I booked my hire car for Iceland this week – roads like this, here I come!
Category Archives: Iceland
OK I’ve no idea whether there is a waterfall of owls, or if there is where it might be, but it would be kinda nice to think that somewhere, a river cascaded through a forest and owls danced in the moonlight above it.
Today has been a bit of a wanting-to-snuggle-and-be-somewhere-familiar day, which inevitably means that I have been thinking about my next trip to Iceland. So it was with a wry smile to myself that I noticed this discount card from Icelandic wool company Álafoss still lying around in my bedroom. Icelandic lopi wool is cosy & beautiful. “Foss” means waterfall. “Ála-” is pronounced “owl-a”, although of course it has nothing to do with owls. I just think it’s a lovely mental image, just right for today.
It must be all the Airwaves blogs from you lot. Or maybe it’s just that I have lots of space to think in my new house (which I bought this summer). Or it even could be – just could be – the hit from the 10 days I spent in Iceland starting to run through my veins properly. Whatever it is, I have the urge to write. So settle down dear readers, and I shall begin. It’s my day off today, and having just finished wading through ALL my holiday photos from this year to get them printed up, I have a lot of memories whizzing round my head. My facebook feed is also full of blogs and articles about Airwaves and Iceland in general – check these out from Ben, Carmel, Auður at IHeartReykjavik, and of course The Grapevine. And to top it off, in my search for aural accompaniments to today I have unearthed a Honningbarna CD, who I had the privilege of seeing in a hostel reception at Airwaves 2011. Their sheer explosive energy is doing something to my insides I tell you.
So – I would like to tell you about my trip to Iceland, and more specifically this year’s Airwaves Festival. My friends and I usually make a bit of an adventure of our annual pilgrimage, starting off with a 3 or 4 day roadtrip somewhere full of moss, lava, mountainy bits and waterfalls (not forgetting sheep, new-romantic horses, elves, and, debuting this year, beserkers) before heading into Reykjavik for a bit of hipster-spotting.
My good friend Veerle and lovely cousin Helen came with myself and Katie this year, and we had a brilliant time poking around lakes and lava fields and cliffs and beaches and taking a shedload of photos. But I wanted to take a more laid-back approach to the Airwaves festival this year. I always feel like there’s too much pressure to be somewhere or see something or go to that party, and take in the overwhelming variety of events and cool things to see and do over Airwaves in Reykjavik, and stress and festivals are never things that should go together.
So I ignored the gigs I knew there would be massive queues for, or that chances were I could see in the UK, pencilled in loads of things that sounded a bit interesting, and took my time, did a bit of shopping, drank far too much hot chocolate (I still maintain the hot chocolates in Reykjavik are THE best, despite the demise of Hemmi og Valdi), ate nice food, drank nice beer and nice gin, met up with old friends, made some new ones, and generally had a pretty ace time. First on my list – one of my absolute favourite Icelandic bands Bloodgroup, followed by Ultra Mega Technobandið Stefán, playing in a box and what can only be described as a minimalist shelf, at Hressó for a live web-cast on newspaper Morgunblaðið’s website.
The boxes were designed to be the same proportions as a web-banner so that the gig could filmed and broadcast directly onto where the banner would be on the site. A visually fantastic idea from the live audience’s point of view (I thought so anyway), but I’m not so sure what the bands thought about having to squeeze into such tight spaces – although Sunna seemed to take it all in her kitten-like stride, and Bloodgroup’s set seemed even more full of energy than their “official” Harpa gig was later in the week.
So onto my second day of taking-it-easy festivalling. I had a few things on my pencilled-in list, including the Bedroom Community evening at Hallgrimskirkja, (which was magnificent – hearing Ben Frost’s By The Throat on a cathedral pipe organ was menacingly breathtaking and the acoustics just added to the sense of enveloping doom) – and a mysterious band called Camp Keighley just beforehand. I say mysterious because there was no information about them on the festival programme/app, not even what genre they dabbled in. The band are Icelandic, yet Keighley is not a remotely Icelandic word. Keighley is a town in Yorkshire where I grew up, and where my mum still lives.
I’d been ambling about Reykjavik’s craft shops looking for some lopi wool and a needle with which to mend my favourite but ever-more decrepit denim skirt, pretty chuffed with myself that I think I managed to pass for Icelandic in the haberdashers (probably because only locals go in there but I’m going to go with it…) and just made it back to my hostel to dump my stash of craft-tat when I twigged that what I assumed to be the Brontë-obsessed Icelandic band were about to play in the shop window next to where I was staying.
Of course I had to ask where they got their name from, and Hilmar, their guitarist, explained that Camp Keighley was the former name of one of the old-US airbases in Iceland, back from when the base was British for a couple of years in the ’40s. Still none- the-wiser as to why the Brits picked Keighley of all places to name their camp after, it was turning out that the band were more fascinated by my pronunciation of their name than I was in why they chose it. Keighley is one of those bizarrely-spelt British town names that (understandably) catches people out, and alternative attempts at saying the name (Kylie [as in Minogue], Ceilidh, and so on) are a source of amusement to its natives. That said, I wasn’t expecting that the correct way (“Kee-th-lee”) would be such a surprise as I’m so used to hearing it myself. But to their credit Camp Keighley took it upon themselves to learn the proper Yorkshire way of saying it, and then had a story to tell their audience for the rest of the festival… sorry about that!
I stayed to hear what their music sounded like and it didn’t take much to persuade me to stay till the end (and catch them twice more during Airwaves). Their pop is ridiculously catchy, with generous percussion, synths, and falsetto melodies shared joyously between male & female lead singers Þorvarður & Ólöf. I videoed them playing their song “Necessity for Consistency” in the Cintamani off-venue store, take a look and then don’t forget to follow them on Facebook and badger them to record some more!
Yunioshi // Worms
With the drudgery of January beginning to seem more like a distant memory than an excuse to curl up on the sofa with a DVD and wine/pizza/cat, I have a rather nice week musically to look forward to, culminating in a minor adventure to the old motherland of Nottingham (which has changed beyond all recognition since I was a student there 15 years ago). But it’s not nostalgia for revision-related sorrow drowning (any nostalgia for that is long gone) – it’s Iceland, and an EP launch at the Nottingham Contemporary, a wonderful looking venue surely perfect for hosting such cosmopolitan sounds. (And it’s free entry, get it in your diaries!)
The EP in question is from the delicious Yunioshi, who despite being quirkily English, clearly have an ongoing love affair with Iceland (the EP is entitled Reykjavik). First single from this release is Worms, setting the scene for an indulgent romp into their fuzzy lo-fi spacefunk world where girl/boy vocals drift over what could easily be 1983. The EP Reykjavik amalgamates waves of synthfunk and 8-bit-dreamy, with just the right amount of unnervingly sinister, to make you concerned about your imminent kidnapping by a gang of deranged Harajuku girls.
Bloodgroup // My Arms // Live
And joining Yunioshi are Icelandic masters of fiery, glacial electro Bloodgroup, on the last night of their European tour. This makes me doubly excited. It’s not often an Icelandic band outside the obvious Sigur Ros pigeonhole ventures to the UK, much less do they make it outside London. Bloodgroup were also one of the first Icelandic bands whose music I was introduced to, and it was their album Dry Land, with its uniquely dramatic electric purity that first inspired me to give music reviewing a go (the album review is here).
Also joining the line-up are Nottingham’s fuzz folk outfit We Show Up on Radar, who promise crunchy, Beck-influenced vibes, which sounds thoroughly appropriate given the company of the evening. It’s free in to the whole launch night, so I hope like me you’ll be dusting off appropriate footwear in which to throw shapes, and heading for The Contemporary this Saturday.
This last post has nothing to do with bands (apart from Mammút – hooray for Mammút!), and everything to do with a ridiculous last night in Reykjavik. Well we’d already checked out of our hostel at 10am, and weren’t leaving till 4am, it’d have been rude to stay indoors. After Björk, there were still 6 hours to kill before our bus to the airport, so I headed to Bakkus (shabbily cool bar with cheapest happy hour in Reykjavik) to find Jamie, Kate, Fabian, Rebecca, Veerle and the remnants of said happy hour. And Rebecca from the Grapevine, who I’d met 18 months previously, in Bakkus, and she remembered me – ace surprise!
After a very quick stop for G&T at the hostel we legged it to Mammút at Gaukur à Stöng (what used to be Sódóma, and I’m sure many other scuzzy venues before it. It’s still just as scuzzy inside. Excellent). Mammút are punky and attention-grabbing, and it’s not hard to draw comparisons between singer Kata and Gwen Stefani’s breathy feist or even Björk’s colourful vocal range. One of my stand-out bands from last year and 20 times better than that this time round.
With 3 more hours to go till our airport bus, we managed to sneak back into Bakkus which was just about to
close have a lock in. Result! Cue lots of dancing with the Reykjavik hipsters (I love that I can go out in my walking boots (I’d packed my good shoes already, woops!) and woolly dress in Reykjavik and not get funny looks in the bar. But maybe that’s just me and I’m just used to dressing down when I go out. I also love the way Icelandic women (and men come to think of it) all seem to look confident and classily quirky – maybe it’s the absence of chain clothes stores and abundance of well-stocked charity shops that helps, but more likely the Icelandic sense of individuality. I’ve never seen an orange faced, bad extensioned overweight slapper falling out of her lycra in Reykjavik. Which is refreshing.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, dancing in Bakkus. Always fun, the DJs always seem to know how to get people on their feet. We were enjoying it so much we didn’t notice that the reason the music finally stopped was because the cops had clocked the lock-in and came in to ask them to close. Nor did I spot Jónsi, who’d been chatting with his mates 3 tables from us all evening, till we were all gathered outside deciding where to go next. He then very quickly and probably very sensibly disappeared. But at least I didn’t feel like the only Airwaves-er not to have bumped into him over the festival.
Now Bob was saying there was a party at i8, and we should go. Did somebody say party?! i8 is a flat above a shop inhabited by two cool Icelandic dudes Steinþór and Atli, and they’ve been having off-venue concerts there the whole of Airwaves. JUST LOOK AT HOW MANY CDs THEY HAVE!!
The flat was super busy, full of Airwaves-ers we knew and Airwaves-ers we didn’t, locals and oddments of bands (the two I remember were Random Recipe and Retro Stefson – one of whom had a spirit level with him to measure the level of drunkenness. An Icelandic thing apparently).
The tunes & dancing just kept coming, the new people to talk to just kept coming, and we had a right good dance and a right good chatter to most people there. And in the best delivered “oops the neighbours have complained” announcement I’ve ever heard, Steinþór let us think the party was over but then invited the neighbours too – this was Reykjavik, this is party town! He even charmed the cops who’d “popped in to make sure everything was ok”.
There were many awesome things about this party (the bottle of Brennivín I was conspiratorially handed from the freezer, with a wink to share it round, was one),
but the nicest thing I think was that everyone was genuinely welcome. If this had been in the UK, we might have got some self-important sneer of derision from the host, assuming we could have found them, and probably would have felt a bit awkward in a corner somewhere until we left after 20 minutes. But Steinþór and Atli were there all night making sure all their guests were having a good time, and instead of looking at me strangely when I waved and shrieked at him that I’d recognised him from the Inspired by Iceland website, Steinþór stopped and grinned, took the time to teach me how to pronounce his name, and was absolutely insistent that we should enjoy ourselves as much as possible. What a lovely man! Although me saying that has probably done his street cred no good at all.
Then I spotted Atli and he was equally nice to us even when I demanded a photo with him. This was a party you leave because you have to, not because you’re not having fun.
But rather reluctantly, leave we had to, with several people’s business cards and flickr and facebook contact details about our persons (later to be peered at in bewilderment). 4.30am came, and we had to say goodbye to Reykjavik and Iceland, and catch our bus to the Airport. And to maybe think about getting some sleep.
For reasons unbeknownst, by Sunday morning we still hadn’t gone swimming in Reykjavik. This is an essential Icelandic pastime boys & girls, involving lounging in geothermically heated outdoor “hotpot” pools and maybe doing one or two lengths. Regardless of the weather. And just after our 10am Sunday checkout (we were leaving at 4am on Monday morning, no need for a bed!) seemed the ideal time to rectify the situation. This was also when I decided to have an acute attack of the “oh-my-god-these-icelanders-must-be-sick-of-all-these-foreign-idiots-pretending-they’re-icelandic-for-a-week” and got a bit grumpy, despite the lovely pool at Vesturbæjarlaug with the hottest steam room Kate & Jamie said they’d ever been in (wimps).
But the Icelanders we were sharing a hotpot with were very nice to us (as they always seem to be), and I felt much better when we saw an entire non-Icelandic band, wrapped up in coats, hats and scarves, doing a photoshoot and interview at the poolside. At least we weren’t doing that.
Feeling much better for my dip in the warm eggy pool and shower (it’s very comforting, and amazing for the skin), we still had a few hours to kill before our next gig (Cheek Mountain Thief at Kex), so with trepidation (due to its reputation as Reykjavik’s only tourist trap), we walked to The Pearl, a rotating restaurant with panoramic views, a fake geyser and and expensive menu.
It was actually not bad – the middle-floor cafe isn’t too expensive and there are wonderful views (as well as the shit fake geyser):
We arrived early for the gig at Kex to indulge in one of their “big beers”
and even bumped into Mike Lindsay (the Cheek Mountain Thief himself) who told us a bit about his move to Iceland, and more importantly compared beards with Jamie.
BUT NOW! Björk was playing Harpa! And I had a ticket! What was going to be in store? Once I’d made it to Harpa (I nearly got blown into the moat the wind was so strong) I found my way to the Silfurberg room.
Not so easy, as each person was stopped and asked not to take photos when our tickets were checked, and the first 3 doors were reserved for the (even more expensive) seated ticket-holders, for that added tradesman feel. But Silfurberg itself was surprisingly intimate, with the stage in the centre and a tiered and roomy standing area. I met up with my friends Gabriel & Ilan who’d been to see the show on the Wednesday too – they’d bagged a priority spot behind the drummer who was, they assured me “fit”. (I couldn’t disagree, purely from an aesthetic point of view of course. Hi Jamie). We could also clearly see the upturned woks (a “hang”) and big twisty guillotiney thing (a pendulum-harp) that Mark had described. Gabriel pointed out where the Tesla Coil would appear from. Joachim arrived in the nick of time, just before the lights dimmed and Björk’s choir filed on stage, closely followed by Björk in her huge orange wig.
Having made a point of not hearing Biophilia before the live show (I don’t have an iphone or ipad and wanted the horses mouth experience), it was exactly the sort of bonkers but perfect concept performance you would expect. There are big screens showing the visuals from the relevant apps all around the stage, projected on both sides so you can see everything from wherever you were. Björk and her choir filled the stage, playing to all sides in rotation, and Gabriel said Björk seemed much more relaxed and into the performance than the previous Wednesday, which we could tell from the cheeky grins she threw at the audience.
On the screens, ‘Moon”s moon waxed and waned through its cycle with every beat of the xylophone. One of my favourites was ‘Crystalline’ – just watching the choir dance in crystalline formation was a joy to behold, the notes of the song perfectly echoing – well crystalline things. Maybe it brought back a bit of chemistry geekery in me, I don’t know. My other Biophilia highlight was ‘Mutual Core’, an ode to the effect tectonic plates have on our lives. It starts off with Björk singing solo the least likely, unpoetic lyrics you would ever expect in a song, like A-level geography revision to music (“the Atlantic Ridge drifts, to counteract distance…”). Bonkers quotient filled. But then the song explodes in crescendo, the choir joins in, the stage erupts with vibrancy, the screens drip with volcanic lava, IT ALL MAKES PERFECT SENSE ON SO MANY LEVELS.
There were a few non-Biophilia songs too, highlights for me being Isobel, and Declare Independence, proper dance around and get caught up in the moment numbers. So was it worth queueing for a free ticket, getting turned away, and ending up paying fifty five quid anyway? Yes. For me at least, it was more about seeing the performance as a whole, than “seeing some Björk songs live”. She does kind of hide away to a certain extent behind her costume and choir, and only speaks between songs to say thanks and to introduce her fellow performers. But it’s a breathtaking pleasure to watch how each song is put together, with such originality, attention to detail and vibrancy. What a show.
Well I’m back home now and still in need of substantial amounts of sleep after Airwaves. But why exactly am I so sleep-deprived I hear you ask? Well I shall endeavour to remember… Our Airwaves Saturday started with us stumbling to Hresso to see Elephant Stone, a Canadian band that rocks the sitar, which Katie had seen the day before and insisted we check out (they were rather good when we finally did see them).
But! The timings had gone to cock and we wandered into a stunning set by Random Recipe, wholly more ballsy energetic live than the mediocre youtube clip I’d seen of them pre-festy. Rapper & Beatboxer Fab bounced, jumped, yelled and grinned her way through each song joined in no less equal measure by Frannie on guitar who sang with such passion I thought she’d fall off her seat more than once. Definitely a must-see live and I think possibly my pick of the day for sheer unexpected intensity, freshness and fervour. After the gig we bumped into Haukur from Reykjavik!, and editor of the Reykjavik Grapevine, who tipped us off he’d be playing with Ben Frost at Kaffibarrinn in his performance of Music for 6 Guitars. Kaffibarrin was totally packed, very overheated with toasty bodies of fans, and the best view I could get of the 6 guitarists was this steamed up little snippet:
Ben Frost does with sinister industrial noise-scapes what you’d expect from someone who has moved from the sunny climes of Australia to the dark winters of Iceland – intense and twisted, yet strangely warm and soothing, his 6 guitars mesmerised and enveloped us all.
After a bit of a treat involving Icelandic lamb, Arctic Char, and 2 glasses of house red at Sjávargrillið (yum), we found ourselves in Faktory for Ghostigital whose intense and near-maniacal performance was as magnetic as I remember from last year, and kinda set the tone for the rest of the night as it was spent dashing between various venues in 101 and dancing about like a lunatic –
probably missing as much as we saw but we had electro in our feet and people to meet at Gus Gus which I’d love to be able to tell you more about but I’d had quite a lot of gin by this point and all I can say is that, as long as you avoided the main street of Laugavegur (whose atmosphere in the early hours of Sunday morning suddenly turned decidedly spiky and aggressive), it was an awful lot of fun. And I managed to collar 2 more Icelandic musicians for A Negative Narrative, plus one look-alike who was very nice about me thinking he was Someone Else Entirely.