Skip to content

Stereo Freeze 11.10

November 10, 2009

This week is the second, and final, part of the Iceland Airwaves 2009 report.

Iceland Airwaves 2009 Report – Part 2:

The first two days of the festival had yielded a couple of memorable performances and more valuable experience of the music climate here, as this was the event of the year. Simply put, if they were able to bring it to downtown Reykjavík, it was here during these four days. Going into the last two days of the program, and the busiest bits of it all, there were some performances I was excited to see.

There were quite a number of people who had come from elsewhere to check this festival out, and the population increase in town was noticeable while going about regular business during the days. When it came time to hit the shows in the evenings, the sheer volume of people out and about, and the numbers in the clubs were remarkable. Not surprising in one way, as this event has become an established international happening and draws a big crowd every year, but for a country that has a population roughly equivalent to that of Halifax, the fact that every show was packed, and the fact that there were so many local bands playing, both say something important about the interaction with and support of art going on here.

It ended up that a number of the performances I was most looking forward to were scheduled for Friday night, but, luckily enough, the times all worked out. It ended up being an amazing night of music, characterised by three distinct shades of audience rapture at three very different performances. First up, it was New York-based band The Drums playing at the Reykjavík Art Museum. I was pretty new to them, actually, having only heard a couple of songs at that point, but I was certainly interested. For a new group, they’re making quite a noise out and about already, and that usually means one thing: opposing opinions. I discovered quickly that some people really, really, do not like this group, while some completely love them. Not much middle ground. The crowd was huge, and their performance, soaked in bright white lights in the huge hall part of the art museum, was one of the more talked-about (possibly read “contested”) of the festival. For those into it, it was pop bliss. Most of the descriptions of this band mention Manchester + California in explaining them, and really, that sums it up well. It’s all quite jangly, and the combination of eighties English and surf-band innocence works well. This performance, as a start to this weird, wonderful night of music, kicked it all into unexpected heights.

A bit later on I had the chance to see a performance by Montréal-based sound artist Tim Hecker. Only had to come to Iceland to finally see this guy, gah. This was indeed something special, as Hecker performs only rarely, and usually nowhere near where I am. He was one of the later additions to the program, brought in by the Bedroom Community folks. He performed at Iðnó, an old theatre, which hosted much of the experimental and classical-type stuff for the festival. The only lights on in the room were those on Hecker’s computer, a table light, and the exit signs, and it was loud. Like, sitting next to a jet engine loud. Seeing him do his thing live does nothing, really, to clarify how he summons up the atmospheres he does. This performance ran like a mixtape of selected bits of Harmony in Ultraviolet and An Imaginary Country, but it also incorporated some sounds from Fantasma Parastasie and some possibly unreleased/improvised sounds. It was interesting to watch a room full of people listening to this stuff. Everyone just kind of sat on the floor, legs crossed and elbows on knees, looking off into nothingness just inches in front, while these weird, absolute melodies pushed down from all around. Incredible stuff. They turned the lights back on, he waved and walked off and everyone had that “it was…interesting” look on their faces. A couple of friends asked, being that Hecker was one of the only Canadian artists at the festival, if he was popular in Canada. I had to admit that sadly, no, he isn’t. Onto stage three: Crystal Antlers. This California-based psych/R&B/garage punk outfit were in town for a performance at Sódóma, once again that night a very full, very sweaty place. This band was certainly one of the more unknown elements at the festival for the European set, but the show was well-attended nonetheless, and the set turned out just as awesomely as the few who knew them had hoped it would. Behold, Europe, the rapture of howling garage madness, all cymbal clatter and fuzz. Impressive band, for sure, they put it down.


To begin with on Saturday night, was a performance by Ghostigital, the duo of electronic producer Carver, and former Purrkur Pillnikk/KUKL/Sugarcubes vocalist Einar Örn Benediktsson. The approach of this group is free, mostly improvised, with Einar doing his ranting, fragmented narrative thing over heavy, bassy electronic grooves, while Carver manipulates his voice and the music. This stuff was very loud, very weird and exciting. An excellent vehicle for Einar’s mix of performance art and vocalising. Following this, it was over to Nasa for the rest of the night to catch two of the most popular current Icelandic groups. Just before them, however, I caught the end of a performance by Jessica 6, sort of an offshoot of Hercules and Love Affair, who serve up a mix of electronic dance and old disco grooves similar to that of Hercules and Love Affair. Next up was the one-two combo of Retro Stefson and FM Belfast, two local crowd faves. Not sure what more I can say that I didn’t say already in the Round-Up report about these two, but, again, they’re both really fun groups who put on great shows. Definitely some of the best stuff going on here these days. FM Belfast, who, along with some other local groups, took part in special broadcasts for KEXP in Seattle during the festival (hosted by Einar from Ghostigital), were the big finale of Saturday night, drawing a huge crowd who sang along and danced non-stop, the set ending with members of Retro Stefson and some other characters coming on stage and dancing about in short-shorts while shooting confetti guns off into the crowd. The show continued afterward though, for any who wanted to stay, with Trentemøller, a Danish DJ who, everyone said, was not to be missed. I don’t know, friggin’ DJs, sometimes just… . This guy came out and played Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” with a dumb techno beat under it and I went home.

So there you have it, a brief look at a festival thriving at the fringe. Music is an interesting phenomenon here, it happens and is treated much differently than in North America, and in some upcoming articles I’ll look at specific topics within that statement.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: