Why is Iceland so cool?

May 19, 2009

They may have no sun, no trees and now no money or food either, but those Icelanders are just so darned talented. In May 2004 I spent a wild wild weekend in Reykjavik celebrating (?) my 40th birthday. By some weird synchronicity exactly five years later to the day I was in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank last Friday night enjoying an evening of “Icelandic Music Through Unconventional Means”. The Icelandic music was provided by the gorgeous Amiina – part time Sigur Ros collaborators, but a talented ensemble in their own right, and the brilliant  Valgeir Sigurdsson. The unconventional means was provided by beatboxer and Southbank artist in residence Shlomo. Now I really wanted to dislike Shlomo – I still have a jaundiced view of beatboxing being done by little kids slapping their cheeks. But the art has obviously moved on bit and Shlomo was a mix of lovable gawkiness and awesome beats. 

The night consisted of various collaborations – Amiina and Valgeir; Amiina and Shlomo; Valgeir and Shlomo climaxing with everyone playing together – a bit like a musical swinger’s party . Every combination worked perfectly, the ambient beats complimented perfectly by Shlo’s vocal pyrotechnics. The innovation was amazing, especially Amiina, who seem to have a Roy Castle-esque talent of being able to play any household object – saws and glasses of water featured heavily. I guess there has always been a make do and mend ethos in Iceland.

This was one of the memorable things I remember about Reykjavik’s clubs and bars. There was none of the elitism and tribal nature of the UK music scene. An obscure dance record would be followed by the Eurovision song contest winner, which would be followed by Britney, which would be followed by Bohemian Rhapsody. It was like a box of assorted tunes had been washed up on the island, and they didn’t know (or care) what was ‘cool’ and what wasn’t. This unpretentiousness is so apparent in Amiina. They look to be really enjoying themselves, like awkward teenagers performing at a school concert, but at the same time making beautiful beautiful music.

The only cloud on an otherwise perfect evening was cast by the clip from the film Dreamland detailing the destruction of a huge area of natural beauty in Iceland by the creation of a huge dam servicing the aluminium smelting plants that are popping up all over the country. The now deposed Icelandic government sold their souls to the US and got financial armageddon in return.

I hope the creativity and resourcefulness shown by this remarkable nation’s talented musicians will  inspire and convince all Icelanders that they are capable of getting themselves out of the unholy mess created by the greed of their bankers and politicians.


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