Úlfur Úlfur – “Hefnið Okkar” (2017)

While researching this post I was surprised to see that I’d somehow missed writing about Úlfur Úlfur’s 2015 album Tvær Plánetur, a CD that includes appearances by many of the luminaries of Iceland’s burgeoning hip hop scene like Gísli Pálmi and Emmsjé Gauti along with more traditional vocalists like Agent Fresco‘s Arnór Dan Arnarsson. Plus it spawned one of the best new music videos I’ve seen in the last 10 years or so, the hot dog and burnout fest that is “Tarantúlur”. We caught them live doing a stripped down set at Reykjavik’s Íslenski Barinn (♠) during Iceland Airwaves 2015 (below) and enjoyed them tremedously.

Now, hip hop in foreign languages can be a bit tricky sometimes. If you have some experience with the artist’s language that helps, but you’ll likely miss out on some nuance or references; but when it comes to a language you don’t speak at all, as is my case with Icelandic, well… hip hop becomes more about the beats and the cadence. And fortunately Úlfur Úlfur bring it in both areas (plus they give me the occasional “homey” and f-bomb to keep me at least a little connected to the lyrics).

Unlike Tvær Plánetur, 2017s Hefnið Okkar sees the wolves (♣) relying on themselves and not bringing in guests, with only one track credited as having backing vocals. Musically Hefnið Okkar brings a more R&B vibe to the beats and music; this isn’t a straight-up bass-fest, but instead more nuanced with a number of slower, deeper jams like “15” that are defined more deliberate rapping. But don’t worry, fans of Úlfur Úlfur machine-gun-like lyrical delivery will also find some stuff for them here too, like the second half of “Ofurmenni” – hearing the guys spit rhymes that fast in Icelandic is a treat to the ears. If I’m picking favorites, though, I’ll take “Úlfur” with it’s slightly 1980s horror movie soundtrack vibe and building cadence, arguably the best blend of the styles of their most recent two albums.

The guys dropped three videos all on the same day to support the release of the album, so you can give them a listen on YouTube. The most visually interesting one is for “Bróðir”, which is linked below for your viewing and listening pleasure.

(♠) Notable for having what is arguably Reykjavik’s best hamburger.

(♣) Úlfur means “wolf” in English.

Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 5

This will probably be a bit briefer than I’d like it to be, but today we leave Reykjavik and head back home, so that means last minute packing and goodbyes with not enough time and not enough sleep.

The Sunday schedule is pretty limited with only a handful of off-venues going during the day. We saw two acts at Lucky Records, singer-songwriter Man in Between and the punk/noise duo Döpur, a project by Krummi of Legend, Esja, and Minus fame. I missed Döpur last year so I was glad to be able to catch them this time around, and they had Lucky almost complete full for their noise/drone set.

We headed over to Vodafone Hall for the main on-venue program, arriving probably 30 minutes after the first performer was scheduled to start only to find a long and growing line outside. We were afraid this was going to be a repeat of Saturday’s attempt to see Beach House, since the capacity of Vodafone is quite a bit lower than the number of festival passes sold. After about 15 minutes a staff member came out and let everyone know there were some delays and that they’d be opening the doors soon. <phew> At least it wasn’t raining.

The line-up at Vodaphone was strong, though the first four or five performers all shortened their sets a bit to try to get things back on schedule. Vök opened, the second time we’d seen them on the trip, and they put together another great set. I made a point of picking up their CD at Lucky earlier in the day. Next was an interesting run of three performances, all of which saw the instrument playing band members of Agent Fresco performing. First they backed hip hop artist Emmsjé Gauti, then they did their own five song set as Agent Fresco which featured my favorite song of theirs, “Eyes of a Cloud Catcher” off of A Long Time Listening, and concluding as the backing band for the hip hop duo Úlfur Úlfur, who I really enjoy. Next up was the UK hip hop duo Sleaford Mods, with their more cadenced storytelling delivery who were interesting to listen to but not terribly compelling to actually watch.

Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

That all led up to the two main performances, beginning with a roughly hour long set by the electronics group Hot Chip, who put on a great show both musically and visually and seemed to surprise the crowd with an electro cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” The crew at Vodafone turned the stage surprisingly quickly following that set and the world’s greatest party band, FM Belfast, hit the stage and took it home. I’m convinced that every Airwaves should end with an FM Belfast set – it’s simply the perfect way to conclude your festival on a high energy high note.

Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

It’s hard to believe it’s all over… sad, but we’re all so tired that bringing some sense of normalcy back to our lives will probably be a bit of a relief too. Takk to all our friends we got to see this year, old and new, and we hope you’ll all be coming to Iceland again next year for Iceland Airwaves 2016 from November 2-6. Early bird tickets go on sale November 16…!

Iceland Airwaves 2014 – Days 4 and 5

I was totally wiped out at the conclusion of Day 4… so I didn’t write a post. Instead I figured I’d combine the last two days of the festival into one entry.

We actually didn’t see a ton of music on Saturday. We opened strong, though, with the hip hop group Úlfur Úlfur off venue at Íslenski Barinn, a cool little pub that also may be home to Reykjavik’s best burger. The guys played a cool stripped down set that didn’t try to do too much and they gave us a really good time. I may need to pick up one of their albums before we leave – they were that good. Do yourself a favor and go to YouTube and check out their video for “Tarantúlur,” which is pretty much all burnouts and dudes eating hot dogs. You can thank me later. Honestly I’m not sure when the hip hop scene here got so killer, but every single performance we’ve seen this trip has been rock solid, whether rapped in English or Icelandic.

Later in the afternoon we were back at Lucky Records for an in-store by the hip hop group Epic Rain. This was a new style of live show for the group, as they were accompanied by a five piece band instead of relying exclusively on electronics for the music. A standup bass, a violin, guitar, keyboard, and even the former drummer of the Sugarcubes pounding the skins! The guys were great and the band played impressively well together in front of a relatively packed house at Lucky.

From there we posted up for the rest of the night at Gamla Bíó. The evening program there opened with the intriguing Lily the Kid, a new group featuring a couple of members of Bloodgroup including female vocalist Lilja K. Jónsdóttir. They play a somewhat dark, ethereal style of pop, and last night’s show was only their second live performance (we caught the last song of their first show the night before). I expect that we’ll be hearing more from them. Next up was Low Roar, a talented performer with a great backing band, but one who plays a very low key, “quiet” style of music. Prins Póló kicked it up a notch with his nice guitar work and talented drummer, but our energy was starting to fade fast. We got through about half of How to Dress Well‘s electro-pop set and called it a night.

Sunday started with a relaxing morning at Blue Lagoon Spa, followed by an early afternoon techno set from Futuregrapher, who did a mix of music and reading from a book (in Icelandic). He played one track off of his upcoming album, due to drop later this month, and it was a much more upbeat danceable number – should be one to be on the lookout for.

We closed out the festival at the “headliner” event featuring the Flaming Lips. This is the first time at Airwaves that we’ve gotten tickets to an event that wasn’t covered by the general festival pass. Most years the only way to get tickets to these special events is to wait in long lines, but this year they also offered the opportunity to purchase a limited number of tickets in advance, so we took advantage of that to guarantee ourselves a spot. The opener was The War on Drugs, who played a solid one hour set, the last of their current tour. Then it was onto the Flaming Lips, which can best be described as an experience – psychedelic patterns, big inflatable things, LED lights, balloons, costumes, and just general shenanigans. While at times it was perhaps a bit overly theatrical it was still a really enjoyable time, with the band playing for a solid 90 minutes before taking a brief break and then doing an encore.

And that, dear reader, is how our sixth Iceland Airwaves ended – with a pretty decent bang. Our band count was “down” in 2014 (I only saw 33 shows…), but we had a great time and didn’t feel like we ran ourselves ragged trying to see everything possible. Plus I’m coming home with a huge bag of vinyl, CDs, and tapes (more on those to follow), so I have that to last me through at least the end of the calendar year.

Only 51 more weeks ’til Iceland Airwaves 2015…