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Stereo Freeze 11.03

November 3, 2009

Alrighty, this week is part one of the Iceland Airwaves reports. Next week, in the interest of timeliness, we’ll be pre-empting the scheduled Over the Wall article in order to post up the second part.

Iceland Airwaves 2009 Report – Part 1:

Rather than approach this as methodically as the last reports, I’m going to present my experience of this year’s Iceland Airwaves festival a bit loosely here this time and next, offering a bit of commentary on some performances I saw along with a few brief observations about the whole thing in general. It should be stated right off the top, though, that what I saw was only like a fourth of everything that went on during the festival, which, having just completed its eleventh run, is Iceland’s premiere music happening.

As you’ve no doubt heard somewhere along the line, Iceland’s in a bit of trouble. After a near total financial collapse last year and with accompanying debt and unemployment problems looming large, the current mood in the country is one of uncertainty. What things will look like after this winter, nobody’s too sure, and everyone’s aware of that fact. It’s not as though the country’s shut down or anything, though, and a horrendous financial meltdown was no excuse for this music festival/city-wide party not to happen. In fact, the opposite is likely the case, and one has to assume this event did the city a whole lot of good, actually.

And happen it did, with a huge schedule featuring numerous groups from Europe and North America, along with nearly every active Icelandic band. There was no hope of catching it all, but it was another bracelet-entry thing, so as long as there was room to squeeze into the venues, bracelet-wearers could come and go as they pleased. Apart from one show: The Kings of Convenience. Can anyone explain why this band alone got its own special ticket show and why people lined up for hours to get said tickets? Are they huge, or is this a Europe thing? Anyway, much like with the Round-Up a couple of weeks prior, I decided to plot out a course based on the stuff I really wanted to see and just catch whatever else I could. The schedule was packed, with off-venue shows going on at various shops and spaces during the afternoons (and evenings in some cases) and the scheduled shows at the clubs at night. It was really great, the whole downtown area was full of music for four days straight, and the whole city seemed out to enjoy it.

On the first night, I went out to see a bit of an Icelandic hip-hop showcase. Unfortunately, there was other stuff to be seen that night, so I only caught two artists, but, the hip-hop scene here interests me such that I could have stayed at the show much longer (and looking back on it now, I should have). Of the two MCs I saw, one rhymed in English and one in Icelandic. Most of the night’s acts were doing their thing in Icelandic though, and that got me thinking about the probable plight of the Icelandic rapper: being at once a contemporary participant in a very very old, venerable tradition of oral poetry in this country, while at the same time being a participant in a global music current, and having much to offer it, but, operating in a language that nobody understands outside of this population. Hip-hop, like I mentioned in a previous article with metal, is a music that creates an obvious extra-cultural space constituted by certain actions, sounds, images etc. It’s going on all over the world, and everywhere one finds it, it adheres to certain codes, but it also consistently represents and refers back to the particular environments it comes out of. Icelandic hip-hop seems a small scene and has no recognition outside of Iceland, really, but it’s been growing since the 90s and is definitely compelling. Given the history of poetics in Icelandic culture, and being that even simple sentences in Icelandic can sometimes be language games, there’s much of interest in what MCs are doing here. Of course, I still don’t know much about what’s going on, but I’d recommend checking out some of the artists that performed at this show if you’re interested: Rain, Diddi Fel, Introbeats Productions.

It was on to see some guitar bands later that night. First was a band that I missed during the Round Up, Kimono. Fronted by a relocated Halifax native, they go for a more angular, involved sound than the other guitar bands in these parts, and have apparently been one of the lesser-known local faves for a quite a while now. I don’t know folks, I’m still not sold on any guitar bands I’ve seen here. I can’t really explain why, but it must be some manner of North American damage. The groups here do some good stuff, but there are always moments where, to me, anyway, they just go off track. This statement explains my experience of Sudden Weather Change, who I saw again this night and am still not sure of.


Thursday afternoon at the Kaffibarinn (one of the legendary café/bars in town), there was an off-venue showcase with Nico Muhly and Puzzle Muteson that deserves mention. There were shows there each day of the festival put on by Bedroom Community, a classy local label that deals largely in experimental sounds. There was a crowd crammed into the small space to see this showcase, which turned out to be something that’ll likely remain a highlight for many in attendance. Puzzle Muteson, a singer/songwriter from the Isle of Wight played a few songs to start. He won a number of new fans with his two performances at the festival, it seems, a real case of nobody-knew-him-before. His style is very hushed, pastoral British folk, just guitar and voice with a bit of piano, courtesy on this afternoon of the old stand-up piano in the corner of the venue. Contemporary classical wiz-kid Nico Muhly, a frequent visitor to Iceland and Bedroom Community player, also had two performances at the festival, of which this was the more off-the-cuff. He played a handful of pieces solo on the old piano at Kaffibarinn and offered an intimate performance for a Thursday afternoon group of his fans. There was one other, unlisted, artist who performed at this show as well, but I didn’t catch his name. He had done a remix/re-interpretation of one of Muhly’s compositions, which, in a candid moment, he debuted (fresh from his computer) in front of Muhly and the crowd.

Alright, that’s it for this time. Check back next week for part 2, and some really amazing stuff.


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