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Stereo Freeze 10.21

October 20, 2009

Continuing on from last time, here’s the second part of the Réttir report.

Reykjavík Round-Up Report – Day Three and Four:

The last two nights of the Round-Up contained the biggest shows, and although there were no headliners as such, there were a couple of sets that were obviously anticipated. The first two nights had been both good and bad, and wandering out into the second two I found more good and bad, along with terrible weather and the flu, but, in the end it was good exposure to bands I’d never heard before. The whole thing was also a good chance to observe some of the non-musical aspects of the scene, which I’ll try to touch on here, but there’s much to be said, and that stuff will likely require articles of its own.

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First up on night three was a brief stop at one of the program’s metal showcases. Now, in terms of certain musics as a sort of extra-cultural space, metal is perhaps the most obvious, most consistent example, as it often strictly adheres to the same approaches, the same sounds and images wherever it’s found, but there’s always room for a local spin to be put on it. First was Plastic Gods, a band that goes for the doom/sludge sound. I only caught a couple of tunes, but what they were doing was, as one would expect, loud, slow, and heavy. With bands like this, it comes down to whether or not you like the sound and are willing to follow along, so if you’re interested in this sound, as inspired by Icelandic bleakness, check this band out. Next was Logn, a teenage grind band who’re making a name for themselves in the Icelandic metal scene. They’ve got a following here, but this particular show may not have been the best introduction to them. The sound with this sort of group in a live setting can easily turn to nothing but crunch, which is unfortunately what happened. It was hard to distinguish anything they were doing.

Next up, it was off to Nasa, one of the best music venues in town, for an eclectic lineup featuring various pop outfits. Actually, earlier in the night, before the metal show, I’d seen one of the first bands on the bill at this show. Sing For Me Sandra was a guitar pop band that I can’t really say much about, other than that, again, people are doing this kind of thing everywhere, and you’ve likely heard it. The last three bands of the night though, made for one of the highlights of the whole thing. I arrived during the Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band‘s set, which, despite an initial, instinctual nose-turning-up reaction to wacky white funk ensembles, was actually entertaining. The band turned out afrobeat/funk jams that had the large crowd in attendance dancing it up. That continued on throughout the night, with two of the most popular local acts finishing up the show. Retro Stefson came out with the energy way up and kept it that way, bouncing through song after song of steady drums, jangly keyboard, disco grooves and some Nintendo-esque guitar leads. The writeup on the Réttir site describes them pretty well, and their certainly one of the scene’s most exciting combos. Following their set, another of the most beloved local groups, FM Belfast, delivered a set that’s likely going to be a highlight for anyone in attendance. This group has been around for a few years now, and is one of Europe’s favourite Icelandic exports. They’ve even received some favourable attention in North America in the last year or two. It was instantly apparent why, and the energy between the large crowd and the band was pretty remarkable. Theirs was the probably the most memorable set of the whole event for me, just one of those great shows when it all works.

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The next night had its work cut out for it, I figured, but it managed well. To start with was a performance by resident English artist Matthew Collings, who works in the guitar and laptop medium. I’d been looking forward to this one, as the stuff on his Myspace sounded interesting, but, unfortunate sound/equipment problems really put a damper on the performance. Not sure what was going on, but Collings appeared frustrated with the sound coming from the stage, and things just weren’t working for him. One assumes that this guy does some good stuff when he’s not battling with sound gremlins.

Next up were two young bands, Weapons and Mammút. Weapons were another band I wanted to like for their name alone, but, I couldn’t get into their Killers-like guitar rock. Mammút are a band that have been making quite a name for themselves lately here, and are just one example of the numerous young bands that are doing well in this country at the moment. It’s something one can’t help but notice, actually, as a good number of the current crop of bands are comprised of teenagers. And what’s good to see in this case is that these young bands are being given support and encouragement and the space to do their thing, and not being poured into any particular roles or images that make them easy to work with. You’d likely never see this in North America, and it’s just another observation on the effects of the lack of industry restriction here. Anyway, things were running late, so I only saw a couple of songs by Mammút, but within that time the room was quickly filled with bubbles and smoke, and the band seemed quite at home on the stage.

I had to leave the Mammút show early because the big ticket set of the whole event was starting at the same time. Apparat Organ Quintet (formerly quartet), another of the best-known Icelandic groups in recent years, had reunited after a hiatus for this one show, and it wasn’t to be missed. With a stage full of keyboard equipment and a live drummer, the group blew through a bunch of songs that the crowd knew well. Lots of backdrop video projection, flashing lights and vocoder and moving bodies. It was a good end to the whole thing.

And that was it, four days of music in the northernmost pop scene on the planet. It was a lot to process, but, in a way, it was but a preview of the Iceland Airwaves festival, which will be covered in the following two editions. And after that, Sonic Youth in Berlin. Onward.

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