Day two of All Tomorrow's Parties Iceland was off to a flying start with sets by locals Oyama, NYC's White Hills, and Philadelphia's Bardo Pond. Festival attendees crawled out of bed, rubbed sleepy eyes, and stumbled towards Keflavík's Atlantic Studios in the morning dew. The sky still drizzled, but the rain was slowly clearing, and by the afternoon a bright northern sun had flooded the grounds. Unfortunately, Clipping. had to move their set to the third day due to travel complications, but Younghusband gladly stepped in to play a set. By 9PM, the light was still radiating brilliantly in the doorway from the outer food truck area to the dark show space within. If there ever was a night that epitomized the "land of the midnight sun," it was last night. Here are our favorites from Friday, July 3rd.
Iceage's Sludgy, Angst-Ridden Numbers
Hailing from Copenhagen, Iceage barely cracked a smile during their entire 45-minute set, but they had no lack of charisma. Their opaque songwriting makes their live show even more compelling, as vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt sauntered around the stage, looking like a young Jim Morrison and sounding like Pete Doherty on tranquilizers. There was less of the explosive insanity of Doherty, but that suits Iceage just fine, as they lean in a more brooding, sarcastic direction. "Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled" and "The Lord's Favorite" frothed with the band's expert layering of elements, as Rønnenfelt's vocals of molasses rode the syrupy waves. The latter, a track full of contradictions, opened with a twangy country riff, an optimistic melody rising, as Rønnenfelt slurred his words darkly, almost in disregard to the feel of the rest of the song. Eating fish and chips outside before the set, one attendee remarked that Rønnenfelt sings as though he's deaf. It wasn't an insult, but an observation of his slow, deliberate style, dragging out notes and over-exaggerating certain words. Each line of music bleeds over into the next, blurring the boundaries of traditional structure, a wall-of-sound canvas for their blend of hardcore and Gothic post-punk. When they first appeared on the scene in 2008, the members' ages hovered around 17. "Forever" and "It's in my Eyes" perfectly exemplified their abrasive feel, one which comes not from unbridled teenage angst, but from a place of genuine sensibility.
Local Unsigned Talent Ceasetone
This year, ATP rolled out a new feature of the festival: the Unsigned Talent Competition. Icelandic collective Bedroom Community and leading Icelandic broadcaster Rás 2 Radio curated the Andrews Theatre lineup, and the openers of that stage for Friday and Saturday were selected by each of these contributors. This was a great way to get even more local Icelandic talent on the lineup, and Ceasetone was no disappointment. The band is originally the project of guitarist and vocalist Hafsteinn Þráinsson, but has expanded to include four other members. His sets can range from acoustic, simple compositions to electrified, experimental, even jazzy soundscapes. After playing a few acoustic numbers, Þráinsson exclaimed, "Let's pick up the rock and roll alright? I mean it's a Friday!" His excitement to be playing was palpable, and made the set all the more fun. When the rest of the band joined him onstage, a low, heavy electronic grumble began, and the songs grew into their full potential. Rolling textures confounded the room, and "Full Circle" took these soundscapes in an unexpectedly dance-able direction. Ceasetone have their hands in many pots, and are sure to develop into something in the next few years. To add to the fun, Þráinsson was spotted later that night in the dance crowd, unleashing a torrent of happy energy during The Field's set. It was a celebration well deserved!
Mudhoney's Seattle Legacy and Icelandic Debut
For those who follow the Seattle music scene, Mudhoney are an institution. Starting more than 25 years ago, releasing ten studio albums, and arguably setting grunge in motion, the band are legends but have yet to enjoy the commercial gains of their successors. Their name goes hand in hand with now-famous label Sub Pop, and two years ago, for the label's 25th anniversary, the band performed to a very limited audience (and our video cameras) on top of the Space Needle. Sneering vocalist Mark Arm (who is credited with first using the term "grunge") carries a dry wit, and last night, he asked, "So how many people saw Clipping. tonight?" When no one answered due to the band's rescheduling, Arm replied in a dejected, disinterested voice, "Yeah, me neither." A few people chuckled, and the band launched into one of their raucous punk numbers. This back and forth between passionate playing and sarcastic comments made them very entertaining. The band also symbolized for me an important aspect of music in Iceland: its friendly exchange with the musicians of Seattle, a "sister city" of sorts. During the annual Iceland Airwaves festival in the fall, members of the KEXP team travel to Reykjavík and set up live broadcasting from the KEX Hostel. In return, Icelandic musicians travel to Seattle to perform at a free event called Reykjavík Calling, showcasing Icelandic music. This collaborative exchange between cities helps break down the limited notion of North American versus "World" music, moving towards a more open minded appreciation of all music as equally influential. But inventing the word "grunge" is pretty major.
The Brain-Melting Glory of Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Legendary 9-piece Godspeed You! Black Emperor from Montreal are lauded for their intense, beautiful live shows and long, complicated compositions. The group started in 1998 and gained a cult following until 2003, when they went on an indefinite hiatus until late 2010, when ATP invited them to curate one of their festivals in the United Kingdom. This reemergence sparked an international tour, and the band went on to release ALLELUJAH! DON'T BEND! ASCEND! in 2012, their first release in a decade. By 2015, they had released Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress, which their website says includes all of their "inimitable signposts and touchstones: huge unison riffage, savage noise/drone, oscillating overtones, guitar vs. string counterpoint, inexorable crescendos and scorched-earth transitions." All of these elements were present as they dominated the stage at Atlantic Studios.
Line after line, the band explored variations. Reverb wound in and out of compositions seamlessly, and the boundary between organic and effects-laden sound was blurred. One drummer and one standing percussionist created earth shattering rhythms. A surprising hint of vocals could be heard, unexpected in the overwhelming wash of string and guitar instrumentation. The musicians faced inward, inviting the crowd to watch, but not necessarily partake, in such wondrous creation. This communicated an impressive level of skill and precision, and all who watched felt privileged to be allowed into this sacred space. Projections of 16mm film, created by the band, scrolled past, layered over the members as thickly as the music layers over itself. Images of documents, lists, and diagrams scrolled past, and the dark music made one think immediately of such calculated horrors as the Holocaust. Pages of writing flashed, pausing long enough to catch words like, "front door," "homeless," and "task." Seemingly random, the viewer's subconscious worked overtime to string the imagery together. As the tension increased from the implied violence, the music grew in complexity and discordance, and emotions swelled. GYBE are experts of push and pull, slowly feeding the listener more and more, building a story, growing to exasperated heights, then allowing portions of relief until only a few elements remain, fading to silence.
The band created the fantastic soundtrack to 28 Days Later, and this haunting perfection was peppered throughout the set. The opening notes of "East Hastings" started up, and a low whistle of approval came from the crowd. Imagery of peace marches were inter-spliced with a detailed shot of a window's silhouette against flickering red light. The stock market ticker scrolled past, and viewers were left to their own devices to interpret these juxtapositions. As they were carried along this emotional roller coaster, the crowd reacted in various ways. Some couples kissed passionately, other heads hung low in deep, nodding thought, and a few hands were dragged tenderly across wet eyes. Despite how late it was, the crowd was dedicated, standing for two and a half hours to watch the sonic landscape of GYBE unfold.
As epic as their set had been, their departure was equally unforgettable. One by one, each member ceased playing, gingerly setting their instrument on the ground. With a modest wave to the crowd, each left to overwhelming applause. When only one remained, he walked to each amp, turning them off. Slowly, each light was extinguished, leaving only an empty stage and the thoroughly spent crowd. Despite the generous set length, the next band was listed for a whole hour later, so when the house lights came on, someone yelled, "Fuck you! There's an hour left!" Though we could have stood for another hour or more, we returned from our prolonged spiritual trance to the land of the living.
More Beauty From the Midnight Sun
Dance Party During The Field and Beyond
After being emotionally exhausted by GYBE, festival goers were ready for something fun. The Field, stage name for Swedish electronic producer Axel Willner, was up last on the official bill for Friday night, starting at a whopping 2:30 am. His minimalist techno takes micro-samples of pop songs and weaves them together, creating a rhythmic and easily-digestible experience for the listener. Those who were still awake flocked to dance on the almost empty main stage floor, enjoying the chance to spread out, wave their arms, and jump up and down. Hafsteinn Þráinsson of Icelandic band Ceasetone danced in the front row, and Tyler Coray of Seattle's Newaxeyes was also spotted getting down. Members of Younghusband bopped around, awaiting their DJ set. The late night DJs had been moved from the Officers Club after the previous night's fire extinguisher fiasco. This dance party felt like the best way to end the festival's second night, all grooving together under the strobe lights, lost in the music. People wandered home around 4am to get what sleep they could before the final day.
Saturday wrapped up another year of All Tomorrow's Parties Iceland, hosted in Keflavík at Atlantic Studios. Younghusband played their second and original time slot on the main stage. Ought from Canada (who are on the same label as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who played the day before), and HAM, ...
Now in its third year in Iceland, All Tomorrow's Parties returned Thursday to the former NATO U.S. Air Base Ásbrú in Keflavík. Music lovers from around the world came for the weekend's killer lineup, including Iggy Pop, Public Enemy, Belle & Sebastian, Swans, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and ...