Nothing blows the cobwebs away or generates a feeling of ‘getting down to business’ quite like kicking off the new year with a serious music festival. Eurosonic Noorderslag, held in the northern Dutch city of Groningen from January 14th-17th, is most definitely the answer to the post-festive slump.
It’s the European SXSW, an inspirational arena in which to showcase the incredibly diverse talent emerging from across the continent. This year, 324 bands from 29 countries will play on 36 stages. It’s the place to predict who’s going to be big on the music scene in the coming year – both from the industry professionals and the international audience of new music lovers who attend.
This year the focus country is Iceland. There’s a selection of performances by artists from said country, and a special emphasis on its music scene and industry, presented by partner Iceland Music Export. In addition to a reception, panel discussions and a pop-up store, there are 19 incredible Icelandic acts on the festival bill – all of who performed at Iceland Airwaves in November (report). Clash was there when the selection was announced, so it seemed fitting that we follow them to their destination.
This creative Nordic diaspora will leave Reykjavík’s bars and venues substantially quieter this week. But it’s all to the good if it means that audiences can experience the myriad musical explorations and aural alchemy being generated in the world’s most northerly capital and beyond. We spoke to three of the featured bands ahead of Eurosonic, to hear their thoughts on playing such a large festival, the influence of Iceland on their work and what they’re up to over the coming year.
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The Birthday Party meets Bauhaus, reverb-heavy post-punk of Fufanu (pictured, main) is a welcome masculine injection to proceedings at Eurosonic. In music as in person, they’re lean, laconic and spare, as skeletal and deadpan in conversation as they are on stage – but excited about playing to large audiences. They expect that the people in Holland will like and get their sound.
“The only difference playing there and Airwaves is that they don’t speak Icelandic, which doesn’t matter because our songs are in English… we will just have to step up our game in Dutch.”
This inclusiveness and far-reaching attitude is what ensures Icelandic bands are well thought of and taken seriously. Fufanu are certainly serious about the music they’re making: “We are in constant search for our raison d'être and this show is part of our quest”.
Their search may be a noble one, but they’re also taking the remainder of the year admirably in their stride. “We are doing Sónar Reykjavík in February and playing with Bo Ningen in London in March. Putting out our debut, and we’ll keep on going from there.”
‘Now’ (live on KEXP)
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The seven-strong Rökkurró (pictured, above) have anticipated playing Eurosonic for some time. This year, with the recent release of their new album ‘Innra’ and the opportunity to play a host of new songs, the timing couldn’t have been better. They’re clearly invigorated at the thought, expressing additional delight over their unusual soon-to-be sleeping quarters.
“Our show at Eurosonic will be the first of a three-week tour around Europe, and we intend to make this the best possible start for that. Also, I just saw today that we´re spending the night on a hotel-boat, which I think I can confirm, will be a first for everybody in the band!”
Acknowledging that most musicians are influenced by their origins in some way, be it in practical terms (living somewhere isolated) or in a more general, creative sense, the band adds: “We’re definitively shaped by the country we come from, there’s no denying that, but mostly we’re just a very regular bunch of kids from Iceland.
“We all have different jobs and different interests, but I’d say that what makes Rökkurró what it is, is the varied ideas of the people in the band. Musically, we also have different backgrounds: classical, hip-hop, punk, you name it. This has a huge effect on our sound as a band.”
They have a clear idea of the differences inherent in the Icelandic scene and why that should be so. Geographical size means it’s impossible and undesirable to sound like other performers, and striving to be unique keeps musicians on their toes.
They offer a different perspective, too: “The music business here is so small that most of the bands, although they all aim for it, don’t really expect to make a living off the music, which in a way gives you absolute freedom to do whatever you want. Which is great and makes for a very vibrant and quirky scene.”
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Young Karin is another female-fronted band that has never played a European festival before, although they have been as far afield as Seattle and Toronto. They’re excited about meeting people they’ve so far only been in touch with online, and clearly just want everyone to have a bloody good time. Theirs is a voice of optimism, despite the winter chill.
The relaxed and good-natured Logi explains the band’s expectations of the trip. “Just going out and playing for people is nice. Karin wants to shop in some vintage stores. I want to drink Dutch beers. We want people come to our shows. If that all happens, then we’re good.”
When asked how living in Iceland affects them as a band, they don’t hesitate to bring up the weather. The seasons are undoubtedly a huge influence on their sound.
“These December/January months are so grim. They destroy you. I just want to feel warm again. That translates into songwriting. Our next release is called ‘End Of Summer’, and the chorus is about having a broken heart and seeing the end of summer coming. In Iceland the end of summer means four hours of daylight and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Try having a broken heart in that state.”
They also clearly believe in camaraderie has a big part to play in the success of musicians coming out of Reykjavík.
“You find yourself saying ‘hi’ to the same people again and again, just because you’re seeing them all the time. You don’t even know their names. It’s awkward but so human at the same time.” This extends to the creative scene as a whole: “You start to get to know the people that you’re playing with, and bad mouthing/beefing with each other isn’t really an option since it’s such a small scene and people are in the end all the same, just trying to get by and making friends.”
They’re also humorously delusional due to the darkness and icy temperatures when asked what their plans are for the coming year. “I want to say that we’re going to be added to the Coachella line-up, that we’ll buy a Porsche Panamera and drink champagne with Pharrell. Then we’re going to write songs with Rihanna. And Drake. At the same time. That’s what I want to say. But it’s cold outside.” Aim high, we say…
‘Call On Me’
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Icelandic bands playing at Eurosonic are:
Low Roar, Kaleo, Kiasmos, Júníus Meyvant, Rökkurró, Samaris, Sóley, Vök, Árstíðir, dj. flugvél og geimskip, Fufanu, MBand, Óbó, Skálmöld, Sólstafir, Tonik Ensemble, Ylja and Young Karin.
Listen to the Iceland Erupts mixtape here.
For more information on the Eurosonic line-up and to buy tickets, click here.