|1860||Amiina||Apparat Organ Quartet||AMFJ|
|Bloodgroup||FM Belfast||In the Company of Men||John Grant|
|Jónas Sen||Kimono||Lay Low||MAMMÚT|
|Momentum||Ojba Rasta||Oyama||Pétur Ben|
|Sin Fang||>Snorri Helgason||Sudden Weather Change||Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson(Doddi)|
In the beginning there was Pink Floyd, in 2006 there was a soon to be post rock Icelandic band covering Pink Floyd, and by 2007 that band, For a Minor Reflection, was playing and recording their own material, originally comprised of Kjartan Hólm, Guðfinnur Sveinsson, Elvar Jón Guðmundsson and Jóhannes Ólafsson who was later replaced by Andri Freyr Þorgeirsson. With over 6 years, multiple tours on their own or with the likes of Sigur Ros, FAMR have earned their place as Icelandic post rock veterans.
Their first album, Reistu þig við, sólin er komin á loft…, is self produced. reminiscent of Explosions in the sky or Godspeed You Black Emperor, there is a rawness to the music with two guitars that easily transition from harmonies to performing dueling dances around the drums and bass. “Ókyrrð” is the perfect example of the dance the guitars do on this album. Sometimes almost dueling like a high noon shootout while at other times in paralleled harmony, the song builds up, tears down and slowly brings itself to a boiling endpoint. And though the song is over 12 minutes long, once it begins you really don’t want it to end. It still remains my favorite track of theirs to date.
in 2009 the band lost their drummer to the dreaded land of studies, and Andri Freyr Þorgeirsson Joined them. Their second album, Höldum í átt að óreiðu. was released shortly after in 2010.
Kastljós, the first song on the album introduces us to a newer sound of FAMR. The rawness replaced with fuller sounding guitars and a more equal mix of keys and drums. Where Reistu þig við, sólin er komin á loft’s complexity was found in the tension between the instruments, Höldum í átt að óreiðu’s creates it’s own complexity by intertwining layers that cleverly weave a more smooth journey. The second song, “Fjara”, gives us a clear introduction to the new players in the mix, keyboard and strings.
I think what sets this album apart from it’s kin in the post rock genre, is the hidden up-beatedness of it all. There is a sly happiness within the songs that creeps up on you in the most surprising moments. I suppose I amn’t a strong enough wordsmith, but there are times when I listen to this album that I realize mid song that I’ve cracked a smile and am fighting back the warm and fuzzys. It almost becomes a soundtrack to the triumphant moments of your life, like when you’ve managed to get every last bit out of your yogurt cup. Their second album is an album that stays in my recently played queue quite often. “Fjara” and “Andlega veðurtepptir” happen to be my favorite two songs.
Their third album, the For a Minor Reflection E.P. is a pleasant compromise of their two previous releases. There are exciting and sharp instrumental moments, with plenty of smooth rolling hills. The background ambiance-like samples they use add to the music and neatly tie up the two styles. Oh, and there are horns, Höldum also had horns, but their shiny brass chests are puffed out and beaming so much more on the E.P.
“Recite” is one of my favorite tracks on the E.P. Overall the song gradually builds up to a rock out ending, but in that build up are many tiny jagged moments of sharpness with micro breaks between guitars, keys and horns creating localized ups and downs within a wave like movement that ends in a terrific crash of rocking out.
In December of 2013, the band released a DVD/CD of their live material from Iceland Airwaves. Their live shows are always packed, high energy events. I’ve seen them in the massive halls of Harpa, as well as the tiny hostel lobby of the Loft hostel. here’s a great clip from their website of the DVD/CD release:
You can see them live at ATP Iceland this July, or I’m sure they will be around during Iceland Airwaves. For more info or to purchase their music check out their website or follow them on Facebook. They are another band that does a fantastic job and keeping a thorough Soundcloud page.
Kjartan was nice enough to answer my 4 ridiculous questions:
1. What is your favorite off-venue Airwaves joint to jam at? Last year it was definitely Hlemmur Square. A new and fun venue to play at.
2. If you combine all of your favorite colors, what do you get? A rainbow!
3. What are 3 of your favorite little known bands of Icelandic origin? Lyrika, 1860 and Steindór Andersen + Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson.
4. If you could be any creature playing your favorite song, what would the creature be? And what is the song? A raccoon playing Total Eclipse of the Heart. (Of course, we knew he’d say that)
And so it begins, the steady, slow, and suspenseful drip of revealed artists for Iceland Airwaves 2014 has begun. Yes the festival is nearly still on the other side of the sun but names have been released and tickets are available.
Just like last year, I will be doing blog posts on the Icelandic bands involved, as well as maintaining a page with links to all the Icelandic bands music. You can see the 150 Icelandic bands that played last year here.
Iceland Airwaves is my favorite music festival of the year. Instead of having a field or pit with competing outdoor stages, the gigs are in actual venues spread throughout Reykjavik. You are surrounded by musical choices from early afternoon to the early morning of the next day, in cozy joints like the Kex hostel, underground bars such as Bar 11, and of course larger event halls such as Harpa. Yet you can stop to relax and take in the beautiful country you’re in at any time. And while you may think going to a music festival in Iceland is cost prohibitive, Icelandair nicely wraps up package deals with prices ranging from the budget minded to the luxury seeking.
So, the first 17 bands that have been announced, The Icelandic bands announced are: Mammút, Samaris, Grísalappalísa, Muck, Snorri Helgason, Tonik, Vök, Just Another Snake Cult and Highlands. Bands from other parts of the world are: East Inda Youth, Jungle, La Femme, Jaakko Eino Kalevi, Tiny Ruins, John Wizards, and Blaenavon.
According to the Iceland Airwaves website, there are two, yes TWO headlining bands. The Flaming lips have been revealed, but we’re all going to have to wait on baited breath for the reveal of the other. Typically band announcements get better and better as the year goes on, so starting off with this band really makes one wonder what the festival has up its sleeve.
Bloodgroup’s musical legacy is over 7 years old. Starting out in 2006 in Egilsstaðir, they now have 3 self produced albums and have performed in North America, Europe and of course Iceland. Originally consisting of Lilja Kristín Jónsdóttir (vocals), Janus Rasmussen (vocals, electronic percussion, synths), Ragnar Láki Jónsson (synths and samplers), and Hallur Kristján Jónsson (synths and samplers.) Sunna Margrét (vocals) joined in 2010 replacing Lilja.
It’s been said their name was a spur of the moment creation. Born out of quick thinking by Raggi when a radio interviewer needed their band name. And as 3 of them, Hallur, Ragnar and Lilja were siblings, the name fit.
Bloodgroup’s first album, Sticky Situations, was released in 2007. At the time it was compared to bands such as The Knife and CSS. The music is layered, with unique use of unsymmetrical breaks covered with heavy dance beats and hyper lyrics provided by Lilja Kristín Jónsdóttir . The uniqueness of the album quickly made it my first choice when running. Odd as that seems, the beat kept me going, and the unique breaks kept me interested. Here’s their epic video for “Hips again:”
Their second album, Dry land, replaced the unique breaks with unique sounds, all still multi-layered and wrapped into great dance tracks the lyrics went from hyper to haunting. There is still a strong flow to the lyrics, but they carry more weight and tend to float over the beat. It’s more complex than Sticky Situations, and a lot more mature as well. Here is one of my favorite tracks, “Moonstone:”
The new album, Tracing Echoes, was released in 2013. Much more heavy and dark, the album takes on a mature feel. Sunna’s ability to float over the dance beat now includes a substantial amount of haunting as well. Her vocals really come into their own on this album, strong but smooth, like a couple fingers of Johhny Walker blue.
At Airwaves this year, they were joined by Þorvaldur Þór Þorvaldsson (Doddi) on drums. As stated before, I am a big fan of Doddi’s drumming, and it was awesome to see the live drum element into a dance bands set. Even the more downbeat pieces come alive during Bloodgroup gigs, and it’s rare to see any of them just standing by their instruments. Sometimes I think they rock out harder than the crowd.
With flying hair, rocking synths and keys, they get the crowd into the music not only with the crazy layered beats, but lead by example.
The band was nice enough to answer my 4 nonsensical questions:
1. What is your favorite off-venue Airwaves joint to jam at? KEX Hostel! Great place, great people, great sound
2. If you combine all of your favorite colors, what do you get? Something dark, maybe purple with a dash of green in it
3. What are 3 of your favorite little known bands of Icelandic origin? Skátar, Vax and East Coast Speed Salmon (one of my biggest regrets is not seeing Skátar live, so happy to see them make a list. –RB)
4. If you could be any creature playing your favorite song, what would the creature be? And what is the song. We would definitely be cats playing Elton John’s Tiny Dancer
John Grant began in Colorado with the band The Czars. After the Czars ended and life was lived, Grant released his first solo album, Queen of Denmark. With the help of the Texan band Midlake, he laid down songs about his life, abuse, drugs and coming out in a not-so-comfortable environment.
The album pairs it’s music and lyrics well, truly helping the listener feel, not just hear the songs. Songs such as”Marz”, with it’s gleeful roller coaster ride through the piano scale, makes you double take when you realize the lyrics are describing someone’s ideal post-suicide location.
His second album, Pale Green Ghosts, is about heartbreak, his heartbreak. In line with Queen of Denmark, the lyrics are raw and powerful. We get a glimpse of the wild mouse roller coaster ride he went through -self-depreciation, hate, sadness and anger ooze out of the words as his baritone voice works inflection and emphasis as if they were keys on an emotional piano. There is little whining, just a lot of F-you’s and F-me’s which leave the listener not wanting to cry it out with Grant in a hugfest, but get drunk at a bar toasting all that’s rotten about love.
In the age of singles, it’s rare to hear an album this well crafted. Each song dutifully plays its part in the story while simultaneously living as its own individual piece. The piano scales are still there, and the dynamic production duo of John Grant and Birgir Þórarinsson of GusGus are able to encompass a wide range of synth. Some songs sounding like the current era, and some having more of a vintage 80′s electronic feel such as “Sensitive new age guy”, which sound like it was written on a beefed up Casio keyboard, certainly enforcing the rumor that Grant loves vintage synth.
The last track on the album, “Gravity”, is a song every person coming to terms with themselves should hear. Sincere, well crafted and to the point- the song speaks to people who are told they are bad for being themselves. It addresses just how painful the hypocritical rationalization of people still clinging to the “hate the sin, love the sinner” dogma is to someone growing up, especially when that dogma comes from people who they love and respect. Growing up in a region close to Denver, and having watched the dominant religion tear young people apart this very way, it’s a song I wish a lot of kids my age could have heard. The first time I heard the track I have to admit it brought back sombre memories of individuals I wish would have heard it.
Instead of just telling the listener it gets better, he says, “Don’t you pay them fuckers as they say no never mind.” and continues with “Don’t listen to anyone, get answers on your own
Even if it means that sometimes you feel quite alone.” It’s not just an “It gets better” speech, it’s “here’s what I did, and what you need to do” advice from someone worth looking up to.
The album more than deserves the attention it has been receiving. It made almost all of the top lists of the year from the journalistic music world, and made number 1 on Rough Trades top list. Most important of course, it remains on my most listened list in my iTunes.
I truly enjoy both of the albums, but to me, Grant really shines in his live shows. I’ve seen him perform gigs with a full band at Harpa to the basement of a Hostel with only Pétur by his side. No matter the size of venue or number of people Grant’s Baritone voice, warm personality and cracking smile draw you in and make you feel at home. He’s not afraid to banter on about this and that before a song, and in the event of instrumental mishaps or delays his quick wit and charm more than entertain the audience until go time.
The few times i have seen Grant live, Chris Pemberton, from the UK band Budapest played piano, and Pétur Hallgrímsson played guitar. Pétur is an Icelandic veteran who has not only done session work for a slew of global artists including Kylie Minogue, but was in two very popular Icelandic bands, Lhooq and E-X.
With the seriousness of his material and his extremely busy touring season, I was more than surprised and very grateful that he took the time to answer my 4 nonsensical questions, so thanks again and here they are:
1. What is your favorite off-venue Airwaves, or Icelandic joint to jam at? I suppose my favorite is KEX because it is so beautiful and the owners and the food are amazing.
2. If you combine all of your favorite colors (for you, add your band mates if you would), what do you get? Grey
3. What are 3 of your favorite little known bands of Icelandic origin? Tilbury, Prins Póló, Pikknikk
4. If you could be any creature playing your favorite song, what would the creature be? And what is the song. I’d be an ocelot singing S.O.S.
Disco? In Iceland? I’ll let you all in on a dirty little secret, Icelanders once disco’d the hell out of disco. In fact, one of their own, Þórir Baldursson was rather successful in the US working with Donna Summers and others during the global disco hayday. While Disco on the small island may have been short lived, Boogie Trouble is doing a fine job of bringing it back with their ‘disco-funk-full-o-soul’ style of music.
Boogie trouble started in 2011. Myth has it the band tweaked a reggae tune to match their style and decided to keep at it. The members are all experienced musicians, with Ingibjörg Elsa Turchi formerly of Rökkurró on bass; Helga Ragnarsdóttir currently of Rökkurró on keys; Sigurður Tómas Guðmundsson formerly of Snorri Helgason’s old band Sprengjuhöllin on drums; Sindri Freyr Steinsson from Iceland’s Surf rock band Bárujárn on guitar and vocals, and lead singer Klara Arnalds, who has the ability to soothingly punch the grumpies out of any audience member within range of her energetic smile and waves of flying hair.
On my must see list at Iceland Airwaves this year, the band came highly recommended from a slew of Icelandic musicians. There is a dangerous line that can be crossed when playing funk or disco, but their strong songwriting and musical craftwork bring the energy and fun of that era while leaving behind any unintentional signs of gimmick. They were tight on the instruments and every one of them on stage appeared to be having a good time.
Most of their songs are in Icelandic, but the manner in which they are written, and the enjoyment and energy the band projects from the stage make the language barrier moot. They do have a few cover songs, including Britney Spear’s Toxic, which you can download for free at Soundcloud.
1. What is your favorite off-venue Airwaves, or Icelandic joint to jam at? The best place to go partying is probably Harlem because even when it sucks it is tolerable. The best place to play music used to be Faktorý but that got torn down to build hotels.
2. If you combine all of your favorite colors (for you, add your bandmates if you would), what do you get? Litographicly probably some sort of brown sludge. That or purple.
3. What are 3 of your favorite little known bands of Icelandic origin? Svartidauði, Nolo, Ojba Rasta, the list goes on. A lot of talented people happen to live on this rock.
4. If you could be any creature playing your favorite song, what would the creature be? And what is the song. Cthulu playing Strawberry letter 23, with The Brothers Johnson. That would probably be deep.
Broadening the scope of the blog I suppose, I’m writing a book review. It’s a book on Icelandic music written by a musician who is active and has been in the Icelandic scene for over 30 years. So it’s not too far out of scope.
Blue eyed pop is a historical look at the pop music scene of Iceland. Named after The Sugarcubes song it begins in the early 1900′s and treks across the beginning of Iceland’s love affair with music up to it’s present day music madness. From the 25 wax cylinders Icelanders listened to for years to the hundreds of original bands that call the little island home, the book meanders through the short, but action packed Icelandic musical history, giving the reader plenty of photos along the way.
While there are plenty of books, interviews and summations of the globally famous Icelandic bands, this is the first I’ve encountered where that history is told with character, and from the perspective of another Icelandic musician, one who has been at his craft for over 3 decades. There are so many insider stories and funny tidbits about not only Icelandic bands, but bands such as Yes, Led Zeppelin and Donna Summers. Bands you would never associate with Iceland, but all at one point were somewhat influenced by the little island that straddles two continents.
Dr. Gunni is no stranger to writing about music. He’s been in the scene for over 30 years, playing his first gig in 1980 to now currently working on an adult-ish children’s album, Al-Heimur-inn. A pop-quiz TV host, DJ and author of multiple historical accounts of Iceland’s music scene, he’s perfectly fit to write the first English account of Iceland’s Pop musical history.
In 2012, Dr. Gunni wrote Stuð vors lands. Blue eyed pop is derived from this book, focusing more on the pop aspect. As much as I’d love to go through chapter by chapter and give the good bits. I think I’ll just stick to an overview, as I could never do Dr. Gunni’s writing justice.
The global music scene realized well before the rest of us the potential and creative eagerness Icelanders have.
Bands such as The Kinks, Zeppelin, and The Who all beat us to Iceland to tour, listen and appreciate what Icelandic musicians had to offer. Even Disco was influenced by Icelanders who wrote for Donna Summers as well as other famous US acts of the time.
Trekking through the histories of bands popular not only to Iceland, but the rest of the world such as The Sugarcubes, Sigur Rós and even newer bands like Of Monsters and Men, the book gives the reader a better appreciation of these artists and their music.
From a pre-adolescent Björk, telling an interviewer she may never repeat the recording process again upon completing her first recording session, to a rather kinky magazine cover shoot of Sigur Rós in dresses and bondage gear, the reader becomes aware of the Icelandic ability to work hard and yet have fun at the same time.
This book is a must for anyone who appreciates the history of music. Even moreso, if you are a fan of Iceland and it’s people, as through the book you truly get a sense of the Icelandic culture and personality that has seen their work ethic and dedication to life help them survive over the years.
You can order the book here, Learn more about Dr. Gunni and follow his blog here. Dr. Gunni put together a set of playlists to accompany the book, sorted by decades here. And there’s a great interview between him and Hauker S. Magnusson on the Grapevine website.
Dr. Gunni was nice enough to answer my slightly modified 4 questions here:
1. In all your years of playing, what is your favorite Icelandic venue or festival? Iceland Airwaves is by far the bestest thing ever to happend on the local scene. I do not have a favorite venue, but I guess playing Harpa is quit nice, even though I haven’t played there yet!
2. Combine all your favorite colors, what do you get? Some kind of disgusting grey.
3. Name 3 little known Icelandic bands we should get to know. Taugadeildin were a more poppy Joy Division with an EP out in 1981. Ævintýri were a hard rocking unit that used to be a bubblegum band. The rock version Ævintýri only managed to get one 7″ out in 1971 but later they evolved into Svanfríður. Dj Flugvél og Geimskip is this girl Steinunn Harðardóttir doing out of this world spacy fun art music on a brand new album called Glamúr í geimnum (Glamour in Space).
4. If you could be any animal playing any song, what are you, and what song? A walrus playing Beatles’ I am the walrus, obviously.
All photos were taken from Dr. Gunni’s book.
So now that I’ve covered the new bands I was excited to see, and the bands I always look forward to seeing, I can discuss the rest of the festival. This year there was a lot of Pylsa eating, beer and vodka consumption, and Northern lights! until this last trip, I have never seen the Northern lights, so this definitely was a treat, and one I actually just enjoyed, without snapping a pic.
Really, there were only two non-Icelandic must sees for me, Anna Von Hausswolff and Zola Jesus. I went out of my way to make sure I was going to see both, and with the packed crowd I lucked out that Samaris was right before the Anna Von Hausswolff show at Gamla Bíó. Anna Von Hausswollf, put on an incredibly haunting performance. she and the band with their intense harmonization and emotional drumming was just as amazing as I expected. The venue was so packed I was surprised NOT to see people hanging from the rafters, but I may have missed them from not being able to look up for fear of stepping on someone below. It certainly was packed, and the onslaught of photographers in the beginning did not help with the crowded situation.
And this brings up one of the few issues I had with Airwaves this year, the aggressive photographers. Not all were this aggressive, but there were a few who went completely overboard to get a pretty picture. I applaud the quick and stern email Airwaves sent out after this reminding photographers that the festival is for all people attending, not just the press, and that it was absolutely not OK to use a flash directly into the face of performers, but until this email, it was common to see this happening to artists and the crowd:
This picture was the beginning of the Show, as you can see, even the artist is flinching away from the insanely close use of a flash, and the amount of people using it. And unfortunately, if you were in the first couple of rows, a line of photog-ass was your view. The lighting made for a tough show to shoot, But as this picture shows, these guys were insane with trying and they continued through almost two complete songs. Stopping only after a certain fan of Anna’s, out of awe of her music I’m sure, climbed on stage and proclaimed her love for the music by laying down right next to Anna’s keys and flashing metal signs.
Kimono, oh dear sweet Kimono. I admit, I saw them three times in total. First show was Bar 11 before Metz, second at Gamli Gaukurinn, and I saw half of their final set at Lucky Records the next day. Kimono are an old staple in Iceland, one could argue they’ve influenced a lot of music in their time, so it was great to see them live again.
Their gigs certified they still have it. Heavy instrumentation, with just ever-so-slightly aggressive vocals trudging through the the set. The band was kind enough to play my favorite song, The Wire (I’m sure it was all for me) at all three gigs, and someone paid tribute to Alison’s paying tribute at Anna Von Haussenwolffs performance at Gamli Gaukurinn by laying down center stage and flashing metal signs while soaking in Kimono’s heavy beats.
They also introduced a few new tracks that they have been working on, including a dance number, well as dance number as Kimono can get, Think a modern Les Savy Fav. It excites me that they are working on new stuff. These guys are another band that personifies the Icelandic music culture. They’ve been playing for well over a decade, and as dedicated and serious as they are about their task, they still take the time to have fun on stage, and they also display that natural ability to include the audience in that fun, cracking jokes, heckling back and just overall having a good time playing music they love. And they have no fear about working on new stuff that may differ from the old. It’s an epic work ethic they have, and I’m all the more excited about it.
And of course, Zola Jesus. She came to Iceland with a brand new band. If she hadn’t told the audience they were new, I don’t think we would have noticed as they played a wonderful set at Gamla Bíó. Zola was full of her typical energy and after jumping off stage barefoot, she spent a good time serenading audience members, jumping on chairs, and whipping her mic chord around barriers like a seasoned cowboy lassoing a bull. As I’m a bit biased when it comes to Zola concerts, it was good to read that not just I was impressed with her set. I’m glad Iceland got to see her.
Really, there is so much more one could write about, and there are so many more pics that I could share. Iceland Airwaves yet again delivered a fantastic festival and Iceland proved to be the ever amazingly Martha Stewart of sovereign hosts.
If you want to know about how a band you dug did, the Grapevine blogged about EVERY on-venue show this year on their Airwaves dedicated blog space. Their presence and that blog were an amazing thing this year and a great addition to the festival experience, maybe I’m just partial because they flattered me by publishing my blog/article on supporting the local Icelandic musicians, but no, it’s an extremely well put together blog about the festival over all, and you have to give Grapevine major props for the hard work they put into it. You can see all my photos from Iceland Airwaves here, or by clicking on one of the pictures above.
It’s weird to end a blog post without my four weird questions, so I leave you with one of them, answered while some mocking was being done about the questions I ask, by Kjartan from For a Minor Reflection:
What animal would you be, and what song would you sing? A raccoon, because raccoons are the coolest animal.. And Total eclipse of the heart, because that would be the coolest song for a raccoon to sing…..