KEXP at Iceland Airwaves, Day 1: East of My Youth

Iceland Airwaves, Live Performances
Katy McCourt-Basham
Photos by Matthew B. Thompson

Opening this year’s live broadcast from Kex Hostel at Iceland Airwaves Music Festival is Icelandic experimental electro-pop band East of My Youth. Formed just last year, East of My Youth created a lot of buzz with their first single “Lemonstars” at the end of last summer, and have since been on a steady upward trajectory. Comprised of Thelma Marín Jónsdóttir, Herdís Stefánsdóttir, and Guðni Einarsson, the trio’s debut efforts have been strong, with gorgeous, heavily-layered melodies. The real standout in East of My Youth are Thelma's incredible vocals. Her powerful, Florence Welch-esque voice shines over the more tranquil instrumentation. They’re currently working on their first record, tentatively slated for release in spring of 2016.It's relatively early in the day, but a good-sized crowd is already packed into Kex, and greeted East of My Youth with resounding applause. First was "Touch," an atmospheric song with bursts of beats so deep they vibrate the entire room. Singer Thelma is deceptively petite in stature, but her voice is so powerful it's unlikely she'd need a microphone were she not being broadcast on the radio. East of My Youth's sound is incredibly tight for a brand new band, like a well oiled machine, each part working together so smoothly it was hard to believe it was actually being performed live. The song ended with dreamy floating harps over crunchy beats.

The second song, "Sirens," was more upbeat. The vocals and beats were pure pop, backed by a waterfall of undulating electronic instrumentation. The music is undoubtedly unique, but there is a comforting familiarity to the sound. Each of their songs feels like a short symphony, with a distinct progression of movements. Increasing in danceability with each song, we come to the third song, "Mother." A fun song with soaring, echoing 'oohs' over club-ey beats.

Closing the set was "Stronger," the only song that included any analog instrumentation. Producer and composer Herdís provided melodic piano to complement Thelma's clear, soaring voice. The electronic bass drops like a stone, providing a beautiful balance between digital and analog.  After such a fun show, it felt apt to end the performance with a contrasting melancholic ballad. This was an incredibly strong beginning to this year's Airwaves experience.

I had a few minutes to catch up with East of My Youth after their set and ask them a few questions about their incipient project:

KEXP: How did you all come to play music together?

Guðni: Yeah it's a pretty new band. We actually all met years back. We were in high school together, but we didn't actually know each other then. So then eight years later, we just happened to be all in the same place, doing some music, and decided to make some music together. Telma and Herdís actually started making music together before I came into the band, but last Airwaves, the band came together.

KEXP: Have you played in other projects before?

Herdís: I'm actually a composer, I'm studying film scoring, so it's my first band, but not my first music project.

Thelma: I'm an actress, and this is my first musical project.

Guðni: I've been releasing techno for some time, electro stuff, but this is actually my first band band.

Thelma: We're all late bloomers (laughs)

KEXP: What are your influences for this project? It seems like, since you were all involved in quite different things before this, what were the influences for the sound of East of My Youth?

Herdís: That's a big question, there are a lot of influences. You can see that all the songs are different, but much of our sound just happened. Like that last one ("Stronger") was completely acoustic, and we don't even know why it ended up that way, it just happened.

KEXP: You're working on your new record, hoping to release in spring of next year. What can we expect from your new record?

Guðni: A really good record!

Thelma: Yeah, we're definitely going to produce it until it's perfect.

Guðni: It's almost finished, we just need a label.

Thelma: You can put that in there!

Herdís: We're starving! (laughs)

KEXP: Who is your favorite other Icelandic band right now?

Thelma: Gangly is the new Icelandic band that I'm totally in love with. And Mammút of course, but they're a totally different genre.

Herdís: I love Sóley. I love her!

Guðni: My all-time favorite is the most respected electronic band in the world I think (laughs), Gus Gus.

Thelma: He's fan number one. We're all fans of Gus Gus.


Next at 8 AM PST/11 AM EST is Markús & the Diversion Sessions. Watch the set live here!

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