Jordan Scott and I are thrilled to head to Prince George, BC this week to participate in both the CNC Caledonia Reading Series and the UNBC Just West of Unruly Reading Series. If you’re in the neighbourhood, pop by for hellos!
Archive for October, 2007
Iceland Airwaves is a four-day music festival in Reykjavík featuring over 200 bands. The city splits wide in the evenings, with the most intense, impassioned partying I’ve never imagined could exist. Though some of the more popular venues and acts would, at times, demand up to half an hour waiting in lines, I managed to see every band I’d hoped to see, and without missing any seconds (yes, copious knocking on wood while there). Here’s a list of what I saw; if you’re unfamiliar with these groups, do follow the links and give a listen.
THURSDAY… without much plan, I stumbled into a dinner with members of Hraun, then wandered to Iðnó for drinks with Hildur and Linda, where the gentle tones of most bands had us entranced…
Kira Kira: airy and warm, Kira Kira’s tinkles and beats wrapped my eardrums in an aural embrace, the perfect introduction to the festival. A little spooky, a lot expansive, with instrumentation ranging from xylophone and music box to drums and sundries.
My Summer as a Salvation Soldier: half an hour of ultra slow guitar, lyrics, and drums à la Songs: Ohia summons the sleepies, so when this Icelandic band kicked three power chords into their last song, I was theirs. I’m awake! I’m with you! Sweet!
Grizzly Bear: for a brief interlude, I wandered with Örvar Smárason and his sister, Vala, to the Reykjavík Art Museum for this American outfit that featured sweeping hipster folk and stunning harmony.
Ben Frost: returning to Iðnó, I caught the latter half of Ben Frost’s experimental composition, a driving computer-created soundscape with seven or eight live electric guitarists playing one chord for half an hour. The guitarists rocked their solo chord hard; both the sound and schtick proved mesmerizing. Also neat to see Reykjavík!‘s Gummi and Haukur participate.
Sam Amidon: the closing act of the night was oneiric. Sam Amidon’s southern-folk aesthetic, paired with Nico Muhly‘s orchestral talents, delighted. Favourite moment was Sam’s teetering dance with fall that closed the show.
FRIDAY… this was the highlight of my festival, as I got to see the band I’d stayed in Iceland to see, hang out backstage, start what I hope will become an influential dialogue with Birgitta Birgirsdóttir, plus indulge in further Reykjavík!ian hedonism as I witnessed Erna Ómarsdóttir’s incredible pipes.
Reykjavík!: see my earlier post on these phenoms. Better still, watch the video from this performance.
múm: aaahhhh, múm. I’ve been devoted to their ambient quorks and pips for several years, so it was a pleasure to see them live and hang out with them post-show. As serendipity would have it, I arrived just prior to their start, wound my way to front stage-right (random snapshot of my audience position here), and was greeted by Birgitta shortly after. While the Reykjavík Art Museum wasn’t the ideal venue for this group, it was nevertheless wonderful to hear so much from the new album and to see Örvar, Mr. Silla, and the crew weave magic. Truly a treat, and I got to hang out backstage afterwards (which is my excuse for only seeing two bands this night, though there was much more to see). Speaking of the new album, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy has become my anthemic nostalgia for the trip — instant time portal. For my Montreal and Toronto friends, if you have a spare evening this week, I heavily encourage you to go to the múm concert in your city! They’re touring all over the States and Europe, too, so do make sure you see them if they come your way.
SATURDAY… hungover (a.k.a. feeling like a bag of smashed assholes), I dragged myself from bed around 3pm, dressed for the evening, and met Hildur for a pizza-breakfast…
Reykjavík! x2: 12 Tonar, a small music store downtown, cleared displays out of the way to pack the band and audience into the space. The band chased this energetic performance with an invitation to their studio space where they continued the music. Video clip of studio performance here.
Mugison: home-grown indie rock, Mugison came highly recommended to me by, well, everybody I encountered. The audience response to the unveiling of his new songs was overwhelmingly positive. Fun atmosphere.
Seabear: caught the end of their set, and it intrigued. Looking forward to further listening.
Benni Hemm Hemm: gotta love a music festival that features brass on so many stages. Benni Hemm Hemm blared enchanting songs. I peeked in and out of their set, as the venue was crowded and behind schedule. Met with Vala, and we wandered to Gaukurinn for…
FM Belfast: what started as a musically energetic, pizza-fueled day ended similarly. Vala and I snagged front-row spots for FM Belfast (of which Örvar is also a member), a geeky electronic team roaring with catchy one-liners and blazing beats. For their final number, the frontman introduced the song in Icelandic, though I caught the English words “Killing in the name of.” That caught my attention, as I was immediately transported to a 1997 concert I saw at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens where Rage Against the Machine closed with that song. Flashforward to Airwaves. FM Belfast. The beat kicks in, multiple band members with microphones kick into their cult hit “Lotus,” which is, in fact, an unreal cover of Rage’s song. It was, simply, wowsville. Haukur even jumped onstage to scream along with them. I’m still processing how FM Belfast’s physicality and musicality contextually shifts the lyrics. Do check out their site, where you can hear their version (though, I’ve gotta say, it’s not in the same goodly realm as the wild live incarnation).
SUNDAY… after a rejuvenating splash with Hildur in Laugardalslaug — one of Reykjavík’s spas complete with hot pots, saunas, and Olympic-sized swimming pools — and a restorative Italian dinner, we had drinks with Australian group Winterpark and Haukur before taking in the last night of the festival.
Skakkamanage: though the packed houses of the night before at Nasa were a distant memory, Skakkamanage played a good set. This band also touts Örvar as a member (playing shakers and harmonica one-handed), so my Icelandic adventures came full-circle as I had the pleasure of seeing him perform one last time.
The festival included a couple of Canadian acts, so it was fitting that my final shows of the weekend were by names I know: Buck 65 and Plants and Animals. Thus concluded one hell of a memorable weekend in the Bay of Smoke.
As you likely gathered from my last post, one of the exciting artists I encountered while in Iceland is modern dancer Erna Ómarsdóttir. Her website has an awesome selection of video clips, so you can get a sense of her choreography, movement, and voice. SO EXCITED. Seriously on.
Reykjavík!, a heavy/indie-rock/post-punk band with some members from Ísafjörður (though now relocated to Reykjavík) and comprised of Bóas/Haukur/Gummi/Geiri/Kristján, was my first introduction to a cross-disciplinary constellation of Icelandic artists. Though I was fairly bleary after 24+ hours of travel sans sleep and the first lovely segment of the poetry festival, Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl enticed Conor and me to join him at Café Amsterdam to partake of the dulcet tones of the local “penis rock ‘n’ roll” scene, as he’s fondly dubbed it.
After thrashing to two warm-up bands (complete with musician leaping onto table and pouring Jack Daniel’s into open mouths), the audience had sufficiently prepped its flight muscles and was ready to embrace Reykjavík!. I was instantly enamoured with their style, which proved quite generous to its audience — whether through sharing microphones, Bóas the singer in the thick of dancers while belting out a tune, or inviting guest artists to join them onstage. In fact, I was literally pushed onstage at one point and told I could have a microphone only if I screamed or spoke into it. So I screamed. Naturally.
And which illustrates my point: generous with audience. I found Reykjavík!’s comfort onstage, and in sharing the magic to create with those in the room, delightful. As for the cross-disciplinarity, the night held further marvels as Reykjavík!’s guitarist, Haukur, introduced a song midway through the set by chanting, “EiríkurÖrnNorðdahl-EiríkurÖrnNorðdahl…” which sparked an impromptu poetry recitation by Eiríkur as the band rocked alongside him.
That initial introduction to these uninhibited, exuberant performers had them swiftly stowed behind my left ventricle. And what pleasure to get to know them over the proceeding week, and to see them play a further three times. With each successive show, my initial impressions of generosity and warmth were strengthened.
Though each performance was special for its own reason — first night: seeing Eiríkur read with them; third time: small music store stuffed to the gills, standing next to ten-year-olds; fourth time: ears that nearly bled — the second performance was the most ecstasis-producing for me. Pure exclamation point over the head. That yesyes feeling. Why? Reykjavík! + modern dancer Erna Ómarsdóttir.
Ohh, thank you thank you: a door has opened.
See clip below. This was easily one of the best things I witnessed at Iceland Airwaves, and has me thinking again about the conventional ways the female voice is expected to sound.
Five devils inhabit Erna Ómarsdóttir as she opens Reykjavík!’s set at Gaukurinn.
RECOLLECTION: fresh air * Faxaflói Bay * Tjörnin * Laugardalslaug and compulsory swimming lessons * geothermal and hydro-electric power * no national military * Peace Tower * Þingvellir * Geysir * Gullfoss * Bláa Lónið * sulfuric shower * expensive * low unemployment rate (1.3% in 2006) * vegetarian-friendly * risa opal candy * skyr * smjör * brightly coloured houses like Halifax * Nordal Institute * clean, clean, clean * rejuvenation * almost 100% literacy rate * late-night social engagements (3am+!) * Iceland Airwaves!
NEXT TIME: folkloristics * the ghost centre * tour Nesjavellir * Kerið * Westfjords * Museum of Witchcraft * Museum of Phallology * Snæfellsjökull * Klaustrið? * Snorri Sturluson Icelandic Fellowship? * speak Icelandic…
during múm‘s set; Birgitta and I look distracted at the front.
check out NME‘s site for more excellent pictures from the festival)
On the third day of the Nýhil Poetry Festival, poets participated in panel discussions at the Nordic House. The first panel was chaired by Birna Bjarnadóttir and comprised of Markku Paasonen, Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, Leif Holmstrand, and Arngrímur Vídalín. I appreciated the structure of this panel, which included an invitation to the poets to share poems during the talk; nice to contextualize work within the discussion. An intriguing digression completed the panel, where an audience member raised the obtuse issue of the role of beauty in contemporary poetry. This could have been a topic intrinsic to the panel, had parameters been established for what was meant by ‘beauty’. As was, I felt as though some speakers tried to address what was meant by the abstract notion while others attempted to answer the question… A fascinating, dizzying game of trying to discern what, exactly, everyone meant.
The second panel focusws on politics, poetry, and literary groups, with digressions into English as a dominant language and marginalization. It was chaired by Benedikt Hjartarson; I joined Ingólfur Gíslason, Lars Skinnebach, Linh Dinh, and Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl for the chat.
There was a high level of audience interactivity, and the panels felt at times like they might have been better suited to a round-table forum given the audience participation. Definitely a pleasure to partake in the afternoon.
Nýhil ended off an exciting weekend of sharing with a classy group dinner in Stokkseyri, 45 minutes from Reykjavík, at Fjöruborðið (famed for its small, Icelandic lobsters). It was such a rare gift to be invited to participate, and to fraternize with Nýhilists and international poets. Takk fyrir!!
The second day of Nýhil’s 3rd International Poetry Festival began with a belly-filling breakfast at Prikið, after which Conor and I raced to Mál og Menning for an afternoon bookstore reading. Mál og Menning, similar to other contemporary spaces in Reykjavík, has a clean and manicured feeling to it, with large windows and polished wood. I was ecstatic to see an entire table on ground level devoted to displaying Nýhil’s publications. Ingólfur Gíslason, Gísli Hvanndal, Linh Dinh, Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, and I gave brief readings. (I read the wolf poems from echology.)
The reading was followed by chillaxing with Eiríkur and dinner at one of Reykjavík’s oldest Chinese restaurants. We then scooted to the National Theatre’s basement for the second ten-reader poetry party, a night again filled with excellent readings (largely in Icelandic) and good energy.
For his reading, Arngrímur Vídalín switched between paper and computer screen as he read (video below). Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen cast an enchantment over the audience that held me transfixed by her dark Finnish tongue. Other readers included Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir, Ásmundur Ásmundsson, Björk Þorgrímsdóttir, Kristín Eiríksdóttir, and Jóhamar. Music was provided by the lilting Ólöf Arnalds.
Linh Dinh read widely from Borderless Bodies, and also shared a lengthy poem focused on English translations of Vietnamese idioms that use the word ‘eat.’ Linh’s a powerhouse thinker, dynamic and challenging in his assertions; a sample from Sunday’s panel discussions included Linh proposing that the eventual fall of the American empire will trigger a death for English. Conor spent some time after we met Linh reading aloud to me from jam alerts. I would love to have him up to Toronto for a reading and discussion.
Of the Icelandic poets who read on Saturday evening, Örvar Smárason was my most anticipated. I’ve followed his work as a musician for several years, and have delighted in the quirky lyrics (and especially the titles!) of songs by his group, múm. Örvar’s reading proved the most unintentionally hilarious of the evening, as he’d invited four friends to sing in harmonized a capella while he read a poem about Montevideo. What delighted was the occasional lost pitch or note, and the eventual corpsing of the singers.
I anchored the night with excerpts from Wide slumber.
Do check out video clips below, shot by Eiríkur!
Örvar Smárason’s set delighted with his merry band of singers.