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Passing Judgement: Reviews: Super Iceland Electro Infodump Ahoy!!

03 Aug

We review the local electronic music releases – so you don’t have to….

OK, it’s been a while since i last trawled through what’s been going on with the local electronic music scene in Iceland over the last few months. But as there’s been so much going on around here, and with no one (Raftónar.is exempted) actually bothering to look upon it in any meaningful way, I guess that I will have to take it upon myself to see what’s hot and what should be blown up from a safe distance. LET’S LOCK AND LOAD!! (ahem…).

 

Sonord – We Are No Strangers (Möller Records)

Snooze Infinity – Didn’t Know/Beam (Möller Records)

First off from the in-tray are a couple of releases from that  bastion of Icelandic electronica, Möller Records, releases that seem to have passed by with ne’er but a blip on the local consciousness. SONORD are an Iceland/Danish concern, containing the members Bjarnar Jonsson, Lone Krogh, and Sigþór Ægir Frímannsson. From the blurb that accompanies their release, they make music that “can be described as a dreamy cocktail of sounds,” and write songs “about being human and the celebration of life on our wonderful Earth. “ about being human and the celebration of life on our wonderful Earth.”

Hmmm. Well the first track, “Dawn,” isn’t too bad. It’s got that classic baggy, indie dance feel that used to waft through your speakers in the early ’90s, complete with some retro synths and processed guitars.  But from there the EP just drifts aimlessly along, with one-dimensional lounge jazz rhythms, droning clarinets, and ambient sounds that don’t really raise above that one plodding energy level. It’s not bad per se, but i just found it all so achingly polite, urbane and inoffensive, that I found myself yawning a bit and wondering if an episode of Top Gear was on BBC Entertainment. Only the 2nd half of “We Are not Strangers,” made my brain flicker into life in any meaningful way. All of this is not helped by some painfully insipid lyrics that instead of being a real celebration of life, just sound as if they’re being uttered  from a 2nd division self-help book –  “It is the heart that is important,” “You are Xtrodinary (Um….)/There is only one of you,” etc. And then the intro on “We Are Not Strangers,” about hell not being a figment of the imagination… Sheesh! I mean, after all, who knew that war was bad? ‘We Are Not Strangers,’ is the perfect dinner party accompaniment for those who believe that the military/industrial complex will be defeated by peace, love and Facebook picture memes. Meh…


Now if there’s one thing that anyone who has ever listened to dance music (especially House music) will be aware of, it’s the “inspiring monologue” cliché you get into some tracks. You know what I’m talking about – It’s when the producer feels that the track needs just that little extra bit of gravitas, so they insert a small speech/quote from a movie (Usually by someone who is black), that booms a confident voice containing a message of life affirming knowledge or some other nugget or insight about the importance of the groove or the dance.

Well on the SNOOZE INFINITY (Aka Yoda Remote’s Emil Svavarsson) track “Beam,” it goes just that little bit further to the edge of the abyss with a rather delightful monologue from none other than Russell Brand on a TV news interview spouting some grade A, new-age meta-bollocks, ending it with him going “Yeah, maaaan.” In some ways you could see this as either taking the inspirational monologue to new heights, or just a massive pisstake of epic proportions (I’m going for the latter, as it helps me sleep at night), but Russel Brand aside, “Didn’t Know/Beam” is actually a rather nifty little mover. Definitely going for that nu(old)-garage sounds that the likes of Retro Stefson are realising that da kids want to dance to. While it’s not that grime-y or ruff, it’s certainly lithe and rather playful. “Didn’t Know” makes really good use of its vocal samples and you could see it as being a “crowd builder” in a decent garage/house set. The remixes do rather beef up the proceedings with Hypno’s remix of “Don’t Know” placing emphasis on a pounding kick/bass sound, while Kareema’s (containing fellow Yoda Remotee Bragi Marinósson) remix of  “Beam” has them creating some fizz by augmenting the percussion and banging on that hi-hat sound. Swinging!

Sean Danke  – Different Vibe (Affin)

It is to my eternal shame as a self-proclaimed party animal and determined raver that I have never actually heard or partaken in a dancing session to a set from local boy SEAN DANKE, which is even more galling when you consider that in many people’s minds he is the epitome of the title “Local Legend.” An organiser or old school rave events, an early member of the Partyzone radio show, DJ’ing at the old Tunglið club and the Atom, Thomsen, and ElektroLux clubnights, running the Þruman record shop, as well as bringing guys like Sasha, Timo Maas and Richie Hawtin to Iceland, this guy basically helped to create/define the Reykjavik club culture back when it actually had one.

Well someone posted a link a few days ago that he was releasing a new EP on Beatport, so i thought it’d be best to check his stuff out. And it´s safe to say the man Danke definitely makes some deep, deeeep house music, Marianas Trench style. “Different Vibes” is complete with heavy, heaving bass, minimal brassy synth sounds, and string that are heavy on the reverb. It’s got a slightly mean and moody vibe to it. This isn’t dance music for children fukd up on a few bottles of WKD – This is grown up shit for grown ups! My advice for the real action though is to skip the second track “Acid Vibe,” and head straight for the remixes. All three are decent, but the real winner is the remix from local boy Kid Mistik, that turns “Different Vibes” inside out and moulds it into a rumbling techno beast, with some rather disturbing rattling/gurgling noises bubbling underneath. I would consider showing my man boobs to the general dancing public while dancing to this. Naughty!

Tranquil – Tjörnin (Tranquil Recordings)

If my online friend Joe is to be believed, then 2013 is the year that drum & bass comes roaring back into the club consciousness again. Of course some say it never went away (Am I rite Andri Már?), but after a period during the last decade when it seemed that D&B sounds and the energy they contained seemed to be tapped out, there is a new energy and vitality coming from these quarters with the likes of DBridge, Alix Perez, Synkro, Om Unit, and others breathing new  ideas and life into approaching the genre, while the likes of Kasra and Friction have made some blinding mixes for Fabric over the last 18 months.

So this with this in mind that I turn to ‘Tjörnin,’ the debut EP from TRANQUIL, who are a slightly mysterious local DnB 3-piece made up of 45m1r, LogiK and Larsen. And I have to say, that ‘Tjörnin’ is six tracks of some perfectly honed classic DnB sounds. Many people last year praised Futuregrapher’s homage to ’90s DnB, ‘LP,’ but I found that his production was at times a little bit “thick” and heavy, not quite capturing that essential DnB vibe. The opening track “Tjörnin,” on the other hand, fucking nails it square. Woozy, sustained ambient synth pads phase in and out of ear shot, while pressured, slightly hissy rhythms that are a tighter than a gnat’s arse bounce over the synthwash. It´s perfectly captures that mix of booming bass, tight snare sounds and the minimum amount of components needed to make it work that defined much of DnB in the mid ’90s. Christ it’s really like you´re back in 1995 again, listening to those Omni Trio or Foul Play tapes. Things do descend into a darker Source Direct/Ruffige Kru vibe with “Andromeda,” and “The Lie Vision,” but even though you could make an argument that this is more an exercise in genre replication than evolution, there is no denying that this is certainly some righteous music that has the essential quality of being made by people who care deeply about DnB and the history of the sound. COME TO DADDY!

Simon Latham – iBreathe Again (Airport Route Recordings)

Earlier this year, I was entertaining a bit of a spirited discussion on the ol’ social media about the state of the 101 club/gig culture and what was good and bad about it. Among the several shouters, commenters was SIMON LATHAM, who wondered why no one was talking about mainstream dance music, and why no one had thought of trying to changing the tide of the local culture, that other countries seemed to handle the balance of playing mainstream house and trance with more underground sounds with no trouble. He was then bluntly told by another commenter that mainstream dance music in Iceland was “More like rnb and just crappy pop music.”

Ouch! Man just can’t get a break, can he? But Simon actually has a bit of a successful history in the dance music biz, being a part of Soundsation, who had a fair run of success in the ’90s getting play from many of the big name DJ talent in the UK. Then naturally, or course, he had to meet a lovely Icelandic woman, move here, and enjoy a life of semi-retirement from the dance music scene, tending to unruly sheep in Vogar or something.

But of course you can’t keep a good man down and in his time here, he formed the Airport Route Recordings label, fostering local and international talent as he tries to wage a running battle in making house/trance sounds that are being played in clubs abroad more accessible here. But it’s not been easy. Last year he released his solo album, ‘iBreathe,’ an album of classic prog house tunes that received absolutely no fanfare from the local media or the dance music scene at all. This would have been enough to crush a lesser man, but Simon has badgered on like a evangelical trance ferret and has recently released ‘iBreathe Again,” a remix version of ‘iBreathe.’ So in the interests of music writing exploration, I felt it should only be right to give this album a bit of a bash to see what’s up.

And as expected some of the tracks worked and some didn’t for me. The openers “One More Thing,” and “Grounded,” (Remixed by Wolff Noize – man that name sparkles!) are pretty much your standard stadium trance pop bangers. They’re actually rather well produced, but they were full of the standard trance-by-numbers that you hear all the time on the pop radio of FM 95.7 and FLASS FM – constant Ibiza style “rushes” that lead into slightly overdriven pitchshifting synths that would make Calvin Harris’ scrotum tighten just a little. “She” (Remixed Andy Woldman) is classic eurotrance, complete with slightly doomy Germanic arpeggios, which didn’t really do that much for me in the ol’ serotonin raising department to be honest.

But it’s not all bad. there’s actually some few really decent stuff on here. That intro to “Elevate” has a really nice whooshing trance/house intro that made me sit up and take notice, while “Dark Days,” and “We Try” are rather brooding dance pop songs that are very much on a par with what some of the more lauded local dance acts are belching out these days. And while many of the tracks here are ravey davey trancey fodder, what’s really worth noting are the lyrics. Whereas most of the current trance pop clogging the charts espouses an endless mix of incessant end-stage capitalist bombast and internationalist conglomerate hedonism, Simon (Possibly being a bit older and wiser) eschews all of that. Instead his songs have a more muted, even melancholy feel, singing about self doubt, nagging insecurities, and relationship troubles (Hey, we’ve all been there mate!). Admittedly this won’t make the ravers pop their glow sticks, makes for far, faaar more interesting music, for me at least. CHOON!

 

Phew, I’m totally spent after all of those banging beats. Right, you’ve had your fun now. Begone form here while i receive my cold compress and laudanum suppositories….

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in Iceland, music

 

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