It’s Friday 4th November and I’m at the art gallery Nýlistasafn for no particular reason. Well actually that’s a bit of a lie. I, along with a smattering of people, am here to listen to some avant-garde compositions from 3 artists, two Icelandic, one Canadian. Things don’t get off to a great start when i arrive to find there’s no booze, forcing us to pay over the odds next door at KEX hostel for some “organic” beer. The music itself was a bit of a mixed bag. The starting act, S.L.Á..T.U.R’s Guðmundur Steinn Gunnarsson, made a quiet, confusing sound, using several people pinging at the ring pulls from drinks cans to make atonal polyrhythms. Meanwhile, the closing act, Canadian electronic artist Mongst, made dark ambient music that seemed to go on forever. During his set, I end up getting slightly drunk and start annoying people by staring at them with unfocused eyes to try and “see their auras”. Needless to say it wasn’t a highly popular move.
But the middle act was as different as it was brutal. AMFJ’s performance wasn’t brilliant by his or our standards. His vocal effects malfunctioned and unwanted feedback kept looping within the sound. But despite this, his presence and intensity was completely the polar opposite of the nights proceedings, almost a physical and mental break from the norm. What was also slightly unusual was that during his set, a couple of guys from the black metal band Abominor actually turned up to listen.
Think about that for a second. Now there’s nothing to stop people from all walks of life attending whatever they want, but the last time i saw black metal fans turn up in a Reykjavik art gallery was earlier this year at an opening at Kling and Bang…. and that was because there was a black metal gig at Kaffistófan next door and the fans realised that the gallery had laid on free alcohol.
It’s this little moment that demonstrates the growing appeal of AMFJ. He’s starting to reach that level of performance and ability with his sound where he is getting attention from a wide range of music fans, from black metal fans to avant-garde musicians, to electronic beat bastards. Right now in Iceland, when it comes to noise/industrial music with vigour, there’s really no one who’s does what he does, with perhaps the exception of Gjöll frontman Sigurður “Siggi Pönk” Harðarson. But as he’s leaving Iceland very soon, then in reality there will be only one.
In addition, his increased profile in the Icelandic music scene is down to his growth as a musician and artist over the past few years. This is evident in his recently released second album, “BÆN”. His first album, “Itemhljóð & Veinan”, had its moments, but was the end result of a man grabbing at disparate sounds, throwing out ideas to see where they landed, not entirely sure of what his voice should be.
“BÆN” on the other hand, shows a man not just with some ideas, but with a vision of what he wants from his music. And what he wants is a quantum leap in structure, production and composition to what has come before. Such is the confidence he now has in his music, that the album cover breaks from the usual tenets of Noise/Industrial releases (anonymity, transgressive/obscene imagery, cheap production) by using clean professional styling and a photo of himself wearing a red cape, a mix of superhero and showman.
“BÆN” starts innocuously enough on “Útburður Umskiptingur”. A sample of what sounds like a kid goat or perhaps a child’s doll crying. But as the track progresses, the sample is slowly defiled and desecrated as harmonic slivers are shaved off each cycle and piled up in a heap of pain and suffering. After this palette sandblasting, we’re led into “Öldungur”, a track that continues the religious motifs of “Ég er Guð”, except now the chants and calls to prayer have a booming martial percussion to provide the unease.
However the next two tracks, “Mammon” and “Retoría”, are the real engine and heat of “BÆN”. A simple drum loop and a fractured bass drone provide the vehicle for the true power of AMFJ – his voice. Sure, people scream, growl and spit on all sorts of music, from metal to jazz since the dawn of time. But the venom, the snarl, the sheer physicality of his words on these two tracks reeks of sulphur and vinegar. If he was giving a sermon about the wages of sin or the end of the world, you’d shut the fuck up and listen.
After this release of anger and vitriol comes the contemplation. “Bæn” is suggestive of ancient machines waking up from their slumber, slowly gurgling, then moving, pistons and shafts pumping in near Teutonic unison. Meanwhile, through its quivering sub-bass line, “Lofun” has an anxious dread, like recalling a very uncomfortable moment in your past that you thought you’d consigned to the dusty halls of your memories.
Most Noise and industrial music these days seems stuck in a rut, a shadow of its former self. The last of the truly genre defying/ taboo breaking material happened in the ’80s/early ´90s, with the result that what gets made today often goes in circles, mostly performed on laptops with a minimum of presence, and lacking vitality and venom, despite the decibels. With but a few exceptions, we’re missing the likes of when Genesis P.Orridge would roll around the stage on broken glass screaming “DISCIPLINE!!!”, scaring the crowd.
Because of this, we should be lucky to have the likes of AMFJ, a noise artist of this generation who is willing to add the thing that is often missing from Noise/industrial performances. The human element.
You can also buy “BÆN” at the GOGOYOKO music site.