Just as 2 years ago, I couldn’t resist the late temptation to pay a quick visit to Reykjavík for the Sonar festival. The festival represents a very nice opportunity to see a good number of local favourites over the course of three days (actually, pretty much over 2 days, as there were very few local acts playing on the Saturday night), as well as another chance to spend some time in Iceland.
The fun began as we landed at Keflavik. On the plane there was a real and palpable sense of surprise and a little anger that Iceland was indeed both very cold and covered in snow. This was clearly a genuine surprise to many on board whose level of research can be called into question. I loved the cold and, in particular, the snow. I hadn’t previously been to Reykjavík when there was such a thick blanket. I enjoyed the fresh crunch underfoot, the slushy pavements and the pristine gardens around town. On the Friday the combination of the snow and the pure, deep blue sky was beautiful. As many locals pointed out to me, this gets really boring after 10 weeks, but for a weekend visitor it’s magical – sorry.
There’s an obvious contrast to be made between Sonar and Iceland Airwaves. Beyond the more tightly defined style of music, the other main difference is in the location. The fact that the entirety of Sonar takes place inside the Harpa concert hall/complex is both the good news and the bad news. Its good news as there is no need to be rushing between venues and getting cold in queues. In fact it is particularly good news this year since the entire concourse and approach to Harpa is a good, thick sheet of ice full of drunken doom and danger. Personally though, I love the rushing between venues of Airwaves. Sonar simply doesn’t take over central Reykjavík in the same way. I’d say it is perfectly possible to be a tourist in town during Sonar and not be aware of it. That is certainly not true in early November when every other shop window and café has a band playing in inside. I like both festivals, I prefer Airwaves because it is bigger, last longer and is all over town. Simple really, I like my Icelandic music to be more varied, to last longer and to be in more places.
The other big difference is in the attendance. Sonar is much younger, and much more local – I estimated that around 80% of people there were Icelandic. Perhaps as a direct result of one or both of those things, the Sonar audience is a much drunker audience – the first vomit of the festival was noted by the Grapevine newspaper at 10pm on the opening night. Amateurs. There was a lot more security than at Airwaves, probably due to the association of the music with drugs – I saw zero evidence of that.
I’m writing this 2 weeks after the festival, too late for a blow by blow review. Instead I’m simply going to list the best five things I saw at Sonar. I’m afraid it contains few surprises.
I was a little surprised at this selection. I love Retro Stefson, but I haven’t really fallen in love with any of the various offshoots. Honestly, I had found that Uni’s recorded solo stuff had washed over me; all very pleasant, but it hadn’t stuck. It seemed to lack the bounce and energy. Live though, it was a different story. Firstly, my heart lifted at the sight of a guitar. Then, as anyone who has seen Retro Stefson will know that Uni is a first-rate front man and whilst, in this format, he doesn’t bounce around the stage starting parties, he is still a tremendous singer with very fine stage presence. The live versions of the songs, partly due to the guitar, had meat and weight that I hadn’t really got from the record. I enjoyed the show waaay more than I expected to, and I’ve enjoyed going back to the EP.
Fufanu are on a roll, they’ve starting playing all around Europe. They’ve played with Damon Albarn in various parts of the world including, memorably, London’s Royal Albert Hall. Now they’re set to play with Blur in Hyde Park later this year. As far as I know, this was the biggest room they’ve played in at home, and coming directly before Ghostigital, a pretty important occasion for the young band. Of course, there was not a trace of nerves, not a foot was put wrong. They took to the stage with confidence and blasted out their set which is becoming more and more familiar and promises much for their debut album that will be with us later in the year.
There was more dancing at this show than any other I saw at Sonar. There was something approaching a mosh pit, albeit a Sonar style mosh pit.
There was also more laughing than at any other show. When Einar Örn stood at the front of the stage, arms outstretched to the sides, and asked the crowd to take his photograph, the crowd obeyed. This photo-call wasn’t an ego thing by the way, this was part of a lament about his own mobile phone being stuck inside his thigh. I love the world of Ghostigital.
(photo above) Perhaps the most non-Sonar band of all the local additions. It’s not a complaint as I love them, and any chance to watch them play. It didn’t seem to bother any of the capacity crowd in the festival’s biggest hall one bit. Prins Póló had an amazing 2014 with prizes for band of the year, album of the year (for Sorrí) and song of the year (for París norðursins) being showered all around them. Just to cement their local favourite status they opened their show here with a cover of FM Belfast’s (who were in the audience) unofficial national anthem Underwear.
I was pleased to see the set up here had the same dual drummer approach as Sindri’s Airwaves show, it worked excellently again. The difference here was that he was joined on vocals by Jófríður Ákadóttir of Samaris (the two are also working together on a project by the name of Gangly). My memory is that the set was largely similar to the Airwaves one, Jófríður’s vocals certainly made a difference – especially on the slower songs in my view. Where the Prins Póló show started with a bang, Sin Fang’s seemed to build throughout to the excellent final song, Young Boys.
Other than these, I really enjoyed the shows by Young Karin, Mugison & Dark Features. The best international acts I saw were Sophie and Yung Lean.
It seems that Nasa is set to re-enter the RVK101 club scene and, who knows, return to being a concert venue. Right now, from what I can gather, it is largely untouched and whoever owns it is looking for a manager to look after it.
I went to the Cory Arcangel exhibition at the ReykjavíkArt Museum. I really loved it, I could stare at old vinyl, console games and listen to The Strokes for a long time. Also, I had only ever been in the Art Museum before as an Airwaves attendee. That room, it’s open air! LOOK! Who knew!
Totally played Pong on the Harpa façade. Amazing, but very cold hands.