Attending a gig at a posh arts centre can be a slightly unsettling experience, and clearly the citizens of Brussels are having trouble coming to terms with it.
Ushered into an already-dark auditorium, stripped of their drinks at the door, forced to squat in the aisles because the seats are all taken then bollocked by some busybody for talking too loudly, it’s tough having to act like an adult.
We’re at the illustrious Palace for Fine Arts – aka Bovar – for Iceland Airwaves, one of several events showcasing music from that quirkily creative country, in association with the fine festival of the same name. The aforementioned performance was an excellent classical/electronica crossover from composer Johann Johannson, although we weren’t able to catch the opening two acts, unfortunately. Then again, neither were our headliners.
“We were supposed to play with our friends Seabear but, ah, we missed it,” says Hildur Arsaelsdottir, perky spokesperson for eclectic quartet Amiina. “We’ll buy you a drink or something.”
Best known for their work with ubiquitous compatriots Sigur Ros, Amiina are a string section with bells on. Literally with bells – lots of little ones, like the dingers you find on hotel reception desks – plus guitar, accordion, tiny xylophone, toy keyboard, four glasses of white wine, synth, laptop, a reserve laptop that looks like it’s been through a war, and a saw.
Their debut album, Kurr, is already a gorgeous piece of work, but it’s only when you see Amiina in the flesh that you realise exactly how innovative, almost subversive these four innocent looking lasses are. After the stirring but slightly stuffy Johannson show it’s a pleasant surprise to see such a mess of stuff cluttered about Amiina’s stage, and they attack it with undisguised glee.
There’s a drummer on board now too, who remains rooted stage right as the girls swap between instruments, often mid-song. The tunes are mesmerising but tracing the girls’ progress around the stage is also a treat, as they move from keys to strings, forget their bow and go back again, perform a reception-bell duet, and build toward a triumphant climax as Arsaelsdottir gets psychedelic with that saw. Chaotic but cathartic, grinning but determined, they’re a paradoxical delight.