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  • Live Review: Iceland Airwaves (Day One) - Reykjavik, Iceland

    Thu, 16 Oct 2008 11:06:05

    Live Review: Iceland Airwaves (Day One) - Reykjavik, Iceland - Our corespondent trades sleep for songs in the Icelandic capital

    A bit of advice stemming from the first day of Iceland's Airwaves music festival: when you're running on empty after a red eye flight from JFK to Reykjavik, don't attend a seminar starring Einar Örn Benediktsson, the Sugarcubes vocalist/trumpet player who's now known as one-half of Ghostdigital. Not because he's boring; because nothing says, "I need a nap" quite like falling asleep in front of a true Icelandic icon. Especially one as entertaining as Benediktsson. (See such deftly-delivered lines as "I'm middle-aged, quite handsome and still breathing," and "[the first Sugarcubes single] 'Köttur' was a song about sex with a cat, and you can't have sex with a cat because that's not nice.")

    Crowd couple | by Andrew Parks

    Having had to leave—okay, it was more like 'gently removed' from— Benediktsson's presentation about DIY ideals and what life would be like for the Sugarcubes in a Web 2.0 world, I finally got some rest and emerged refreshed for the what was being touted as the night's must-see bill. Benni Hemm Hemm (a 10 or 12-person band— I lost count— a fellow writer described as "an Icelandic version of indie pop, ala Sufjan Stevens") was filing out of Tunglid when I arrived to see the place packed but the next two bands more than made up for it with their distinctly Icelandic blend of pop influences. Hjaltalín was a clear crowd favorite, eliciting more singalongs in one set than I've seen in Brooklyn all year. Why, I'm not quite sure; nothing against these guys but they sounded a bit like Arcade Fire-gone-softcore to me. Emphasis on "a bit"—overall, Hjaltalín reminded me of any other pedestrian indie pop band that I've seen in the past five years. That said, kids went crazy for a cover of Páll Óskar's "I Dream" (that's a rough Icelandic-to-English translation), a glam-pop anthem that helped make Óskar an icon among the country's gay community. (Appearing at 1997's Eurovision Song Contest certainly helped raise his profile as well.) Oh, and they also spiked another song with bits of "Sweet Child O'Mine" for some reason.

    Crowd love | by Andrew Parks

    Up after Hjaltalín was Retro Stefson, another perplexing band of pop plunderers—perplexing but intriguing, whereas the previous act was straight up confusing in terms of their popularity. As the band's MySpace profile puts it, "Retro Stefson are the 'pop' in your popcorn and the 'smooth' in your smoothie," a mix of subtle influences from disco, Phil Spector, tropicalia, and purified pop. I think. Seriously; language barrier aside, I couldn't quite wrap my head around the Stefson kids (they all look about 12 years old), although I have to say they were treating the stage as if it were Madison Square Garden. If you're ever in Iceland and looking to learn some 'rock star moves,' be sure to give Retro Stefson a call.

    Retro Stefson | by Andrew Parks

    Retro Stefson & Reykjavík!| by Andrew Parks

    On another note, the night's headliner, Reykjavík!, was exactly what I needed to snap out of a sleep-deprived stupor: endearingly-sloppy, yet precise PUNK ROCK. Not the mall rats version; I'm talking a whole lot of squealing riffs and screeching vocals, packaged perfectly by a twitchy quartet and one hell of a restless frontman. More than just my first genuine discovery of the festival, Reykjavik! was the most unhinged and upbeat band of pit bulls I've seen in a good year. Period.

    Reykjavík!| by Andrew Parks

    Reykjavík!| by Andrew Parks

    And now, it's time for some actual sleep.

    —Andrew Parks

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