Iceland is full of ridiculously attractive human beings. Seriously, every single one of ’em is a mega babe. Both men and women are tall, slender, and have beautiful long blonde hair. The Viking-esque guys also have these gorgeous beards and their hair is smoothed back with coconut oil. I couldn’t even make this up if I tried! The people of Iceland are also friendly, open-minded, fairly progressive, laid back and speak impeccable English. It just seems unfair to have an entire island populated with such beautiful people inside and out. And don’t get me started on the majestic geological wonders of the island.
What’s even more jealous invoking, is that the people of Iceland are excellent musicians and put on rockin’ music fests, especially for such a small country. It must be an island that starts with an “I” thing. Similarly to Ireland, the fierce alcohol drenched night-life and cold weather ushers people indoors, resulting in superb musical creations. The only reason being surrounded by tall, beautiful, musically inclined people in Iceland doesn’t bode well, is if you’re a shorty like myself (in comparison, of course) attending a music festival. Other than that, I don’t think anyone could possibly come up with a single complaint regarding the island of fire and ice and its perfect people.
I was in Iceland for almost a week, basking in all its glory, soaking in geothermal pools, hiking on glaciers, gawking at volcanoes and black sandy beaches, and standing in pure amazement at the endless number of massive waterfalls complete with giant rainbows. By night, I attended the Sónar Music Festival in Reykjavík, held in Harpa, the architectural wonder/concert hall by the shore. Sónar was a three-night music fest featuring a plethora of Icelandic and/or Nordic producers, DJs, bands and more. It wasn’t a music festival I’d typically attend, nor music I usually listen to, however, locals were out in full force, and who can deny a sweaty dance party? Yes, Diplo and Major Lazer were also there, but I’m not even gonna get into that. One Icelandic guy did turn to me and say, “Fuck Diplo, I don’t listen to that mainstream shit!” He also compared Major Lazer’s music to that of a “Donkey boner in your face.”
I missed a lot of bands ‘cus I was busy doing things like looking into the sky for a glimpse of the Northern Lights. I also kicked myself for missing When Saints Go Machine, but it was still a fabulous festival full new music discoveries. Here are my highlights:
Berndsen was my favorite dance inducing performance from a local at the fest. David Berndsen, the iconic, bearded synth-pop figure and frontman of the Icelandic group had plastered his face with blue stars and danced up and down the stage, occasionally jumping into selfies taken by fans near the stage. He was accompanied by two swaying twin-like long-haired synth masters including Hermigervill, one of Iceland’s “most notable producers” and an unimpressed bass player – A hilarious site to sweat up a storm to. Berndsen has released two albums, “Lover in the Dark” and “Planet Earth,” which he produced in collaboration with Hermigervill.
Berndsen – Planet Earth
To put it frankly, (Anders) Trentemøller is a badass, and so is each member of his band. The man isn’t Icelandic, but damn, the Danish producer’s got major presence. His show was dark, powerful and entrancing, though it certainly wasn’t over the top. He didn’t need gimmicks or dancers, or a giant clear ball to roll around in (ahem, Diplo) to captivate his audience. Trentemøller’s been in the music scene since the 90s, then emerged as an electro producer in 2006 with his debut album. He’s since expanded his band to about 7 people, has extensively toured the world playing all major music festivals including his own sold out tour. His 2013 album release, Lost is a whirlwind of musical influences, as well as large collaborative effort featuring Jonny Pierce from The Drums, Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, Jana Hunter of Lower Dens, and Sune Wagner of The Raveonettes. Trentemøller continues to pleasantly surprise fans and audiences with his ever-changing and evolving music. As Vice stated, “Much like its predecessor, ‘Lost’ serves not only as a logical continuation of his work, but also as yet another fuck-you to whatever genre you thought you had him boxed into.“
Trentemøller – Gravity
Hjaltalín is a large 7 piece and beloved Reykjavik-based group with a genre of music that no one can quite pinpoint. They formed in 2004 as part of a high school song writing competition, and today they’ve won multiple, “Best Album of the Year” awards and recently scored the silent film “Days of Gray,” which premiered at the Reykjavík International Film Festival (they also won album of the year for this soundtrack!). The group was unlike any of the other artists we had the pleasure to see. They were slow, intense, emotionally driven and magnetic. They clearly had a dedicated fan following who were front and center fixated on Högni Egilsson’s long flowing blond locks, entranced by Sigríður Thorlacius’s powerful voice and taken in and away by the beautiful violin music. They released their third album, Enter 4 in December of 2012, which of course, won Album of the Year by The Reykjavík Grapevine: “Not only have they made the best Icelandic album of 2012 by a country mile, they’ve gone and created a record that’s probably one of the most searingly bleak and honest record from an Icelandic group in what feels like…forever?”
Hjaltalín – Myself
ELOQ isn’t Icelandic, but we’ll give him a break ‘cus his sounds and visuals were simply addictive. ELOQ aka August Fenger Janson is a young “Danish wunderkind” who apparently already has gold AND platinum records in Denmark. He played to a giant crowd, was extremely grateful to be there, and was easily my favorite of the larger scale producers on the main stage due to his hypnotic “joytrap” jams.
MØ – Glass (ELOQ Remix)
FM Belfast is a catchy electro-pop Icelandic band known for their quirky performances and colorful antics. They vary from 3-8 members. At Sonar, there were about 6 of them, two I’m honestly not sure what they did aside dance, but everyone loved it anyway. They were extremely charismatic and energetic and their cult following got up and down as often as possible. Their soon-to-be-released third album, Brighter Days is due out April 22nd via Record Records.
FM Belfast – Everything (from their forthcoming album Brighter Days)
Tanya & Marlon are eclectic, ambient Icelandic cousins and BFFs with an affinity for blue hair, bunny masks and heart hand symbols. They were playing in a room with stadium seating, which is hard when trying to get a crowd rowdy, but after their first few beats, people began to pile onto the stage and dance around them, which they gladly welcomed. They released their first album in Iceland via Möller Records.
Tanya & Marlon – ISIS
Ah, South by Southwest – What a glorious, messy, magical music festival. It’s held in Austin, Texas, but don’t let the big T deter you (sorry, Tejas). Austin is a funky town full of friendly folks, tattooed cyclists, glorious BBQ, breakfast tacos, a plethora of music fests, and a lot of innovative startups. Austin is a strange cross between Portland and San Francisco, with some hot sauce on top.
I attended my very first SXSW last year (not ashamed to admit I hadn’t been up until then; you gotta start somewhere), and while people love to exclaim that it’s “not what it used to be,” that it’s become “too corporate,” and it’s “way too big now,” all of these points are probably very valid, it has been around since 1987, after all. However, you can still have a good time. Why? Because more than 2,000+ bands flock to the city to play for everyone, each other, and everywhere. Plus, there are usually free tacos and beer. No complaints! You can also rock out to a Finnish goth band in a burger joint, see your guilty pleasure Danish bubblegum pop princess perform in laundry mat, mosh your way around a bridge at 3 am to the most hype-worthy of punk bands and meet a lot of interesting people. I did all of the above last year and it was perfect, despite the moans of what SXSW “used” to be.
This year? I opted to travel to Iceland and London instead and had merely 3 hours of vacation left by the time SXSW planning came about (a good 4-6 months in advance). Alas, it just wasn’t gonna happen. Am I moping? A bit, but that doesn’t mean I can’t jump on the SXSW bandwagon and write about the latest and greatest bands I hope those who are attending, have the chance to see. If you haven’t seen your Facebook and Twitter feeds blow up with SXSW updates yet, you will soon. The music portion of the fest is going on now (March 11-16th). So, whether you’re in the thick of the madness or listening from the sidelines, here are some of this year’s SXSW 2014 must-see (or listen to) bands.
p.s. Did you know that Coco Stereo is on da radio? You do now! “Cuckoo for Coco’s Pop Underground” airs on BFF.fm every Sunday, 11 am – noon PST. I played a special SXSW must-see bands edition last week. Here it is in all its gloriousness + a handful more I couldn’t cram in one hour.
Tei Shi – M&Ms
Black Atlass – Blossom
Cherry Glazerr – All My Friends
Quilt – Arctic Shark
Chance The Rapper – Cocoa Butter Kisses (ft. Vic Mensa & Twista)
Mutual Benefit – Golden Wake
FKA Twigs – Water Me
Glass Animals – Gooey
Sophie – Bipp (*update* It’s been discovered at South By that Sophie is a HE. Ah, the joys of SXSW)
Speedy Ortiz – Everything’s Bigger
Wet – Bad Idea
Cate Le Bon – Are You with Me Now?
Diane Coffee – Hymn
Hundred Waters – Cavity
Ex Hex – Hot and Cold
Must-See SXSW Bands Pt. 2:
Angel Olsen – High & Wild
Trust – Joyland
Sylvan Esso – Coffee
St. Vincent – Prince Johnny
Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
Banks – Brain
Warpaint – Biggy
Julie Byrne – Young Wife
Kelela – Do it Again
No Joy – Hare Tarot Lies
Phox – Slow Motion
You’re familiar with Burger Records, right? They’re the Orange County-based independent record label that loves to write EVERYTHING IN CAPS and use an inordinate amount exclamation points!!! That, and their charming, eccentric and eclectic, grungy/punk/garage/power pop rock artists also make them the quirkiest record label out there. LA Times said it best by stating the label focuses on “Trashy punk with a bubble gum streak.”
Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard, members of the power pop band, Thee Makeout Party, formed Burger Records back in 2007 and have since transformed it into a blooming, audacious label, record store, and various punk rock music fests. That said, they’ve just announced the sweetest lineup for their 2-day Burgerama III music fest, March 22-23rd. The only downside? It’s in Orange County. Whomp whomp (Sorry, OC folks). If you’re in the mood for sunshine, freeways and outdoor malls, a road trip may be in order. Otherwise, I’m bringing a lil bit of Burgerama to you:
Mac DeMarco is everyone’s favorite goofy crooner. The fun-loving, Viceroy smokin’, ripped jeans wearin’, guitar slingin’ Canadian has been on what seems like a never-ending whirl-wind tour since the release of his second album, Marc DeMarco 2, back in October 2012. As hoped for, the dude’s got some new tunes that are due out in April of this year and he gave CKUA a glimpse into his forthcoming album with three lovely new tracks, “Treat Her Better” (song below starts a 4:13), “Salad Days” (starts at 8:18), and “Let Her Go” (listen at 11:30). Enjoy:
Mac DeMarco – Treat Her Better, Salad Days & Let Her Go live at CKUA
Topping Burgerama’s bill is the infamous 4 piece Atlanta-based rock group of misfits, Black Lips. Their forthcoming album, Underneath the Rainbow, was recorded with the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, and is due out March 18 via Vice. According to bassist Jared Swilley, “it’s roots music.” Here’s a glimpse with the release of one track, “Boys in the Wood” and it’s as smooth as ever. They’ll be “extensively touring all six inhabited continents in support of the new record” including the SXSW circuit this year, as well as Austin psych-fest in May (okay, now let’s discuss a road trip!)
Black Lips – Boys in the Wood
There’s no way I could talk about Burgerama and not include a Hunx and His Punx jam – the epitome of punk and bubblegum. They’re the San Francisco-based “Queercore” garage punk rock group made up of Seth Bogart (formerly of the gay pop group Gravy Train!!!!), Shannon Shaw (from my faves: Shannon and The Clams) and Erin Emslie. They released their 4th album, Street Punk back in July of 2013 and it’s rippin! Sadly, the entire album is under 20 minutes long (I suppose you can only scream for so long), but it’s filled with quickie 30 second raging gems like, “Everyone’s a Pussy (Fuck You Dude)” and “Don’t Call Me Fabulous.” Listen to up your punk cred:
Hunx and His Punx – You Think You’re Tough
Hunx and His Punx – Bad Skin