Live Review: Iceland Airwaves (Part Two) - Reykjavik, Iceland
Wed, 22 Oct 2008 12:31:49
Florence + the Machine Photos
Crystal Castles Videos
To give you an idea of how rejuvenated I felt at the tail end of Iceland's Airwaves fest—crippling jetlag and all—well, let's just say I could care less about CMJ this week. The reason is simple, and it has nothing to do with being a cynical bastard. It's just that New York City's annual meet-and-great and its Spring Break counterpart, South by Southwest, have become more about free booze and whoever's being blogged-about at the moment than an overriding feeling of discovery, of genuine excitement. Maybe it's because Reykjavík's population is just over 120,000 and in the middle of an economic collapse that's somehow worse than ours, and thus appreciates music's healing powers much more than Brooklynites like myself—people who take nightly shows for granted because, well, we're spoiled and can see world class DJs on the weekend, My Bloody Valentine's long-awaited reunion on Tuesday, and a secret Franz Ferdinand set sometime next week.
Icelanders, on the other hand, are located at (what feels like) the end of the Earth, a place most bands ignore in favor of Europe and North America. Where does that leave the locals? Why, it forces them to actually support one another, because, as Reykjavík! vocalist Bóas told me, "that's the only way to survive out here." That explains the bonkers behavior at the Yankee-free showcase I saw last Wednesday, a trend of elbow-throwing, rush-the-stage excitement that continued through Airwaves' remaining three days, beginning with GusGus' hometown gig at the Reykjavík Art Museum on Thursday. Man, where to start with that one? On a purely visual level alone, the trio's performance was a triumph. As much as I've been sprayed with confetti and fake blood (thank you very much, Marilyn Manson) before, I've never watched several inches of fake snow accumulate at my feet and in my hair like it did during GusGus' soulful, and slightly banging, house set. Speaking of, I'll let an onlookers comment summarize GusGus' ever-evolving music at this point in time: "I think they just brought the gay man out in all of us." Yes, that includes me, as I haven't smiled and stumbled my way through a dance act like this since Hercules and Love Affair was in town. Extra props go to singer Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson, a consummate performer who treated the stage as his private runway.
GusGus | by Andrew Parks
On the Anglophile tip, Thursday's Art Museum bill also included one band you've probably heard of (the groove-locked drone duo Fuck Buttons) and another that's poised to take over the world in 2009 (Florence and the Machine, who look and sound like a dream pairing of Regina Spektor, CocoRosie and the too-cool-for-school girl that dumped you last summer). Both were fantastic in their own special way, with Fuck Buttons finally proving their prowess in a larger live setting (I've only really dug them in small clubs before because dudes twiddling knobs can lose its luster from a distance) and Florence owning the stage with her fractured pop songs and one hell of a harpist.
Florence and the Machine | by Andrew Parks
Fuck Buttons | by Andrew Parks
Fuck Buttons | by Andrew Parks
While James Anthony Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco (James Ford must've been busy producing the new Klaxons record or something) and the instrumental half of GusGus turned Friday into a de facto dance party at Tunglið, this particular evening belonged to the Bedroom Community label. With Amiina, Ben Frost, Sam Amidon, Final Fantasy and top-notch producer/performer Valgeir Sigurðsson all in attendance—among many, many others—the collective treated their Iðnó showcase as a neo-classical/noise/folk concert with lots of one-night-only collaborations. Highlights included Frost's menacing "Theory of Machines" track and a sweeping new song called "Black"; Amiina pairing up with Sigur Rós' sound manipulator, Kippi Kanínus, for two as-yet-untitled—and somewhat massive—pieces; Amidon's joyful take on traditional folk music (including "Relief," an R Kelly cover that'll be on his next record); and rousing renditions of two creepy, beautifully-damaged Nico Muhly compositions ("Wonders," "The Only Tune") despite his notable absence. (According to Sigurðsson, Muhly is "busy finishing a major film score," bringing much validity to the recent New Yorker feature on the older-than-his-years composer.)
With such head-spinning, genre-jumping music in abundance Friday, it was kinda nice to start Saturday off with the druggy downtempo tunes of Stereo Hypnosis, a father/son duo that supposedly counts at least one acid casualty in their ranks. As hypnotic as Stereo Hypnosis was, their spell was quickly broken by Steed Lord, a quartet described as "an Icelandic version of Justice" by at least one music critic. Um, not quite. While speaker-searing electro beats make up most of the Lord's backing tracks, the clumsy rapping of A.C. Banana$ steers them closer to vintage electro-clash territory. Yes, they're entertaining—especially the golden angel poses of their lead vocalist, Kali—but something about Steed Lord leaves me feeling very dirty after the fact. Also in a dance-rock vein, only in a much more genuine manner, was the Australian group P N A U. (Yes, their name is spelled that pretentiously.) With the right backing and a proper supporting slot gig for, say, Bloc Party or Cut Copy, these guys would be huge in the States. I'm not sure what their records sound like, but the trio's stage show is a synth-slinging spectacle, complete with a shirtless, bear-like drummer and a slender, Iggy Pop wannabe of a frontman. I mean that in the best way possible, since he's the first new-wave-ish singer I've heard in a while that didn't make me want to reach for my revolver, Mission of Burma style. Or at the very least, a couple Depeche Mode records.
P N A U | by Andrew Parks
Steed Lord | by Andrew Parks
Come to think of it, the rest of Saturday's proceedings felt like something you'd see in LA or New York on any given party night. First CSS conquered the same museum GusGus doused in 'snow' on Thursday; then Alice Glass of Crystal Castles threw a series of temper tantrums at Tunglid. Look, I honestly like this duo's pitch-dark debut and their deadly-serious demeanor, but it's starting to feel less like a show and more like an act, as if Glass feels like she has to be a cross between Sid, Nancy and a Tim Burton character. In other words, all the smeared mascara and flopping about onstage is getting old. That's okay, though. Crystal Castles were a fitting contrast to their follow-up act, Yelle, a DayGlo display of electro-pop that was friendly and French rather than caustic and Canadian. Both have their place in the scheme of things but Yelle definitely helped end Airwaves on a high note, along with a special intimate Michael Mayer DJ set.
CSS | by Andrew Parks
Crystal Castles | by Andrew Parks
Yelle | by Andrew Parks
All and all, I'm still soaking the trip in, especially the Icelandic acts that left a deeper impression than the whale I ate on Saturday. (No, really.) Your move, CMJ.