The evening after Bob Justman really got rolling when Hjaltalin, who had previously entertained the evening before in Reykjavik, (both playing in the venue Organ then inviting us back to their lead singer’s Mum’s house for a good old fashioned party) laid down their euphoric compositions. Regarded as one of the most promising acts in the country having won the Iceland Music Awards, Hjaltalin purvey melodic indie rock with a conspicuous bassoon, cello, three part brass section and usual rhythm section allowing them to alternate between full bloodied rock basslines and the soaring appeal of Sufjan Steven’s heraldic approach. Epic promise.
Welcoming and open minded to a massive degree
In a nation where personal entertainment is the key from isolated madness, Mugison’s programming of the evening possessed a lovely level of friction. Third band in Ben Frost opened up with heaving, distorted bass far left of leftfield. Clicks, pops and plunging levels of sub bass swarmed around the packed warehouse populated by walks of life from every tier of this tiny nation of only 300,000.
The population though small is welcoming and open minded to a massive degree – the crowd, heavy with middle aged mothers with many a child in tow, soaked up the disorientating instrumental sounds effortlessly. As the two guitarists duelled through experimentalism Frost manipulated his laptop warping the atmosphere to a point where Pansonic – the arch dukes of noise terror would have been well satisfied. Gut settling sounds.
Rapturously received after 20 minutes it was again clear that the Icelanders, no matter how old will listen and appreciate any creativity though no doubt helped by the fact that they are related in some vague capacity. Next up Vax were dispatched to appease the middle palette as their well meaning power pop surfed a US West Coast accessibility, reinforced with a sunny American accent, occasionally swerving into a Hammond furore capable of jolting the Inspiral Carpets back into their best pop moments.
Any music fan who has dipped a toe into the geothermal waters of Iceland’s music over the last two decades will be aware of the Sugarcubes; the band that spawned Bjork’s dominating forces. One of the true legends of the scene, drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson, has never tired of his grass roots activity, back now with a band named Steintryggur peddling an Eastern Dub fusion with live congos, bangra flavours and ephemeral basslines that sound liked like Alex Paterson on holiday in Goa.
More positive friction ensued as the calm was roundly shattered by Mordingjarnir, who rotundly delivered thrashed up punk which exploded into 1,000 pairs of ears simultaneously. Whereas some bands choose to sing in English, some mix and match and occasionally plump for an American inflection – there’s a core of acts that sing vehemently in Icelandic, harmonising their spiky rock with their terse plosives in their native tongue and Morðingjarnir lead the charge on their indigenous funk.
Next up: a spine straightening tad of hype. ‘Iceland’s answer to Aphex Twin’ was muttered throughout the crowd. Queue severe intrigue. Satisfied by the arrival of Biogen. A largely hirsute character who looked and acted like he’d fallen from the back of Hell’s Angel bike and landed in a bag of ketamine with his laptop. Fierce yet funky drill and bass, thundering techno grooves, raging static and plunging breaks whipped the crowd into a mosh. Later described by curator Mugison as his favourite act of the evening it seems this reclusive bedroom bandit has a bright future in hardened dance circles.
Skakkamanage – Reykjavíkian heroes were up next, having entertained us in the legendary Kaffibarrin the night before their perfectly angled melodic indie was the perfect sonic After Eight from Biogen. With bohemian Birky, a vulnerable female keyboardist au fait with Belle and Sebastian keeping their tight percussive structures warm, Skakkamanage pummel their crowd with sunshine vibes enlightening towards the much anticipated final trinity of Hjalmar, Megas and Mugison
It was only ever going to go one way.
The former of this triptych tickled with Ska and Reggae jaunts towards angular territories of Mick Jones from the Clash. Fun frolicking and playful Hjalmar came across like a ginger incarnation of the Specials incongruously playing their sunshine skank in one of the most freezing landscapes in the world.
After a quick reshuffle on stage Hjalmar transformed into the backing band for Megas – an absolute living legend and described as Iceland’s answer to Pete Docherty. This association however is derived from Megas’s hard drug abuse and acclaimed poetic acrobatics. Regarded locally as a genius, Megas was a high brow mathematical professor whose high strung personality led to mental collapse only to be re-appropriated through musical salvation and private hedonism. This 70 something figure, haggard and sunken in face deftly delivered an arch lesson in Bluesy, wonky Country which Johnny Cash himself would be merrily tapping his grave foot to.
Rapturously received Mugison then took to his own stage launching fast into throaty balls out Blues, a stark contrast to his electronic work but playing to his home crowd of ages eight to 80 it was only ever going to go one way.
With several stone wall classics under his belt there were tastes of his new album Mugi Boogie, self produced and self released out in mid May. Mugison has commandeered entire northern communities to help hand make his 20,000 albums, from the local geriatrics coffee morning (600 albums made) to the local young football team (1800 made) Mugison’s personality extends far past heartfelt banter as her mainlines into the national economy.
Enjoy Mugison closing Friday night’s activities –