KEXP Live at Iceland Airwaves 2017, Day 4: HAM

Iceland Airwaves
Katy McCourt-Basham
Photos by Jim Bennett

Closing out this year’s video stream live from Kex Hostel at Iceland Airwaves music festival were legendary Icelandic rock band HAM. It was with a few gigs opening for the Sugarcubes in 1988 that HAM’s popularity bloomed, especially in Nordic countries (this part of the world does love their heavy rock), and their cult status stayed with them long after they broke up in 1994. They reformed in 2001, but their shows were few and far between, performing only a handful of times in the decade leading up to their 2011 release Svik, harmur, dauði. It looks like their pace is picking up again, as a mere six years passed before the release of their most recent record. Söngvar um Helvíti Mannanna. 

HAM's fans are fervent and dedicated, and Kex Hostel was packed to the rafters with locals buzzing with anticipation. Though their particular brand of heavy rock is not what most would expect to be accessible, their reach is wide in their native Iceland, and their fans not limited to one age group or subculture. Young or old, Icelanders love HAM!

Singer Sigurjón Kjartansson's operatic bass voice led us ominously into the show, accompanied by heavy guitars and intermittent shouting from Óttarr Proppé (who is also an Icelandic MP and healthcare minister). Between the headbanging in the crowd and the headbanging on stage, the room was a sea of flying hair. Heavy guitar-driven songs dotted with roaring, growling, snarling, and shouting were interrupted only by Óttarr Proppé's short descriptions of each of the songs, shouted to the audience to roars of applause. "This song is a lullaby...ABOUT DEATH" or "This song is about a naked man WHO MIGHT BE GERMAN" helped us non-Icelandic-speakers sort out what was going on. Cheering and chanting brought HAM back onstage for an encore, where they played "Partýbær," possibly their most famous song (the band plays it in Icelandic cult film "Sódóma Reykjavík") and the crowd went wild. Had here been space to do so, I'm confident people would have been crowd surfing. To quote singer Óttarr Proppé "WE ARE HAM/YOU ARE HAM/TONIGHT WE ARE ALL HAM."

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