Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 3

There are lots of reasons people come to Iceland Airwaves. For some it’s a convenient “excuse” to get to Iceland and experience both the incredible natural beauty of one of the last truly unspoiled places on earth while also getting to see some cool music. For others it’s a chance to party like it’s 1999 and soak in (and soak up) Reykjavik’s notorious evening party scene. And some of us are here chasing the dragon. Going to shows and secretly hoping for that next “high”, that next experience with some band you’ve never heard of who totally and completely blows your mind and makes you fall in love with them, like a junkie trying to recapture that first big hit. That experience seems to become more and more rare over time, but if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone you might capture it, and if you do you’ll remember what life is all about. “…if you try sometimes, you’ll find… you get what you need…” I got what I needed last night.

But before we get to that, was saw lots of other great bands yesterday. First we hit a few off-venue shows at the Nordic House, which has a small room seating maybe 50-70 people and fantastic acoustics. There we saw an impressive young band from Denmark called Shiny Darkly who channeled the long-dead spirt of Warsaw in impressive fashion. We liked ’em enough we’re going to try to catch them again on Sunday at their Lucky Records in-store, and I can promise a full post on them sometime soon since I bought a copy of their brand new vinyl EP (the second copy ever sold apparently, since someone else got to them just before I did… doh!). I will be keeping an eye on them. Halleluwah followed with a nice, short four-song set that was, I believe, all new material.

From there it was off to Harpa to see an off-venue show by Singapore Sling that sort of spilled out of the 12 Tonar record store. Unfortunately the gear didn’t seem set up too well – it was way too loud to the point of distortion, and you could barely hear the singing at all. Turns out they sounded way better from inside the venue’s downstairs bathroom (true story); maybe they should have moved everyone down there to listen. It doesn’t always need to be turned up to 11 to be good. We then headed out to a bar called Dillon in hopes of catching Brain Police, but it was so packed we couldn’t even make it to the top of the stairs to reach the room… so back to Harpa for the on-venue program.

Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band is exactly as advertised – this band is BIG. Like 18 performers big. They play a fun style of Afro-funk fusion with horns and guitars and bongos and just about anything else you can imagine and are a wonderfully enjoyable live experience (we saw them a few years ago as well). I picked up their new double album on vinyl and can only hope it captures their live energy. Valdimar was up next with a sort of folk rock style that was pretty good, and certainly enjoyable.

That brought us to American ex-pat and now Iceland resident John Grant. Grant was given a longer than normal time slot (a full hour) and he’s the toast of the town, so we figured it would be packed – and it was almost beyond packed, really. Our best guess is about 1,500+ people crammed into that room to see him, and they didn’t leave disappointed. I wasn’t familiar with his music, but was captivated by his lyrics – Grant comes across like he’s having a conversation with you more than singing to you. His lyrics are either the most deeply honest and personal I’ve heard in a long time, or he’s totally full of it. I’m not 100% sure which is which, but I’m thinking the former. Lots of songs about frustration and lost loves and ego and pain.

And that, my friends, brings us to that dragon I’ve been chasing. He came to me from an unexpected place – Syria. Yes, that Syria. The one that’s been in the news due to the ongoing unpleasantness. He’s a 40-something pop singer named Omar Souleyman and within 30 seconds of hitting the stage he owned the 1,000+ person crowd at Harpa. Souleyman’s brand of electronic dance pop is infectious – there are some typical dance beats in the background, but mixed with very Eastern sounds and instruments all capably put together by the guy running his electronics and keyboard. And Souleyman himself… despite speaking three words of English/Icelandic the entire set (“hello” and “thank you”) he had the crowd dancing at full throttle, making him his playthings and getting them to clap or raise their hands at will. There was dancing. There was crowd surfing. A bunch of coins made it out of my pants pockets and ended up on the floor because even I was dancing. And someone puked all over a garbage can. Afterwards the room smelled of spilled beer and body odor. It was unquestionably one of my Top 3 all-time Airwaves shows… and may actually be in a first place tie with FM Belfast at NASA a few years back.

This is why we work. So we can save up some money and chase these incredible life experiences, like totally losing yourself in some Syrian electro-pop with a thousand of your new friends, dancing into the night. It’s the journey that matters.

Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 2 (“…and a cassette”)

For the first time during Airwaves 2013 I’m writing with most of my brain working – not hallucinating from lack of sleep on our travel day nor at 2:30 AM after a complete day of concerts. So hopefully I’m more coherent, because if not I’ve got real problems.

We went over to Lucky Records today to pay for and pick up all the stuff that I’ve had on hold, and even I was surprised at the volume, which is what happens when you ask to have a few things put aside, but spread out those requests over the course of weeks. That being said, I was stoked about what I had waiting for me, both the stuff I picked out as well as a few nuggets Gestur and Ingvar put aside, like a super limited edition múm picture disc, a couple of 45s, some random CDs, and yes, my dear readers, even a cassette. Let that last part sink in for a minute. This wasn’t a vintage cassette like the Snarl II compilation I wrote about recently. Oh no. This is brand spanking new industrial insanity dual effort from Iceland’s own AMFJ and Auxpan, and I’m looking forward to checking it out… assuming, of course, I still have a tape player floating around in my garage somewhere. Either that or I’ll have to sit in my wife’s car.

I have a stack of cool stuff to listen to when I get home, including new material from The Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band and Emilíana Torrini, plus used stuff by Björk, Purrkur Pillnikk, and some almost completely unknown Icelandic bands (well, at least unknown to anyone not from Iceland!). As near as I can tell I got about 27 records and 21 CDs (and one cassette!) so far… and frankly I don’t have room for much more – though I still need to hit up the flea market on Saturday. I can’t wait to get home and start listening! I’m not as much looking forward to cleaning all these records and having to reorganize my shelves… but that’s the price you pay.

We weren’t too inspired by the off-venue program today, but we had one band we wanted to catch – the industrial duo known as Ghostigital. Not too many bands can be as intense and weird as Ghostigital while still being awesome. This marked the fifth time we’ve seen them at Airwaves and as usual they did not disappoint, this time playing a small stage on the top floor of Reykjavik’s opera house Harpa, with the setting sun coming in through the angular windows on two sides and a crowd who was ready to get after it. And they brought it. There were a couple of songs from their latest album, Division of Culture and Tourism, plus a few I didn’t recognize. The small crowd (maybe 75 people?) was way into it and some people were seriously rocking out. This moved solidly into second place in my personal list of best shows this year, behind only Legend. We also caught part of Good Moon Deer’s set, some nice experimental electronic played by one guy on the controls and the other on the drums.


OK, while earlier I told you how amazing this post was going to be because I wasn’t sleep deprived… well… it’s now about 2 AM and we just got back from our second night of shows, so bear with me.

We spent most of the evening back at Harpa catching heavy metal and punk type shows. Momentum opened with their brand of psych metal, though it wore on me a bit as there wasn’t a lot that differentiated the songs in their set. Dimma, however, looked, acted, and sounded like rock stars, like metal gods from the bygone age of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The lead singer knew how to strike the poses and flat out hit the notes all the way through. These guys are a new favorite, and I’ll be looking for some of their stuff before we leave. Endless Dark followed with their own brand of quasi post-hardcore, a relatively large band with not one by two vocalists – though to be fair one was more a shouter/growler and the other a singer. Regardless, they were hard, fast, and awesome. Muck was next, and we saw them live when we were last in Reykjavik back in April. Some decent punk, but while I didn’t think it was anything terribly special, they probably had the largest crowd in that room tonight. Sólstafir was the band we really came to see, and while they were good their sound was a bit droning, sort of Icelandic cowboys (based on how they were dressed) singing like old Alice in Chains. Their style is a difficult one to pin down – I think their music takes a conscious effort to truly appreciate. A lot of people are way into them, and I feel like this is the kind of band I should totally love, but I just don’t quite get them. We snuck out of there a bit early to head over to another room within Harpa to listen to a few songs by Yo La Tengo, who were decent in a kind of folk rock way.

After that it was off to the waffle truck for some amazing waffles before taking a chance and strolling to Dolly Bar downtown to see if our friend Ingvar, aka DJ Lucky, was still spinning his Afro-beat dance set there. We’d only found out about this earlier in the evening, but we were able to catch the last 10 minutes or so in a packed sweat-box full of dancers, drinkers, and people snorting unknown substances. At one point I saw a guy in a police uniform walking through and thought some folks were going to get busted, but Holly pointed out that his shirt was unbuttoned pretty much down to his pants, so… probably off duty? Tough to say.

Oh yeah, and we saw the northern lights tonight just up the street from our apartment. So check that one off the list of things to see.

God I need some sleep…