Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Day 0

October 31, 2017. Halloween Night. The night I learned that there is still hope for rock ‘n’ roll, that it does indeed have a future. And that future has a name.

It’s name is Alchemia.

We’ve made it to “Day 0”, the day before the official start of Iceland Airwaves. So far my personal theme for this year’s Airwaves is “Near Misses”, as yesterday I managed to just miss connecting with my friend Leana at Dillon when we left just as they were coming in; I missed my friend Bryan popping into Lucky Records, not because I wasn’t in the store, but because I was actually digging through some stuff in the back while he was in the front; and I missed a chance to connect with LITVL reader Paul not once but twice, last night at Dillon and this morning when we were both having breakfast at Prikið… though to be fair Paul and I have never met in person, so we only pieced our near misses together today after a forensic review of Facebook posts and photos. Hopefully we’ll cross paths again at some point this week.

The off-venue schedule didn’t get going until the afternoon, so I found myself back at Lucky Records for a while. Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I took care of all of my shopping yesterday; but I’m an addict my friends, so I walked out of there with a handful of A-Ha 12″ records for Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, a few tapes, and sweet copy of Gildran’s 1988 Hugarfóstur to fill a hole in my collection. Tomorrow I think I’ll be making my second pass through Reykjavik Record Shop, and there’s still the flea market on Saturday… so many records, so little time.

And of course we were back at Lucky Records later in the afternoon to begin our off-venue evening. Opening the night was the hardcore two-piece PHLEGM, a bassist and drummer who brought some serious intensity to their performance, doubly impressive considering that they’ve only been working together in this project for a few months. Up next was a band I recently wrote about, Mosi Frændi (left), an OG punk six-piece that reunited to put out a new release in 2017 called Óbreytt Ástand. They gang opened with a cover of the Icelandic punk classic “Ó Reykjavík” before transitioning into their original material, both old and new. It was a solid performance, all the more impressive considering the small size of the Lucky Records stage, one that wasn’t large enough to hold the entire band. We may check them out again later this week at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Which brings us to the aforementioned saviors of rock ‘n’ roll, a band we almost missed because we considered heading to a different venue following our dinner break. Fortunately for us we headed back over to Lucky to see Alchemia.

There was a time when hard rock and standard heavy metal were popular. I mean really popular. Like there were actually singles from these genres in the Top 40 and they got radio play on stations across multiple formats. But to some extent those genres imploded, victims of the excesses of the late 1980s glam metal scene and its eventual descent into self-parodying absurdity, finally succumbing to the death-blow it was dealt by grunge with the release of Nevermind in 1991. A few bands like Metallica made it through to the other side, but the rest found themselves more or less relegated to the ghettos of hard rock radio and their rabid, and still substantial, core base. Many people would lead you to believe that the days of long hair and denim were destroyed permanently, but much like the concentrated evil in Time Bandits it continued to smolder, retaining its life force and the potential to infect the world once more in concentrated form.

Alchemia is the hard rock word made real.

The four-piece (above) caused my brain to boil inside my skull. Up front they have a pair of guitarists, both of who are adept at shredding and ear-splitting solos that are an air guitarists’ dream. The bassist breaks the stoic bassist mold and looks like the happiest guy on the planet who can’t believe his good fortune at being able to lay down some heavy licks with his bandmates. And the drummer… each snare hit sounded like a rifle shot as he thrashed around behind the tiny kit like Animal. (♠) They flat-out killed it tonight and made a believer again out of this formerly lost soul who was convinced the hard rocking metal of his youth was permanently relegated to the retro tour circuit. They were everything I love about the genre – fast, loud, and with just a bit of a sense of humor. I went straight to the counter after the set and bought a copy of their 2014 CD Insanity, and I’ll be doing whatever it takes to track down their self-titled 2011 debut (both appear to be available on Bandcamp). I can only hope the CDs sound even a fraction as good as Alchemia was tonight.

From there I’d have been perfectly satisfied to go right to the airport and fly home, mission accomplished. But… damn, the festival hasn’t even officially started yet, and if I can find a surprise like this on Day 0 there’s no telling what the next five days will bring! So we soldiered on, down to KEX Hostel to catch the afro-beats of Bangoura Band (below), an ensemble that seemingly included some kind of solo by all of the ten or so members performing tonight. Their funky brand of reggae and African influenced beats was a crowd pleaser. They carried us to the night’s finale (at least the finale for us…), Kiasmos. I just wrote a week or so ago about their latest release Blurred, and the pair didn’t disappoint the completely packed house at KEX, who were swaying and gently bouncing throughout their set. We couldn’t even get close enough to the stage to take any decent photos, so you’ll just have to take our word for it that the guys were excellent as usual, playing a mix of old and new tunes.

After that it was off for a quick late-night hot dog and then to bed, as Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane and our friend Jason arrive in Reykjavik tomorrow morning, bright and earlier. The on-venue schedule doesn’t even start until tomorrow, and as near as I can tell I’m already about 10 bands deep. But I’m definitely ready for more.

(♠) Yes, I know Animal was a Muppet and that doesn’t seem very metal on the surface. But have you ever seen him play drums? Have you?? That, my friends, is metal.

Iceland Airwaves 2017 – The Prequel

In recent years I’ve started referring to the Tuesday before the official start of Airwaves on Wednesday as Day 0. That’s the day to hit the town, reacquaint yourself with the city, get your wristband, and generally prep for the five day musical onslaught that is to come. There are also lots of off-venue gigs to see, pizzas to eat, and beer to drink.

But this year Norberto and I headed to Iceland two days early, arriving sleep-deprived but in high spirits on Monday morning. So what is the Monday before the festival starts on Wednesday? Day Negative One? I should have just done the George Lucas thing years ago and started calling the first day of the festival Episode IV so I’d have plenty of ways to label the pre-Airwaves days, but I simply don’t have that much foresight. Nor do I like going back and retroactively making major changes to my previous work. So for now, Monday is simply “The Prequel”.

After taking care of our immediate biological needs following a 7AM arrival in Iceland (i.e. not one but two coffees and a pastry), it was time to get some record shopping done before the off-venue schedule kicked off in the late afternoon. So I headed over to Lucky Records and even though owner Ingvar had just paid me a visit in Seattle a few weeks back during which he delivered a box worth of stuff to me, I still managed to find more records that I “needed”. There are just so many quality new releases coming out of Iceland these days that it’s impossible to keep up! I snagged new albums by Godchilla, Pink Street Boys, Dynfari, and Páll Ivan Frá Eiðum, along with some not-quite-as-new albums from Hermigervill and Casio Fatso. There were some vintage items as well, most notably Drýsill’s 1985 metal classic Welcome to the Show. I also connected with the illustrious Dr. Gunni who passed along an old Quarishi 12″, some 7″ records, and a hardback copy of his first book on the history of the Icelandic music scene, 2001’s Eru Ekki Allir í Stuði? I’ve been looking for a copy of this for years, even having reached out to Gunni to see if he had an extra floating around. So when he recently found a copy at a used bookstore he was nice enough to pick it up for me. From there it was off to Reykjavik Record Shop where I landed a collection of Bloodgroup remixes and some Krakkkbot. All in all it was a pretty solid day.

Following a well-deserved nap and some dinner at KEX Hostel it was back to Lucky to start the off-venue part of the festival. We caught a trio of female-fronted bands there. First up was Árný (left), an alumna of Sofar Sounds who gave us a sensitive performance alongside her keyboard player Stefán Örn Arnarson. Next was the five-piece VASI, also from Iceland and who released their first single earlier this year. They provide a blend of funk, jazz, and reggae in a way that always leaves you guessing and gives vocalist Vasi Hunton plenty of room in which to maneuver. That brought us to MIMRA, the solo project of vocalist and instrumentalist María Magnúsdóttir, whose debut album dropped just a few weeks ago. I was particularly impressed by her final song, one during which she broke out of her stylistic comfort zone into a rawer place that was intriguing.

From Lucky we popped over to the rock bar Dillon. Unfortunately the band scheduled for 9PM was a no-show, but luckily for us we decided to stick around for blues guitarist Beggi Smári (above) who was the big winner of the night with his incredible licks and very good rhythm section. He really got the crowd into it, including some applause that broke out mid-song to recognize the sheer intensity he brought to the set.

We’re off to a great start at Iceland Airwaves 2017. The off-venue gets going in earnest tomorrow, so I’m excited to see what new bands the day has in store for us.

Kiasmos – “Blurred” EP (2017)

Janus Rasmussen and Ólafur Arnalds are back at it again with another new EP released under the Kiasmos name. The pair, both successful in their own rights, have garnered quite a following in the EDM world with their style of uptempo ambient that successfully combines quiet, almost classical passages with deep, organic, pulsating beats. Their latest effort, the six-song Blurred (two of the tracks are remixes), came out a few weeks ago and my vinyl copy just arrived in the mail. And it’s excellent; from the packaging to the sound quality, no detail was spared.

Certainly ambient electronica is nothing new, nor is incorporating classical instruments and components into electronic compositions. What Kiasmos does better than anyone, though, is merge the two with a fluidity and poise that is surprisingly coherent, blending the flows of ambient with more beat-driven EDM to give us something special. Something calming that also forces your body into motion, changing your velocity without you even realizing it’s happening.

Blurred doesn’t deviate from the Kiasmos “formula”, so if you like their prior work you’re going to enjoy this EP as well. I’d love to seem them push the envelope a bit and possibly even have Rasmussen put vocals, even if just sampled, to one of their tracks – he’s a talented singer as is evidenced by his work with Bloodgroup and I think it would add an intriguing element to Kiasmos’ sound if used judiciously.

I’m bummed to see that Kiasmos is only playing one set at Iceland Airwaves this year, and it’s actually on Tuesday night, the day before the festival officially kicks off. Fortunately I’m heading to Reykjavik a few days early this year and will be able to catch their set, because they’re not to be missed.

Egyptian Lover – “Egyptian Lover 1983-1988” Box Set (2016)

When our friend Ingvar was visiting a few weeks ago our evening conversations pretty much always turned to music. And following one of these discussions, on Saturday morning when we headed out to downtown Seattle to do some record shopping he had a mission in mind: “I’m finding you some ‘Egyptian Lover’”.

And Ingvar came through, spying a copy of the Egyptian Lover 1983-1988 Box Set on the wall at Silver Platters later that day, a collection of 4 12″ records that basically include the Lover’s first couple of albums and then some. He insisted we spin some of it that night, and it took about five seconds to see that Holly was in love (with Egyptian Lover, not Ingvar). So I knew the first time I offered to play this thing in full start to finish that she’d be on board.

Let’s be clear – Egyptian Lover is rad. Like seriously rad. It’s got scratching and beats and raps. It’s sexy and silly, but always kickin’. It’s everything I loved about hip hop from back in the day when we still all called it rap. And with the tracks given the 12″ treatment and no more than three songs per side there’s plenty of width and depth in the grooves to give you that funky bass. “What Is A DJ If He Can’t Scratch” indeed!

The Visible Targets – “The Visible Targets” (1982)

I wrote about Seattle’s The Visible Targets a couple of years ago with a blurb on their 1983 EP Autistic Savant. The other day I ran across their other record, their four-song self-titled release from 1982, and while I picked it up due to it’s local ties I didn’t expect to write anything about it. That is, until I listened to it for the first time. Because it’s so good and interesting that I’d be remiss if I didn’t let some of you old school new wave fans know about this EP, as it’s worth picking up if you run across it.

“Twilite Zone” is a bit of a post-punk-to-new-wave transitional piece (remember, this is from 1982), that sort of dark new wave with funk bass flourishes and female vocals that stray just a bit out side of the song structure, though even that structure itself is pretty loose with he rhythm section given plenty of freedom to express themselves. “Just For the Money” kicks the pace up to the point that it’s actually a punk song, the guitar jangling in a surf-like fashion and the female harmonies giving it a dreamy feel at times. (♠) On the reverse “Mechanical Man” opens with mechanical factory-type sounds before kicking into a very stilted delivery, one intentionally done to mimic the concept of a mechanical man and slightly reminiscent of early Devo. We close out with “We Like It”, another difficult-to-categorize number that if anything feels a bit like something off the first couple of Blondie records.

The Visible Targets is well worth it if you find it out there in the wild. I got mine for about five bucks, but if you find it outside of Seattle you might even get a better deal.

(♠) Three of the four members of The Visible Targets were women.