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A Journey To Iceland (Part Three)

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I’m going to start off today’s installment with:

Travel Tip #4. If you’re coming to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves, remember one simple thing: it’s November in Iceland. Dress accordingly.

There’s a very good reason why nearly all the tourist shops here in the city sell scarves, sweaters, and hats. Yes, the Icelandic wool is lovely, but it’s also meant to help you brave the elements here. And were it not for being warned ahead of time about the weather, I would have been scampering to one of the stores for a bit of added warmth to the wardrobe. The weather, nearly all day long, was windy, rainy, and chilly. It’s not terribly different from what goes on in Portland at this time of the year, but I’m also not spending most of my evenings walking around between venues, getting spattered and windblown.

The weather was not without its charms, somehow. I was amused to see the corners and cubbyholes of each venue I visited on Thursday stuffed with everyone’s winter coats, jettisoned for the length of a set or for the night after the collective body heat raised temperatures indoors. And the bracing cold was good to help keep me awake during my struggles with jet lag.

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As a festival, Iceland Airwaves has done a great job taking the best elements of events like SXSW and the early years of MusicFest NW to inform their programming. Walking down the main drag of Laugavegar, you’ll hear music coming from every corner as the shops, cafes, and bars open their doors to “off-venue” performances, or day shows happening outside of the usual theaters and clubs.

That way, you can pack yourself into the attic space of a whisky bar to catch the first part of Extreme Music Night (which we’ll talk about more on Metal Monday), catch electronic duo TRPTYCH at Bad Taste Records, cram into the upstairs bar at Solon to see about half of the 20-person strong all-female rap collective Reykjavíkurdætur, or stand in the street to watch the dramatic pop group Milkhouse performing in the window of a winter wear shop. The radical shifts in temperature moving from outside to inside and squeezing into a crush of bodies can be a challenge, but those are the sacrifices you’re willing to make if you’re a music obsessive.

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So far, it’s been interesting to hear how American/British influences are still holding sway over the sounds of a lot of the Icelandic acts that I’ve heard so far. Hip-hop has become a worldwide language at this point, after getting its start in the streets of New York. And the Western version of that genre is still informing how many of these artists perform.

Reykjavíkurdætur are taking some cues from Wu-Tang Clan and Odd Future in the number of people in their ranks, and their personal-meets-political lyrics have a very Boogie Down Productions feel. And all of the hip-hop acts that I’ve heard curse in English, which is a kind of  adorable trait.

This extends to their rock groups as well. While a lot of the music I heard Wednesday was bringing to bear the sweeping grandeur of locals like Sigur Ros, an act like Rythmatik (seen above) cite the influences of groups like The Smiths and Big Country. In their hands it gets translated to something close to a modern emo rock sound a la Jimmy Eat World, which coupled with their lovelorn songs, suited these fresh-faced kids nicely.

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With three days of music left to go, it seems foolish to pick a favorite performance of the festival at this point. Even with that, Fufanu would definitely be in the running.

The quartet sounded as sinister as I had hoped. Their music fuses the raw drive of post-punk with some engaging electronic elements, and is played with the unrelenting drive of an express train. And they are blessed with a perfect front man in Hrafnkell Flóki Kaktus Einarsson. He looks like the evil younger brother of Sigur Ros leader Jónsi but performs with the captivating fearlessness of David Yow. When singing, he’s almost theatrical in his movements, with simple hand gestures and dramatic facial expressions. But when he’s riding the wave of the band’s music, he is a blur of limbs and hair, like a hyperactive child whose had a few too many chocolate bars. The combination of sight and sound was as fiery and brilliant as anything I’ve seen this year.

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I caught sight of the members of Fufanu later that evening at Harpa for a performance by electronic duo ghostigital. For the young men, it felt like both a nod to their Icelandic elder statesmen as singer Einar Örn has long since cemented his reputation in the local music community thanks to his days as Björk’s vocal foil in The Sugarcubes. As well, the man twisting the knobs and fueling the techno/drum ‘n’ bass beats, Curver Thoroddsen, produced Fufanu’s upcoming full-length.

It was an equally captivating performance as Fufanu’s but the danger of the younger band was replaced by a puckish joy. Einar moved with the rhythmless joy of a small child and honked out his stream-of-consciousness lyrics with little interest in logic or coherence. He was in love with the sound of both the music blaring behind him and the sound of his own voice. It was as weird as it was engaging as the crowd got swept up in it all, laughing and dancing along with every beat and every weird turn of phrase.

Read all the Journey to Iceland posts:

A Journey To Iceland (Part One)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Two)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Four)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Five)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Six)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Seven)

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