By the time day four comes around, it’s easy to start to feel drained despite the abundance of incredible music we get to experience each day. But it’s also the music that sustains our crew and music going forward. The final day of our formal radio broadcast concluded with a lineup of acts that worked as the best caffeine alternative we could’ve asked for, along with some introspective Icelandic music to keep our minds buzzing.
First up was the Norwegian act girl in red. I’ve been a big fan of Marie Ulven’s work since I first heard her insanely catchy single “girls,” quickly going down the rabbit hole of singles and finding that almost everything she’s released is a perfect pop song. Often labeled a bedroom pop artist because of her home recording methods, I settled myself in expecting a thoughtful, dreamy set to get lost in my feelings. While there’s still plenty of thoughtful lyrics and feelings to be had, I had no idea we were about to kick things off in such a rowdy and dynamic way.
Ulven turns the stage into her party while also being the life of the party. In retrospect, it makes so much sense. Her songs are confessional heartbreak anthems and sometimes you just have to scream those feelings at the top of your lungs with a crowd of people, not just keep them to yourself in your room alone. girl in red’s music is perfect for those moments.
I would say that Ulven doesn’t give a fuck, but she let out a few “fucks” in her set (don’t worry, our audio team caught those before they went on air. The wonders of radio technology!). But it all just added the spirited, youthful rebellion that appears throughout her music. Her recorded music is a friend to keep you company when life and love are bringing you down. Her live shows are the friend that drags you out of the house to get you out of your funk.
While we’re talking about heavy feelings, let me just tell you about Svavar Knútur. The Icelandic bard pens gut-wrenching ballads that mirror the starkness of Nordic winter. Backed with a 12-piece band, his guttural howls and acoustic chugs carried even more of an emotional wallop. His work as the stark balladry of Frightened Rabbit matched with his dry wit and poetic soul.
Things can get dark fast with his music that doesn’t shy away from looking at misery head-on. However, Knútur balances it out with savvy, self-aware humor – at one point joking about wanting one of his songs to appear as the theme for a rebooted 50 Shades of Grey. The lush arrangements of his band washed over the full room met with loud applause and screams of cathartic joy. Looking into the dark night of the soul can be difficult, but something about Knútur’s writing and musicianship bring healing along with it.
Continuing the emotional sojourn was fellow Sunna Fridjons. Fridjons was trained classically but has since embraced the avant-garde. While her debut album Enclose was recorded with all acoustic instruments, her performance showcased a new direction with heavy electronic music production and experimental detours. She created an intoxicating, dark atmosphere with every gloaming composition.
Fridjons also does work with ASMR and Reiki healing and you can feel that therapeutic touch in her music too. If you close your eyes, you can feel the waves of sound washing over you and find some peace in the dark arrangements. Though she’s moved from her initial training, you can still feel hints of classical music emerging from her music. Despite working in such a cutting edge genre, her music feels classic and timeless.
The day ended in the most triumphant of ways with a set from local legends Grísalappalísa. It was a bittersweet moment, as the art-rockers recently announced that they will soon be breaking up – making their Kex performance one of their last shows. It’s a shame to see this band go, but they’re leaving in a true blaze of glory. They just recently released their final album Týnda rásin, an ambitious genre-spanning work that capstones their delightfully diverse career.
Since we arrived in Iceland, locals have been hyping up the group as one of (if not the) best bands in the country. We can now confirm that to be true. The eight members were all at once punks, successors to The Velvet Underground, cabaret stars, glam rockers, and technical wizards. Though songs changed style and genre on a dime, the one consistency was their manic and gripping energy. It was hard to even keep the band contained to the stage as they constantly jumped out into the crowd and handed their guitars out into the audience.
Grísalappalísa doesn’t put on a wild show just for kicks. Behind their energetic shows are poetic lyrics in native Icelandic, citing Bob Dylan as a major influence and one member even sported a Warren Zevon tattoo. Even while I couldn’t understand the lyrics, you could feel that poetic soul in the performance. It was tender even, with the bandmates embracing each other affectionately on stage. It’s sad to see them go, but as the stage lights faded out and the broken glass lay in pieces on the floor, it truly felt like the band was making this happen on their terms. And there’s something profoundly beautiful about that in their wake.
Day three was all about the beauty of contrast, ranging from atmospheric compositions to face melting riffs.
Our second day at Kex Hostel represented the diverse array of music and nations represented at the festival – from American feminist hip-hop and Finnish post-punk to teenage Icelandic punk and a fiery slowcore act with members from all around the world.
Once again, KEXP returns to the land of fire and ice. Read about the underground music and the actual underground we've experienced in Reykjavik thus far.