Monthly Archives: November 2013

Blue Eyed Pop, a book review

bep

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.

drgunni

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.

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Fans at a Kinks concert in Iceland

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.

Björk gardening while writing and recording music

Björk gardening while writing and recording music

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.

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Iceland Airwaves recap part 3- the rest

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.  micsingAnna 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.  Boom goes the camera flashI 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 at Bar 11

Kimono at Bar 11

AlisonK

Alison from Kimono at Gamli Gaukurinn

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.

zolaAnd 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…..

Iceland Airwaves recap part 2 – annual fun and off-venue

There are certain bands and events that have become staples of Iceland Airwaves for me.  I almost look just as forward to these events as I do the festival itself.

Off venue performances are key to the daytime schedule.  Scaled down and sometimes more intimate; these performances happen in record shops, coffee houses and even retail outfits playing to the street.  Available to everyone in Reykjavik, not just the wristbanded folk, it’s a good opportunity to see the bands play smaller sets.  This year there were over 200 Icelandic artists playing the approximate 650 performances.

Pétur hallgrimsson and John Grant at Kvosin

Pétur hallgrimsson and John Grant at Kvosin

I caught a laid back John Grant set.  John Grant is a big sweetheart so seeing him at an off venue is made even more special as his quick wit and charming demeanor really shine.  His keyboardists was sick for the performance so it was just him and Pétur on stage.  That strong baritone voice that could melt rock combined with Pétur’s extremely talented guitar made the Kvosin basement show fantastic.  We even got a teaser off the new album as during a keyboard snafu, he made up a new tune about evening time murders and broken keyboards.

Einar Örn getting in the ring at HarpaI also caught Ghostigital at an off-venue event.  I fucking love this band, consisting of Einar Örn Benediktsson of Sugarcubes, and Curver Thoroddson, an amazing mixer who has worked with bands such as Kimono and Sigur Rós, these two always put on amazingly chaotic shows.  Every year Einar Örn is in rare form precisely spazzing out with a microphone, ranting about being alone and fuzzy televisions, all while Curver is at the helm tweaking knobs and distorting the mic making a perfect concoction of organized and blissful chaos.

curver Thoroddson tweaking knobsThe gig happened at the top Harpa with the sun setting through the prisms of glass while Einer Örn began in a mexican wrestling mask that was quickly shaken off revealing a face with multitudes of expression topping off their quick but potent set.  I’m pretty sure everyone walked away very satisfied they saw them, I definitely was.

Another band I always seek out is FM Belfast.  Over the years they have become more and more known to the world off the Iceland rock, and their shows are energetic interactions.  Árni, Lóa and crew really know how to throw a party, and this year was no exception.  From making 500+ people crouch on their knees mid set, to streamers and a pre-emptive depanting on stage, these guys know how to include the audience in on all the fun.

Entire Harpa audience on the ground

I was really impressed with Árni Vilhjálmsson this year as he brought that ability to naturally interact with the audience to both Nini Wilson and FM Belfast.  With two completely different bands and atmospheres, his natural ability to break down that performer/audience barrier is spectacular.

Æla is another guilty pleasure of mine.  And as of yet, they’ve never disappointed.Æla  Typically cross-dressed, they are a band that definitely could not do a super bowl halftime event.  Copious amounts of nipple slippage, riding on the backs of the crowd as they sing away, and tux stripping to reveal a dress-clad singing member are all standard fair at an Æla gig.

at one point in the night, the band declared their love for, and pleaded for all the homosexuals in the crowd to come dance with them at the front of the stage.  Æla is fun and reminds me of the ole punk-rock standard of just rock out with your cock….

There is another festival that runs parallel to Airwaves, and it was at Bravó this year.  RafWaves is the love child of Ísar Logi Arnarsson and this year with over 30 local artists and DJ’s spread over two nights it was a great way to fill in and end both nights.  If the crowds get to be too much for you on the main drag and you just want to let your hair down and dance, I suggest you check out their website and plan to attend next year.

yet again, these annual performances did not disappoint.  the off-venue crowds were quite a bit larger this year, so I did have to miss a few performances I would have liked to have seen.  But over all my list was checked off and I didn’t go without at any point.

Airwaves ’13 recap part 1-The new

blackwhiteairwaves

Pétur Ben at KEX

Now for the recap on Airwaves, Yes initially I was going to do a day by day, yes I was ambitious.  No, after day 1, it didn’t happen.  So, I am going to do a couple blog posts on stuff that was new to me, and stuff I dug.

To start off, Kudos to the Iceland Airwaves staff and crew.  This was the smoothest I’ve seen it run, and I really appreciate how much help they are, even to us small potatoes that dig music and blog about it out of fun and not as our careers.  So, thank you guys for another great year.

As with all 5 years that I’ve attended, there was good, and there was notsogood.  The high points out numbered the rare low points and it’s easy to call this my favorite music festival of the year.

One of the highlights was the off-venue schedule being added to the app.  It really made picking a band during the middle of the day a lot easier, and if the off-venue performance you wanted was too crowded, it was easy to pick something else.  And this year that became more important than in the past, as it seemed the off venues were packed almost all the time, and quick changes of plans were necessary.

DJFOG

DJ. flugvél og geimskip

My goal was to focus on Icelandic bands that I had not heard before, I relied heavily on the suggestions other Icelandic musicians and friends, and regardless of their genre I made an attempt to see them play.  I did make an exception to my rule in order to see Zola Jesus, FM Belfast, and John Grant.  But all the other bands on my schedule were Icelandic, and/or bands I had seen once or twice.  And with over 200 of them rarely did I have a time where I couldn’t find something to see.

Top 3 new bands I had not seen before were Boogie Trouble, Oyama, and Hudson Wayne. Oyama was on my list based on the blog I did about them, and Boogie trouble was a must see, as a lot of Icelandic friends and musicians recommended I not miss their gig.

Boogie Trouble at Hressó

Boogie trouble’s upbeat music came in second only to their lead singers energy and charisma.  She was laughing, dancing around the place, and the entire band jammed away at both gigs I attended.  Two entirely different crowds for those shows, and yet the band created the same party like atmosphere in both situations.  They played the first day I was in town at Lucky Records, and again at Hressó near the end of the festival.  Well worth the recommends they received, and their cover of Britney Spear’s Toxic is not to be missed.

While so called “shoe-gazing” music isn’t typically my jam, I was excited to see Oyama, as I like the music I’ve heard and was interested to see how their live show would turn out.  I also saw Oyama twice, once in front of the 12 Tónar shop at Harpa, and once at the Amsterdam bar the last night of Airwaves.

Oyama rockin the walls of Harpa

Oyama rockin the walls of Harpa

The off-venue gig at Harpa turned scandalous, as the band was just too wild and crazy for the stone cold walls, and as their music filled the event hall, it breached the serenity of the Ólafur Arnalds Symphony experience, causing a panicked man to whisper pleas into Úlfur’s ear to stop briefly to allow the symphony to end in peace.  Ok, not that dramatic, but the band did have to stop briefly, you can read more about it here.

Oyama at Amsterdam

Oyama at Amsterdam

At both sets the band played energetically and together, the smaller set at Harpa was definitely more mellow than the on-venue set at Amsterdam.  And at the Amsterdam set I was really impressed with Júlía, who obviously was having issues with her voice, and yet it came out strong, non-wavering, and almost pitch perfect the entire set.  the Amsterdam set was more rowdy, and there was nothing shoe-gazing about the guitar and bass trio break-down during one of their first few songs.  I highly enjoyed the new tracks they premiered during their set.

Hudson Wayne at Iðnó

Hudson Wayne at Iðnó

Hudson Wayne gets a golden star as being one of the only bands I’ve ever heard at Iðnó where I thought the sound quality was great.  They were so spot on it would be hard to believe they were Icelanders and not from the Mid Western part of the U.S.   They appeared to be having almost more fun than the audience.  So, aside from the over-priced beer at Iðnó, I stayed the entire set and really enjoyed myself.  Was very glad to finally hear them play.

Petur Ben

Pétur Ben at KEX

I’ve seen Pétur Ben perform before, but not the newer darker catalog he has, and not with a full band.  So it was great to make it to Kex and hear him play full on.  Even though the new album is quite a bit darker, the music came off strong and I really dug the new live tracks.

Once again, Kex Hostel had KEXP hanging around, doing live streams of the music during the entire festival.  If you want to hear the live sets they recorded, I suggest heading over here to give them a listen.  They all work incredibly hard every year exposing new acts and bringing music from Iceland to the United States.

Samaris

Samaris

Sadly, the one set of new artists that turned out not so well was the Samaris show at Gamli Bio.  There were massive tech issues from the beginning, and the band looked really out of sorts and discombobulated in their performance.  I wish I could have seen them at another gig, as I was really excited to catch their act.  So until I do see them again, I am holding off judgement on their live act.

Nini Wilson at Harpa

Nini Wilson at Harpa

Last but not least by any means, another great new band was Nini Wilson.  Comprised of Örn Ingi Ágústsson from Seabear on guitar, Árni Vilhjálmsson of FM Belfast doing vocals and guitar, and Björn Stefánsson on drums.  Their music was made public only days before the festival, and yet there still was a near full venue waiting to hear what they had to offer.  After taking a moment to relax via a bottle of Lavender oil, which they passed around for the crowd to inhale, Nini Wilson began a very tight set of Folk-ish rock, moving through the set entertaining themselves and the audience with quips about being naked, not being naked and of course, a few rock guitar solos intermixed.  Very entertaining and I wish the set had been longer as it was one of the more enjoyable ones of the festival.  Can’t wait to hear what else they have in store.

You can click any picture above to see my entire photo set from Airwaves this year.

“Heiðríkjupopp” komin út

The first English language comprehensive guide to the history of pop music in Iceland. Written in an entertaining style, and chocked full of things you never knew about the tiny island and it’s musicians. I highly suggest you pick it up while it’s available

DR. GUNNI

bep-kapa-minni
Sögur bókaforlag hefur gefið út bókina Blue Eyed Pop – The History of Popular Music in Iceland, sem er fyrsta bókin á ensku um íslensku popp/rokk söguna. Bókin er byggð á Stuði vors lands, en er náttúrlega með “erlendan”-fókus: Tekur frekar djúpt á því sem útlendingurinn þekkir auk þess að gefa ágæta innsýn í allan pakkann og tína til allt það helsta. Þessi bók er álíka flott og Stuð vors lands en er bara 854 g á meðan Stuðið var 250o g. 

Vönduð tækifærisgjöf fyrir góða vini erlendis!

Svo má jafnvel benda á þessa síðu þar sem hægt er að kaupa bókina og fá hana senda til sín í útlöndum. 

Ég gerði svaka tónlistarmix, einskonar tónlistarlegan förunaut þegar bókin er lesin. Það má auðvitað hlusta á þetta á meðan Stuð vors lands er lesin líka eða bara án þess að vera að lesa nokkurn skapaðan hlut!

Fyrir 1950
1950-1959

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Golly gee, I’m in the Grapevine Ma

I had suggested to Grapevine that they write an article encouraging us as the festival attendees to support Icelandic bands playing Airwaves.  They then suggested that I, a non writer, write the article.  I replied, what the hell I’ll give it a go.

Historically, Icelandic bands were not paid to play Airwaves, doing it for the exposure and because they love their craft, and I felt someone should talk about it.  This year’s festival has been running smoothly, and for the first time, all Icelandic bands were paid for their performances.  This is an awesome development by Airwaves that I’m very pleased with.

I think it’s still key to support our local musician hosts so they can continue doing what they do.

You can read my article here on the Airwaves Grapevine blog:

http://airwaves.grapevine.is/grapevine-airwaves-2013/support-the-ones-who-host-you/