Daily Blog, Day Two: Iceland Airwaves

Day Two: Hospitable Artists in Iceland, by Andy Keil

Ask an American band to show you their practice space and chances are there will be a few chuckles involved. Bands in the U.S. quickly become jaded to the press machine. Interviews are added to the daily routine and “access” is reserved for magazines like Rolling Stone or Spin.

That’s not the case in Iceland. The Icelandic reggae band Obja Rasta invited us to their practice space where most of the cities notable bands rent space. After an hour of talking about the origins of the band and plenty of cigarettes, we started to part ways when they offered us a ride so we could stay out of the rain a bit longer. A welcomed gesture since we spent 20-25 minutes walking to the building (located right on the ocean) from the city center.

Not only that but they also offered to show us the studio where they recorded their music allowing for a stop for food along the way. Studio History is a one car garage that was converted into a cozy two room studio. To our surprise, the lead singer of Dungen, Gustav Ejstes, was visiting an old friend (the owner of the studio) and creating some music before his set later in the night at the Reykjavík Art Museum.

We were humbly added to their friend group making sure to introduce us to each of their friends when we ran in to them later in the night at the art museum. That kind of attitude goes a long way, especially for foreign journalists.

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Packing Day Two With Winners, by Emily Harbaugh

Despite Reykjavík’s constant barrage of rain today, it did all but deter me from exploring the city for new music. Hopping from venue to venue with some rest breaks in between, I was soaking up all I could.

I started out my night of music at the Reykjavík Art Museum. The stage had been left with a fog so thick you had to assume that the stage was actually there. It was clear the next act was going to be a treat simply judging by how the crowd would scream at the crewmembers setting up equipment. As the lights dimmed, Agent Fresco came out on stage and everyone went absolutely wild. Even if this band wasn’t in your musical repertoire, you would be acting as if you were seeing The Beatles in 1964.

Formed in 2008, Agent Fresco comprises Arnór Dan Arnarson (vocals), Þórarinn Guðnason (guitar/piano), Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson (bass/synth), and Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson (drums). Shortly after their formation as a group they won Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s Battle of the Bands. All members are classically-trained musicians, with some specializing in jazz, some in classical music, and with vocalist, Arnór Dan Arnarson, as a classically trained Opera singer.

Blending rock, pop, and hardcore, Agent Fresco managed to create a unique sound and absolutely master it. With Arnarson erupting into his operatic vocals sporadically throughout songs, intensity was created between the music and lyrics, which are sure to leave even the most ambivalent listener moved.

Playing a variety of songs from their 2010 album, A Long Time Listening, Agent Fresco transitioned smoothly between songs and kept the energy running the whole time. At the end of the show the crowd was left on a music high and didn’t want to come down. Chanting “Meira!” (Icelandic for “more”) over and over again, Agent Fresco left a lasting impression.

It would be hard to top the experience of Agent Fresco, but 2010’s Músíktilraunir winners, Of Monsters and Men, were playing across the street at Glaumbar and I had been wanting to see them for a while.

This venue was packed. Literally wall-to-wall there were people and I started to become nervous I would be stuck at the back of the bar for their performance. However, I put on my “Big City Girl” pants and barged through the crowd making it to the very front.

Although the stage was tiny, the seven members occupying it made the best of it and didn’t seem to mind. They played a majority of songs from their recently released album,My Head is an Animal (including their single “Little Talks”) as well as a brand spankin’ new one. Engaging the crowd, OMM frequently had us clap along, yell ‘HEY!’, and sing some ‘la’s’, which provided a much more intimate atmosphere than the Agent Fresco show.

It is obvious why both of these groups have been Músíktilraunir winners, which I have to say, makes me very excited for who the future winners will be.

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Photo courtesy of Patrick Principe 

Bizarre Childhood memories from Oy, by Lizette Garza

Think, Erykah Badu of Switzerland. Artist Oy opened up with some slam poetry, surrounding herself with miniature dolls in control of her sound machines. I felt right at home (Columbia College Chicago home) in an almost empty room full of hipsters where she began to perform her unique music; but unique cannot come near describing Oy and her music.

She sang about childhood memories with her jazz, hip-hop vocals. Remember when you were a kid and never wanted to take a bath? Or you were afraid of the ‘angry toilet witch’ who would grab you down if you didn’t flush in time, maybe not that last one but there are the exact themes Oy stressed.

Her performance was a mixture of live sampling from kid toys, hip-hop beats and jazz vocals. At one point in the night (now in a almost full venue) she leaned to the microphone, calmly sticking out her tongue and making that “raspberry” sound. You know the one, when you blow on someone’s belly causing them to squeal like a little pig. She recorded that, continued it on a loop, and blended it with a beat. She then proceeded to pick up a baby rattle, and added that recording to her mix. Meanwhile she flicked at her miniature dolls; each had their own sound as if they were the members of the band. But this was not just one song, she continued on throughout her solo performance, bringing childhood memories to life on stage.

Oy certainly brings something new to the table: she creates this new way of performing, making it intriguing and hard to even blink since it is so bizarre, yet she builds this intimacy with the crowd. She is inventing new and original ways of using her voice, live samples, dark-noises, poetry, and comedy all into one.

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The Second Verse is Much Better Than the First, by Aaron Pylinski

I guess aside from the softball-size raindrops that fell early in the morn on day two of Iceland Airwaves the entire day was a total dynamite success.  People moan all the time about how the weather can get, but sometimes you just have to embrace the suck, put your head down and drive forward.  After a night of crazy dreams and waking up in more clothes that I thought I brought with me I got my motor started, slammed some bangers and mash got myself into town and interviewed a bad assed blues rock band called IKEA SATAN.

Photo from Facebook

No need to be mislead or wondering, IKEA SATAN are indeed the anti-advocate for the store within their name.  The band is all of three hard-charging Icelanders who take their music serious and take their stance on the obvious just as serious.  The band is Unnur Kolka, a cute and not too assuming masseuse by day the bands drummer/lead singer by night, Pétur Úlfur axe master and probable brainchild behind the band and Hannes Þór, bass player who was unfortunately not available for the interview.  Fret not, faithful followers for I have an invite to see them play privately at their practice space Saturday and it shall be a wonderful time for all.  Stay tuned for follow-up video footage and drop dead awesome photography of the session in later posts.

Photo Courtesy of Andy Keil

The interview train rolled along and my next big stop was a Q&A with Reykjavik’s premier reggae band, Ojba Rasta.  Formed in 2009, Ojba Rasta has taken notes from the deepest roots of reggae and ska music including (but not limited to) the Skatalites, Lee “Scratch” Perry and his holiness Bob Marley.  The interview was held at their practice space off the warf where the smell of haddock and cod were in the air.

This matters not for after the interview, we cruised out to their recording studio just outside of Reykjavík called Studio History.  As we rolled up, the space was a converted one-car garage, Gustav Ejstes the lead singer for the Swedish rock band Dungen was ripping, rapping and rhyming on a turntable.  That’s when you know the evening is going to turn out bad assed when one of the top acts for the night is getting stupid behind a turntable with a fake plastic saxophone and a flute.  Dude was hotter than two rats making it in a wool sock and I couldn’t have been more privileged.  Such is life and I could go on for hours, the night moved on from there.

Photo Courtesy of Andy Keil

The rain was torrential, painful and incredibly cold as we were dropped off in the city center.  Taking shelter from the cold in an English pub, the evening was still unfolding into something more dynamite.  The time came to take in some acts and the first on the plate was El Camino who was playing at Gaukur a Stöng.  I wanted El Camino, but I got Contalgen Funeral, a bluesy five-piece with a standup bass, trombone, dude on drums, a lady vocalist and a dreadlocked banjo player rocking tunes out like he had a voice passed down by Tom Petty.  The band had a solid sound and though there may have only been 20 people in the bar, the crowd was tight.  They switched between English and Icelandic lyrics and in all honesty, the Icelandic lyrics were much better and touted a folkier sound.  Truth be told, they had that Phish-like jam band mantra about them and it wasn’t until after three songs into the set that I realized I was watching the wrong band and in the wrong bar.  Well, it was a swing and a miss for the most part, but after a while I was knee deep in a band that was totally worth the mishap… epic fail, Pylinski.

By the time I realized my folly, finished my Icelandic brew and headed to the right venue, El Camino was already off the stage.  Such is life and my beer buzz was starting to kick in.  I had bigger plans for an hour starting at 2100 (that’s 9 P.M. for you non-European minded individuals).  Sinead O’Connor played a church called Frikirkjan and I had an eagle’s perch for the set.

Photo by Aaron Pylinski

Coming out to the stage, she was in light spirits and quipped, “Only a few steps away from the alter, so I’m going to be very, very naughty.”  Barefoot and black-clad, Sinead came out with her thick Irish brogue and titillating the congregation with quips on her family and the location for which she was playing. Sporting a Jesus T-shirt and a Rastafarian tattoo, the entire set was a paradoxical whimsy but well played from beginning to end.

Moving on and looking for a pick-me-up, I headed back to Gaukur a Stöng for a couple of pints and some dodgy music.  I then took in a band called Cliff Claven, which was a decent way to pass the time waiting for my next endeavor.  The band sounded a lot like Interpol with a more pronounced rock ‘n’ roll edge.  They drew in Iceland’s “finest” hipsters.  Subsequently, these hip lil bastards got stupid drunk, made complete asses of themselves and were quickly escorted out of the venue.  My hat’s off to the security, those hipster crack heads were so annoying they were on the verge of a Chicago-style beat-down.  Though they were monstrous-sized Viking dudes, it would have been my pleasure to close them out.

Photo Courtesy of Andy Keil

Hipster D-bags aside, the evening got better when my hetero life-mate, Andy Keil joined me to see the Swedish powerhouse rock monsters called Dungen.  If history proves me right, their lead singer was totally hanging out with us early in the evening at Studio History.  Not only was the set beyond amazing, the cats from Ojba Rasta met us out and took up camp right next to us in the crowd.

Photo Courtesy of Andy Keil

The evening ended out at Glaumbar with Endless Dark.  If you don’t know anything about these five dudes know that they don’t slow down any time during their set and they epitomize what its like to be on crack.  My ringing ears and my want for something savory took me out of the bar after the show and somehow managed three slices of pizza and rode a cab back to the hotel.  Now it all writes itself.  Standby for day three; drunker and more dangerous than ever.

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