Lured by the merest hint of a possibility that Anita Briem might be there, I attended the Drowned In Sound Iceland! Night at the Marquee in Leicester Square. Anita wasn’t, as far as I know, there. But there were lots of other things.
The Marquee in Leicester Square is a converted floor of the old Home nightclub. It seems rather hastily converted, if you ask me, with lights randomly lashed onto whatever piece of exposed industrial girder or air conditioning work that the lighting designer could discover. The toilets are two floors away, and are unisex. There is an ill-thought-out chillout area mere metres from the stage. It’s on the third floor. The lift sounds like it is on drugs. It is disarming, and impersonal.
The Drowned In Sound Iceland! Night consisted of four bands from Iceland as discovered by the ever-so-slightly precious music website Drowned In Sound at the Iceland Airwaves Festival, delightfully described as “the world’s most northerly festival”. Last year Keane and The Shins played alongside a dazzling array of Iceland’s most outlandishly-named bands. Tonight, the four to play were Skatar, Reykjavik!, Jan Mayen and Skakkamanage.
First up, Skakkamanage, which compere John Kennedy (XFM) has difficulty pronouncing. No wonder, really. Skakkamanage play wonky acoustic guitar songs with the occasional burst of retro skanky keyboards, which then open out into lush, epic… well, Icelandic anthems. At the risk of my testosterone writing this review, the keyboardist is the most beautiful person in the room; the kind of high-cheekboned indie girl in a floaty dress that Stuart Murdoch from Belle & Sebastian would write, like, a really sad poem about. Regrettably, she’s married to the guitarist. If their music is slightly samey, slightly forgettable, this may be due to the subsequent trauma to my head. They are, in a way, the most stereotypically Icelandic of tonight’s bands, but their flighty whimsy and bizarre takes on English (one song is introduced as being called “Olaf, Cease!”) are quite sweet. (Their website hurts me.)
Jan Mayen are really, really ugly, which comes as a disappointment after Berglind Hasler from Skakkamanage. They are named after a Norwegian island with a lot of puffins on it. They are four geeky emo boys of about 17 years old, and their first song is a metal assault. The second song, however, brings a pop edge to the grunge – like Ash punching a panda. Brilliant, I thought, there’s my handle on them… they’re pop! They’re not as metal as I thought they were. But over the course of their set, they get harder and harder and harder, until you expect their amps to be stamped with “Tinnitus guaranteed”. They also have a rather charming propensity for falling over. They fall over a lot, carry on playing, get up, fall over again. It’s like watching a really good band from your sixth form. (Their website hurts me a lot less. In fact, it soothes me, as it includes the following lyrics to the song “Nick Cave”…
I could say I know Nick Cave is
the highest ape in the food chain.
D’you want to play tough and tougher
with Nick Cave ?
What’s you gonna do?
One tape could take you off.
Nick Cave’s a real motherfucker.
Yeah! He wants to mess you up.
Nick Cave’s a real motherfucker
See this tape, this is Nick Cave
Well, he can brake like an animal.
D’you wanna play though and thougher
with Nick Cave ?
I can’t prove that about Nick Cave.)
Third band of the night, Reykjavik!, are misleadingly introduced by John Kennedy playing some Sigur Ros. Anticipating an epic sweep, we are met instead by the most mismatched band I have ever seen. On bass, there is an old-school metal dude, shirtless, with spray-on trousers and a shiny belt buckle in the shape of an eagle. On rhythm guitar and vocals, a tubby bloke in a pinstripe shirt and grey greatcoat, whose blond fringe and bumbling demeanour is highly redolent of Boris Johnson. On lead guitar, a man whose hologrammatic shirt is so spangly, we remark he should be in Rocket From The Crypt. On drums, a guy in a white shirt and black tie, who has just come from the office. On lead vocals and general prannying around, an Adidas jacketed, mop-haired lunatic, who keeps jumping into the space immediately in front of the stage and running around a bit. Words really can’t describe this band – there are elements of hardcore and punk in there, a smattering of emo, but they keep doing weird things with the time signatures and seem to have little to no idea that they are the funniest thing in the world. At one point the lead singer yells “By the way, we’re still unsigned!” and in a way this is a wrong that should be righted. In another way, I’m not sure the world could handle Reykjavik!. (Their website is basic, but amazing.)
Thinking those three bands were impossible to top, we faced Skatar with some trepidation. Fortunately, they managed to top even Reykjavik! Skatar are five beardy blokes in white boiler suits. Again, hardcore influences are there, but tempered by… well, insanity. There’s occasionally a post-punk thing going on – little moments of Interpol and The Killers creep in – but the rest of the time, lord alone knows. Drowned in Sound described them as “acid crazed Super Furry Animals in white surgical boiler suits […] they throw Captain Beefheart, Trumans Water, Polvo and various glimpses of eighties post- punk into the blender”. I hurt just thinking about them. (They don’t even have a website. There’s a picture of them here, though.)
Anyway, the overwhelming feeling that one emerges into the snowy Leicester Square with is that Iceland is full of a) crazy people, b) beautiful women with good cheekbones. I have booked my ticket to Iceland already.