Words by James Canham and Tim Boddy

Photos by Nick Miners and Tim Boddy

With a fairly relaxed Wednesday out of the way, we decided to take a quick stroll (almost) up to the peak of Mount Esja in the day before coming back down again and enjoying a few beers and trying a few Icelandic delicacies (Puffin and Whale are both amazing). After a bit of complaining about how much we ached, we set off to the beautiful church Frikirkjan to see Hauschka.

JC: Hauschka

Fatcat offshoot 130701’s wunderkind Hauschka started proceedings on the Thursday with a mesmerising, if challenging, set. Despite having a fantastic sound – his experimentalism really shone through, complete with ping pong balls on the strings for his final piece – and pretty amazing acoustics, the set was dampened by the fact most of the audience couldn’t see. Tucked away in a corner opposite his astonishingly good percussionist, the church’s traditional pew set up and columns meant that it was a real challenge to see what was going on. Aside from the negatives, his set was pretty special and his frequent altering of his piano was fascinating.

At this point we split up with Tim going to Nasa (not for the first, or last, time) for Young Galaxy, Active Child and YACHT while Nick and Myself headed off to Reykjavik Art Museum for Retro Stefson and Beach House.

TB: Young Galaxy

...And so I take a left down an alley away from fellow 405-ers (having negotiated the minefield of stage clashes with military precision) in my mission towards Nasa, to be greeted by a wild, deeply unforgiving arctic wind; the kind of wind that makes one question why humans are actually fit to wonder this earth. Oh brother, nature.

Thankfully I don't have to run that meteorological gauntlet for awhile as I'm in for Nasa for a triple header, starting off with Toronto-based Young Galaxy. Frontlady Catherine McCandless concocts quite the theatrical performance, all snarling-faces ladened with tribal make-up, and ripe with overtly intense emoting. It's that classic, currently very in-vogue fashion for post-Kate Bush moves... you know, that flailing fabric wrapped on flailing arms-chic, and she pulls it all off marvelously and with a beautiful confidence. In fact the one track that sees little of her falls a bit flat consequently.

Their third album released earlier this year, Shapeshifting, marked a change in direction somewhat, and it's this disco-influenced dream-pop side that is on display tonight; the drums a rhythmic powerful undercurrent, and rammed with many a reaching-for-the-sky M83 moment. 'Peripheral Visionaries' is a highlight of a mostly-strong set, the repetition of 'and Godless and Godless...' garnering a crowd sing-along.

Sound-wise it isn't quite as crystal clear as the previous evening here (to be fair that bar was olympicly high), but still packs quite a punch. The final track 'We Have Everything' contains the kind of epic elegance laid with a muddy nostalgia that you'd expect the BBC to savage for trailers any day soon (not meant as a criticism, oh no). Great start to the triptych. I didn't even crack a Galaxy / Nasa joke.

JC: Retro Stefson

Retro Stefson

I must confess now, before I review them, that on record Retro Stefson ain't my cup of tea. I mean, they’re alright, and 'Kimba' is a pretty ace (if not mad) song, but as a whole I’m not overly keen on them. However, seeing them live is a totally different experience, and despite the fact they were playing the Art Museum with its capacity of 1500, it was packed and they took to the larger stage like a duck to water.

They also created possibly the most impressive atmosphere of any band here, which was something between a rave and a birthday party; the playful dance atmosphere they created alongside some fun but cheesy tricks (including getting the entire crowd to sit down and jump up in tandem) was so enjoyable and aggressively innocent the crowd can’t help but smile.

TB: Active Child

I feel a little guilty as although I've come to a fantastical country to experience a culture new to me, here I am seeing three North American bands in a row. A feel a bit like I've become everything I despise; those narrow-minded types who travel thousand of miles - only to eat nothing but McDonalds and English breakfasts on holiday.

I however suddenly feel less guilty as Active Child are pretty awesome.

Pat Grossi is an astonishing talent who manages to crowbar in a ridiculous amount of influences as Active Child, (choir boy to chill-wave for Gods sakes), and his talent is as obvious in the flesh. The first thing that strikes me is quite simply his voice; as pitch-perfect as it is on record, a stunning ambitious falsetto enough to reduce even the most stony-man into a goose-pimpled emotional snotty mess.

The crowd has thinned a bit which is a bit of a shame - perhaps the consequence of sandwiching a more 'subdued' act in between two upbeat groups. Though the crowd are of course delighted upon Grossi's "We want to live in Iceland" comment - Part 17 in a 49 part "We want to live in Iceland" trilogy.

The dynamic range is tremendous, the delicate quiet moments oft-accompanied with Grossi's harp allowed to breath and remaining quiet, whilst the crescendos of crashing drums and a billowing voice given stock to become monumental. 'See Thru Eyes' demonstrates this acutely.

A couple of track don't beguile as much as they could, but for the most it's a strong set; with only a single album thus far in You Are All I See, the future is incredibly promising for Active Child and someone who I already am itching to see again, particularly once new material is released. I even forgot Beach House were playing at the same time, thank you Mr Child - but I quickly pop over to the Art museum after to prevent myself from getting cabin fever in here. Where I meet...

JC: Beach House

Beach House 2 Beach House 1

The first striking thing about Beach House isn’t the stage decor of three lit pyramids or the dry ice choking the photographers or even Victoria Legrand (though she looked like a hairy silhouette amongst the heavily backlit stage) it was the audience itself. People had filtered out of the venue and despite a few more coming in, the hall was noticeably emptier than it was when Retro Stefson were playing. It was still fairly rammed though and Beach House and despite being let down by a slightly foggy mix and a bit of excess treble on the vocals, they delivered a solid set. It was slightly touching and special to hear ‘Norway’ in Scandinavia, and the passion they had while playing was infectious.

Weirdly the trend of Icelandic bands getting more attention than touring bands seemed to continue across the festival – Icelandic and Scandinavian bands tended to get more attention and larger audiences than what would normally be perceived as the ‘headliners’. There were exceptions, but it was fantastic to see Icelandic bands so well supported in this multinational festival. The fact that both the tourists and the locals had gone out to see Icelandic bands in Iceland was exactly what it should have been and gave the whole festival more of an atmosphere of discovery – almost every English conversation I came across was describing a new favourite band that they’d discovered.


Now YACHT are someone I've struggled with at times; in that I'm indecisive as to whether I like them or find them irritating over the course of various albums with various personal complications. The contradictory and most logical answer is that both these are true, but here with very much an open-mind and ready to be won over.

And they do.

Their generous set is an action-pakced bonanza of OTT gluttony - and a rammed and increasingly drunk Nasa takes off (Seriously, profuse apologies for that one). It's the most I've seen a crowd go crazy for a band in recent memory; Icelanders. Know. How. To. Party. Jonathan Warren Bechtolt is the creative force behind the experimental upbeat electronic Portlanders, though it is the double act with main singer Claire Evans that creates the successful synergy and wild energy.

The pair are full of offbeat grandiose dance moves, owning the stage with a swagger laced with an artistic presence. Evans frequents the crowd numerous times, getting lost in a sea of sweaty kinetic bodies at one point - it's a glorious hugely productive mess.

It's also a far cry from the previous encounter I had with them at Truck Festival a couple of years back, where they played in front of 20 or so people - to be fair they got on with it but this is an act much like a bratty child that demands attention. Tonight, this is how it should be. 'Summer Song' is a funk-driven hedonistic disco dance-a-thon 'Psychic City' wraps up proceedings in an emphatic, explosive manner. YACHT, I may still have reservations about your music in general but my word your showmanship cannot be faulted. Obscenely fun.

JC: Yoko Ono

Yoko Oh No

Finally it was time to go and witness Yoko, who seems to have tragically not realised that the 70’s ended the decade before most of her band were born. Thankfully missing the apparently atrocious pregig film, we witnessed her gallivanting across stage yelping and repeating the same tired clichés she’s been saying since the 60s. This is all coming as a fan of Yoko – she has genuinely released some of the most interesting and fascinating art rock in the last few decades, but she fell flat here, and it all seemed a bit of an exercise in eccentricity. There were good patches to be fair, and her band (which includes Sean Lennon, but you know that already) were tight and played well, but the whole performance was too difficult to take seriously. Unfortunately we ended up missing the end where she performed ‘We’re All Water’ with Merril Garbus of Tune Yards, but looking at the video footage suggests that maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing...