KEXP at Iceland Airwaves 2014, Day 1: Kiasmos

Iceland Airwaves
Isaac Kaplan-Woolner
photos by Jim Bennett

We began our broadcast at Iceland Airwaves from KEX Hostel in Reykjavik with familiar faces in a brand new group. Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen have both been featured several times live on KEXP, and not just from Iceland in years past – Ólafur also in Seattle and Austin during SXSW and Janus with Bloodgroup during CMJ – but the two have now paired up for a completely different project of experimental electronica as Kiasmos. Their self-titled debut (released last week on Erased Tapes) is full of bass-heavy downtempo beats, minimal orchestral melodies and grainy ambient textures.

The crowd was already packed in well before the duo took to the stage, and people continued to press in to any available space. The party starts early here in Iceland and goes all night; beer has been flowing here since before noon. But the audience was respectfully quiet and appreciative of the contemplatively swelling electronic sounds of Kiasmos."We are live on the radio in Seattle where it's 6am," announced Arnalds, eliciting cheers, "We're going to wake people up." And indeed, this would be great music to start your day. Slow, moody tones opened the set, building towards an infectious beat. As soon as the beat dropped, heads started nodding and moving to the music. This is simultaneously spacious, ethereal, yet danceable and upbeat electronica. The first three songs--"Lit", "Held", and "Looped"--all flowed into each other seamlessly. The duo were bent over their array of beat pads, knobs, and buttons in deep concentration, yet they bobbed and moved energetically as the tempo picked up.

There is something epic about the sound of Kiasmos, evoking sweeping solar scapes. This could be the soundtrack to a hipper version of "Cosmos", if Neil deGrasse Tyson liked techno. Richly layered, the beat would alternately build then drop, leaving introspective piano chords and swirling strings, then drums would slowly creep back in again. The fully instrumental set was a sonic journey, and the first break came at about 20 minutes in. But the crowd was clearly listening intently and erupted in an enthusiastic cheer as the third song faded. The final song of the set, "Burnt", is the group's newest single. "Feel free to turn it up, in general, in life," said Arnalds to laughter. This is a sensible choice for a single, as it has an even more driving beat. Some discordant tones added to the dramatic tension and the higher tempo got more of the crowd moving energetically. The set concluded with an epic build, with the beat suddenly dropping away leaving a few final piano notes and a crowd wanting more.

Stay tuned for Sóley live on KEXP next at 8:00AM PST. Find out more about our broadcast during Iceland Airwaves here.

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