  The thick New York accents, sticky tabletops and Rangers hockey on the TV tells me I’m in the right place.  This is the kind of dive that could last a million years, much like the cockroaches after the apocalypse.

After some beers, its back on the train, back on a plane and back into the air.  I touch down in Iceland and the cold weather greets me with a brisk embrace.  After a rocky start, it was good to get some music under my belt.  I sit down in the music hall called Harpa in downtown Reykjavík and am immediately blasted by the rhythmic, brass dominated styling’s of Orphic Oxtra.  They were an incredible step through ‘60s jazz with an Icelandic twinge.  The 11-piece ensemble was warmer than the weather and deeper than the dark water outside.  Their sound trimmed around the “7 Samurais” genre of jazz music and encompassed a multitude of French arrangements complemented by a deep pounding tom drum.  The accordion was an interesting addition to a well-rounded sound.  There was plenty of trade off between the piano player and the horn section, subbing out traditional jazz for a more bohemian sound.  The smiling gypsy behind the standup bass tied the entire group together as they rolled through song after song.

By the end of the evening, I was merrily stumbling through the streets taking in the sights and sounds of my first evening of Iceland Airwaves.  Strolling through bar after bar, I take in bands like Bárujárn, an Icelandic three-piece tooling around with a surf rock sound.  A perfect end to a busy day and a great way to send off a road-weary traveler.

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Forgotten Lores @ Gaukur à Strong, by Lizette Garza

In the lightly dimmed room at Gaukur à Strong people were finally making their way from the bar to stage. Fridirk Dor an R&B artists, had just performed and next up was Forgotten Lores, also know as FL.

Forgotten Lores a Reykjavík hip-hop group founded in 2000 is made up of five members: Byrkir, Diddi Fel, Class B, Introbeats and DJ B-Ruff. Two of them being DJs and three being MCs, made their way to the stage. It was not the typical “gangster looking” hip-hop artists that those in the U.S are use to seeing. There were no baggy jeans or Nike high-top gym shoes to catch my eye, it was actually when they starting putting together their set.

The crowd waited patiently for the show to begin. While the DJs practiced their scratching, it reminded me of being back at home, bumping to an almost Old School ’90s hip-hop track, with plenty of bass.

FL’s beats were excellent, the group has a knack for creating infectious dope beats and combining that with the complicated Icelandic language. Their presence was certainly noticeable since the crowd was moving their hands up and down, the MCs moved, danced and jumped all around the stage, never getting tired. It was hands down the best hip-hop music I’ve heard so far in Iceland. Class B lead MC said, “We are the best simply because we have a core and a friendship to work together as artists. We show that through the music, we give back to people who have our support, you know? We don’t make money doing this, we all have other jobs and [stuff], so it drives us and good hip-hop continues to be what we focus on.” FL is currently working on their third LP, bringing their sound and audience with them into the unknown, a trip most definitely worth taking.

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Countdown to Yoko Ono, by David Sparacio

On Day One in Iceland, the first band I went to go see was a Canadian band called Young Galaxy.  They were playing at the NASA venue.  I thought this band was OK.  I didn’t love them, but I didn’t hate them.  They had good sounding music, but it wasn’t upbeat enough for me. NASA is known for its wild, energetic concerts.  With Young Galaxy, I didn’t experience that.  There was no beat that made me want to dance.  I left after about half an hour.

After Young Galaxy, I went to a smaller venue and heard a band called Mr. Silla.  I listened to this band for only a few minutes because it was too slow for me.  I went across the street to the Reykjavík Art Museum venue to listen to a little bit of the U.S. band Beach House.  This venue was pretty amazing because of its massive size inside.  There was a giant stage up front and a ton of floor space.

To end the night, I went to go see Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band.  According to yoko-ono.com, “Yoko Ono is an uncompromising artistic visionary who was already an avant-garde superstar before she met John Lennon.  Today, Yoko is finally recognized as an influential artist who pushes the boundaries of the art, film, music and theatre media.  The present time marks a renewed resurgence of interest and celebration of her work.  She has recently received high media profile due to the simultaneous reissue of her music catalog on the Rykodisc specialty label as well as for the premiere of her off-Broadway theatre piece Hiroshima.”

I saw Yoko Ono Plactic Ono Band in the Harpa venue. The show started off pitch black, and then you hear recorded tapes of Yoko Ono and John Lennon.   Then, a documentary style video starts to play.  It shows Yoko Ono and John Lennon and gave background about their lives.  Then with sunglasses, a black shirt, black pants, and a black brimmed hat, Yoko Ono stepped onto the stage.   I thought her performance was just weird.  In many of the songs that she performed, she wasn’t singing.  She made these noises that sounded like a lamb baaing.  Then she did this song to an odd video being projected on the back screen.  There was a fly on the flesh of a human being, and it kept walking on the human.  It started on the arm and then moved to the face.  When the fly went on the mouth, Yoko Ono starting adding sounds with the music to make the picture suspenseful.  Many times, it looked like the fly was going to crawl into the mouth, but it never did.

Overall, I really liked Yoko Ono’s band.  I saw four electric guitarists, one guy playing a trumpet, a keyboardist, and they pulled out a French horn for one song.  The music sounded really full and larger than life.  However, I didn’t really care for the sound of Yoko Ono.  She’s definitely no John Lennon.

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The First 40 Hours, by Sarah Zwinklis

Iceland’s overcast sky, light drizzle and slight breeze, the type that is just enough to make your nose run, made us Chicagoans feel right at home. Alongside the weather and hotdogs, the music also cured that tinge of ‘homesickness.’

'Afterlife' from the album 'See Mystery Lights'

After a long day of wondering Reykjavik, the sun set- actually the sky just seemed to get darker and the crowds came out. A line hugged the side of a mint green building baring the name “NASA.” Not National Aeronautics and Space Administration, however the Metro-esque venue that housed a few North American bands, including: Young Galaxy, Active Child and Yacht. These bands called to me, because even though my feet ached, all I wanted to do was dance.

Hailing from Montreal, Young Galaxy is a trendy pop indie group featuring a female vocalist/tambourinist, Catherine McCandless and lead guitarist/vocalist Stephen Ramsay. Although McCandless voice was pleasant and boy can she play a mean tambourine the overall set was lackluster. The rhythmic beats, at first, were enjoyable but soon it seemed that Young Galaxy had accidently played the first song over and over and over. Even the overindulged partiers didn’t seem to be impressed. However, Young Galaxy did pack the space, and even Björk came to support the group.

LA’s Active child was a pleasant surprise. The combination of bass, electronic drums, keyboards and even a harp made up some sweet beats and had a good portion of the crowd moving. Pat Grossi had variety in his music that most electro- pop lacks. His use of the harp is fascinating and his showmanship has nothing missing. Bubbles, lights and of course smoke machine were all present. Who said bubbles weren’t manly?

When the urge to dance creeps up, I only have one answer: Yacht. The group made up of Jona Bechtolt, Claire Evans, Bobby Birdman, Jeffrey Brodsky, and Katy Davidson. I had been introduced to Yacht in 2009 at Wicker Park Fest. Their choreography was why I went, yet I stayed for the nonsensical music. My expectations were high. Although the crowd ate up, Bechtolts and Evans act- they seemed…off. Rather than working together, the two battled for the spotlight. Bechtolt stage dove into the audience, then Evans stage dove into the audience… TWICE. Evans busted out a dance move, Bechtolt broke out the robot. The highlight of the entire set was Evans final stage dive and an excited fan sucked her fingers. Disgusted, Evans screamed out into the mic- leaving a reverb throughout the next stanza of the song.

These imperfections make shows entertaining and a reason not to just stay at home and listen to the album. Even if bands might not be interesting enough to watch- Young Galaxy, they are still worth knowing.

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Ferlegheit review, by Emily Harbaugh

It looks like we’re definitely not at South by Southwest anymore. Upon arriving in Reykjavík for the 11th annual Iceland Airwaves Festival, it has quickly been proven this festival is unlike any other I’ve attended.

Navigating down Laugarvegur, a powerful, booming voice rings out over the street. Despite the fact I was completely lost and this shop boasted tourist information, going in was something I needed to do. Situated in the front of Reykjavík Backpacker’s Café, a six-piece band, Ferlegheit, was playing to a handful of people. Vocalist, Margrét Guðrúnardóttir permeated the tiny room with her voice, packing the powerful punch Adele is noted for having, while also featuring the sassiness of a Supreme.

Despite Guðrúnardóttir’s voice, the band lacked stage chemistry. Both guitar players as well as the bass player rarely ever looked anywhere save for the neck of their respective instruments. The accordian player and the drummer could also be easily overlooked if one focused all their attention on Guðrúnardóttir, which many did.

Although most of the energy came through their vocalist, the music itself was on point. Blending funk, rock, soul, and blues with both Icelandic and English lyrics, Ferlegheit never let a single head go un-bobbed, or a single foot go un-tapped. By the end of the set, the crowd grew from a meager handful to people crowding the doorway and the bar. It was quite obvious I wasn’t the only one lured into the cafe by Guðrúnardóttir’s voice.

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Iceland Airwaves Day #1: Mammút @ KEX, by Colin Lazorka

It’s 06:00 GMT. I finally set foot off of the IcelandAir flight that took me and seven fellow students five hours from NYC all the way to Keflavík International Airport. I take a deep breath, feel instantly healthier as the cool, pure air enters my lungs, but then start to cough uncontrollably as a lack of all my years of inactivity. From the moment we arrive in Reykjavík, we’re off to work. Seeing the sites, trying the food and drink (more to come on that later) and of course listening to as much music as our brains can handle after two hours of sleep. We all made our way to see our new friends at 90.3 FM KEXP Seattle, at Kex Hostel, which used to be a biscuit factory. The place is packed to the brim with sweaty, buzzed natives, as well as tourists, like us, here to see some of Iceland’s most promising musical talent. My luck would have it, we walked in at just the right time. The first artist of the day had just closed his set, and this new group begins to set their gear up for their performance at 15:00. At first, the name Mammút doesn’t mean much to me. I have no idea what to expect from this five piece that call Reykjavik their home.

With Katrína Mogensen on vocals and Synth, Ása Dýradóttir on bass, Alexandra Baldursdóttir on guitar, Arnar Pétursson on Guitar, and Andri Bjartur Jakobsson on percussion, this band has perfected a sound that some strive their entire careers to achieve. The perfect blend of melodic and heavy, Mammút does it all with sparkling delay, ambient reverb, clever bass lines and drums that would make Sigur Rós’ Orri Páll Dýrason fear their power.

The band played a variety of new songs for the packed, stale beer-soaked hostel. All with an intensity and passion that stirred emotions and locked your eyes to their presence and your ears to the beautiful sounds coming out of the speakers.

Mogensen has a very hypnotic way of drawing you into the music and not letting you go. The way she blends the synth and deep haunting reverb of her Icelandic vocals, is something of pure beauty. My first day of Airwaves was a stellar one. I got my ass rocked off by a band called Mammút in a small hostel in Reykjavík. What more could a music dork need? Only in Iceland will you hear a band so amazing and so true to themselves, as Mammút.

Take a listen and like them at facebook.com/mammutmusic

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