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Atomised Albion: The Annual EXOTIC PYLON Bumper Winter Annual Review!!

You know that Jonny Mugwump guy? Man, what a git! I mean, he’s always soooo busy, doing this, releasing that, doing a radio show, or a special presentation, or a DJ gig, etc, etc, etc. He’s so busy doing that whole independent music malarkey that he never seems to have the time to speak to anyone, least of all me! He doesn’t answer his calls, and I’ve pretty much given up on him answering any of my e-mail! If all of this was somehow externalised into a physical form, then it would be Bob’s sense of heartbreak and rejection. Hey Jonny! Give us a call sometime will ya??

OK, I’m being a little bit cruel here, because Jonny is a very busy man for a good reason. As well as recently taking on a rather important position in his day job at Goldsmiths College in London, he also seems to be stretching himself to Reed Richards levels in his extra curricular activities. The radio show, the gigs, the occasional piece of music journalism., etc, etc

And that’s before we even get to his special baby, the EXOTIC PYLON label. Of course we at the farm have been raving about many of the releases from there since day one. And of course the brolove feeling are a little bit mutual, with Jonny asking yours truly to make one of those “special Stuff” mixes for his radio show.

It seems though that over the last couple of months, the Exotic Pylon releases have been mounting and it’s becoming clear that in keeping those fires of collaboration and community stoked, the label is slowly becoming one of the main support nodes for a new emerging scene of DIY collaboration in the UK that is coalescing round a venn diagram of various labels, club nights, blogs and assorted movers & shakers (More on that later).

Right now Exotic Pylon has not one, not two, or even three, but FIVE releases from the label over the last several weeks. Wait a minute, scratch that.There’s actually SIX releases , but for some reason I don’t have a copy of ‘Bucolica’ by The House in the Woods available (Not to worry though, the wonderful Forestpunk has a review of that album over at his site)

But we still have a huge pile of releases that need looking at, so let’s not wast time and right stuck in there shall we?

EP 26 – Sophie Cooper: Labyrinth

First up is a short but sweet blast from SOPHIE COOPER. A leading member of the DIY music scene in Stoke On Trent, but now living in West Yorkshire, this is her debut solo release. As mentioned in the accompanying Bio, the music in ‘Laybyrinth “inhabits a parallel sonic world universe to Pram,” which I would say is fairly much right on the money, although I would say that with her mix of lo-fi folk pop, warped tape recordings and found sounds, and busted electronics noise experiments would certainly be at home alongside Charalambides or Alastair Galbraith on the Siltbreeze label (or a UK equivalent) at some point in the ’90s, or on occasions, as the evil cousin to Múm.

As with most DIY music, ‘Labyrinth’ has a loose, ragged feel to the proceedings. Mics are located reeeeeally close up to both singer and the instruments, tape hiss abounds, and the subject matter of the songs are eerie and weird in their ordinariness (Being in love with non-smokers for example). In capturing that sense of quirkiness lurking underneath the drab occurrences in most suburban pop culture, Sophie has created an album that’s certainly playful, but not childish or naive. And unlike other DIY releases, which often mistakes amateurism with amateurishness, there is a sense of structure and depth going on here. Think of it as the soundtrack to a psychedelic kitchen sink drama.

EP 27 – John Cohen: Deaf Arena

Time for something different, as Brighton born/Berlin resident and one half of the band Dead Fader, JOHN COHEN assails us with a bedeviled mix of the hallowed gothic and wasteland sci-fi industrial, underpinned by steaming blocks of bass quarried from the mountains next to Silent Hill.

There’s an unholy sense of doomed woe seeping from ‘Deaf Arena,’ with junked downtempo electronics with rhythms that have a wet, yet acrid tang. Compare this to  tracks such as “Promises,” “This Place 2” and “Long And Narrow” that contain a faded glamour for a Regency space dynasty that never was, with ships that announce themselves with elephantine noises that act like the voice of God and faded piano sounds that melt with the hum of the ships engines….

The heavy inertia creep going on with ‘Deaf Arena,’ is the sort that you would get with the likes of Massive Attack. Time just seems to slow down until it collects in a crusted pool in the corner of your basement. Even with the slightly upbeat “Human Distortion” that with it´s endless no-Tokyo skyline neon sounds, there is a sense of restlessness and anxiety, that something is not quite right with the world around you.

‘Deaf Arena’ is certainly an album that seems to mix the mutant noir-dubstep and Leyland Kirby style vastness/emptiness that pins you down until it’s all you can do to stop the hissing bass from crushing your skull.

EP28 –  Canonbury – The Knock of the Shoe

Now if Jonny can be thought of a major support node for this growing DIY scene, then someone else who can be though of as another nerve center would have to be Joseph Stannard, the human conduit and catalyst for the esoteric and downright strange Brighton club night known as THE OUTER CHURCH. But as well as being a cultural agitator, he also makes music under the guise of CANONBURY. ‘The Knock Of The Shoe,’ a collection of tracks made during 2006-07 can be classed as truly “British” noise music. Mossy, muddy low-end gnarls and drones oscillate and modulate, while haunted harpsichord style notes and Government warnings drift in and out of ear shot. Track titles such as “Bodmin Fence,” “Rabies Of The Manor” and “Lamb Crunch,” evoke a very similar world to that of the likes of Hacker Farm or Slomo. The biting wind in exposed hills, the lashing of rain and tearing of tree branches, and bizarre happenings to livestock near that classified RAF base that doesn’t show on local maps.

As well as original tracks, there are a swathe of remix/reworking for fellow acolytes such as the aforementioned Hacker Farm, Anna Meredith, Ship Canal, and Old Apparatus, who does the best mix of the lot, taking the low-end of “Lamb Crunch” and releasing the bass pressure that’s locked within.

EP30 – Kemper Norton: Carn

Ah, the inimitable KEMPER NORTON. Many of the songs on this, his debut full length, are already known to me, as I bought them when he released these tracks as separate EPs. But it’s good to hear them again in their complete form.

And it’s a mighty interesting tales he’s weaving with his music right now. Inspired by events in Cornwall (Where he was born), and East Sussex (Where he now lives), Kemper is carrying on that wonderful “tradition” of mixing modern approaches and thinking to timeless music styles that, out of all the releases mentioned in this post, is most closely connected to the land and his surroundings. Blending together field recordings, ambient rave electronics, and whispers of half remembered old folk songs, a sense of the uncanny pervades ‘Carn,’ all full of ancient folklore, burial mounds, pylons messing with lay line energy, and chill out raves by the sea shore.Tracks such as “Dorcus”  and “Windswept” create a similar feel to the spooky folk wandering that were made by Mick Harris and Martyn Bates made with their ‘Murder Ballads’ series of songs. 

‘Carn’ should be seen as folk music for our interconnected, electrified 21st century landscape, where time and space are fluid and our sense of reality is gossamer thin at best.

EP31 – Dolly Dolly: Antimacassar

Now I have to admit that when I saw the album to ‘Antimacassar,’ the debut album from Exotic Pylon acolyte Dolly Dolly (aka David Yates), my first impression was that I didn’t like it. In fact, I fucking hated it. That mix of gormless gurn, school tie and sense of ’60s stunted Englishness , the first impression that came across was Al Murray’s dim-witted brother does karaoke renditions of his favourite TV theme tunes from yesteryear (Read Bullseye, Morecambe & Wise, and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum).

OH but when I played it, how wrong I was!!! As well as being a spoken word artist, poet and playwright, Dolly Dolly is also active as a poster to hauntology/ephemeral blogs such as Found Objects and Mounds & Circles, as well as his own blog. Using the flotsam & jetsam of 20th century British culture as brain fuel, Dolly Dolly dregs from his shiny cranium a bizarre blend of the surreal, the queasy, the seedy and the mundane. the opening track “Wattle And Daub” is a proclamation to “England my England,” with “Hallways that are flat-footed and wasp-bitten, ” with “Half Strangled Uncles stuffed with crisps and puddles of Sooty & Sweep.”

The music is informed by hauntological markers that will be familiar to many, with guest appearances from the likes of Position Normal. Moon Wiring Club & Ekoplekz, their slightly broken, tumbling music acting as a foil to Dolly’s sonorous tones (Sometimes he come across as relaxed and bloke-y, others like a stern Malcolm McDowell). But underneath the whimsical, dreamlike nature of the lyrics lies a dark, morbid underbelly. “Corptoepose” contains a gruesome yet matter-of-fact description of an autopsy, that is so deadpan in its delivery it comes across as more hardcore in its impact that most “extreme” industrial noise releases. ‘Antimacassar’ is a release that was surprising and revealing in more ways than one.

So… there you go. Now that’s a LOT of music for you to be going through there. If you find that this post has tickled you fancy, then head on over the Exotic Pylon’s SITE and get that credit card out of that dusty wallet!

DO IT!!! NOW!!!!

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in music

 

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Passing Judgment (Because someone asked me to): In The Company Of Men, “S/T”

Because they for some reason apparently appreciate my stellar taste and judgement skills when it comes to music, people often send me stuff with the message “Hey man, can you give our band a listen and review it for your blog?” Often I’m a bit uneasy about this, as I have prole-ier than thou stance in that I tend not to accept that many freebies to review. I’ve always maintained the idea that you should really be seeking out what you want to talk about, as opposed to just belching out content because bands/labels/PR guys foist stuff on you, etc (Like many other place, Iceland has a perennial problem with conflicts of interest when it come to stuff like this). Also if i turn around and say it sucks, then people seem to get rather annoyed by that. Many assume that by giving me their album out of the goodness of their hearts, it means that I will automatically give it a thumbs up. It´s sometimes more hassle than it’s worth…

But of course I do make exceptions. And when Finnbogi Örn of math/metalcore merchants IN THE COMPANY OF MEN sent me a message asking to review their album, I said sure, why not? They’re a good bunch of guys, and they can lay claim to performing some of the more energetic and generally fucked up gigs I have seen this past year. Plus it was also available for free on their bandcamp.

So yeah, let’s have a look at their album….

(3 weeks and several cans of beer later)

In The Company Of Men, “S/T”

The self titled debut album by IN THE COMPANY OF MEN is likely to be the most fucking annoying, abrasive release you’ll hear from an Icelandic band this year. And i mean that in the best possible way naturally.

So much of it really shouldn’t work. The whole tone of the album can be described simply as frantic, almost to the point of complete nervous exhaustion. Listening to it is like watching that kid that´s completely crack’d out and wound up on sugar, screaming and running around the room in circles till it gets sick and throws up all over itself. Every song is full of constantly changing, jerky time signatures and styles. The first song “Captain Planet,” is a perfect example of this, with a “throw everything into the kitchen sink” attitude on display. A plaintive guitar intro, umpteen breakdowns, time changes pinging all over the place, the singer going “whoo, WHOOO!” half way through, and a turbo polka section (???) complete with sax. On top of all this the guitar sounds aren’t that great, being a compressed mid range squelch (Which I’m taking to be more an issue of recording/mixing), while many of the lead guitar lines aren’t that memorable. Plus, when they do all that screaming/belching vocal fry stuff at the end of songs such as “The Great Red Spot,” I actually burst out laughing at the ludicrousness of it all. Something tells me that this wasn’t the desired response the band were looking for.

But I’ve gotta say this though. Three weeks and several listens after downloading this, I’m still listening to it. Because underneath all the wackiness, there is definitely something going on here. It´s just the sheer exuberance of it all that seems to wantonly fuck around with the programme. Hey, shall we have some skanking in this song? Yeah, why not! And what about this little soft piano interlude? fuck it, let’s put that in there as well! Once you get past the genuine WTF moments, the feeling of everything musically exploding at once in all directions is kinda fun to listen to. There’s a really refreshing lack of ego or angst in this music.

And some of the songs have some really nice grooves. “Steini Milljón,” is probably their most orthodox song that is just really snotty and punky, where there’s an economy in the guitar work, keeping the riffs simple. This means the song works great. Also they get a million points for using a great sample from ‘The Room’ in “Fokk You Randver.”

People will say that they sound like Endless Dark, but I’d consider that to be an insult as (a), they’re way more caustic, entertaining, and less po-faced, (b), they’re much prettier to look at (As in they don’t look like a bunch of milk-fed Igor farmhands who’ve had a makeover by some emocore girls), and (C), NO SHITTY SYNTHS!!

If you’ve never been a fan of the likes of Dillinger Escape Plan or The Mars Volta, then I can safely say that ‘ITCOM’ is probably not going to rock your boat, but I will choose this unorthodox take on metal over some of the more staid stuff that’s been released locally over the past year. A band who are progressing nicely  in the right direction.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Iceland, music

 

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Passing Judgement: Icelandic Music Yodeling dept: Grísalappalísa, “Alí”

In the sprawling sci-fi film sequel, “The Matrix: Reloaded,” there’s a critical scene where Neo (Keanu Reeves) meets the avatar known as The Architect, who is responsible for creating the virtual world of the matrix. During the encounter, Neo is informed that far from being the chosen one, a hero who will lead the people of Zion to rise up and fight for freedom against the machines, he and Zion are in fact a designed “glitch” that has been built with each redesign of the Matrix. The purpose of this glitch is to provide an extra level of control over humanity, giving the malcontents and heretics the sense of hope and that they can free themselves and the rest of humanity. In fact, Neo finds out that he is actually the 6th incarnation that has existed in the history of the matrix.

It’s this scenario that readily comes to mind when thinking about the nature of the “The Icelandic Music Scene.” It seems that in order to keep things ticking along happily, every few years or so “The Scene” requires a new champion with which “The Scene”‘s disciples can pin its hopes to keep us from getting that little bit jaded. However despite being heralded as the act who would usher in a new age of creative freedom and energy, the champion is merely the latest installment of a cycle that been repeating itself for years now.

Gríslappalísa have been declared the new rising champions of “The Scene,” Containing many of the bright lights from past champions such as Sudden Weather Change and Jakobinarina, as well as current acts such as Oyama and The Heavy Experience. Building a strong rep as an energetic and focused live unit (I caught them playing at Harpa during Menningarnótt where they played to only 25 people and a bunch of kids in Silfurberg. They still gave it a good un’ style performance. By the end of the second song, vocalist Gunnar Ragnarsson was completely out of breath. He should probably take up boot camp or something), the release of their debut album, ‘Ali’ has been given across the board praise from those who’ve spoken about it. ‘Alí’ sees Grísalappalísa channeling the music and spirit of classic angry/awkward rock and post punk of the likes of local Icelandic legends Purrkur Pillnikk, Þeyr, and Megas to other luminaries such as Gang Of Four, PiL and the Stranglers. In many ways. the rise of Grísalappalísa seems to mirror that of UK act Savages, another post punk group who look to similar influences and aesthetics with which to inform their sound and politics, albeit a lot darker and self serious. Grísalappalísa, for example, have yet to be photographed looking sullen in a disused car park.

But there are a few similarities. Like Savages, Gríslappslísa come across as a bit angry. Why do we know this? Mostly because everyone says that they’re angry. And from the delivery of co-vocalist Baldur Baldursson certainly bears this out. On “Kraut Í G,” you’be got him standing upright, jabbing his finger into your chest in time with every fleck of invective he spits out. “ENDABLAUSAR BLOKKIR! ENDALAUSIR BILAR! ENDALAUS! LOKUÐ HLIÐ! HVERNIG! HVERNIG!” As the song carries on. he only seems to get more agitated and demented to the point where you can hear his nodules squeak on the final line, “ÉG ER FRJALS!” Remember the strained howls that came from Kurt Cobain at the end of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? We’re looking at that kind of level here. Such is the force on display from Baldursson, that in comparison when Gunnar Ragnarsson starts crooning on the following track “Má Allt (Allt Út),” he comes across as a mewing, petulant child. Although this does seem to confirm his role as a trickster foil, a Tigger to the brooding bear that is Baldursson. 

But what is the source of this anger? They’re white, well to do guys from Iceland! What the hell have they got to be angry about? Well it seems quite a bit actually. As ‘Alí’ is a concept album of sorts, you’ve got Baldursson and Ragnarsson taking the mantle of characters telling stories about the staidness of Icelandic life and culture, as well as describing their infatuation with “Lísa,” a woman/muse who’s causing them all sorts of chaos in their lives. Whenever she’s mentioned there seems to be a bit of a Madonna/Whore complex at play as many of the lines screamed out by the song’s characters tend to be along the lines of “I want her so much/why won’t that bitch notice me?” It might be seen as existential male angst, but with the characters veering between grand displays of bravado and morbid self-pity as they trudge along with tales of abusive hedonism and despicable treatment of women, such as on “Brost’ Ekki Of Bjart,” it seems that Grísalappalísa are displaying a fair amount of disdain and anger towards the “djamm” mentality of Iceland that seems to spawn such vile thoughts and attitudes. I certainly hope this is the case. If they sincerely feel/act the way the song’s lyrics describe, I think someone really needs to sit down and have a serious chat with them. (*)

In line with many classic Icelandic lyricists, Grísalappalísa also employ numerous instances of twisting and subverting classic Icelandic songs, poems and other cultural norms. For instance, It´s already been mentioned that “Kraut Í G” is a play on Stuðmenn’s “Popplag Í G,” Then there’s the song “Lóan Er Komin,” that twists the narrative of a classic spring church hymn of the same name. Meanwhile the intro to “Má Allt (Allt Út),” has Baldursson mouthing the title of the classic Icelandic pop song “Tunglið Tunglið Taktu Mig (The Moon, the moon you take me)” before proceeding to scatologically scream at the top of of his voice “…. IN THE ASS!”

Besides the band’s obsession with Lísa and fucking up old song titles, they also delve into themes about religion and the nihilistic shaking of perceived truths and social norms. Jesus, Judas and the church are referenced, but it’s the song “Má Allt (Allt Út),” that’s particularly intriguing. Translated as “Everything Is Allowed (Allowed To Be Erased),” this seems to be a bastardisation of the phrase “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” . From Islamic mystics and medieval christian cults, to Nietzsche in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra,’ It’s a phrase that’s been at the heart of subversive and heretical thinking though the 20th century, providing Gnostic, intellectual ammo to the likes of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, avant-garde movements such as surrealism, dadism, and situationalism all the way to punk itself. Grísalappalísa may sing “Elvis died before he could be a punk,” but Elivs’ own actions were subversive enough at the time, providing an explosive mix of fatalism and desire that punks like The Sex Pistols would pick up when their time came. 

So does Grísalappalísa’s attempts at nihilistic subversion going to burn away the conventions currently held by Iceland’s cultural scene? Alas almost certainly not. The thing is that for all the good wordplay, admittedly great tunes and the feeling of “newness” on display in ‘Alí,’ Grísalappalísa are merely refurbishing a set of ideas themes and influences that have used and abused by Icelandic musicians and artists many times over. This isn’t really their fault as such, just the nature of the environs they exist in today. The subversive nature that raged along the Rókk Í Reykjaivk/KUKL/Smekkleysa plane has now pretty much been absorbed and subsumed fully into the cultural fabric of Iceland. As a result it may provide a hazy, vicarious buzz of danger, but it’s a danger that’s now pretty much expected by everyone to be on display with music and art such as this. It´s clever if done right, but not that shocking any more. You sense Grísalappalísa themselves realise this quandary, yet they don’t seem to care that much as they sing “Thoroughly thought out, much practiced, stolen from here or there, don’t expect that I take responsibility or remember where from” on “Lóan er Komin.”

So OK, beneath the thrusting newness there is a lack of true subversive energy that would surely be needed to storm “the scene”/break the matrix as is needed. But compared to Savages, and many Icelandic acts that look to completely replicate a sound to the point of full-on pastiche, you get a feeling with Grísalappalísa that their nostalgia mode is a little more impressionistic. Only “Kraut Í G” and “Skrítin Birta” have that definite sonic feel of sounding as if they’ve come from Kópavogur in 1982. Many of the other tracks seem to take their cue from many cultural nodes, from ’90s indie rock all the way back to grooving psych jams of the late ’60s, via hazy krautrock references (That are mostly defined through the post-punk bands mentioned above). Maybe refurbishment is not the right word to describe it – Fine tuning would be better, making it more nuanced more suited to today’s ears.

The reality is that ‘Alí’ is still one of the more vital albums to be released in Iceland this year. Perhaps, in a slightly subconscious way, the reason why people have clamoured for these guys so much is a reaction to what has been passed off as the creme de la creme of Icelandic music scene right now. Perhaps with Grísalappalísa showing a decent sense of self-awareness of their own position in the scheme of things, perhaps they can grasp a truly subversive edge that can lead themselves, or others, to be the one that can truly crack open “The Scene”….

(*) – Just to note that I’m invoking the “Utlendinga Clause” on this review, like I do with most Icelandic albums. It’s often a major Achilles heel for the likes of me when disseminating lyrics like the ones on ‘Alí’ that not only does it take a shitload of time to translate them properly, you’ve also got to try to read between the lines to workout the themes/story/what, if at all, they’re talking about. And especially after getting a nice passive aggressive letter from the singer of this band after apparently getting the theme of their album wrong in my review (Apparently I concentrated on the word “idiot” instead of the word “image” in the album title), I’m all for having people tell me that I’ve got completely the wrong end of the stick with ‘Alí.’ subjective opinion and all that…

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Iceland, music

 

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INFOFELCH DIVISION! The Final Word On 2012 Before We Take It Up A Hill And Set Fire To It….

Dear Mr Cluness

I was shocked to read your critics about my album ‘XXXXXXX.’ I have never heard of you before, I dont know WHO you are but obviously you are an angry Brit we let into Iceland. Your ruthless, unsupported and injurious comments are way beyond reasonable critics and clearly a breech of Icelandic injury laws.
 
So you dont like Eurovision? You think I am stealing Sabrinas song? I Will disprove you in court, my song is actually better and I admit there is a series of the same chords in the chorus but that doesnt make it the same melody. And Thank you for your comparison to Robert Miles. What an honor. However it is the melodies that count and he does not own the genre of piano techno pop. If you have any musical educational background which you probably dont,  then you should know this.
 
I have lived and worked in the UK for 2 years and recognize the language you are using, However this is not the kind of language that is acceptable in our country and I am certainly not going to go down to your level.
 

Do you have any comments before my lawyer proceeds? 

Regardstry

Mr. X Butthurtz

Man, imagine if i said that i REALLY didn’t like it!

Yes, 2012 is finally dead and over, and (As I also said this time last year), I’m glad that it’s past us. 2011 was hard but 2012 was truly a slog. Death, depression, writers block (again), threats of legal action, sunburn,  psychotic felines in the area. fights, illness, busted faces, bruised egos, and a lack of decent tea. Amazingly, I almost walked from all of this stuff, twice!

And what for? To be honest I’m not sure myself. Frankly, a lot of the time Iceland doesn’t really deserve any decent music writing (If they did get it, they’d only just ignore it, totally miss the point, etc). But you still carry on, plugging away, being a boring nerd (I know this because my friend Katharina told me yesterday, “You are such a fucking nerd!”). But as long as i still get a thrill out of seeing bands smash up their shit at the end of a gig, or hearing a record that actually made feel something strange and scary inside, then there is still a reason to actually care, to give a damn, to still throw everything into it.

This post will be too big for doing a review of teh entire WERLD, so instead I’ll link to other reviews here,  here, here, here, here , here, & here. I state that I agree with 78% of what was said on these posts (Nothing truly ground breaking, the need for more bangers, the rise of the new boring/normal in indie, shithole politics, the decline of the “Album” and the rise of the proper EPs). But fuck you guys, l LOVED Blawan and Boddika’s output this year!

So as for Iceland? well, let’s keep this simple and to the point. Pros and minuses, etc….

THE PROS

Live Music: There were some brilliant, intense live music moments in 2012 that I was lucky enough to see. Such highlights included seeing underground metal/noise from the likes of MASS, Hylur and Norn at Hemmi & Valdi of all places. Saturday at the Eistnaflug festival (Muck were brilliant, as they were all year). Ben Frost (hearing from outside, it was packed) trying to destroy Kaffibarinn with his soundwaves. Slayer, Melvins and more at the ATP I’ll be your mirror in London. Seeing Reykjavik!, Nova heart, and Legend at Airwaves.  Seeing some great music at Harpa with the inaugural Tectonics music festival,  AMFJ at Undiraldan, and Dirty Beaches. Also worth a mentions is Beatmakin Troopa’s new live set up, which was really good at his album release gig at Cafe Rosenborg. But out of all of these, the truly defining live moment of 2013 was seeing I Adapt in a one-off gig at Eistnaflug. I still get tingles when i think back on it. whooooo….

Taktabrot: 2012 saw Breakbeat.is getting it together in crowd-sourcing a lovely book of their poster/club night history. Then on top of making the book, they went on further in getting the mighty Blawan to come up to Iceland and play. And he played BANGERS all night. Amazed to hear some of the “old guard,” who hadn’t heard him before being a little confused as they thought he was Dubstep. But i didn’t care. I was raving through it all for hours and was bloody knackered at the end of it. Been a while since I actually got a true buzz  from that.

METAL!!!!: Some really good things going on in the metal scene this year. Bands were getting signed up by non Icelandic labels, while Celestine blasted our spines again with their latest album. Beneath was almost as punishing with ‘Enslaved By Fear,’ and it was really wonderful seeing Angist finding their sound and blossoming blackly live. I want big things from them this year. Also, realising Sólstafir’s ‘Svartir Sandir’ as the new standard in driving music while on holiday travelling through the West Fjörds,  Fuck, I was almost prepared to give the likes of Skámöld and Dimma an easier time in 2012. OK, I did say almost.

The People IRL: 2013 was spent using the internet in weird and wonderful ways to build up proper human based networks that naturally ended up spilling over Into Real Life. For example, 2012 was when i met the imperious duo of Joseph “The Outer Church” Stannard, and Jonny “Exotic Pylon” Mugwump for the first time. And both were lovely gents to a fault. 2013 will be spent trying to hook up with them again in some fashion. Then there was the likes of meeting/interviewing Oren Ambarchi and John Tilbury at this year’s Tectonic festival. Both were lovely, engaging, enthusiastic people – and it was rather invigorating meeting, in John, a proper old school socialist who was engaged in music, culture and politics the way he was. My father in law would have likely called him a communist or something! It was also a year where we met some  lovely writers who came to Iceland to cover Airwaves for the Grapevine. As I mentioned in my Airwaves’12  review, I had initial misgivings about this, but they rose to it all by the fact that we simply asked them “Write what you want. Be honest. have a great time.” and it really showed.  Also speaking to musics/producers and other fans in neo-geographical support network that allowed me to source out some really weird, exciting music, and may allow for some intriguing things for musicians in Iceland and abroad  this year. On top of this were good local friends such as Rebecca, Catherine, Aðalsteinn, Ragnar, Katharina, Dabbi, Haukur, Bikir, Paul, Palli and a whole host of others that helped me stay on track and not completely lose my mind.

Surprises: There were some musical moments that actually surprised me in 2012 and while it’s still perplexing to hear me say such things from my lips, I found myself really happy  to put it down on record. For example, if you had told me 12 months ago that I would be praising Hjaltalín and stating that ‘Enter 4’ was album of the year, I would have punched you in the face, then told you to fuck off. But it’s true! It soars far and away over everything else that was released this year. Also – I really loved “Ekki Vanmeta,” the opening track to Pascal Pinon’s ‘Twosomeness.’ There, I’VE SAID IT (Can you please stop teasing me about this John?)! Finally, there was Moses Hightower showing many Icelandic rappers and R&B singers how to be funky with the Icelandic tongue.

THE CONS

– Harpa looking and sounding great, but pretty much sucking all the culture from the whole area, as if it were a Wal-Mart death star.

– The slow cultural hollowing out of 101, as the impacts of increased tourism began to make its presence felt with the closing of NASA and the death sentence being passed on Hjartagarðurinn and the surrounding buildings, including Faktorý. Some people have spoken out against this, but when you have Promote Iceland (Whose remit was passed as law by Parliament!) wanting 2 MILLION tourists to Iceland by 2016, then you know it’s only going to get worse.

– A lot of Ho-Hum “indie” releases that were nice, but sounded all smoothed out, flat, and had absolutely nothing spellbinding, deep or fundamentally exuberant to it. As another piece pointed out, this music doesn’t contain aesthetic progress or socially-oppositional ideologies many people used to associate with “Indie.” It’s music as comfort food plus status. And that really doesn’t spin my wheels to be frank.

– Apart from a few releases, live moments, and some really good DJ’s who definitely know their stuff, a lot of electronic music made and played in 2012 was actually very underwhelming. It just didn’t… excite me in the way that I hoped for. When I wrote 12 months ago about the Helga compilation and the creation of Möller records, I hoped that this would be the beginning of some really good shaking up across the board with some REAL energy being felt in the music (And I still think this will happen), but it kind of just felt like everything in terms of energy and aesthetic was just going round in circles. I hope 2013 gets me more excited.

– The Obsession with Icelandic media and some commentators with album places and sales of Icelandic bands abroad as a marker of a bands quality (“See? Of Monsters and Men reached number 5 in the US! Not even Björk could do that!” implying that somehow they are better than Björk).

– tthat despite being touted as a very technologically advanced nation, packed full of smartphones, iPads, and high-speed internet, Iceland is just as parochial as everyone else, using it for only for FB, 9GAG and being blowhards on the DV comments section. Take the news that Iceland bought 700 million ISK of music  in 2012, but only 3% of it was digital. Although the % has been disputed (apparently it’s closer to 10-15%) this is way too low. and of course discussions about it brought out the usual self-righteous comments about vinyl Vs digital, failing to take into account that the music that Icelanders can buy in the shops is VERY limited. Even the range of music you can download illegally on deildu.net is so narrow in its scope!

– The increasing groupthink experienced in a lot of scenes here. Well it’s always been there, but it felt stronger than usual in 2012. The GV lost two music writers this year (One who had been doing it for years, the other who was starting out). The reason? They were also musicians and they felt that if they expressed an honest opinion on other bands’ albums, then this would harm their chances and their “careers.” How fucking sad is THAT? A good support network is needed for any scene, but I’ve just stopped listening to people who tell me that I should be bigging up all Icelandic music because the scene needs it/because they’re our guys/That I can’t say what I want to say, etc.

There are many, many other things that I could bring up (Such as Facebook and other social media becoming clogged with Occupy-style picture memes along the lines of “Iceland is a utopia! They did all this stuff! Why is this not being televised by the MSM? Herpa derpa derp”), but it would be unfair to get you to wallow though all of that. I’d lose the last 15 readers that i actually have for this blog!

So, onwards and upwards I say, as I hold my breather  hope that 2013 will present me with some real moments that will make me go “HOOO YEAH!!”

To sign off the year – Some songs!!

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2013 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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Thoughts and Judgements: Review: AMFJ, “BÆN”

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.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Arts Review: “TOO… MUCH… CULTURE!”

So last month, i undertook a challenge to myself (and for the paper) to take a whole day of Icelandic Culture high fat, high sugar food items, and warm beer in their annual shindig Menningarnótt 2011. Go and read it. Really, go on, it’s not that bad! And it really didn’t do me that much harm.

I think I’ll move to the country next year….

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Live Review: Grapevine Grassroots Concert 30

So i arrived home on a Friday morning and managed to get some sleep when i received the following message by carrier pigeon….

Could you review the 30th concert in the Grapevine Grassroots series?

and i said oh god no! I would love to! and the results of that nights listening is now online and can be viewed here.

A couple of extra notes that didn’t get into the final edit….

– What was with the tiny table most of the acts played off? It was the sort of thing that an elf would have described as “Stunted”. It meant that the 3 first acts had to lurch over their equipment like some grotesque Igors. That shit is seriously going to mess up their postures in later life. something needs to be done about this! Musicians chiropractic health is at stake!

– If some Icelanders are scratching their heads regarding the Raw Sex comparison with the band Nóló, then here’s an explanation….

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Iceland, literature, live music

 

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