KEXP Live at Iceland Airwaves 2018, Day 2: Bagdad Brothers

Iceland Airwaves
Dusty Henry
all photos by Jim Bennett (view set)

You can't explain what a band means to people in a local scene if you're not really from that scene. I think about this all the time when I try to explain Seattle music to people outside of the city. But it's different when you get to experience a band on their home turf with the people who intimately love the music from their hometown heroes. That's what it was like seeing Bagdad Brothers play to a packed crowd at Kex Hostel in Reykjavik. Young fans shouting back the lyrics, dancing shoulder to shoulder, and beaming as the band blitzed through their jangling pop tunes. 



Bagdad Brothers might be one of the newest acts playing our broadcast here at KEX Hostel at Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavik, but you wouldn’t guess it from listening to their music. The duo of Bjarni Daníel and Sigurpáll Viggó formed about a year ago, emerging from the Icelandic underground with a dreamy sound that’s not unlike the swirling, reverbed melodies we’re used to hearing from Captured Tracks artists like Mac Demarco, DIIV, and Beach Fossils.



Prior to forming Bagdad Brothers, Daníel and Viggó performed together in the experimental, post-rock outfit Vára. When the band opted to take a break in 2017, Daníel and Viggó opted to keep going on their own. It’s a marked break from the music they were making before – trading in lengthy, often-instrumental song structure for breezy pop tunes. Bagdad Brothers’ self-released debut jazz kid’s summer project cemented their new style, embracing the tones of jangling guitars but still keeping some of the most atmospheric aspects from their time in Vára. It’s a sound they’ve continued to perfect on their most recent release, JÆJA., released earlier this year through Icelandic arts collective Post-Dreifing. They say not to judge a book by its cover but in this case, the text superimposed on JÆJA. really does a great job of summing it up: “an EP of summer-time pop songs, as played on road trips to the countryside or beach parties.”


While their recordings capture the band's dreamiest qualities, the band becomes a different and more tenacious beast. Partly in part due to their expanded live band, including keys, a bass guitarist, and drums. The guitars that were once blissful and hazy become surging and explosive. Daniels is a magnetic, electric, and hilarious front-person. He'd shimmy and convulse across the stage, both with and without an instrument. His vocals punched through the flurry of riffs and hooks, booming into an audience who craved every second of the performance. 



"Who's up for some dancing?" Daniels said at one point during the set before he himself was twisting and turning rapidly across the stage. The crowd was happy to indulge in his request as well. The packed room moved and sang throughout the duration of the set, with song after song speeding by in a wondrous blur. It's the type of show where if you're going in blind you're almost undoubtedly going to leave a fan. 

The enthusiasm never waned throughout the set, in fact even heightening as the band closed with "pepperoni project." Daniels prefaced the song saying, "It's here to remind you not to eat meat." It's a vegan anthem for the ages, maintaining the delightful playfulness Bagdad Brothers exudes. But don't let all the fun they're having on stage distract you from the expertly crafted hooks they churned out all night. Bagdad Brothers are on to something and Icelanders seem to already know that. Get on board now before they take over. 



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