So a few weeks ago i went to my fragrant friend Rebecca Louder to the annual unsigned battle of the bands contest MUSIKTILRAUNIR. Our report on it is now online and you can read it for yourself! Most of the thanks should go to Louder on this one. I simply provided the recordings and my own notes on the evening events.
Oh and if you really want to, then you can hear the live radio broadcast of the bands RIGHT HERE:
OK…. lets start this off. Last year, with hindsight, when they paired Sindri and myself to cover the contest, it pretty much brought out the inner misanthrope in both of us. And it certainly showed. We were fair, but also incredibly harsh with some of the acts. Even before this year’s contest, a colleague at the paper told me that they really didn’t like the way we wrote the piece (our initial thoughts on the bands were simply recorded and transcribed) because we stuck the boot into acts who, whether they sucked or not, were playing on an occasion where it was probably going to be their only chance to shine. And we were basically shitty to them.
All this is all fair comment. Ho hum….
But here’s the thing. Last year it would have been harsh, because several of the bands, even the winners Samarís, had that “let’s get together and practice in our garage” level of expertise. Add to this, you also tend to see a lot of the awkwardness that you would see if you were performing, for some bands especially, the first time.
But since last year something had changed. That something had been the 2010 winners of Musiktilraunir, Of Monsters And Men, getting signed to Universal and rapidly infecting the US with their brand of bland folk rock. Now the game had changed with Musiktilraunir. In the past, you got some friends together, made a few tunes and tried your luck out. If you won, you got some really great prizes, but after that, you were pretty much left to your own devices afterwards with your careers as musicians.
Now, although it’s not a given, if you win the contest and you have the desire to want to make it big, there are a lot of interests backing you. As I’ve talked about before on here, the whole apparatus of the music and cultural industries in Iceland over the last couple of years have become much more connected, better organised, with a lot more contacts with publications, PR guys, blogs, and radio stations, etc outside of Iceland. And in winning Musiktilraunir, and becoming the “new” sound of Iceland, you now have a lot of clout and possibilities to get yourself seen that didn’t exist in the past.
Is this a bad thing? you decide. But that meant that this year’s saw the vast majority of acts reaching the final being VERY slick, VERY tight, and playing music that perhaps they thought would do well to win. They also had this sheen of being total pros who had been in the game for years, barely putting a foot wrong. There was very little of the ramshackle feeling that you would have expected from acts in previous years. It was as if the acts themselves knew that by winning MTR, you would be getting placed on a fast track to wider recognition.
Take he first act, WHITE SIGNAL. At 14-17 years old, they were certainly the youngest band of the night. And they had all that wholesome, organic farmed pep you would have seen in the school band for High School Musical or something similar. And their music definitely had that upbeat high school band style that was actually incredibly proficient for their age. But during the break, while talking to people in the foyer, i found out that the band had a manager. A band starting out this young already had a manager? Also i was informed that said manager saw Musiktilraunir as a springboard to getting the band to a much wider audience. Naturally this had my inner cynic working overtime (use MTR, get recognition, work up a big media following in lceland, then go to the US and sell the idea of an Icelandic band, in the style of the Jonas brother to a company like The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, and Ker-ching!)
A group of 14 year olds trying out for a first time contest and they already had a manager? Wow, times have certainly changed.
As for the other bands, well they didn’t necessarily suck as such (although there were a few that really made us cringe), but there seemed to be something really missing from the proceedings. It was all a bit soulless as they were playing music that for the best part lacked a lot of spark or originality. The whole emphasis on being fully formed pros seemed to snuff out a lot of the verve and arrogance of youth that you would have expected from younger acts.
When they did try to act all spontaneous and carefree, it fell like a lead balloon and was clearly staged. Winners RetRoBot, for example, while singing lines like “We’re the chaos generation” and “We’re taking things over”, some of their friends at the end of the first song started jumping up and down and running around the venue, whooping and stuff. Louder and I cringed at this. It just felt so… half-hearted. I’m sure the audience loved it though – Oh look at these wily young whippersnappers! And they were still one of the main not-give-a-fuck acts that night.
OK, enough of this pointless bitching here. What did I really think of the bands that performed? Weeeeell, most of them were OK, if a little unspectacular. By far and away the best band of the lot was the synth pop group THE YOUNG AND THE CAREFREE. admittedly they way they opened was a little muted, but when they managed to crank up the synths, it was some really well honed grown up pop music. Some real bleak cynical undertones and a very good, charismatic front man, who looked a cross between Kelly from the Stereophonics and Zac Efron. Another interesting band was the heavy rock group ICARUS. They had some decent rocking tunes that with a bit more coaxing in the performance department, they could be really interesting. Also the singer of ÞOKA was the only decent singer of them all. By a country mile.
The rest of the bands were either annoying (The Lovely Lion, Glunroði), were great musicians but couldn’t write a decent song to save themselves (Funk That Shit!), or in simple terms, sucked the sweat of a dead man’s balls (Hindurvættir).
But again for the second year running, the judges completely threw common sense out of the window and made RetRoBot the winners. Quite what was going on in their minds god knows (we saw one of the judges afterwards and the first words out of their mouths was “I CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT!”). RetRoBot weren’t shit (ok, they were just a little bit), but there was no way they were good or catchy enough to win IMHO. A friend made the suggestion that they should think about changing some of the judges for next years competitions. And i for one, wholeheartedly agree. On a separate note, it was really uncanny the way that Louder managed to almost predict the winners of the individual awards. Someone make her a judge post-haste goddamnit!
Oh well, the decision has been made. It going to be great fun watching these guys getting pushed as the “New sound of Iceland”. Yay!!