Between Mountains: “But I know I don’t have to be in love to wanna meet you” – Live at Iceland Airwaves

Written by Erica Andreozzi

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I first saw Between Mountains at Iceland Airwaves 2017, just 6 months after they won Músíktilraunir, the annual Icelandic “Battle of the Bands,” and back then it was a very different band. At that time they were a duo — Katla Vigdís Vernharðsdóttir and and Ásrós Helga Guðmundsdóttir — and their name represented the fact that were from different fjords (in Westfjords region of Iceland) located “between mountains.” They harmonized beautifully together and incorporated elements of keyboard, xylophone, and accordion into their songs with a proficiency way beyond their years. Fast forward another 2 years and they are now a 4 piece live: Katla (the muse of Between Mountains) on vocals/keys, her father Vernharður Jósefsson on bass, her brother Valgeir Skorri Vernharðsson on drums (also drummer for Mammut and drum tech for Sigur Ros), and Salóme Katrín Magnúsdóttir on backing vocals/keys. While I enjoyed the duo before, I must say that I prefer the larger band much more and appreciate the clever, catchy percussion that Valgeir brings with his extensive experience on drums. The talent within this family is enormous (Katla and Valgeir’s brother is the talented front man of Rythmatik), and has me imagining how their spurious moments of “playing around the house” has led to the masterpieces we hear now. Please do yourself a favor and listen to their debut album, ‘Between Mountains’ (released on Nov 1 and produced by Arnar Guðjónsson of Warmland), because it’s AMAZING and chock-full of hits: ‘Little Lies,’ ‘I Don’t Want to be in Love,’ ‘What Breaks Me,’ and ‘Synthalag.’ ‘Little Lies’ is an incredibly beautiful track with lyrics that I’m sure we can all relate to (“My mind will fall apart again, now it’s only a matter of when, it rise up as I go down.. and there I stay, I reach for you, meet me halfway… I wonder if I’ll be the same, and how I will keep myself sane, confine my thoughts, tie every note… I told you a lie when I told you I’m fine”) and I’m so impressed that they lyrics were written by someone only 18 yrs of age. The same goes for the song, ‘I Don’t Want to be in Love,’ which has a style reminiscent of Sharon Van Etten (whom I absolutely adore). : “It’s been 3 weeks since we’ve first met and I thought I hadn’t screwed up yet. I haven’t felt this way for someone in almost a year. I missed it when it was gone but I’m scared that it’s here. Cause I’m not very good at this and I never show my cards. I am too afraid of it, I won’t let my guards. But I know I don’t have to be in love to wanna meet you.” WOW. I know we can ALL relate to this one even though we’d rather not admit it: Poignant, vulnerable thoughts laced with infectious, upbeat melodies and gorgeous harmonies. ‘What Breaks Me’ is another stunner, and you’re bound to sing along to the catchy chorus (“It’s what I can hold that makes me, what I’ve been told what breaks me”) that Katla and Salóme so intricately deliver with staggering vocals that echo one another like a call-and-response.  Still, the song that I feel STOLE THE SPOTLIGHT at The Hard Rock Cafe was, ‘Into The Dark’ (nominated for “Video of the Year” at the Icelandic music awards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tp4AHG8OkRg), which Katla said she wrote when she was only 14 yrs old. UNBELIEVABLE. This one starts out soft but picks up on speed and intensity, and you can feel your adrenaline pumping as you anticipate the crescendo of the cryptic chorus: “It says you’re deeper in the sea.. I feel you’re face.. I see your face.” The harmonies in this one are gorgeous, and I made sure to mention that when a famous writer for Rolling Stone magazine was showering her with compliments later that night. Another song that stole the spotlight and had me all teary-eyed and emotional was Synthalag,’: “the colors in your eyes tell me stories, about what should have been and why I ran, the buttons your coat say ‘you’r sorry,’ cause they can hear and no one else can, and when I look up to the sky, I suddenly feel alive. The lights are dancing with the stars. And we just sit and watch.” OUTSTANDING VOCALS that will take your breathe away and transport you to a place under the arctic sky, looking up at the stars “together” with someone you love.  Between Mountains are certainly rising out above the rest and getting the visibility they deserve. I sure hope to see them in the states next year! ❤

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Hatari: “Dance of corruption, Trance of consumption, Greed and extravagance, Where do we go now?” – Live at Iceland Airwaves

 Written by Erica Andreozzi

 

Hatari’s show at The Reykjavik Art museum (11/8/19) this year was PURE PERFECTION, and one of the most phenomenal productions I have witnessed at Iceland Airwaves thus far. It has been incredibly eye-opening to watch how this band had evolved from when I first saw them at Kaffibarinn in 2017 (see review here), and I am constantly amazed at their efforts and execution in redefining the impossible. Known for their drive to defeat capitalism, Hatari started off their show with visual depictions (iPhone, computers, etc.) of how digital technology is trying is consume our thoughts and control our minds to perceive a reality that is not healthy. They also ended the show with this same theme, bringing us back full circle after unleashing our disgust for the “rampant hypocrisy that exists in this world.” Meticulously dressed in intricate, ornate BDSM attire, this transfixing trio — Klemens Hannigan (vocals), Matthías Tryggvi Haraldson (vocals), and Einar Stéfansson (drums, also the guitarist for the amazing band Vok!) — had our eyes locked on their every move. I was mad impressed by the visuals that the glow-in-the-dark whips dangling from Matthias’ wrists made as he swung them around frivolously while dancing. They were a perfect pairing to the glow-in-the-dark leather strap suits worn by the beautiful, alluring female dancers Sólbjört Sigurðardóttir and Ástrós Guðjónsdóttir who cranked up heated up even more. They also had surprise guest appearances by a rapper and a singer (wish I knew their names) that had us all hot and bothered. And if that wasn’t enough to raise our body temperatures many degrees higher, the EXPLOSIVE PRISM OF FIREWORKS shooting up from the front of the stage SURE WAS. I still recall my friend Erika and I gasping at that exact same moment as we marveled at this SIGHT OF ALL SIGHTS. What I find most compelling about Hatari is their ability to keep a straight poker face during this entire epic production. It’s their discerning dichotomies – their ability keep a straight poker face when delivering devilish, primal screams and disturbing, suicide lyrics to happy techno beats – that keeps us coming back for more. They exude a mystery and allure that is truly magnetic, and it’s this fascinating paradox that we can get enough of. Almost everyone around me knew all of the lyrics for ‘Spillingardans,’ ‘X,’ ‘Hatrið mun sigra,’ and ‘Biðröð Mistaka,’ just to name a few. After earning themselves Reykjavik’s Grapevine‘s “Best Live Band” pick of 2016 and 2017, and most recently a highly competitive top 10 spot in the 2019 Eurovision contest, Hatari’s fans are growing astronomically, and on a global scale. It’s only perfect timing then that Hatari is gearing up for a ‘Europe Will Crumble’ tour of 18 European cities in 2020. This is only the tip of the iceberg for these Icelandic renegades. Just you wait and see. See below for full videos of the show from my Facebook page.

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Iceland Airwaves (Nov 3-5, 2017) – Review

Written by Erica Andreozzi

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I’ve worn plenty of wristbands in my day, but this one I wear with MOST PRIDE. Having been accepted to my second Iceland Airwaves Music Festival as a media pass holder is an opportunity that I do NOT take lightly, and I tried my best to capture the highlights of this magical, musical mystery tour.  Not only does this “land of Ice” know know to shatter glass ceilings and defy the odds of artistic potential and possibility, but it does so in a way that is warm (“land of fire”) and welcoming, and so in the least bit pretentious. The sky is definitely the limit for this innovative, ingenious, impressive Island. The music, people, and scenery is uncharacteristic of anywhere else.  ❤ 

Here are some of the bands that left a lasting impression in my mind and made me question the boundaries of human creativity (click on names or links below to see the full reviews): Hatari, Hogni, Hormonar, Kiriyama Family, We Made God, Omotrack, Rythmatik, Captain Syrup, Arstidir, Between Mountains, Axel Flovent, Mani Orrason, One Week Wonder, GDJYB (non-Icelandic), and Mammut (a personal favorite).  Since my review for Mammut was taking a very long to write (I often find it most difficult to write about bands that move me the most), I decided to write a combined review on their 2017 & 2018 Airwaves shows. Other Icelandic bands I have written about in the past are Asgeir, VAR, Vok, Kaleo, For a Minor Reflection, Sin Fang, Agent Fresco, Lay Low, Rokvva, Samaris, etc. See my reviews on Asgeir and Low Roar. See videos below from Airwaves 2017 when Mammut performed ‘Kinder Versions,’ ‘Pray for Air in the Water,’ ‘The Moon Will Never Turn on Me,’ ‘Walls,’ and ‘What’s Your Secret(these absolutely SLAY):

 

Hatari: “We are the screamer, We are the echo, and We are the chambers” – Live at Iceland Airwaves (Nov 5, 2017)

Written by Erica Andreozzi

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HATARI was BY FAR my favorite, unexpected discovery of Iceland Airwaves 2017. Their name, which translates to “hater” in Icelandic, suits the venomous vibe of their “experimental bondage  dark ambient darkwave goth punk synth” (check out their Bandcamp). Formed back in 2015, this transfixing trio — Klemens Hannigan (vocals), Matthías Tryggvi Haraldson (vocals), and Einar Stéfansson (drums, also the drummer for the amazing band Vok!)  — have already earned themselves Reykjavik’s Grapvine‘s “Best Live Band” pick of 2016 and 2017 (check out their comical interview).  Their BDSM garb and bizarre masks (worn mainly by Einar) perfectly compliment the cult-like atmosphere that they create with their dark, enigmatic electronic beats and their eccentric, bizarre behavior (crawling on the bar, swinging around poles, and screaming like the devil). What’s most compelling about Hatari is their discerning dichotomies: devilish, primal screams delivered with a stolid, poker face… disturbing, suicide lyrics shouted to happy techno beats… fearful, yet amused. They exude a mystery and allure that is truly magnetic, and I had such a hard time pulling myself away. Mad props to Hatari for helping the crowd unleash our inner demons and making us “haters” against all the rampant hypocrisy that exists in this world. AND, I later learned that Bjork was one of the unexpected crowd members that Matthías locked eyes when he swung down from the pole that show. ONLY IN ICELAND. ❤️ Can’t WAIT to see them again at Airwaves this year!

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Hogni: “Wonderful dreams that were uncomfortable scenes out of nowhere… Wonderful scenes that were uncomfortable schemes out of nowhere” – Live at Secret Solstice and Iceland Airwaves (June/Nov 2017)

Written by Erica Andreozzi

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“I’m in love I’m in love I’m in love can’t you tell?”… I’M IN LOVE with this song ‘Moon pitcher‘ that Hogni wrote for his fiance in his debut album, Two Trains, released Oct 2017 by Erased Tapes record label.  Hogni quotes: “I feel I tried my best to create an honest and passionate piece of musical work and I hope you will find the time and space to enjoy it as well as finding that connection. As a musician you aspire to create that other world, that sense of hypnosis.”  I def entered that other world, “CAN’T YOU TELL.” 🙂 ❤

Hogni was one of my top new discoveries at Secret Solstice 2017, and I could not wait to see him again at Iceland Airwaves 6 months later. His deep vocals and ethereal, experimental electronic arrangements simply SLAY, and I was so happy to hear the new gems from Two Trains, an album that he describes in the following words:

“The music on Two Trains is a blue-print of a period in my life where I collided with my own self, and at that point I felt the indifference between the personal and the universal, the absolute consciousness of life’s unconsciousness. Perhaps it’s a feeling that cannot be conveyed, like watercolours that just seem to wash off into the sea. But also a flashing mirage that you can enjoy before you arrive at your last destination.”

Hogni also alludes to this album as a personal expression of the tugging dichotomies he faces while living with bipolar disorder: “I’m bipolar. I got very sick and it has affected my life drastically. This album bears witness to it… (In) the last few years, the swings have decreased in size. When I was the most ill a few years ago, I felt terrible, even if you couldn’t see it. There was just so much going on, lots of fun, and even excitement about going to the psych ward for the first time. Like I was going down a new path for myself. But I haven’t seen it as exciting since then.”

Maybe this phenomena is what he was describing in his song (video below) where he sings:  “Wonderful dreams that were uncomfortable scenes out of nowhere… Wonderful scenes that were uncomfortable schemes out of nowhere.”

Previously known as frontman of the well-known indie rock band Hjaltalin and former member of ambient-techno group GusGus), Hogni proves that “Two Trains”, “change and metamorphosis” are his preferred method of transportation in this journey we call life. His “I can do whatever I dream” (lyrics in one of the videos below) is infectious and his tenacity for movement and exploration are an inspiration to us all: “My life is untethered, in many ways,” Högni says. “I try to focus on making good music and seeking inspiration, chasing experiences, travelling and finding adventures.

Aside from fronting two touring bands, Hogni has made time to score numerous theatre pieces, most notably The Heart of Robin Hood (dir. Gísli Gardarsson), staged by The Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 and Angels of the Universe (dir. Thorleifur Örn Arnarsson), the Icelandic National Theatre’s 2013 adaptation of a well-known and loved novel and film of the same title.mHe has also written music for film and television, including a well-received score for short film Víkingar (dir. Magali Magistry, 2013) which won the Golden Rail award and was nominated for the Discovery award, both at the Cannes Film Festival. There really is no telling where his “Two Trains” will take us next. I don’t know about you , but I am surely ALL ABOARD. ❤

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Hormonar: “Our songs are like a female orgasm; there’s no one big explosion, but many high points” – Live at Secret Solstice and Iceland Airwaves (June/Nov 2017)

Written by Erica Andreozzi

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Photo credit: Ian Young (www.nounpusher.com)

Hórmónar (Whoremoans) definitely roused plenty of hormones at Iceland Airwaves this year, and it is no surprise that their fan base is multiplying rapidly. They were one of my top new discoveries at Secret Solstice 2017, and their liberating (shirts off at the ed), sexually-charged punk rock performance had both men and women in a tizzy. It therefore was no surprise to later find out that these 5 friends (Brynhildur Karlsdóttir-Vocals, Urður Bergsdóttir-Bass/Vocals, Katrín Guðbjartsdóttir-Guitar, Hjalti Torfason-Saxophone, Örn Gauti Jóhannsson-Drums) won the 2016 Icelandic Music Experiment. Brynhildur’s vocals were unpredictable, edgy, and hot, and plenty of men shouted “are you offering?!” in response to her asking the audience, “Are you HORNY?!!” In a previous  interview with the Rekyavik Grapevine, Brynhildur said: “Our songs are like a female orgasm; there’s no one big explosion, but many high points.” Their smoking hot, super-seductive,  “drive-you-wild” energy sparked some serious attention at Iceland Airwaves this year, earning them the “Peoples’ Choice Award” at the Grapevine Music Awards. I am so glad I was able to see them up close without getting burned. 😛 Can’t wait to see my three favorite songs (videos below) from their album ‘Nananana Búbú” once more at Iceland Airwaves 2018. ❤

 

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Omotrack: “Why is life equalized, some people just can’t see… Everyone has blind spots except for me” – Live at Iceland Airwaves (Nov 4, 2018)

Written by Erica Andreozzi

It was so awesome to have run into the talented brother duo (Markús and Birkir Bjarnason) front-men of Omotrack at Songhoy Blues (at Reykjavík art museum) only a few hours after catching their last set of Airwaves at the bookstore on Laugavegi. They’ve got such an infectious indie/pop/electro sound that kinda remind me of a funkier version of two Bombay Bicycle Club and Two Door Cinema Club. It’s pretty rare to see synths and brass (trombone, trumpet, saxophone) battling for the spotlight! The trumpet and sax were nailing their harmony parts! I loved all of the tracks in the set, especially the 4 below that I got on video: Hippo Trip (new), Imaginary Mountains, Old Habits, and Blind Spots. I especially love ‘Blind Spots,’ and assume that the lyrics were inspired by their experience of growing up as two Icelandic toddlers in remote village in Ethiopia called “Omo Rate” (which inspired the band name), witnessing disparities between people of different ethnicity and social class:

“People treated differently, due to their ethnicity.. Who can tell wrong from right, and sit back watch people fight… Why is life equalized, some people just can’t see… Life can’t be overpriced… Everyone has blind spots except for me.”

Not able to speak the local dialect of Daasanach or easily blend in, Markús and Birkir relied on each other for friendship, fun and musical entertainment and started creating music together as early as 5 and 3 years old. Now, in their early twenties, the band has put down some strong roots into the Icelandic music scene and recently placed third in Músiktilraunir, Iceland’s annual “Battle of the Bands” for young and emerging talent who are hoping to take their careers to the next level. “We tried to enter two years ago, but we only had two songs,” says lead singer and guitarist Markús. “We had been a band for maybe ten days. Now we have more music, and we feel more comfortable, so we just thought: let’s try this.” I’m so glad they did. Their bronze finish not only earned them a spot at Iceland Airwaves, but also a supporting slot with the contest’s winners, Between Mountains. Can’t wait to see them again at Airwaves this year!

So lucky to run into them later that night!

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