Thursday, October 20th, 2011
Iceland Airwaves 2011 Day Three
Austra, Olufar Arnalds, Veronica Falls and more at Iceland Airwaves
Frank YangIt seems a bit counter-intuitive to travel all the way to Iceland to see a bunch of Canadian bands, but then there’s also something to be said about the sense of camaraderie one gets from hanging out with one’s countrymen in such a foreign setting. So after finally getting to sample some of Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur’s famous wares – those are hot dogs, by the by – and a bit of souvenir shopping, Saturday afternoon was largely spent at the Hressingarskálinn cafe where Canadian Blast had pitched a tent to showcase some Canuck talent to the Iceland Airwaves audience.
What was interesting was that either by coincidence or design, most all of the Canadian acts at the Blast off-venue and Airwaves as a whole fit quite nicely into the Scandinavian setting. For example, Karkwa – who opened up the Blast showcase – had the mysterious, incomprehensible language thing down pat. I think they called it, “French”. I kid, I kid. Playing with less gear than I’m used to seeing them with – keyboardist François Lafontaine was particularly light on his toys – they led their set with leaner, more rock-oriented material before allowing things to sprawl into more atmospheric realms, dazzling all the while with their musicianship. It’s funny that for the number of times I’ve seen them live and heard their Polaris-winning album Les chemins de verre, I still don’t really recognize the material when I hear it live and I think that’s why it’s my preferred Karkwa listening environment; it makes each experience unpredictable and unique.
Photos: Karkwa @ Hressingarskálinn – October 15, 2011
MP3: Karkwa – “Dors Dans Mon Sang”
Video: Karkwa – “Le pyromane”
Video: Karkwa – “Echapper au sort”
Video: Karkwa – “Marie tu pleures”
Video: Karkwa – “Oublie pas”
Video: Karkwa – “Échapper au sor”
Video: Karkwa – “À la chaîne”
Video: Karkwa – “Combien”
Video: Karkwa – “La facade”
Video: Karkwa – “La fuite”
Video: Karkwa – “Vrai”
Video: Karkwa – “Le coup d’etat”
Video: Karkwa – “Poisson cru”
Random Recipe couldn’t have represented a more dramatic shift in tone from Karkwa’s grand prog-pop if they tried, being a four-piece acoustic hip-hop funk band who proudly declared they formed one night when principals Fab and Frannie started busking to earn pizza money. And now they were in Reykjavik. Now musically, they weren’t really my thing but both frontwomen performed with such energy and enthusiasm that it was hard not to get caught up in it. Their debut Fold It! Mold It! came out last year.
Esmerine made the front half of the Canadian Blast lineup a Montreal-based hat trick, but again their sound was very different from that of their neighbours. Comprised of members of both Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion and built around the cello and marimba, the instrumental quartet had to pillage the country’s harp and marimba supply to equip themselves and still needed to substitute a xylophone for the latter instrument. Even so, they still managed to present themselves as a beguiling miniature orchestra and had a special guest in the form of collaborator and producer Patrick Watson – it’s not entirely clear what he was doing in Iceland but he was there – who offered vocals on a gorgeous and touching tribute to the late Lhasa de Sela, to whom the band’s latest album La Lechuza is dedicated.
Photos: Esmerine @ Hressingarskálinn – October 15, 2011
MP3: Esmerine – “A Dog River”
Video: Esmerine – “Snow Day For Lhasa”
Video: Esmerine – “Walking Through Mist I”
Video: Esmerine – “Walking Through Mist II”
Stream: Esmerine / La Lechuza
While the Canadians kept blasting away, at this point I withdrew to grab some food and just generally enjoy the last bit of daylight in Reykjavik I’d have on this trip. Such a sad thing. But before it was time to return to the real world, there was one more night of Airwaves to experience and it began in the ridiculously beautiful Norðurljós hall of the Harpa opera house – a world away, both literally and figuratively, from the basement of Parts & Labour in Toronto where I’d seen London’s Veronica Falls play just a couple weeks earlier. And in the poshest of settings just as in the grimiest, Veronica Falls were all business and their retro/C86 guitar pop great throughout, though there’s no denying that the vastly superior acoustics, sound reinforcement and lighting made this a better experience. Their set contained a number of new songs, surprising considering their self-titled debut was still a couple days from European release, but all sounded as good as you’d expect. The Line Of Best Fit has an interview with the band.
Photos: Veronica Falls @ Harpa Norðurljós – October 15, 2011
MP3: Veronica Falls – “Come On Over”
MP3: Veronica Falls – “Found Love In A Graveyard”
Video: Veronica Falls – “Bad Feeling”
Video: Veronica Falls – “Come On Over”
Video: Veronica Falls – “Beachy Head”
Video: Veronica Falls – “Found Love In A Graveyard”
I didn’t think I was particularly zoned out between sets, but I certainly didn’t notice how quickly the stage crew moved out Veronica Falls’ standard rock band backline and replaced it with Ólufar Arnalds’ elaborate setup, consisting of a grand piano, string quartet and huge projection screen. And just as you didn’t need to hear anything to know this wasn’t going to be a rock show, once they started you didn’t need to be told to know that Arnalds was Icelandic. The feeling of his homeland was there in every gentle piano note, every wavering bowed string, every stuttering electronic beat – even in the projected animated bird mobiles and flickering strobe lights. Pure, slow-motion beauty. Check out his Living Room Songs project for videos and downloads of songs recorded, one a day, in his apartment.
Photos: Ólufar Arnalds @ Harpa Norðurljós – October 15, 2011
MP3: Ólufar Arnalds – “Þú Ert Sólin”
Video: Ólufar Arnalds – “Hægt, kemur ljósið”
Video: Ólufar Arnalds – “3055″
Video: Ólufar Arnalds – “Ljósið”
After saying goodbye to the stunning elegance of Harpa, it was time for one more go with the hangar-like Listasafn art museum. There wasn’t nearly the degree of audience madness – or lineups, thankfully – that I’d witnessed there on Thursday, though; it seems that Austra still has a little ways to go before they elicit Beach House-scale adulation from the locals. But even hailing from Toronto as they do (hometown represent!), it’s hard to imagine a place where Katie Stelmanis and her goth-y electro-pop would feel more at home than the land of fire and ice, fairies and elves. Though I’d seen Stelmanis in her past incarnations a few times, this was just the second time I’d seen Austra live and while I appreciated them at the Polaris gala, I now appreciated that I was seeing them outside of their element – this performance, with its huge sound, overwhelming light show and hundreds of fans dancing to the beats and pulses really made things impressive. And it was so hard to reconcile the dancing priestess persona that Stelmanis now inhabits – all platinum blonde locks, mystical conjuring gestures and charisma – with the bowl-cut and glasses wallflower look she favoured in past projects. The contributions of Tasseomancy’s Lightman twins also can’t be overstated; beyond the note-perfect backing vocals, their dancing on Stelmanis’ flanks offered an extra visual element and added a real sense of ritual to the show. It may have sounded like the ’80s but it felt much more ancient. Austra plays The Phoenix on December 1.
That would have been a perfect way to cap off the festival, but at some point I’d picked up a second wind and the sooner I called it a night, the sooner I’d have to be going home. And so it was to the handsome little Iðnó restaurant/hall just across the lake Tjörnin from our apartment. There, the UK’s Mazes were just getting started and funnily, their meat-and-potatoes Brit rock almost sounded exotic after the week’s eclectically arty programming. And for a little while their workmanlike delivery of sufficiently melodic tunes was like a bit of a palette cleanse, but before too long it just started getting dull and that aforementioned second wind evaporated. And that was Iceland Airwaves 2011.
Everything about this trip – the festival, the city, the countryside, the company – was fantastic and as cliche as it sounds, there’s really nowhere on earth like Iceland. Icelandic music fans are some of the most rabid I’ve ever seen, as a people they’re incredibly friendly and welcoming, urban or rural the country is a feast for the eyes (in a desolate sort of way) and the food isn’t that expensive. Okay, it is. But at least it’s delicious. I will be returning – I still have a full slate of things that I didn’t get around to doing – but will aim for a slightly warmer season next time. There’s only so much gale-force wind and horizontal rain a guy can take. All photos, save a few frames of film still to be developed, are up at Flickr.
Patrick Watson, mentioned just a few paragraphs back, will be in Toronto on November 10 for a show at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall, tickets $40 in advance.
Video: Patrick Watson – “Fireweed”
NOW and BlogTO talk to Tasseomancy, who have released a new video from Ulalame and will be playing a release show for the record tonight at The Great Hall and open up for Austra at The Phoenix on December 1.
Video: Tasseomancy – “Diana”
Kathryn Calder’s new album Bright & Vivid is streaming at NPR in advance of its release next Tuesday, and Exclaim has an extended tour itinerary in support of it which now includes a November 29 date at The Horseshoe in Toronto – that’s a Tuesday, which means Nu Music Nite, which means free, which means there is no excuse not to go. At all.
Video: Stars – “Dead Hearts”
Exclaim has a stream of The Wooden Sky’s new tour-only EP, which they think sounds best on cassette tape, and courtesy of Webster Media Consulting I’ve got two copies to give away – to enter, email me at contests AT chromewaves.net with “I want The Wooden Sky cassette” in the subject line and your full name and mailing address in the body; the fact that you’ve actually read this far and own a working cassette deck or walkman are the only other barriers to entry. Contest closes at midnight, October 25.