As many of you music/Icelandic-culture-savvy readers will no doubt be aware, yesterday was the kick-off of Iceland Airwaves, “one of the premier annual showcases for new music – Icelandic and otherwise – in the world,” (according to their website). Badges for the concert sold out months in advance–and months before we got to Iceland–so Mark and I will only be experiencing this festival via off-venue shows. But as far as we can tell from the “gargantuan” off-venue program schedule, that will still leave us with a very robust set of options for the next few days of music madness. It seems that pretty much every scheduled act is playing both official (badge-only) shows, as well as three or four off-venue ones, and it also appears that pretty much everywhere–Hlemmur bus station, a clothing store specializing in outdoor wear, a tourist bureau–is being converted into a makeshift venue for the next three days. So we should have plenty of shows to choose from.
Mark scoped out an interesting line-up for us last night at Hemmi og Valdi, namely Nova Heart, a trio fronted by Helen Feng, “the Blondie of China.” We made it to the venue early–and actually, accidentally. We thought we were just dipping into a bar with a good beer special to escape the howling wind-monster while we figured out where the venue was, and it turned out that we had just conveniently made it to the right place. (The location descriptions in the various festival programs are not always as specific as they might be for people who are unfamiliar say, with the former location of notable bygone club Sirkus.) It was already a bit crowded when we got there–cozy bar, few seats–so we listened to a DJ set from behind a pillar by the bar. There was a little crowd turn-over after that, though, so we got seats front and center–just in time for an excellent, unplanned set by Tanya & Marlon, “cousins and best friends since birth.” (Apparently, they used to go by a different name, but ran into some sort of copyright problem with that so they are now using their own.) Jumping up to the “stage” area in the corner of the bar, Tanya, dressed in a Star Trek jumpsuit and Spock ears, gleefully announced “We’re crashing this party!” This seems to have actually been the case–the sound guy kind of shrugged when questioned by Nova Heart’s manager (?) about the line-up change: “They just told me about this–it shouldn’t be long. Just a few songs.”
Ready with their laptop and DJ equipment (sorry, I’m not that savvy–there was a soundboard of some kind) Tanya and Marlon started their first song and almost immediately started hopping and waving along to it. They seemed to have a sense of humor about the whole thing, and understand (as the previous act didn’t) that there is nothing inherently interesting about watching people play music on a computer. So they definitely rose to the occasion and made a delightfully happy, extremely fun spectacle of themselves while their parents and family in the audience took videos and snapped pictures.
Here’s a video (replete with mild to less mild skateboarding hooliganism) of the song they ended with–“our hit single! Like 5,000 views! It’s better on a good system, though–just imagine you’re in a stadium!”
After the cousins ended their short set, it was time for Nova Heart. They played a great set–energetic, loud, super catchy, engaging–but while I don’t disagree with Helen Feng (the lead singer) being likened to Blondie, and think that she is certainly a great (often focus-pulling) performer, I have to admit that the drumming and the drummer was what really made this band for me. The drummer was rather diminutive, and had a pretty simple set, but boy did she get a lot out of it. Nova Heart also makes plenty of room for percussion in their songs, which I appreciate–the guitarist moved back to share the drumming at a couple points during the set, and Ms. Feng also joined her band-mates and played the cymbal (so that’s three drummers, one set), while crouched under said cymbal, during the last song. Amidst all this watching the drummer shake an egg while playing the drums one-handed was a definite highlight for me. It bears noting that based on videos on the interweb, it looks like Nova Heart often plays with additional members (or guest members, I suppose) and Helen Feng seems to play the keyboard, too, which she didn’t during this set (although she was very enthusiastic tambourine player). Here’s a live video of Nova Heart performing “Good Ideas” (not at Airwaves–somewhere else):
So that was Day 1. Tonight has a pretty huge list of scheduled shows, so it should be a long and fun Day 2.