Iceland Airwaves 2022 – Day 3

We were still fighting off colds, so that forced us into a more chill mindset going into the last day of Airwaves. I made a trip down to Lucky Records around lunchtime to grab all the stuff they were holding for me and spent an hour or so back at hour place removing price stickers and getting all my purchases boxed and arranged for the trip home the following day. Man, this is a lot of stuff! But more on that in the next post.

We were back at Lucky later in the afternoon to see hip hop artist Cell7. This was our third time seeing her, and by far the best. She gave off a relaxed vibe and had some fun with the crowd, who had fun in return. If you haven’t checked out her 2019 release Is Anybody Listening? you need to track it down and give it a go. Her soul-infused style is exactly what we needed on a cold afternoon. In talking about the show later my buddy Ingvar, who has seen her perform way more times than me, he also noted it was the best he’d heard her.

There were some last-minute additions announced to the schedule at the Iceland Airwaves Center and one looked intriguing. PPBB describe themselves as “electro-funk”, and their debut track was titled “Shitballs”. Seemingly in contrast, however, their full name is the Post Performance Blues Band. So what to expect? Who knows, so I’m in!

And… I certainly didn’t expect this. It’s hard to explain the PPBB set. It was a blend of electro beats and performance art and avant garde and lyrics about the sensation of drinking and screaming about loving sorbet and a gold lame outfit and a member zipping herself up in a black bodysuit which included a full face mask then crawling on the floor through the crowd… So in other words, epic. I have no idea how the music comes across without the performance, but they have a few tracks on Spotify and you can be damn sure I will be checking them out.

After a quite home-cooked dinner in our rental apartment, we mustered enough energy for one more foray, walking down to Sirkus to see our friends from Revenge of Calculon play an off-off-venue set. Strolling into the joint it was looking very, very dead, with the band and their friend DJ Sue comprising about half the people in the room. But a few more folks made it down by showtime, including a pair of very well-dressed and very drunk 60+ year old local ladies who seemed to take a particular shine to bassist JC9000, and the guys played as if it was a packed house.

Cell 7 – “Is Anybody Listening?” (2019)

Ragna Kjartansdóttir has been part of the Icelandic hip hop scene since its earliest days. In 1996 she joined the Subterranean crew and rapid-fired rhymes on their seminal Central Magnetizm the following year, one of the first hip hop albums to come out of island enclave. It’s an album that has held up remarkably well – classic beats, MCs jumping in and out with precision, and Kjartansdóttir’s female vocals offering a not only a reprieve from the testosterone but showing that she can more than hold her own. Give a listen to “My Style Is Phreaky” and ” It’s tha Subta” and just try to call me a liar. I dare you. And that’s how the world got its first taste of Cell 7.

Another 16 years would pass before Ragna released her first solo album as Cell 7, 2013s CellF. We caught her that same year at Iceland Airwaves, performing an impressive live set at Lucky Records, and we’ve kept tabs on her ever since. The following year she was a guest MC at an awesome show by the reggae/hip hop RVK Soundsystem (below), owning the stage and making it clear she still had game. Needless to say, when I heard she had a new album coming out in 2019, and even better she was crowdfunding a vinyl release, I signed up immediately. And I’m glad I did, because not only is the record and packaging awesome, so too is the music.

Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane

RVK On Stage just published an in depth interview with Cell 7 HERE. You should definitely check it out if you have any interest at all in the early hip hop scene in Iceland. As for the review, I thought about writing something new about Is Anybody Listening? for the blog, but when I went back and re-read what I wrote for RVK On Stage I liked what I saw… so that review follows below.

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I’m independent / I don’t have a crew, Cell7 tells us on “Don’t Care”. And she clearly doesn’t need a crew these days, two decades on from her hip hop debut as part of the group Subterranean. She was young then. Today she’s a woman with adult responsibilities and children. And she won’t put up with any nonsense. Don’t be fuckin’ with my income / I don’t play / I don’t care.

Is Anybody Listening? is Ragna Kjartansdóttir’s second solo album as Cell7, a blend of R&B drenched beats and grooves overlaid with in-your-face lyrics. Ragna’s delivery is perfectly suited to the music, less youthful braggadocio and more mature confidence, with even her disses spit with a matter-of-factness that brokers no disagreement. I got powermoves / You don’t get to tell me what I’m supposed to do. She means it, too. Sometimes bellicose, sometimes smooth as silk, but always poised and bold, Cell7 has been in the rap game since before many of the up-and-comers were even born, and she’s not going to let them forget that fact.

The album opens with an aggressive stance, the first four tracks establishing Cell 7’s bona fides, making it very clear that she’s not to be messed with and culminating with the super-fast and intricate rhymes of “City Lights”. The next four songs slow things down a bit, embracing the R&B elements and giving Ragna the opportunity to show some vocal diversity, her velvet-like half-rapped-half-sung lyrics perfect for late evening chilling, the slowed down time when the main party is winding down and just a few friends are left hanging out in small, intimate groups. Most notable is the female anthem “Peachy”, an empowering celebration of self-confidence (I’m feelin’ myself / Bullshit free / A hundred percent / Organically me). The album closes with “Powermoves”, a track that blends her earlier vocal conviction with the later viscous beats, a perfect way to bring everything full circle.

Released digitally in February 2019, Ragna took to the web to crowdfund a two-color, limited edition vinyl pressing of Is Anybody Listening? If you’re a vinyl junkie like me, this one will be a must-have with its beautiful cover art and the included poster. But you don’t need fancy packaging and formats to enjoy Is Anybody Listening?, just get yourself a download or stream it, put your earbuds in, and groove.