Young Talent, Strong Wind: Iceland Airwaves, Day 3

So the guest of honor at this year’s Iceland Airwaves–possibly courtesy of Demon Storm Sandy?–is the Great Icelandic Wind Monster. (BTW: those of you who speak Icelandic, how do you feel about the grammatical soundness of the term “rokskrímsli” for Wind Monster? Does that work? Is there an actual Wind Monster in Nordic mythology? I haven’t come across one yet…)

Depending on who you talk to, this is either really unusual, extremely strong wind, or it is, sure, pretty strong wind, but nothing to keep you from your regular daily tasks. Either way, the net effect is impressive for Iceland: these hurricane-force winds are either extra super strong right now–and it’s only November–or, this is totally typical, normal Icelandic wind and all of us foreigners are just wimping out.* But from where I’m standing–or being pushed along–this is Super Wind. Walking around yesterday was like being propelled along on roller skates on one of those people-movers at airports. If you were walking *with* the wind, that is. In those instances, you could sort of jog along with the momentum so as not to get swept off your feet or into traffic or what-have-you. Woe to you if you walked into the wind, though. (Some people had more fun with this than others. Mark for one got a lot of enjoyment out of standing on his tip-toes at a 45 degree angle, facing into the wind, so that instead of toppling over on his face, he was just held aloft by the gusts. Other people seemed to take the leaf-in-the-wind approach: there was a pretty constant stream of slightly terrified, slightly gleeful shrieks from the tourists making their way around downtown.)

Mark headed into the city center ahead of me to see a Danish “knob-twister,” (his excellent term for a DJ/”computer musician,” not mine), but that show was already packed when he arrived, so he was able to camp out early at the Laundromat Cafe to see Icelandic singer Myrra Rós, whose music “wanders within the folk/pop range.” She only released her first album this year, but Laundromat was packed, although that may have been partly due to it being a good place to linger over brunch while waiting for later sets and/or doing laundry. (I actually did see people using the washing machines downstairs–a first!) Myrra Rós has a lovely, murmury voice with a wide range, and her soft set was nicely contrasted with the wooshing and gusting outside. But I think she’d be better served in a smaller, calmer venue, which she herself alluded to before her last song: “We’ll be playing a quieter venue tonight…”

After Myrra Rós, we ventured over to Harpa, the beautiful, Olafur Eliasson-designed concert hall by the harbor. There are a lot of official shows in some of Harpa’s larger halls, but we were there to see Pascal Pinon, the side project of the lead singer of the band Samaris, Jófríður and her twin sister Ásthildur, with musical support from a friend and, on occasion, their kid sister who can’t be much older than 9 or 10. (Much credit and thanks to Professor Batty for telling me about Pascal Pinon in the first place!)

Their set was really wonderful, and interesting for a whole host of reasons. For one, their stage was set up in the corner of a bar on the 4th floor of Harpa so while they played their melodic, multi-instrumental set, you could see the waves crashing along the harbor below and getting whipped along the shoreline in heavy sheets. Secondly, these young women are extremely talented–not just as in “wow–they are really good musicians for teenagers,” but really talented and accomplished musicians, full stop. It’s a bit intimidating to watch young artists who already have such fully formed aesthetics and developed stage confidence. Moreover, it’s amazing to consider that these young performers–and I’m not just talking about Pascal Pinon in this case, but many other relatively young, already very successful musicians in Reykjavík, such Asgeir Trausti (now 20) and Retro Stefson (somewhere in their late teens, early 20s)–enjoy a great deal of respect and nurturing from their Icelandic audience members. As far as I can tell, there is a great deal of community support for young artists in Iceland, and they are not only allowed to participate in the larger artistic scene, but encouraged to do so from a very young age. It says a lot about Iceland and the importance they put on their cultural landscape that this is true.

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But back to Pascal Pinon. Along with the usual guitars, these ladies also had a variety of other instruments on hand: a bass drum which they played with a large silver spoon, an old one-cassette tape player (set up with its own mic), chimes of various sizes and sorts, a children’s xylophone, and an accordion. The latter two instruments were played by the youngest member of the band, who as I said above, seemed like she was probably a younger sister. Much applause to this band member as well: when it was time for her to join in, she got on stage and played her instruments with ease, as though she had been doing it for years. (Maybe she had.)

The set struck a nice balance between a sort of professional, seasoned musicianship and a more innocent, youthful context. One song, “Devil’s Snare,” had been named after a plant in Harry Potter. Another, “Fernando,” had been written by one of the ladies’ Swedish friend (in Swedish, it bears noting) who “was totally in love with Fernando Torres.” (For those of you who don’t know, he’s a Spanish soccer player with long blond hair–definitely a teen pinup sort of guy.) “This is a tragic love song,” Jófríður quipped before they started. “It didn’t work out between them.”

Following Pascal Pinon, we briefly popped into an all-Danish showcase advertising free beer, and then popped back out to fight the wind all the way to Sægrafinn to warm ourselves with lobster soup and fish skewers. After that, we tried to get into see Mugison, whose shows are “not-to-be-missed.” The venue–Netagerdin, a workshop housing a design collective and music label–was packed by the time we got there (early), though, so we went to the attached (really great-looking, sleekly-designed) restaurant to get a drink before heading home. So although we saw fewer shows on Day 2, we still had a nice full day of music and exploring our new city, Wind Monster or not.

*I found out after first starting this post that parents were asked to come pick up their kids from school because of the wind yesterday, so I think we can all acknowledge it as for-reals, atypical, severe wind.

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4 thoughts on “Young Talent, Strong Wind: Iceland Airwaves, Day 3

  1. Thanks again for braving the elements and living to tell the tale. The off-venue Airwaves shows create a worthy festival in their own right- and you don’t have to stay up past midnight to enjoy them!

    Pascal Pinon has been quietly creating a body of work that is conquering cultural boundaries. Jófríður has a knack for creating simple yet meaningful songs- I can’t wait to get their new album.

  2. Thanks for introducing me to both groups- as a creature of habit, I’m slow to seek out new music, but happy when I find it in my path. For better or worse, I also like that music in languages I don’t understand lets me disregard the lyrics completely and just let the tones and moods wash over me. Is it distracting to you to hear familiar words here and there?

    • I agree that it is sometimes really nice to listen to music with lyrics in another language–I tend to focus in on lyrics (being a word person, myself), and sometimes that just isn’t the point, so it can be freeing to not have to think about the spoken meaning. As an example, here is a Finnish song I must have listened to about 50 times when I ran across it on a YouTube binge one day: (http://youtu.be/Epp14KQSL2Q). Pretty much no fear that I’ll get distracted by Finnish lyrics, except maybe to marvel at the sound of them.

      Ignoring the lyrics isn’t as possible for me in Icelandic these days–which is not to say that I understand everything. But one of the things I’ve been doing a lot here is borrowing CDs from the library and trying to listen to Icelandic music a lot. Even though I can’t understand a lot of it, I have sort of trained myself to try to hear the words, and now I can’t really turn that off. (Probably wouldn’t want to anyway in this case.) I’ll have to find some music in Turkish (or more Finnish, maybe) if I really want to just be focused on the overall mood…

  3. Since, as you said, it’s hard to just eavesdrop on people speaking in Icelandic, music seems to be the next best bet for training your ear.

    Do you know this band, Mountain Man? I feel like they share qualities with some of the music you’ve posted. My brother gave us the CD for christmas last year, and it quickly made my “fifty times in a row” list.

    http://mountainman.bandcamp.com/

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