Concert Review

Reykjavik Music Mess Grew and Grew

Words by Matthias Ingimarsson

Photos by Alisa Kalyanova

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that putting on or working at a music festival is easy, because it’s hard work. I found that out a few weeks back when helping out during the first ever Reykjavik Music Mess festival put on by Kimi Records over three days in downtown Reykjavik. Since I was working at the festival it became a bit of a logistical problem trying to see all the bands and photograph them so I reached out to the good people at Reykjavik Grapevine who were kind enough to let us shanghai their festival review and the lovely Alisa Kalyanova was kind enough to let us borrow her amazing photos. So enjoy this very in-depth review and the kick ass photos that come with it. Huge thanks also go out to the cool cats at KEX Hostel, by far one of the coolest hostels in the world and a must place to stay if you find yourself stranded without a bed in RVK.

The Reykjavík Music Mess kicked off with a… well not a blast… but it definitely kicked off. Read on to sort of find out what happened!


Most libraries would make for an awkward venue for a rock concert, but the Alvar Aalto designed Nordic House is an exception. Sure, there were a few odd moments, people browsing the selection of magazines between sets, others (well, me) inquiring about the library’s borrowing policy, and a librarian putting Dewey Decimal stickers on books (admittedly the librarian did not look out of place at a rock concert). However, it mostly worked, the shows were intimate and fun, and the bands sounded good.

Prinspóló were the first band on stage, opening the Reykjavík Music Mess festival. Even though they are a recently formed band who released their debut album, ‘Jukk’, last year, the members have been on the scene for a long time. Svavar, the singer, guitarist and songwriter, is in Skakkamanage, who have held the standard for indie in Iceland for more than a decade, guitarist Loji is in Sudden Weather Change, Lóa, the keyboard player, is in FM Belfast and drummer Kristján is in Reykjavík! and works for Kimi Records and organizes the Reykjavík Music Mess (which made the fact that he was late showing up for the gig that much funnier).

This experience shows on stage. Most bands’ banter is embarrassing at best, but Prinspóló are hilarious and personable, riffing on each other’s jokes and stories, including a running gag of translating their Icelandic banter into English on the fly with malapropisms and awkwardly direct translations of Icelandic idioms (e.g. Kristján wished everyone at the festival a “swelling good time” and Svavar referred to the audience as his “herd”). The climax of the concert-banter was when Svavar asked if someone in the audience wanted to get up on stage to be knighted. A man named Bjargmundur came forth and received the honour and a cardboard crown, which Svavar presented with the words: “Bjargmundur, I now sir you into the herd of Prinspóló.”

With all that extramusical fun it would be easy to forgive if the songs were only so-so. Happily, Prinspólo do not disappoint there either. Their debut LP, ‘Jukk’, was this writer’s favourite Icelandic album of last year (incidentally, you can stream the whole album on their homepage []). I would have been happy if they had merely played songs as they were on the album, but the songs were noisier and slightly more raucous live. The feedback and other guitar noise, which is fairly muted and low-key on the album, is turned up considerably on stage, and though it never overwhelms the rest of the music, it gives the songs more rough edges than they had before.

The concert was a great opener to the festival and we can only hope that the rest of Reykjavík Music Mess lives up to it.
-Kári Tulinius

Glancing around the room during Samaris’ show, I gleaned the face of returning adolescence from members of the audience. Samaris’ music brought out the last remaining innocence in all of us with each soft vocal and simple bassy beat. Though not normally a part of the band, Samaris featured one of their friends on turntables to replace Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir, who normally plays clarinet in the trio, but couldn’t make it out to the show. I enjoyed the unique pairing of the rumbling in my knees from the bass and the gentle clarinet and vocals, but I wasn’t convinced by the turntabling. Though I liked the idea of it, it just didn’t seem to fit last night. The group ended with a cover of Maus’ ‘Kristalnótt’, which was certainly a crowd pleaser. All in all, Samaris’ live performance has got potential, but they certainly need to do their homework (practice, dammit) to become a tighter band.
-Vanessa Schipani

Indie-pop has been a global phenomenon since the days it was made by gawky proto-hipsters in basements in Olympia, Washington; Glasgow, Scotland; and Dunedin, New Zealand. The earliest indie-pop musicians worked hard to forge connections with like-minded people all over the world. Members of this international pop underground made what they considered to pure perfect pop music and bemoaned the fact that it was not played on the radio. That was then and now indie is everywhere, soundtracking Hollywood movies and popular TV shows and bands like Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins and Iron & Wine have top ten selling albums all over the world.

The Greenlandic Nive Nielsen works within that tradition. She and her band, The Deer Children (who can be added to the pantheon of band names based on great/terrible puns, joining The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, U2 and countless others). The Deer Children are a good example of the international flavor of indie music, being a mixture of Canadians and Belgians, led by a Greenlander. They are all multi-instrumentalists (with the exception of the bass player). Their sound mixes quirky (e.g. ukulele, musical saw, kazoo) with squalls of noise, even the occasional guitar solo. This contrast serves them well, keeping the music from being too precious. At their best the band’s simple melodies soar heavenwards on feedbacking rocket engines delivering primal pleasure to its audience. In songs that are less noisy the quirkiness overwhelms. The worst moment of the show was the song My Coffee Boy, written by Nive Nielsen to her boyfriend, who is one of the band’s multi-instrumentalists. It is an unbearably cutesy song about how she keeps forgetting to make him coffee in the morning.

It is the kind of song that people write for their significant others and are perfectly lovely as such, but became awkward and slightly embarrassing when performed in public.

But when Nive Nielsen and the Deer Children keep their tendency towards preciousness in check the are genuinely wonderful. Every single member of the band is musically accomplished. Special commendation must go to Lisa, whose instruments were lost by Icelandair and who had to scrounge up replacements. She even jury-rigged a new electric saw by making a contact mic out of an old tin-box and sticking it on a saw. It also must be noted that Nive Nielsen is a wonderful singer, mixing rawness and technical ability to great effect (I suspect she grew up singing in choirs).

A lot of the old indie-pop bands who got the movement underway were quite noisy and mixed abrasive sonic textures with pretty melodies. It is great to see a band still working within that tradition in a time when indie is often a synonym for twee. I enjoyed closing my eyes and letting the wave of noise wash over me.
-Kári Tulinius

Friday night at Nordic House was a laid back affair, with people scattered liberally across the floor and lounging lazily against walls, taking in the music at a relaxed pace. Not exactly packed to the rafters with wild party antics, but very pleasant nonetheless.

Nive Nielsen and her band set the scene well for Sóley, as Nive’s cosy, living room-ways made for a friendly, folksy atmosphere that created a nice mood. Sóley is one of those educated musicians; a student of composition, and this came across in her sound, which is measured and careful. No artistic hijinks or spontaneous radical guitar solos here. Unfortunately the lyrics didn’t quite match the music in terms of being well studied, and at times it was a bit like she was just rambling about her dreams in a nice singing voice rather than actually singing well-written songs. To be fair she did have good moments of song writing tucked in here and there, however on the whole the music outstripped the lyrics by far, particularly in the first few songs which were frankly boring, lyrically speaking.

The band is a four-piece group that consists of a drummer, guitarist, keyboardist and Sóley herself, who sings and plays keyboard and guitar. The group performed well, though at times it seemed she might just as well have performed solo—while the rest of the band was present, their contribution to the overall sound was fairly minimal.

Overall Sóley played an alright gig. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but it didn’t completely offend the senses and the atmosphere was concurrent with the tranquil vibe of the night.
-Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir

Next to take to the stage were Stafrænn Hákon, veterans of the Reykjavík music scene, who carried on the chilled out ambiance of the night and let their swirling walls of sound wash over the remaining audience members. Unfortunately for them, the place had nearly cleared out after Sóley, though the few left were very enthusiastic and the band performed a good set for them.

The music fit the mood of the night really well. Moving on from Sóley’s singer/songwriter/composer stuff, Stafrænn Hákon let everyone relax further into their Friday night repose. Slow, instrumental, progressively building walls of sound that came crashing down around the listeners provided enough difference from the previous bands to be interesting, but was still in keeping with the feeling of the relaxed night.

The band’s description on the Reykjavík Music Mess website promised a seven man band, but only six were performing, with two basses, three guitars and a drummer making up the group, with one guy sometimes coming in on keyboard or with a xylophone, and another also playing the mandolin. There was a feeling of ease between the members, which made for a nice sense of comfort at the gig.

Though the music is quite guitar heavy, there wasn’t a sense of it being overloaded with one sound, and each musician succeeded in bringing something different to the table. The ‘main guy’, Ólafur Josephsson made good banter and though there music was not what you’d call ‘light’, somehow the general feeling was easygoing.

They ended the night with calls for ‘meira’ from the audience of about twenty people, closing the first night of gigs at the Nordic House on a good note.
-Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir


Sódóma was awfully quiet when Nolo took the stage. The throngs were probably still picking flowers and dilly-dallying their way over from the Nordic House. But the duo wasn’t bothered. With a guitar and a Yamaha keyboard, they filled the space with lo-fi music you can get otherworldly and zoned out to. They have a groovy, new wave thing going on, and their vocals have a kind of stilted quality (not in a pompous way though), which makes them rather alluring. Anyways, we grabbed the guitarist afterwards and asked him to review the show for us! After some initial confusion involving him explaining to me that he is Nolo and not a groupie look-a-like with the same fro, he said he was pretty happy with the gig. To be precise, he said it was: “Geðveikt,” which is Icelandic for, “Insane.” Nolo fans concurred. So well done, Nolo!
-Anna Andersen

Right from the first note, Fossils blasts out from the traps playing a furious noise rock mix that mutilates the ears of all the people who had come to watch Nolo. For a mere duo of bass and drums, their music is a pitiless blend of staccato drum stabs and growling distorted bass sounds that I never knew you could get from a bass guitar.

But after a while you do begin to feel a certain distance between the audience and the duo. It’s actually, for all the noise and punishment, a little bit Zen, as if they were a pair of Shaolin monks who discovered a Lightning Bolt CD wedged between a rock crevasse on their way to a monastery. Apparently they like to ‘mix it’ with the crowd but there is hardly any interaction with the crowd. Shame really as the music is rather beautiful in its punishing intensity.
-Bob Cluness

If Fossils were tight, lean and mean, then Swords of Chaos definitely let it all hang out, but in a good way. Despite touring the US recently, they still look impossibly fresh faced and innocent, which totally belies their furious hardcore rock sound. The lead singer continuously leaps around the stage and into the audience like a badly trained weasel. But from where I am sitting, there is something that is slightly bothering this reviewer;


The crowd that has formed near the front seem completely rooted to the ground in their fashionable shoes and are either unable or unwilling to let themselves go and take part in the fun. It certainly doesn’t help when the entire fucking front row of venue is completely chokka with photographers. To this reviewer this will not stand. Excuse me a minute…

[10 minutes later…] Right. Having grabbed the bass player of Reykjavik! and made him an offer he could refuse, we eventually managed to start some form of dancing/moshing to Swords Of Chaos. This has upped the entertainment quotient by 64%, although there was a very strong smell of scented soap emanating from the crowd. So no pheromone action tonight then.
-Bob Cluness

SHOTGUN REVIEW: Primus meets Blood Meridian’s Deadwood.
A LITIL SAGA: Drums. [first song] A caravan crosses the highlands. Weathered plywood sanded to slivers. Rust-rimmed wheels. Plod. Sturdy tilt. A heavy-eyed glassy-eyed angel skulks her doom through the audience. The of sand in windstorm. “The Heart.”

A caravan tilts through murk and then pops! And then pops to a halt and then pops its wagon-wares [second song] out full handspring layout! Curio-cabinet displays of bobbly-headed troll dolls, diabetic candy, Dali oliphants, sock puppets, penny whistles, vacant snail homes, lava lamps, spades, snakes, unperfumed pills, oil. Snake oil. Pills. Surreality in a – <> [third song]


… causes weight gain, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, bloating, bleating, gill formation, infanticide, stomach itch, loss of hearing, loss of herring, loss of heuristics, loss of heroes, loss of euros, loss of Eros, lots of rose when a rose is a rose is arrows …

A Jack-in-the-box. A circle of elders in tan trench coats invokes the cleansing power of hallucination. Oh the voices. It kicks in, the trip. <> Og stand there, right in the frozen centre of thereness. It’s taken over; it has won. Infection. Infarction. [fourth song]

Youth in black pea-coats lurch and trash, praise the word: “Góðan daginn.” Youth in pee-coat exposes ass and balls, he’s a bobbly-headed doll, he’s an elder, me me me me me. His sock puppets argue. “Do you believe? How unclean can you be?” Oh the voices. [fifth?] The noises. So many opinions now, we’re cogs or we’re cods. “Þú ert ókei.” Salt. Salt and the salt windstorm iodized, unbedizened. Salt

and the abrupt end leaves our high already run over the precipice’s edge, dangling like so many Wiley Coyotes. Oof.

I arrive back at Sódóma after taking a break next door to watch President Bongo of Gus Gus play some S’Express and 2 Unlimited records. But I find that Sódóma is now 2/3rds empty. Where has everyone gone? This is indeed an ominous sign and would fluster most other bands, but Æla don’t care. Æla don’t give a shit. They just play their transgendered noise rock loud and furiously, no matter what the conditions or the situation. They are indeed the honey badgers of the Icelandic music scene. Huge thwacking bass notes and lots of bathroom reverb on the vocals. The people left at Sódóma seem to be enjoying it anyway.

The time is now 3.30am and I have decided to give up on conventional physics and have decided to get a hot dog go home and try to propagate my species by means of asexual reproduction. Wish me luck!
-Bob Cluness


Arriving at the Nordic house with literally seconds to spare, I am slightly disappointed to find that there are barely a handful of people who have turned up to watch the evening’s entertainment. There is also a very weird hushed atmosphere, possibly due to the fact that the restaurant in the next room and the library are all still open for business But those that did turn up were treated to a hit and run performance of brutal industrial power electronics from a seriously malevolent individual.

AMFJ’s setup is simple. A laptop and a couple of pedals is all he uses. But unlike most current noise/industrial artists, he doesn’t use them as a technological shield to hide behind. Throughout the entire performance, AMFJ rocks back and forth during each track, screaming, spitting and snarling his words in pain and anguish, not unlike a chained up dancing bear. You can almost smell the sulphur and decay oozing from his pores. His music has also undergone a quiet evolution in the last couple of years as well. What started out as simple blasts of ‘noise’ have become stronger and more structured, almost militaristic in their execution.

At the end of his set AMFJ simply powers down his laptop, hops off the stage and calmly leaves the room before anybody realises what has happened. There really aren’t many people in Iceland who do what AMFJ does. And this is something we should be thankful for.
-Bob Cluness

Oh, Reykjavík Music Mess, why you gotta be so poorly attended?
In a flurry of power chords and beats, Hellvar drove the old and wild vestur into Nordic House. Highlights included femme-to-femme vocals in dialogue over hard, unrelenting rock and righteous bass riffs. Audience members even had the opportunity to pose questions on an impromptu Kant vs. Plato debate posed by a band member during a guitar swap. Hellvar proved one of the festival’s high points as they closed their set when jagged bad-assery charged their final song.
-a. rawlings

Most people think all noise music is the same, but in fact it comes in many different flavours and is rife with subgenres. Tomutonttu makes happy, bubbly noise. His music could be used to soundtrack a pleasantly transformative acid trip in a French arthouse film. Like acid, good noise music has a way of taking over the brain, expanding to fill all areas of consciousness, like fog rolling into a town.

Tomutonttu constructs his music out of various oscillating tones, looped samples and various other bits and bobs. By carefully layering his sounds across the aural field, ranging from high to low pitch, from staccato to drone, rough to smooth, he satisfies the brain’s every sonic craving.

It was thus a cruelty on the part of Tomutonttu to stop playing just I—and most of the audience—was getting lost in a pleasurable daze. He ended his set abruptly after playing for only ten or fifteen minutes, seemingly surprising himself just as much as his audience. He stood on stage awkwardly for a few minutes, then said “takk” and the stunned crowd clapped half-heartedly. Once Tomutonttu left the stage one of the audience members asked loudly: “Was this great?” After a moment’s reflection, he answered his own question: “Yeah! This was fucking great!” The audience backed him up with a chorus of affirmative whoops.

It was a fairly odd concert experience. Tomutonttu made a vice of the virtue of leaving the audience wanting more. But the scant time we spent inside his musical world was a pleasant, shared illusion. I suppose that expecting anything else of an artist whose name translates to “dust elf” was folly. If fairytales have taught us anything, it is to expect no more than momentary joy from the Fey Folk.
-Kári Tulininus

It is easy to liken Fossils to Japanese noise legends Ruins. Both are a bass and drums duo, playing their intricately fashioned songs loud and fast. The names are even thematically similar. But once you get past the initial resemblance, Fossils’ distinctiveness reveals itself. They have a flavour of hardcore, missing from their illustrious predecessors. Their songs resemble what would happen if you smashed a stack of the Dischord Records’ catalogue and put the pieces together willy-nilly.

People who do not go to noise-rock concerts would be surprised by how intimate they can feel. Fossils add to that ambiance by facing each other when they play, often making eye contact, keeping track where the other is in the song, giving the effect that they are having a meaningful personal experience they have invited other people to share with them. The band also talks with the audience, asking them to come closer, even engaging it in conversation and exchanging corny jokes (talking about their music: “We have a meat concept… the next song is ‘Raising the Steaks’”). For the last song Fossils invited the audience up on the stage and had them scream during certain moments. The stage creaked under the jumping, dancing, yelling audience.

This concert reminded me why I sought out noise concerts and hardcore shows when I was younger. The connection between performer and audience is unparalleled and rarely exists in other scenes, even ones that have a reputation for intimacy. You just try to stage-dive of the top of a singer-songwriter’s piano. I am telling you, it will not go well. Despite looking like they were on leave from the army, Fossils proved themselves the friendliest band I have gone to see for a long time. The music was damn great too.
-Kári Tulinius

Like many bands who can be described with the phrases ‘Balkan’, ‘ethnic’ and/or ‘klezmer’, Orphic Oxtra tread that fine line between being a good time party band and blatantly peddling in musical tourism. And while there is often a slight reserved air about their performances, tonight sees the band loosen up a little. Due to the lack of people in the audience, the dozen or so members spread out from the stage and into the crowd. This is an improvement, as it gave each member a little space to do their thing. The music was of course the mix of furious swirling waltzes, simmering dirges and pumping oompah rhythms. Not too shabby in the end.

Mind you though, perhaps they should undergo what can be the ultimate Eastern party band test by performing with four large bottles of vodka on stage while someone shoots live ammunition over their heads. Now THAT is something I wouldn’t mind paying to see.
-Bob Cluness


Icelanders are habitually late people. Being the first scheduled band, not to mention being the first scheduled band at the ripe hour of 21:15, Miri did not play for a full house. Actually, Nasa was empty. EMPTY! Miri were pretty hot though. And they kept things exciting, mixing some grippingly intense moments in with otherwise pretty chilled out jams. Such was their song, ‘Ég á heima á Íslandi’, (“I live in Iceland”). This was math rock for lovers of math rock. People around me were totally crushing on guitarist Óttar Brjánn.
-Anna Andersen

There is something inherently impressive about a horn section. Yes, it’s true, human eyes widen with wonder at the sight anything shiny, but Borko’s horn section had more going for it than a default evolutionary instinct.

In a lot of ways, the horn section made Borko. The combination of the electronic and acoustic instrumentation pleasantly blended together, but the vocals were, at best, satisfactory. At points, I yearned for him to jump out of his matching baby blue shoes and hat and give his voice some substance and power. Either that, or not sing at all and let the instrumentals have the whole stage. Though Borko’s modest voice is more acceptable on his 2008 album, ‘Celebrating Life’, than on stage I would have liked to see more vocal passion. But then, on the very last song, Borko gave me my wish: He roused his vocal cords from their slumbers and screamed. Finally.
-Vanessa Schipani

If Sindri Már Sigfússon was pulled over by the cops while under the influence, I have no doubt his illegal activities would slip through the cracks of persecution like a cod in some hungry Brit’s hands: The man can keep a straight face. And he did so during the entire show Saturday night at Nasa.

There is no doubt ‘Summer Echoes’ echoes with excellence. But his performance, like his face, was straightforward: few dilly-dally differences between the album and live versions of his songs.

Though I can only speak for myself, an impressive live show entails recognisable tunes that the artist weaves with subtle differences. I need something to prevent my eyes from drooping with the desire of my bed and headphones. Beds are, by default, more comfortable that concert venues, so I only ask for the musicians to try to entice me with a balance of familiarity and innovation. And he did rouse my musical nerves at points, but overall, I prefer Sin Fang in the comfort of my own home. Some bands are like that, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. This homey character entails a certain intimacy. However, because of Sindri’s elusive facial expressions, it was hard to figure out what he was going for as a live performer.
-Vanessa Schipani

These guys came all the way from the United States and looked so not excited to be here! Damn, they looked so fucking bored and aloof! Damn, they were shoegaze! Damn, they looked the part to a T. Though often drowned out, Singer Jana Hunter’s voice was captivating. Music enthusiast and frequent concertgoer Davíð Roach Gunnarsson says, “They are a rockier version of Beach House. Good, but not great.” I think they were something like gooreat!
-Anna Andersen

After sedate and seductive Lower Dens, the audience showed their pulse as kimono put on a clinic on how to rock the fuck out. So here we’re talking arena rock. Drum medleys electrifying. Was that even a Queen allusion buried in the set’s middle? kimono are impressively tight in their raucous complexity. Star-point perfect.

Soon after Lazyblood took the stage, the hellmouth was officially declared open.

Classified as a red supergiant, Lazyblood is one of the largest and most luminous stars known. A moving target at best, Lazyblood appears to change shape periodically. Because of limb darkening, variability, and angular diameters that vary with wavelength, Lazyblood remains a perplexing mystery. To complicate matters further, Lazyblood has a complex, asymmetric envelope caused by colossal mass loss involving huge plumes of gas being expelled from its surface. There is even evidence of stellar companions Reykjavík! orbiting within this gaseous envelope, possibly contributing to the band’s eccentric behaviour.

Reykjavík! is a hot blue supergiant with an absolute magnitude of -5.25. Reykjavík! has been known since antiquity and has been of widespread cultural significance. Reykjavík!’s relatively simple spectrum has made it useful for studying the interstellar medium. Fans believe Reykjavík! is only 10 million years old, but has evolved rapidly because of its high mass. Within the next million years, Reykjavík! may turn into a red supergiant and explode as a supernova.

Erna Ómarsdóttir (half of Lazyblood) is one of the most gifted creators I’ve witnessed, and her circle of collaborators constantly fascinates. In both Lazyblood and Reykjavík!, the complex arrangement of necessary anger, playfulness, social conscience, theatrics, feminism, and virtuosity makes for a potent concoction I can’t resist. Their promising collaboration ‘The Tickling Death Machine’ was stage-tested last night and it was, for this ancient reviewer, intense in its energy and eventually exhausting. Still, I wanted more, and I don’t mean length. I wanted to see that initial hellmouth scream and possess and consume those stalwart souls left standing in Nasa. I missed Haukur Magnússon’s presence, whose playfulness complements and accentuates Bóas Hallgrímsson’s always engrossing athletic and ecstatic stage antics. I ached to see a stunning physical duet between Erna and Bóas. Mostly, I wanted to see something I hadn’t yet. Maybe next time, loves?

The crowd was pretty sparse by the time Quadruplos got up to do their thing, but they took it in their stride and played an energetic set of all of about twenty minutes, before NASA closed for the night.

The whole evening was obviously running really behind schedule, as Reykjavík/Lazyblood didn’t finish their set until around 3.30am, an hour after Quadruplos was set to start. However, those who turned up or stuck around for Quadruplos appeared to enjoy the singular sound the band laid out, and anyone too tired/wasted to dance indulged in a bit of vigorous headnodding.

The group consists of two DJ/producer guys, Tomio Newmilk and Mongoose, basically making a whole lot of noise….Well, a whole lot of noise that works somehow. They were joined throughout the gig by a girl and guy rap duo that broke the stereotypical ‘rapper’ style, at least in terms of their dress sense, the girl donning some sort of awesome cat suit (I think). Always nice when people break the mould.

Though it wasn’t the gig to go to if you wanted to take a chill pill, their high energy, grinding, pounding, experimental style worked. If not for everyone, then at least for the few present for the gig. In all honesty, it’s not easy to take this kind of intensity for a long time if you are not in on the vibe, so in a sense it was good their gig was short and sweet and just gave a taste of what they offer up. Something a little bit different. That makes your bones rattle.
-Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir

And what a death it was!

Sunday night marked the end and, for many, the high point of fledgling music festival Reykjavík Music Mess. And all the shows were pretty great, even those that took place in the bathroom! Read all about it below!


These guys looked real spiffy as they took the stage at The Nordic House. Formed in 2002, the band Ég has definitely been around the island a few times. They immediately proved to be full of a feel-good energy everyone can enjoy. Wholesome, that’s what I would call them. Their lyrics are pretty simple and fun. They sing about such things as having ten fingers and toes and about a TV being able to sell us shit (and they mean that literally). Those songs were from their newest album, ‘Lúxus upplifun’. They also played some great songs from their second album, ‘Plata ársins,’ which is Icelandic for ‘Album of the Year.’ That album was actually nominated for Album of the Year at the 2005 Icelandic Music Awards. How wonderfully perceptive of them? Anyway, I see them making for a great wedding gig or really any kind of party gig. The crowd, which was definitely intergenerational, enjoyed itself swimmingly.
-Anna Andersen

Mugison, who comes from the remote Westfjords, has made quite a name for himself in Iceland, and he plays abroad too. In case you weren’t following our Twitter stream, we had Grapevine affiliates running through the rain to get to the Nordic House for this act. Unbeknownst to said affiliates, when they requested their favourite Mugi track, ‘I Want You,’ the man had already played it (they should not have stopped to shoot a photo of a creepy statue of local poet Tómas Guðmundsson on the way!). But Örn Elías Guðmundsson, who played with a drummer and bassist, but often plays solo, promised a private show after the concert, and private show he delivered.

Generally speaking, a concert audience comes for the music and can only appreciate so much banter, as another Grapevine affiliate noted (tweeted). But, truth be told, Mugison has a knack for banter and improvising lyrics (or making nonsensical filler noises) and both were thoroughly enjoyed by the Icelanders in the room.

Oh, by the way. Have you seen his AWESOME homemade mirstrument? You should see him play it; it’s even more AWESOME.
-Anna Andersen

As Lára Rúnars took to the stage, the crowd had thinned by almost half from the previous act. Presumably people were heading to NASA to make sure they caught the headlining act. This was a little bit of a shame, as Lára actually proved to be a bit of a surprise that evening. In previous times when I’ve seen her perform, she has been good but a little too ‘pop’ for my tastes. But tonight her and her band pretty much blew the bloody doors off. Who knew she could rock this hard?

The main reason for this was down to her rhythm section. Her bass player had his bass turned up to implausibly loud levels (while also playing with neon green strings to boot), while her drummer, who incidentally also played for Mugison just before, turned into a human sweat production unit as he pummelled the living crap out of his kit. Set wise, this gave songs like ‘Love’ a full on glam rock edge as Lára pushed her voice to match the band, while their cover of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ was slowed down to an almost dirge like blues thrash. I even had to step back on a few occasions to protect my poor little eardrums. A lightweight pop artist? Please don’t bullshit me.
-Bob Cluness

Now somebody had to take one for the team and perform while festival headliners Deerhunter were on at NASA. But cometh the hour, cometh the classically trained art rockers as Agent Fresco came along to take the mantle. It wasn’t an exceptional Agent Fresco gig, which was mostly due to the paucity of numbers who had decided to stay and watch them, but they never deign to do anything other than give it their all. They kicked off with ‘Anemoi/ He Is Listening’ and ‘Above These City Lights’, which typically characterised the dual tensions that occur in their music as it shifted between operatic piano led pop and caustic metal riffage. It certainly made for a decent spectacle as singer Arnór Dan (who seemed to be channelling some kind of amped up jackal as his spirit totem), veered between near falsetto lines, nodule tearing screams and 100 miles-per-hour jabbering between songs.

There were also some surprises in the set as I found out that just about everyone in the band could play the piano (including the fraggle haired drummer), while the sounds coming from the track ‘Implosions’ (which I term their ‘house crossover song’) were actually made with a guitar and not a laptop.

In the end, the show was certainly not a disappointment to those who stayed ‘til the dying end.
-Bob Cluness


I was surprised to enter Nasa and see four people getting ready on stage. The last time I saw Kippi Kaninus play, admittedly a decade ago, it was a solo performance. Back then it was a just one guy, his laptop, and a collection of odd musical instruments. Now it was four guys, two drummers (one of whom was former Sugarcubes drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson), a brass instrumentalist and Kippi Kaninus himself, standing behind a laptop. Later on a ukulele player joined the ensemble.

The music was laid-back, pleasant electronica. Perfect for a Sunday evening, as one would expect from a member of Amiina. The defining element was the brass, tuba, bassoon and trumpet. It functioned a bit like a vocalist, the calm centre that everything else organised itself around. The drummers created interlocking patterns, which Kippi’s laptop noises rested on top of like a comfortable mattress on a box-spring bed. By which I mean they were thick, dense and I would happily go to sleep on them (which is high praise from an insomniac). The ukulele, meanwhile, was more of a source for sounds to be manipulated through an impressively large amount of effects pedals, rather than the plinky plonky toy instrument we all love to hate.

I admit that I was not super excited beforehand about seeing Kippi Kaninus so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the show. From what I understand, this was a one-off performance, but if they play together again, I recommend you seek it out.
-Kári Tulininus

Sunday night, especially early Sunday night, is rarely a particularly raucous time-slot for a festival performance. Everyone is hung over and digesting the creative juices of the last few days, so usually only a diligent few make it to these gigs. The Sudden Weather Change gig at NASA proved no exception, with the audience being, once again, rather thin on the ground. This didn’t really matter though, as these boys know how to rock things, so even though there weren’t many present, those who had made it were well entertained.

The group is a five man band made up of artists/art students, and certainly their sound and onstage presence could be described as somewhat arty. Fortunately, they don’t go in for OTT theatrics, and just rocking out with some distortion here and some feedback there which gives the impression of an aim for difference. They seem to break the mould without being too in your face with it, and this is cool.

Their sound is kind of old and this is somehow appealing, with moments in the gig hearkening back to the good old days of guitars and stuff, then other moments bringing in the joys of newfangled technology to warp things up a bit. A nice combo of old and new.

In all it was a good gig. Probably not the music for a cosy evening at home with your woolly socks on, but definitely right for warming up for the mighty Deerhunter, and they even managed to wrangle a few head bobs out of the hungover audience. Nice job.
-Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir

Skakkamanage have been around on the scene for a good while now. The first time I saw them, which must have been in 2000 or 2001, or possibly earlier, they were already fully formed in terms of the kind of music they make. While they play a fairly standard brand of indie-pop, they do not really sound like any other band. They have elements of lots of their predecessors, at times reminding me of Beat Happening, sometimes of Wedding Present or Orange Juice, and sometimes of a bunch of other bands that fall within the general rubric of indie-pop. Always, however, they sound like themselves. To some they can seem a bit samey, but I like that sound and will happily listen to anything they play.

Before I get to the concert I have to make a confession: Skakkamanage have a secure place in my heart like few other bands. I grew up a indie-kid and for a solid chunk of my youth they were the only band in Iceland playing indie-pop, so I could not help but love them. Their albums have soundtracked my life and a few of their songs are always on rotation in the radio station inside my brain. I even set a chapter in my first novel at a Skakkamanage concert, semi-gratuitously. I do not think I can ever dislike them or their music. Heck, if they released an album of distorted fart noises, I would probably defend it as a True Punk Statement (or something). Thus keep in mind that it is hard for me to be objective about them, but I will try.

Another thing I feel the need to mention is that seeing Skakkamanage playing Nasa at Airwaves 2007 is one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Most Icelandic bands, when playing a stage bigger than a coffee-table, stand about inertly, barely moving at all. The cute little indie band prowled the stage that night like they were possessed by the ghosts of Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was quite amazing to see. Even though I know that lightning rarely strikes the same place twice, I could not help but await the show with great anticipation.

When the concert at Reykjavík Music Mess began I was somewhat concerned because the sound mix was atrocious. The snare vibrated through every song, adding what amounted to tape-hiss over all the songs. The keyboard and guitar feedbacked wildly, much more than they were supposed to. This problem never got fixed, but after a while I got into the performance and forgot about it. It helped that singer and guitarist Svavar, gentleman that he is, shared his industrial-sized bottle of vodka with the entire audience.

At first the band was a bit rusty, playing and moving a bit stiffly, but about halfway through their set things clicked into place. The first few songs were fairly standard run-throughs, but as they played on, they loosened up and the songs started to breathe and expand. Somewhere in the guitar solo on ‘Now or Never’ the band reconnected with its good rocking self and things flew off. They did not quite reach the heights of four years ago, but I was too happy with what was on offer to care. They ended with a rousing, raucous version of ‘Colonial,’ during which Svavar and Örn, the bass player, got in touch with the spirits of Ronnie Van Zant and Leon Wilkeson.

As I said above, I love Skakkamanage, so it is perhaps not surprising that I liked the concert. So let me provide a less partisan impression. After the show was over I asked some of the people around me what they thought of the show, both Icelanders and foreigners, and here are a few quotes: “I really like it… the singer sounds like Jeff Mangum. That last song was anthemic.” “I am not much of a fan, their songs on record sound the same to me, but I liked them live.” “This was sick shit… sick shit” (that last one was a compliment, I’m pretty sure).
-Kári Tulinius

As I walked out of Nasa after the Deerhunter show, I heard someone utter these words: “Best fucking live performance by a foreign band on Icelandic soil.” I kid you not. And though I’ve only seen a few concerts here thus far, I can say with confidence that Deerhunter blew my fucking mind. Even the improvisations were perfect. At the end of a jam version of ‘Microcastle’ track ‘Nothing Ever Happened,’ Brad Cox moaned into the microphone what sounded an awful lot like the lyrics to the Patti Smith classic, ‘Horses.’

Their collective energy vibrated off the disco ball, off the sweat that dripped from the foreheads of the dancing concert goers; into my chest and the chests of band members from Sudden Weather Change, Sóley, Sin Fang, Reykjavík!, Lower Dens, and Nive Nielsen, who stood with me near the front. Surrounded by all that awe-inspiring talent, the entire weekend flashed before my eyes. Deerhunter’s performance marked the death of a wonderful weekend; a pleasant death that made you glad you had lived.

Deerhunter is now a decade old. They have gone through some rough times over the years, including the death of a band mate. As Cox remarked in an interview with the Grapevine: with age, the group has gotten tighter. Watching them perform, this bond and synchrony emanated from their instruments.

There is one drawback to witnessing a performance that melts the soul: When I went back home and listened to their albums (which I did immediately), something was missing. I experienced the real live opiates of Deerhunter and now Deerhunter à la sober recordings doesn’t really measure up. ‘Halcyon Digest’, their latest album, seemed flat on my stereo. What had happened? What had I done?

Cox’s last words before stepping off stage were “everything is broken.” Though it might be, I’m fine living in a musical limbo, a lingering rapture that has coloured my ears the hue of fluorescent grey.
-Vanessa Schipani

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