Sunday, October 17, 2010

Iceland Airwaves 2010

Four days of music at Iceland Airwaves (well, five, but I'm taking today off) and I heard about 20 different bands! This was, believe it or not, my first music festival ever. I'm glad that it was here and not in some dirty field in America where I couldn't go take a shower or get some water when I wanted to. I don't have any photos but above is one that Efterklang took from the stage, (copyright Efterklang, of course, taken here) but it's fun that I can see my face in it, directly on the left, a little back from the first row. This is also the most jam-packed night and venue I experienced; luckily I was not so squashed for the other concerts.

Here was my schedule, some highlights, quips, links, stories, and my schedule.


Moses Hightower at Mál og Menning bookstore. This was an off-venue performance but one of my overall favorites! Soul and R&B from from funky Icelanders.

Later, at a venue called, appropriately, Venue, I saw Stafrænn Hákon, which would be delightful ambient rock-y type music but there were about 5 guitars too many in this big band.

Snorri Helgasson was charming, and fun to hear a Tennessee-style sound (and southern-US singing accent!) come out of an Icelander, in a style reminiscent of Josh Rouse/Fleet Foxes.

Stayed for one song of Prins Polo and decided I should prep myself for the next day, and I wasn't feeling the über-ironic band's stage presence, or their lack of much besides a I chord.

Thursday: A big day!

Olafur Árnalds at Nordic House: beautiful and intensely quiet piano and string quartet. Disrupted by the sound of one million fancy camera shutters clicking away from the press. Olafur started in music in a metal band, but these are his quiet, non-screaming pieces that he's getting quite famous for. Very 'pretty' but can't someone throw me a sixteenth-note every once and a while? Or even a flat or a sharped note for spice.

Saw two songs from Lára at Eymudsson bookstore, and I liked her performance here a lot better than what I've heard on her CD, which is a little too cutesy for me. But even performing in a bookstore she had a really strong stage presence, great tone, and her percussionist played maracas and slapped his hand on a giant art book for bass drum-kick sounds. That was very clever and literate, now wasn't it.

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and Steindór Andersen sang and played some ancient folk-songs at 12 Tónar cd store. Steindór was accompanied by Arvo Pärt-esque sonic backgrounds on keyboard and computer, but I would have liked to hear more singing and less synth strings. Hilmar has had a fascinating career but I think I'd like his other projects more. Either way it was the only taste of super old Icelandic folk melodies I've gotten so far.

Evening shows: Hundreds, a duo from Germany. I also enjoyed the performance of this more than the samples they have online. Having an electro-acoustic piano (amplified but with hammers and strings) was a great timbre on stage, plus beats, plus sexy female singer. Some beats felt subaudible and I could feel my clothes pulsing.

Amiina: much-hyped girl-band, classically trained, was the string quartet for Sigur Rós. Wish that I head heard them at a more intimate and less boomy venue than the big art museum in town. Half of the audience was talking when I'm trying to listen to this amazing musical saw, amplified autoharp, strings, beats, and vibraphone. I think their tighter, shorter songs have more interesting changes than the more sprawling ambient ones. But I'd also love to have these string players play something for me, that can play harmonics over a crowd of hundreds of drunk people and not be bothered.

Efterklang: highlight of the evening, smart dancey music from Denmark. All the teen girls were going crazy over the two front men, and I assume it's because of their Euro mustaches. The drummer was exceptional, and also played the trumpet and sang. I wanted to buy their CD months ago and now I definitely will. The music has an orchestral feel to it, not surprising as they did release an album playing with the Iceland Symphony.

Oh my God is it only Friday I am pretty exhausted I need a nap before I go out tonight.

Ljósvaki, "Awaker of Light": The music is funky but the Kraftwerk-look of the band doesn't quite match the sound.

Berndsen: The opposite of Ljósvaki, I really like looking at this band if it weren't for most of the teenager-band lyrics and chords. Still, the lead singer, this big bear of a man, wore a pink sweater with a heart on it, and his sexy sax player convincingly wore what I could only describe as a brown lamé zoot suit, without a shirt. He played an electronic sax at one point=very funky. These are some cool nerds.

Bloodgroup: Pretty rocking. Great stage presence and 2 keytars. There is a duo of singers leading but it's really about the beats. This is also the band that all the drunk teenage boys make out with their 90's-retro Icelandic girlfriends on the dancefloor. It's a good thing everyone's pretty hot here or I wouldn't want to be forced to look at that crap.

Hjaltalín: I came to Nasa (the other large venue of the festival) tonight for this Icelandic chamber-pop band, which includes a violin and bassoon, and a keyboardist who looks like his piano parts for the band include playing fugues on stage. These people are too talented and I only hope to coopt them to sing/play some of my own works! These two lead singers have amazing and uniquely identifiable voices which compliment each other so well.

Heard 2 songs from a big band of kids at Nordic House, I forget their name. Was a bit like Beirut/Arcade Fire, except coming out of teenagers' bodies.
Also went to Kaffibarrinn for a half-hour of Bedroom Community + Friends. This was more classical music for me, with a violin, bass, and electronic beats. Normally I would be at Bedroom Community the whole time, but their main musicians are away on other gigs. I should have caught this afternoon's performers' names too, and thanked them for their multimeter jams, if it weren't for the drunk Viking (well, a man wearing a Viking hat and smoking a pipe) all up in my grill.

JJ- seemed kind of uninterested to be here tonight and/or painfully shy. Definitely a lowlight for a band that got so much hipster hype, but it just did not translate to a stage performance. Not one bit.
Mount Kimbie- heard some good beats but it was sometimes hard to tell if they were playing or if the in-house sound system between acts had started. Perhaps they finished early. Either way I didn't catch much of this band because Björk and Matthew Barney walked over and stood directly next to me and I couldn't not introduce myself and chat briefly. They're a big part of why I'm in Iceland this year, being some of my artistic role models, so I tried to act normal and not ask inane questions. And also said hello to the one artist that I knew in the crowd of people, so that gives me street cred, right? No, probably not.

Apparat Organ Quartet- this incredible band hasn't played together in years, and only released one album. Never before have four organs and drums kicked so much ass. The Icelandic Kraftverk, if I will go so far to say so. Also includes a rare reunion with Johann Johansson, who I've seen play his soundtrack-music in the states a couple times.

Hercules and Love Affair- American group who played mostly new stuff I didn't know, but there were three lead singers, all fabulously glamorous, gay, or gender-bending, and the beats were very danceable. I think Antony's voice, and live brass instruments (or at least samples of brass instruments), though, really makes this band special, and they were apparently just temporary inclusions to the band. Without that they're just good dance music and frantically energetic performers, but I don't think I can get as obsessed about it if there isn't more of a contrasting vocal/instrumental texture to all of the synthesized sound. Or maybe that's just me being a nerd.

Thus I come to the end of the Iceland Airwaves extravaganza. I think my Iceland Airwaves ticket was well-spent, don't you? There are a few more bands playing tonight but I think I've come to the end of my music saturation point for the week. It gives me a lot to think about for my musical time here, some people I'd love to meet in person (or meet again) and a lot of talent to live up to.

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