Review of Icelandic Night @ Domino Festival @ AB (12th of April 2007)

Jurgen Boel 13 april 2007
Nog geen twee jaar geleden was IJsland de hotspot van het moment, en dat zelfs zonder opwarming van de aarde. Elke muzikale scheet die uit het land kwam, werd met een ongekende geestdrift omarmd en de hemel in geprezen. Een kritische noot was niet meer nodig en het eiland dreigde zowaar overspoeld te worden.
Maar zoals Bredero al wist: alles kan verkeren. De AB Club is allesbehalve uitverkocht voor deze labelnight van het IJslandse label Bedroom Community dat zichzelf en zijn artiesten wil voorstellen. De Australiër Ben Frost mag de spits afbijten. Frost woont al enige tijd in IJsland en bracht vorig jaar met Theory Of Machines zijn eerste album bij Bedroom Community uit. Op het podium wordt de bebaarde Frost bijgestaan door twee gitaristen en een drummer, al lijken de drie heren er ondanks hun zwaarwichtige uithalen vooral voor spek en bonen bij te staan.
Frost houdt de blik gefixeerd op eigen laptop en puurt er de meest indrukwekkende en vaak dreunende klanken uit. De gitaristen en vooral de drummer lijken nauwelijks aan bod te komen. Een enkele keer mogen de gitaren zwaar uithalen en wordt er vooral onmenselijk luid gespeeld. Het hoogtepunt van de set is ironisch genoeg het verlies van een schoen door een van de gitaristen die volledig in zijn spel opgaat. Live weet Frost nog niet genoeg te overtuigen. Er zijn knappe aanzetten en interessante ideeën maar het blijft teveel daarbij om het oordeel “degelijk” te overstijgen.
Nico Muhlys set staat in schril contrast met Frosts frenetieke electronoise-uithalen. De (Amerikaanse) pianist werkte in het verleden samen met onder meer Björk en Antony. Muhly brengt een intieme set waarbij hij af en toe bijgestaan wordt door een tweede pianist en/of een violiste. Door de rocksfeer die nu eenmaal verbonden is aan de zaal en het label, zal snel de term “post-klassiek” van stal gehaald worden om zijn muziek te omschrijven maar de klassiek geschoolde pianist past evenzeer binnen een traditie van “pure klassieke muziek”, zelfs al weet hij dan net zoals enkele generatiegenoten de stap te zetten naar een geheel ander publiek.
Niet lang daarna treedt Muhly opnieuw aan, deze maal als lid van de groep rond labelbaas Valgeir Sigurdsson. Naast Muhly zijn er ook nog een drummer, een violiste, en een keyboardspeler te ontwaren. In de beste Scandinavische traditie wordt hier dan ook oud en nieuw met elkaar verbonden om de grotendeel instrumentale en dromerige tracks te brengen. Sigurdsson roept live in een aantal nummers herinneringen op aan Efterklang in de manier waarop hij de koude electro toch in een warm bad weet onder te dompelen. Vernieuwend is hij dus allesbehalve: op het hoogtepunt van de Scandinavische boom kon naast deze muziek zelfs niet gekeken worden. Maar dat neemt niet weg dat hier een prachtige set wordt neergezet die de liefhebbers recht in het hart raakt.
De fuzz rond IJsland mag dan wel gedoofd zijn, het talent loopt er nog steeds rond. De muziekliefhebber kan op beide oren slapen in de wetenschap dat ook het kleine label Bedroom Community kwaliteit weet te bieden. Ben Frost, Nico Muhly noch Valgeir Sigurdsson zullen als de relevatie van Domino 2007 naar voren treden, maar geheel in de geest van het festival mogen ze wel beschouwd worden als een “onbekend” talent dat verdiend even in de spotlichten staat.
Source:
http://www.goddeau.com/content/view/3428

Icelandic Music @ Domino Festival @ Ancienne Belgique

Icelandic Music Night in Brussels
Ancienne Belgique (AB), Brussels, 12th of April 2007
With support of Icelandair & Iceland Airwaves Festival
Domino is vol liefde en overgave gemaakt.” (Jef Peremans in Agenda, Brussel Deze Week)
Wel kijk, meteen het mooiste citaat dat we over ons eigenste festival hebben kunnen lezen! Doet zondermeer deugd. Alweer veel volk op dag 2 met !!! en een bus vol IJslanders van het kersverse Bedroom Community-label.
“Bestaat toeval?” vraagt een mens zich soms af. Op de middag zie ik twee heren van 65 Days Of Static in de AB ronddwalen. “Hey we’re here to promote our new album, too sad we can’t stay tonight for !!!”. 65 Days Of Static was een van de revelaties van vorig jaar, toen ze hier stonden op het minifestival dat we bouwden rond Mogwai (en het verschroeiende wolf Eyes). Altijd goed om contact te blijven houden… En hey, ze zijn fan van Domino! “Incredible line up man!”. Dank u heren. Tot dit najaar, dat staat vast.

Te bed of niet te bed: Bedroom Community.
Toch wel terecht trots op de labelavond van het prille IJslandse label Bedroom Community. Domino is het eerste festival en concertzaal die een labelavond presenteert buiten Reykjavik. Via een gouden tip van de A&R manager van K7! (cfr. Dj Kicks-reeks, Ursula Rucker, Herbert, Funkstorüng,…) vang ik afgelopen jaar op dat ik dringend eens moet surfen naar http://www.bedroomcommunity.net ) Dankzij de wondere wereld van myspace (hallo nog één platenfirma die het internet wil doden out there?) ben ik meteen onder de indruk van obscure namen als Ben Frost, Nico Muhly en Valgeir Sigurdsson. Valgeir wie? Yes indeed. Het toeval (euh, bestaat toeval?) wil dat ik afgelopen oktober het IJslandse Iceland Airwaves-festival bezocht en er beland op een heuse Bedroom Community avond. Valgeir wie? Oh ja, de man runt de Greenhouse Studios in een buitenwijk in Reykjavik en producete reeds albums van Björk, Sigur Rós, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy en CocoRosie. Aanleiding genoeg om Valgeir in zijn Greenhouse Studios op te gaan zoeken. In mijn enthousiasme sleur ik De Morgen-muziekjournalist Dirk Steenhaut mee (die overigens deze avond achter de draaitafels stond). Hij is meteen fan. En zo gaat de bal aan het rollen.
Bij terugkomst krijg ik binnen de maand de IJslandse ambassade over de vloer en de mensen van Icelandair. Hey, tenminste iemand die doorheeft dat muziek de aandacht kan trekken van een land. En zo treedt het Domino-effect in werking. Achter de schermen werken we hard samen met de mensen van het meerkunstenfestival Motel Mozaique te Rotterdam. Samen sterk heet dat. Ook zij zijn meteen onder de indruk van het label als ik hen een paar nummers laat horen. De eerste niet IJslandse Bedrooom Community label night in Rotterdam is ook meteen een feit.
Gekke mensen die IJslanders. Maar dat verbaast met niets. Dat kon ik al twee maal eerder in IJsland (overigens: zowat het mooiste land dat ik ooit bezocht heb) ondervinden. Gekke mensen dus die IJslanders (of gesloten, dat is de andere optie). Je zou voor minder om de helft van het jaar in vol licht of volledige donkerte te wonen.
De muziek dan… de elektronica van Ben Frost was ronduit indrukwekkend te noemen. Drie intense elektronica-composities met Frost achter de laptop bijgestaan door 3 muzikanten én een leger Marshall-versterkers. Bij momenten oorverdovend maar dus echt indrukwekkend. Het publiek reageert laaiend enthousiast. Invloeden van Fennesz en zelfs Einstürzende Neubauten zijn duidelijk merkbaar. Ik vraag de inmiddels flink bebaarde Ben Frost (oorspronkelijk afkomstig van Oostenrijk, maar wonende in IJsland) of Michael Gira (Swans) zijn muziek reeds heeft gehoord. Op zijn album staat namelijk een track ‘We Love You Michael Gira’. “Yep I’ve sended him a copy’. Goed gedaan Ben.
Ook Nico Muhly imponeert. Soms solo, dan weer in duo met Valgeir aan de elektronica of met een extra violiste. Zijn album ‘Speaks Volumes’ (met medewerking van o.a. Antony zonder Johnsons) is nogal donker, live klaart alles op en imponeert ook hij. Hij vertelt me na de show dat hij afgelopen jaar nog te prestigieuze Carnegie Hall uitverkocht. Wow!
Valgeir brengt binnenkort zijn album ‘Ekvilibrum’ uit, een parel met medewerking van o.a. Bonnie Prine Billy en Dawn McCarthy (cfr. jongste BPB-album)… Live bracht hij een herkenbare IJslandse sound (moest die bestaan: zoiets als zweverig en feeëriek), maar vokaal is er nog werk aan de winkel. Tja, het was amper zijn 4de live-performance ever. Werkelijk opmerkelijk en toch wel (alweer) een ontdekking op Domino. Na afloop praat ik nog wat na met drummer Sigtryggur Siggi Baldursson of hij nog in andere bands speelt (stomme vraag, in Ijsland speelt iedereen in elkaars project) “Oh yeah, I used to be in a band called The Sugarcubes…”. Rings a bell bij deze jongen…

!!!???
“Tja, dat moeten we even met ons afdelingshoofd bekijken”. Ofte: het antwoord op de vraag of we het Noorse 120 Days te slapen konden leggen in het nabij gelegen hotel. De dame aan de balie vond 120 dagen nogal lang om hun hotel te blokkeren. Tja, niet iedereen is even snugger… Jammerlijk gemist wegens het hoofd in IJslandse sferen. Hun album beklijft niet meteen een volle 100%, maar hun set tijdens Eurosonic intrigeerde danig genoeg en dus kreeg 120 Days een spot op Domino.
Ook !!! amper gezien wegens die magneet IJsland. Wel gezien: how to book a tour. !!! (overigens de snor is helemaal terug: check de die van !!! maar eens uit) mooi verenigd rond de tafel in de catering… zegt de tourmanger “hey we got an offer from Greece. Who wants to play in Greece?”. Sommige handen gaan in de lucht, sommige niet. De meerderheid wint. !!! zal deze zomer in Griekenland spelen. Zo werkt democratie dus. Zo worden tours geboekt. Benieuwd of ze in New York ook zo over Domino beslist hebben.
Op de terugweg langs de A12 nabij brouwerij Moortgat suis ik voorbij de leuze ‘Sssttt hier rijpt den duvel.’ Goed idee, maar het wordt een een flinke Rochefort 10° graden, het perfecte slaapmiddel. Dag 3, here I come!

Source:
http://www.dominofestival.be/page.cfm?id=37&submenuid=189

Wanderlust by Bjork Live at Saturday Night Life 2007

Wanderlust by Björk @ Saturday Night Live (SNL) Show
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rntJREbfSU

Earth Intruders by Bjork – First Single of Volta Album

Björk with “Earth Intruders” Video by French director animator Michel Ocelot
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0qT2CB3Lhw

Live version of the song on Saturday Night Live (SNL) Show 2007
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLCj0u6UvWk

or
http://storage1.vimeo.com/clips/2007/04/21/vimeo.11355648.0a8ec5.mp4
Source:
http://cliptip.blogspot.com/search/label/iceland

Hip Hop in Iceland

Rite of Spring Festival – 17-19th May 2007, Reykjavik

Rite of Spring is a new music festival – focusing on cutting edge Folk, Jazz and World Music – taking place in Reykjavik for the second time May 17-19 2007.

Among last year headline acts were Serbian Gypsy band Kal, Brazilian bossanova gutarist Ife Tolentino, Icelandic pioneers and jazz–funksters Mezzoforte and Scottish/Latin American folk fusion Salsa Celtica – who brought the festival to a stunning close last year and will return for this years festival.

The “scene-stealers Salsa Celtica” as one journalist put it, brought the “entire audence to its feet with its swirling melodies and virtuoso musicianship. The combination is clearly greater than the sum of its parts, their performance an irresistible force and ecstatic experience.”

Oumou Sangaré (MALI), “The Songbird of Wassoulou”, and Goran Bregovic, with his Wedding and Funeral Band (former YUG), will also headline Rite of Spring 2007.

The first Rite of Spring event was well received by music fans within and outside of Iceland with journalsits from BBC, Songlines, Drowned in Sound and Mojo all praising the program and their experience in their publications:

Its location half way between Europe and the Americas gives Iceland a natural opportunity to showcase the best of both continents’ folk music. (…) The festival is still in its infancy but, based on its first year, it could well find itself a fixture on the international circuit in years to come. -Stuart Williams, Mojo
“Sweet flew onstage and off as one style of Morphed furiously into another. (…) Rite of Spring was well and truly sprung!” -Songlines festival profile.

Rite of Spring is produced and promoted by Mr. Destiny – in cooperation with Icelandair. Mr. Destiny is also behind the renowned Iceland Airwaves festival.

“Rite of Spring is a new concept which we are developing for the first time in Iceland focusing on cutting edge Folk, Jazz and World Music. We will build it slowly over the next few years in a similar way to Airwaves but with a completely different musical vision” says Thorsteinn Stephensen owner of Mr. Destiny.

Pictures taken by Oskar Hallgrimsson
More information:
http://www.riteofspring.is

101 Reykjavik Movie – Soundtrack by Einar Orn Benediktsson & Damon Albarn

Baltasar Kormakur‘s 101 REYKJAVIK is a crowd-pleasing comedy that gleefully takes the concept of “family dysfunction” to an outrageous new level. Hlynur (Hilmer Snaer Gudnason), an unmotivated Icelander with no interests other than watching porn and getting drunk, still lives.

Clip of the movie: Mother tells her son Hlynur that she loves Lola.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNmKanGpO2M

The soundtrack of this movie is made by Icelander Einar Orn Benediktsson (ex-Purrkurr Pilnikk ex-KUKL, ex-Sugarcubes, ex-Grindverk) and Englishman Damon Albarn (ex-Blur).

Persons who love Iceland: Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn and Ghostigital protesting together: “Stop the dams” (for Aluminium Plant) Concert Laugardalshöll (Reykjavik, 2006)
Part 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPZ4X5WJUfI

Sorry for the bad quality. Also on stage, the son of Einar Orn Benediktsson.
Part 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFORBEACTCM

Damon Albarn in Wikipedia
Born: March 23rd,1968
Origin: Leytonstone, London, England
Acts: Blur – Gorillaz – The Good, the Bad and the Queen

Damon Albarn is an English singer-songwriter who gained fame as the lead singer of rock band Blur. Though Blur has not disbanded, of late Albarn has been more active as a member of Gorillaz and The Good, the Bad and the Queen project.

Albarn’s early life was spent living in Leytonstone with his parents Hazel and Keith and his sister Jessica. He has described a very liberal and hippy-like upbringing. His family then lived in Turkey for a few months. Whilst living in Leytonstone Albarn attended George Tomlinson primary school. When he turned ten, his family moved to Aldham, Essex, England due to the needs of his father’s teaching career. Albarn then attended Stanway Comprehensive School. He met future Blur guitarist Graham Coxon at school and found they both liked similar bands, such as the Jam, the Kinks, and the Human League.
After finishing secondary school, Albarn moved to London to attend the East 15 Acting School, losing contact with Coxon. He concluded after one year’s stay that he was a terrible actor (although he did star in the 1997 film Face) and instead took up writing and performing music. Some of the songs he wrote in his early recording days later became Blur songs, such as “Birthday” on their debut album, Leisure. At the age of fifteen, he won an award for “Young Composer of the Year”.

Blur
In 1988, Albarn enrolled at Goldsmiths College in New Cross, London, England; he took a part-time course which he claims he did “just to get on campus”. There, he met up with Coxon once more. After recording a number of demo tapes together, the two formed “Circus,” at which point Coxon introduced Albarn to Alex James. With the addition of Dave Rowntree, the band began playing as “Seymour”. Before long the band was signed to Food Records and changed its name to Blur.
Albarn and Blur gained commercial and critical success on the back of 1994s Parklife, and Albarn became one of the leading lights in the Britpop movement. However, their success also lay partly in a well documented feud with fellow Britpop band Oasis. Though at the 1995 BRIT Awards Albarn had announced he thought Blur’s “Best Band” award should be shared with Oasis, by 1996 relations had soured. The differing styles of the bands, Oasis being gritty, working-class, and Northern, and Blur being art rock, middle-class, and Southern, coupled with their prominence within the Britpop movement, led the British media to seize upon the supposed rivalry between the bands, and Albarn, along with Alex James, exchanged insults with Oasis’ Noel and Liam Gallagher through the press. Noel Gallagher courted controversy, telling The Observer that he hoped Albarn and Alex James would “catch AIDS and die”.
The rivalry culminated in the so-called “Battle of Britpop” which saw Blur move the release date of their single “Country House” to coincide with the release of Oasis “Roll With It”. This sparked a media frenzy, with Albarn being interviewed on the BBC news.
Gallagher maintains that the rivalry was conceived by the magazine NME and members of Blur’s entourage as a ploy to raise their respective profiles on the back of Oasis’ success and that since this point he has had no respect for either party. However, Albarn has suggested the roots of the feud were much more personal. Albarn is now reluctant to talk about the feud, feeling the whole affair – his own actions included – were embarrassing.

Albarn in 1997’s video for “Song 2”
As of 2006 Blur has released seven full-length albums, five of which went to #1 in the United Kingdom and all of which reached the top 15. Albarn has written the lyrics to nearly every song released by the band since their formation. He had publicly stated he was waiting for the return of Graham Coxon, who left the band prior to the release of Think Tank, to produce more Blur material; however, Coxon has refused to return, and Albarn stated in September 2005 that he will play guitar on the next Blur record. Albarn Quoted, “If Coxon won’t return then I’ll be playing guitar but it’ll just be fast, punk songs. Why don’t I get another guitarist? Because there’s none better than Coxon.”

Gorillaz
Albarn formed virtual cartoon rock band Gorillaz with Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett in 1998. With a decidedly ambiguous line-up, the group has released two full-length studio albums to date. Their music has featured contributions from Dan the Automator, Danger Mouse, Simon Tong (who also played guitar for Blur in live performances), Miho Hatori, Sweetie Irie, De La Soul, Bootie Brown, MF Doom, Redman, Tina Weymouth, Roots Manuva, Neneh Cherry, Rosie Wilson, Martina Topley-Bird, Dennis Hopper, Ike Turner, Shaun Ryder and Del tha Funkee Homosapien among others.
Gorillaz and Demon Days have done well in both the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as their respective hit singles “Clint Eastwood”, “Feel Good Inc.” ,”19-2000″, “DARE”, “Dirty Harry” and “Kids With Guns / El Mañana”.

Solo career
Albarn released Mali Music in 2002. As the name suggests, the album’s recording sessions were done in Mali, a trip he made to support Oxfam in 2000. He has also visited Nigeria to record music with African drummer Tony Allen. Albarn says he would like to produce a Blur album in Baghdad as he “likes the Iraqi style of music”.
He also released Democrazy in 2003, a collection of demos he recorded while staying in hotel rooms on the U.S. portion of Blur’s tour for Think Tank.
Albarn has also appeared on other unrelated works. His song “Closet Romantic” appeared on the soundtrack for Trainspotting alongside an early Blur recording, “Sing”. Fatboy Slim’s 2004 release Palookaville featured Albarn’s vocals on the song “Put It Back Together”. Albarn provided the voiceover intro and backing vocals in the song “Time Keeps On Slipping” for the rap concept album Deltron 3030, and featured on the track “Lovage (Love That Lovage, Baby)” for the Lovage album Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By. Both albums were produced by Dan the Automator, who also produced Gorillaz’ debut album. Albarn also composed the score with collaboration by Michael Nyman for the 1999 movie “Ravenous” with Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle. It is described as “an eerie mix of symphonic orchestrations and clunky ragtime” which went arguably well with the movie’s cannibalistic themes. In 2000, he composed the main part of the soundtrack for the crime comedy Ordinary Decent Criminal.

The Good, the Bad and the Queen
In May 2006, NME reported that Albarn was working with Danger Mouse on his first solo album, tentatively titled The Good, the Bad and the Queen. However, in July 2006, NME reported that those plans had been switched to the formation of a new band titled The Good, the Bad and the Queen. This proved to be inaccurate, as Albarn and other members of the group have indicated that The Good, the Bad and the Queen is the name of the album and not the band itself (which will remain unnamed). The group’s line-up is composed of Albarn, former Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Verve/Blur/Gorillaz guitarist Simon Tong, and drummer Tony Allen of Fela Kuti’s band, Africa 70.
The first single by the line-up, “Herculean”, was released in late October 2006, and peaked at #22 in the UK Singles Chart. A second single, “Kingdom of Doom”, and the band’s debut album were then released in January 2007. That single fared slightly better than “Herculean”, peaking at #20, while the album peaked at #2 in the UK Albums Chart and went gold during its first week of release in the UK. “Green Fields” was released as the third single from the album in April 2007, just missing out on the Top 50.

Monkey: Journey To The West
In October 2006, it was announced that Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett will work together on their first major work since Gorillaz, a project for the Manchester International Festival in Manchester, UK. Monkey: Journey To The West will be a re-working of the ancient Chinese legend Journey to the West. Albarn will write the score while Hewlett will design the set and costumes. The show will also feature 45 Chinese circus acrobats, Shaolin monks and Chinese vocalists, and will be performed at the Palace Theatre.
It’s Albarn and Hewlett’s second collaboration with the newly-created Manchester International Festival. In November 2005, they staged the first-ever live performances of Demon Days Live involving many of the artists who had played on the successful Demon Days album, as a launch event for the festival.

Personal life
Albarn had a long-standing relationship with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann. His involvement with her profoundly influenced his songwriting in Blur in the late 1990s. “Beetlebum,” opening track and chart-topping hit single from Blur, is said to be about Frischmann’s heroin addiction. 13, Blur’s sixth album, presents strong overtones brought about by their break-up. He now lives in Bayswater, London with artist Suzi Winstanley, and their daughter Missy was born in 1999.
Albarn is outspokenly anti-war and has criticized the United States’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2002 he took out full page advertisements in the NME challenging the need for war, along with Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack, which they paid for personally. Albarn contributed backing vocals to a song on Massive Attack’s 100th Window, released the following year.
In 2005, Albarn, among others, criticized the London Live 8 concert for not featuring enough black artists; this resulted in the addition of Ms. Dynamite, Snoop Dogg, and Youssou N’Dour to the programme. Albarn said he didn’t want to perform in the concert because he thought it was too “exclusive” and may have been motivated by self-gain.

In the nineties he spent a good deal of time in Reykjavík and for a time he became something of a permanent fixture in the “Kaffibarinn“, a bar/café of which he was part owner. All its regular patrons were full of stories of his drinking abilities, considered somewhat impressive by the local Icelanders. He currently owns a house in Grafarvogur, a suburb of Reykjavík. He composed the soundtrack to the 2000 Icelandic film 101 Reykjavík.
Trivia
Albarn has on numerous occasions used the alias “Dan Abnormal” (an anagram of his name), most famously in the title of a song on Blur’s 1995 album The Great Escape. It can also be found on Elastica’s eponymous album in the credits section, ‘cheers to Dan Abnormal for extra keyboard on tracks 4, 8 and 11.’
Albarn was recently nominated as one of PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarians.
November 2006’s special edition of Q Magazine to represent its anniversary are publishing 20 different version of the magazine containing a cover of a different musical legend. Damon appears on the cover of one of the 20 editions.
Their album, The Good, the Bad and the Queen was the first album released by EMI as a digital music download without Digital Rights Management.

Discography
Blur, Gorillaz and The Good The Bad and The Queen
Ravenous (movie soundtrack) 1999 Written and performed by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman.
Ordinary Decent Criminal (movie soundtrack) 2000 Written and performed by Damon Albarn and others.
101 Reykjavík (movie soundtrack) – 4 March 2002
Mali Music – 15 April 2002
Democrazy (10″ vinyl release) – 8 December 2003

Raz on the Raz in Iceland – Drowned in Sound (2006)

Raz on The Raz in… Iceland

I’m in Iceland, in the farther reaches of the North Atlantic Ocean, just 30 miles or so from the Arctic Circle. What is there to say about this fair land that hasn’t been said before? Nothing. Not a single thing.

You know that the country has a population of fewer than 300,000, of which over half live in the capital, Reykjavik. You know that 90 per cent of the land is a barren, desolate wasteland which “looks like the moon”. You know that Iceland has a higher number of artists and musicians per capita than any other country in the world.

That’s why it’s my turn. I’m dredging the bottom of this glorious hellhole of a barrel for all it’s worth. They say that everyone who comes here becomes an absentee citizen; they fall in love with the place and vow to return over and over again, usually following through on their wild-eyed claims. Never one to rely on the opinions of others, I am determined to make my own mind up about this place.
Handily, Reykjavik is hosting the inaugural Rite Of Spring festival this weekend. This four-day jazz and folk event has a fine blend, comprising some of Iceland’s finest indigenous talent as well as importing some premium foreign pedigree. Aiming at acting as a counterfoil to the globally renowned Airwaves festival, it falls on the weekend where Iceland officially kicks off with six months of summer. That’s entertainment.

Cut to the heart of capital, where I am walking, early in the day. I chance upon a small patch of urban greenery which is resplendent in the unexpected warm sunshine – it so happens that this is the best weather they’ve experienced here for some months. There are young girls on a trailer singing karaoke. Singing badly. There are more youths casually strewn across the grass swigging from ‘cheap’ bottles of Asti and whatever else they can get their hands on. It is also the weekend that the high school kids break from school. A brief chat with one rather vigorous young lady reveals:

“This is the time when school kids get drunk and act like arseholes. Enjoy Iceland.”
Nothing too strange, you might think; nothing that a quick ASBO can’t fix, surely. It takes a second look to fully appreciate that the city centre is awash with rampaging kids in fancy dress outfits ranging from Cowboys & Indians to The Cat In The Hat. Early indicators suggest that the coming of spring may signal the natives’ first chance at going mental.

Driving past the American airbase with an F-15 Eagle swooping overhead did little to calm my nerves after being confronted by the most stark wilderness I had ever experienced. Solace was soon found in a central watering hole, Kaffi Brennslan, which served as a home from home. Sited opposite my own base for the weekend – Reykjavik’s biggest nightclub, Nasa – its reasonably priced pints and warm atmosphere were enjoyed at least seven times during my short stay. All herald my new local.

It was in Nasa that the Rite Of Spring festival was taking place. The opening night saw the diminutive Brazilian maestro, Ife Tolentino take the stage first with his band, which included one of the most ridiculously annoying saxophonists ever. The very nature of this band, with their technical prowess and proficiency, lent to the copious amounts of lengthy solo breakdowns. So frequent were they that even a flippant prophecy of a tambourine solo was realised, prompting reactions of disbelief and horror in equal measure.

Once I realised that old-timer, mainstream specialists Mezzoforte included that saxophonist among their ranks I knew it was definitely time for another pint at Brennslan. Not even a lengthy and consistently outstanding drum solo could sway me.

Raz: “This beer is ridiculous. First off it’s called ‘Viking’ and secondly it tastes of arse.”
Icelandic Man: “You know that the Wikings (sic!) were actually very sensible people, though.”
Raz: “What… like when they stole all the Scottish women and then just generally burnt our prehistoric council estates?”
Icelandic Man: “Yes. This beer is not so good. I am going hiking tomorrow.”
Raz: “OK.”
As another memorable conversation drew to a close and the walk up to the top of the slight incline brought a certain mysterious magic to my life. Tonight the Northern Lights were but a greenish smudge in the sky but as I walked up towards the gently lit, giant concrete church, even the most vague distortions in the firmament makes one wonder what else lies overhead. With this inescapable magic a nightly ritual for the people of Reykjavik, it really is no wonder they live their lives the way they do.

Still reeling from the marvels of the night, it was time to explore the city in more depth. I had already encountered the unexpected sight of hundreds of costumed teens roaming the streets but it was when I travelled a bit further, say a whole half kilometre, that I was confronted by the harbour. Again, nothing special until you spot that there is a mountain range on the other side of the harbour. You just don’t get mountains in capital cities. Right? The day just wasn’t going to get any more ‘normal’.

Once I realised that everyone I spoke to had just arrived from the UK for the weekend I decided to embark on some cultural activities. I travelled to the top of a 75m-high church steeple that overlooked the whole city. The view was great. I find out later in the day that the bars over the windows at the top were only put in place after some lonely chap decided it was the best place to jump out of. So it goes.

I then went to view the country’s oldest manuscripts – The Sagas. It was there that I encountered a room containing nothing but a 12ft Jesus, bathed in a blue light. It appears that putting one of those at the top of a flight of stairs is a guaranteed way of making me shit myself. Funny that.

A brief sit-down in the Kaffibarrinn – a bar that is co-owned by Britpop leg end Damon Albarn – provided a leisurely atmosphere in which to forget the fear of almost seeing God. The wickedly expensive pint that they serve there proved to only make me appreciate ‘London Prices’. The two young chaps happily humping against the bar only made me appreciate the subtleties of our no-eye-contact capital.

Later, the one British act on the bill, 100% Dynamite, fell totally flat on their faces at Nasa. They hardly managed to rouse the crowd into dancing at the “party” that the square peg of an emcee threatened. The poor DJing hardly helped matters, as they played an unfamiliar and self-indulgent set that never had a chance in hell of sparking the attentions of the locals. You’d be better off taking notes on how to empty a lively room in record time.

The ominously cloudy sky that evening not only lent to a lack of Aurora Borealis tomfoolery that evening but also to a decidedly moist morning the following day. This is more like it. The blazing sunshine and slight winds had baffled and disoriented me up until now but this constant and torrential rain is exactly what I had been expecting. Perfect.

What to do in such weather but stroll around this bounteous city? So off I trotted. Upon exiting one shop deep in the centre I was faced with a vision of ultra-pink. In the middle of the pavement was a young lady in a shocking pink bomber jacket and an even more shockingly short skirt that garnished some shoes in a more garish shade of ankle breaking. Wearing sunglasses that failed to dwarf her personality, she stood clutching a white lace parasol in one pink satin-gloved hand and a cigarette in the other. Obviously, inquiries were duly made.

Raz: “Excuse me… what are you doing?”
Pink Girl: “I am the Icelandic Eurovision Song Contest entry”
Raz: “In which year exactly?”
Pink Girl: “Come to my book launch tonight.”
Raz: “OK.”
She handed me the ticket. It read: “Silvia Night – International Superstar”. If there was ever an invite that warranted further investigation, it was most certainly this one. Upon arrival, suited and booted, it was pleasing to see that the beer was handily labelled ‘lager’ and so I handily labelled the mojitos ‘death’. It was always going to be one of those evenings.

After waiting in a cramped upstairs balcony bar with – I was reliably informed – every last one of Iceland’s broadcasting luminaries for almost three hours, Silvia Night turned up more than just fashionably late. Carried in on a throne by men wider than they were tall, Miss Night was resplendent in a gold and black ensemble. Almost unrecognisable from earlier in the day, she stayed seated while celebrities such as the Sugarcubes’ Einar Orn recited her poetry. Oh, how she laughed.

“Wham! Bam! Lick my ham!
Whoom! Boom! Shake my cahoon!
Shimmer! Glimmer! I am the winner!
Hoosie! Smoosie! And this is my bootie!”
After just a matter of minutes she was up and making her away round the room, a parody of herself, everyone and everything that went before her. Why the hell didn’t the UK think of putting Ali G into Eurovision? This is surely genius. After she kissed the air surrounding each of my chops, she looked me straight in the eye, stroking my jaw with her golden talons.

Raz: “You look so amazing. I love you.”
Silvia Night: “Do you know what Madonna wrote as the foreword for my book?”
Raz: “MySpace me? I love you?”
Silvia Night: “My boyfriend is just over there. Look.”
Raz: “OK.”
Shot down, aeons before I could even get into a blaze for some glory, I trundled back down the hill vowing to make sure that, somehow, she must win Eurovision. It is the only way. I stopped off at Kaffi Brennslan for another pint of “Wiking” before going back to see some more bands.

Little did I know that Stórsveit Nix Noltes were going to blow my socks right off with their stunningly complex Balkan folk-influenced rhythms and harmonies. The Icelanders got the locals off their feet and dancing in front of the stage in a way that 100% Dynamite failed in dismally the previous night. Despite some core members being absent tonight, SNN proved to be the highlight of the Rite Of Spring festival.

The last night saw a blues band rattle along within their own means and a meandering Scottish-South American hybrid in Salsa Celtica. The latter served to only remind me that Brazil would win the World Cup this summer after Wayne Rooney’s gammy foot scuppered any little chance we ever had of winning the blasted thing.

On a brighter note, my last night was spent in the company of a Miss Reykjavik finalist and Miss Iceland hopeful who explained, with various pointed fingers and shaken behinds, that ‘Raz’ means ‘arse’ in Icelandic. Who would’ve thought it?

Source:
Article in Drowned in Sound 2006
http://www.drownedinsound.com/articles/829792

Persons who love Iceland: Quentin Tarantino

Icelandic Girls Get Busy In Reykjavik
futuring the Americans
Quentin Tarantino & Oprah
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTL4Yv24q0Q

More:
http://www.ontheruntur.com