Friday’s ATP was a beautifully eccentric and eclectic affair. Though there were a few bands that had a heavier sound, generally speaking, the sort of energy and fury of Thursdays’ sounds morphed into a sweeter, calmer and more expressive production today. The diversity of the line-up made listening more akin to swimming; plunging into the rawer, more experimental sounds before surfacing for lighter elements and textures.
In hopes of catching ATP’s rarer gems, I arrived at Asbrú at approximately 17:00, now clean and sparkly and ready for tonight’s cultural upheaval. I immediately ventured over to the DJ tent in order to catch a pillar of the Reykjavík music scene at work.
DJ Einar Örn
Einar is, for those who don’t know, arguably one of the most seminal figures in the Icelandic scene, and I’m reviewing his DJ set because he is undeniably amazing in any respect. I mean, what hasn’t been said about his bands? What hasn’t been said about his politics? The man is a living legend here, and anyone who has the opportunity to see him do anything at all, be it flossing, spinning records or rearranging his sock drawer, is in for a treat. With some technical issues due to yesterday’s inclimate weather aside, Einar’s set hit me right where it hurts, because is selections were so damned tasteful. From English post-punk to synthpop to the most surreal of eighties underground curios, Einar kept me interested. Here are some of his finer selections, in no particular order
Death Disco by Public Image, Limited. Totally Wired by The Fall. I Confess by Dorothy. Nag Nag Nag by Cabaret Voltaire. 6,000 Crazy by Spizzoil. Staring at the Rude Boys by The Ruts. Sex Machine by Crawling Chaos. Message To You Rudy by The Specials. The Sound of the Suburbs by The Members, Wardance by Killing Joke, Big A Little A by Crass, to name a few.
How is this man so tasteful? I pondered this question alongside Curver of Ghostigital and Hrafnkell of Fufanu, who were there offering their support. Such class acts, such great bands, such nice guys. It was great to kick off ATP this way.
Intermittently during Einar’s set, I wondered who was creating these ravaging pulses emanating from Atlantic Studios, and I learned they were courtesy of current Icelandic music scene favorite Ben Frost. To put it mildly, I was blown away. From the first sight of his on stage configuration and the splanchnic drones he and his band were producing, I knew this man was bringing something new to to the table. Works like “Venter” realign perceptions about what experimental music could sound like, and where it could go in the future. Awash with white noise and thunder, it brings you, the listener, into depths that would later require a stay in a recompression chamber in order to survive. Please enjoy a short interview I conducted with him.
I only stayed around for a little bit of Mammút’s set, as I’ve seen them many times before and had to write yesterdays’ piece, but to suffice it to say that tracks like Leggdu Mig I Salt are bound to become stadium hits if Mammút ever chooses to record them in English. This band has so much potential to be truly great. Kata’s voice is truly distinctive, and Ása, Alexandra and Arnar really offer a fitting sonic landscape to match it. Andri is tight as a rivet. They certainly deserve to be situated around bands like Slowdive, and today’s performance, for what I saw, I hope earns them many new fans.
What. The. Fuck. Amazing. Last time I saw them, they were hollering, “Fly, fly, the Devil’s in your eye, shoot shoot.” That was over a decade ago. Please excuse me if I simply offer you my post show notes…I want you to understand how I felt listening to them for the absolute catharsis it was for me to have seen them again after so long. “Backwards upsidedown trumpets in mirrors reflecting a teal lattice. always room on the broom, please. this is heroin music. I did a satan dance during “mess on a mission”. the catacombed underground clubs would be spinning liars records while serving opium on gilded plates if the Nazis on the war; leading the resistance the national socialist union of iceland and greenland in 2038. this is liquid sky incarnate. this is we are all going to die music. dmt flash at the apocalypse music. heavenly angus. we are the denizens of bellevue, Hello. this is suicide and recarnation music. they speak any language as long as it is yellow. i hear the second coming now…angus is satan, angus is satan, an antipodal stan. they were jeered in new york, look at them now. look at them now. i see men riding pennyfarthings backwards. they say math is power. no. music, this music, is power.” everyone, everyone danced, even if they didn’t, they did.
They went from this:
True artists. Here is an interview I conducted with Angus after the show.
A gloom overwhelmed us. Or was it all a dream? I was whirling with the ecstatic droning. I was haunted in the withering moment. There was a surge of energy that was planted and grew during each track. Ohh, the strobes. Such a wistful rocking, an orchestral rock, done correctly. They produced an explosive version of Syd Barrett’s Golden Hair. Somewhere in heaven, if there is a heaven, Syd is pleased. What an epic performance.
DJ Caleb Braaten
Was the Savior of what could have been an anticlimactic night. After the Rapture of Portishead and the spastic maneuvers produced by the Fuck Buttons, I wanted a joyful end, and I got it, by god. Caleb span all of my favorites, making it one of the best parties I can remember. The Clash – Complete Control, Ever Fallen In Love? (with the chorus sung by crowd) by the Buzzcocks, a selection of Beasties songs and The Belle Stars were personal favorites. I drank, and danced, and sang, and carried on, very Dionysian-like.
I’m going to express some candor here that might seem like an overshare, but so be it. It’s 16:34 the following afternoon after having seen Portishead. After having taken my first shower in two days, and after having checked my now completely exhausted checking account, I finally have a moment to reflect about what I had seen, and the worth of such a sighting. A lot of what I write might seem sensationalized or frivolous at times, but this is one occasion where I actually have to sort of take a moment and grasp the enormity of what I’ll be describing. The task of reviewing Portishead seems so monumental to me that I’m almost totally uncomfortable doing so. It would be cliché, but also correct to say that this band has helped me through a number of bouts of suicidal depression in my life, and for that I thank them from the bottom of How does a person of such a lower stature in terms of experience and social status sit, pacified like an infant, in judgement of one of the most influential, most creative, most impressive,and most inspiring bands of the last thirty years? Well, we’ll soon find out.
Any articulation of Portishead’s performance, at it’s bedrock, would have to first address the prodigious amount of attention the band pays to details, on-stage and off. From their simple promotional imagery, an uppercase P, to the careful selection of shows they play, to the repertoire they perform,to the simple physical appearance of the band – Beth’s vocal modulation and augmented microphone to her almost trademark t-shirt and jeans and the absolutely prepossessing Fender Mustang that Geoff owns, to the highly skilled turntablism, drum and effect synthesis of Adrian and Dave. Lest we forget their lighting scheme and very, very high quality video backdrop, which could easily be a part of an installation at MoMa or the Tate Modern – this band is a moving, breathing sonic masterpiece.
Notice how I’ve said nothing of their songcraft. All of what I’ve said so far might come off as almost hagiographical, but there is simply no denying that this group has revolutionized music with its very emotive, well-written trip-hop turned electronica. It’s like they’ve literally covered every single musical base without even really trying, lately. I can imagine that when they were trying, they were trying with an unfathomably extreme zeal. I say it this way because anyone starting off music knows of the difficulty of trying to create a workable concept, trying to fill seats, trying to get A&R departments and monolithic online media institutions interested, and trying you’re best to hold down a 9 to 5, to 6, to 7 and/or raise a family in the process. They have spun plates those with great success, and now, it’s our turn to keep them spinning by being hear for them as they enter their near twenty-five years of existence.
The band takes stage to a what can only be described as a clamor from the audience and start the opening sample in Portugeuse to Silence. It simply builds and builds and builds, and then then stops. Que Beth.
Beth is a stenographer of pain.
“Tempted in our minds
Tormented inside lie
Wounded and afraid
Inside my head
Falling through changes”
The band rushes in, sweeping us to distant vistas, perhaps overlooking dystopia. Something has happened to this unit since the self-titled release to create compositions such as these. The song come to a close, and is proceeded with tracks that reflect the same degree of affliction. The Rip, which is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, and that’s not bullshit, was soon played after. Gorgeous.
“As she walks in the room
Scented and tall
Hesitating once more
And as I take on myself
And the bitterness I felt
I realise that love flows”
The beautiful simplicity of Portishead stems from their ability to emote the most basic of human emotions with an incredible flair for taste and vocabulary that would make William Blake curious about on Ms. Gibbon’s mind.
Tracks such as Wandering Star followed, with the simple intimacy of a bass player and singer sitting playing demonstrating the effortless beauty and class of this band. Machine Gun furthered the statements alluded to in Silence and The Rip. There were few, if any sonic problems that I encountered…and if they were present, I was none the wiser. The wisdom of the selection of tracks for this performance easily trumped any minor technical concerns. How could they not? We’re talking about some of the finest songs ever written. Why is that so?
Because Beth is sex and romance, or at least in innumerable ways, sex and romance incarnate. Tracks such as Over, Cowboys and Glory Box make this statement imminently clear. We know how they go – there’s no need to detail them except to say that they still keep their fervor nearly twenty years after they’ve been recorded. If you haven’t already. Please, please, please, listen to Portishead’s Self-Titled and PNYC releases. You won’t regret it.
One of Portishead’s finest tracks is called We Carry On. With that said, on to Saturday’s adventure.