My favourite songs of the past month – all in one place.

Listen on Spotify


1.

Lizzo

Boys

Lizzo is a Minneapolis-based Detroit artist who has been hovering around my periphal vision ever since she debuted with the 2013 song ‘Batches & Cookies’, a beat rap anthem that outdid the attitude of an Azealia Banks record by imbuing the production with a sense of fun rather than cool. Since then, Lizzo has been on a slow ascendance, releasing a couple of albums, an EP on a major Atlantic and touring with Haim most recently. That sense of adventure has remained in her work, and it comes to the fore on her new single ‘Boys’, a track that does what few dare and even fewer succeed with, channel Prince.

2.

Parquet Courts

Wide Awake (Danny Krivit remix)

Danger Mouse is at the controls for Parquet Court’s newest album Wide Awake! and has given the band a sharpness that wasn’t obvious on previous releases. The title song is a surprising twist for the band into punk-funk and has since been remixed for the dancefloor by vintage NYC DJ Danny Krivit.

3.

Roisin Murphy

Plaything

Roisin Murphy further cements her position as one of the country’s leading musical talents with ‘Plaything’. The track is an 80s inspired synth-pop tune. Something about the slightly manic refrain offers so much replayability. The track comes from Plaything/Like double single released by the artist earlier last month. Despite what the artist saw as an underwhelming reception, the track is absolutely superb and well worth your listening attention.

4.

Daithi

Take The Wheel

Daithí’s evolution as an artist over the past 5 years has been prolific to say the least. Every release from the producer has felt like the next stage in a journey, beginning with the likes of tracks like ‘Case Closed’ in 2013. Since then, audiences have been lucky enough to bear witness to one of the most creative voices in contemporary dance music expand and develop.

With the release of this brand new double A-side single, ‘Take The Wheel’ & ‘In My Darkest Moments’, it feels as if Daithí has hit a milestone moment in his career. Both tracks showcase the artist’s skill as both a composer and producer. The brooding ‘Take The Wheel’, which features Paul Noonan of Bell X1, uses swirling synthscapes to map the lyrical content of the track. It’s dance music, but instead of pandering to established formulas, the beat is subservient to the words.

5.

Mr. Twin Sister

Echo Arms

Time now for some ultra slick synth pop courtesy of Mr.Twin Sister. ‘Echo Arms’ channels all the best elements of 80s synth pop and classic late 70s funk ala George Benson. Complete with a fantastic wah wah guitar solo and some fantastic gliding synth lines, ‘Echo Arms’ is an absolute summer anthem.

6.

Phantastic Ferniture

Bad Timing

Phantastic Ferniture’s debut album has gone down an absolute treat among indie fans across the world, with good reason too. Julia Jacklin’s lyricism and vocal performances throughout the release seem intrinsically tapped into the live wire. At times cutting and at others reassuring, the lyrical content and subject matter throughout Phantastic Ferniture are always evocative. ‘Bad Timing’ is among the best on the album, a woozy indie rock number, check it out.

7.

AE Mak

Love Flush

Electronic pop outfit AE Mak have released their second single of the year, not including Phare’s remix of ‘I Walk’. ‘Love Flush’ is absolutely superb. The entire track has an infectious sense of self-belief, seemingly detailing the choice to pursue your own ambitions over a romantic interest. The opening refrain of “I’m all I need” establishes the theme of self-determination which dominates the song straight away.

Songwriter Aoife McCann has here teamed up with producer Daniel McIntyre (of Lullahush) to provide a pulsating instrumental, one which bolsters the powerful message behind the lyrics. It’s catchy, clever and an altogether fantastic art-pop song.

8.

The Internet

La Di Da

The Internet’s fourth full studio release Hive Mind is their best work to date. It’s totally refreshing to hear the group finally live up to the potential their previous releases had shown flashes of. Lead singer Syd’s vocal performances feel confident and comfortable and their instrumentals feel focused and fleshed out. ‘La Di Da’ is the kind of laid-back funk number the group have historically excelled at. Late night brain food.

9.

Dorian Concept

Promises

Austrian Oliver Thomas Johnson’s second DC album was a Nialler9 favourite. It’s been four years but the sound of that album is unique enough to be revisited with its warped analogue synths, Wurlitzer piano and exuberant runs bright of melodies. Johnson brings most of that back plus a sense of dizzy sonic adventure that brings some freshness to the table. See also, ‘J Buyers’.

10.

Reykjavíkurdætur

Ekkert Drama

Reykjavíkurdætur, the all-female rap collective from Iceland who slay every stage they step up on, including recently at Body&Soul Festival, have released a new song ‘Ekkert Drama’ which means ‘No Drama’. It was a song that stood out live at B&S as it had an electro-rap swing to it and a memorable hook. It features fellow Icelander Svala. What are they singing about? We don’t know for sure but it’s a too much fun to care.

11.

Saint Sister

You Never Call

‘You Never Call’ is a slow burner. Opening with subdued piano chords and a softly sung vocal harmony. The track then evolves and expands. With a stunning chorus that pits the group’s singing against the boom of the drums. Much like on ‘Twin Peaks’, the single which preceded this one, the group seems to have incorporated elements of electronic production across the board. The sprinkling of programmed drum sounds throughout gives the song a richness of texture. The result is a superb single which offers plenty of hope as to what the album will sound like. Most will be awaiting the release of Shape Of Silence with baited breath.

12.

Blood Orange

Charcoal Baby

Devonté Hynes has long been one of the most unique voices in modern music. His work under the moniker of Blood Orange has shifted and altered tone and genre wildly throughout the years. His latest single ‘Charcoal Baby’ plays like a homage to the sex-fuelled funk championed by artists like Prince with a personal and political message. Jangly guitars shimmer atop the ultra-tight bassline. Hynes’ vocal delivery is impassioned and powerful.

13.

Maggie Rogers

Give A Little

Maggie Roger’s ‘Give A Little’ is cleverly assembled pop tune. The artist has clearly been working on her songwriting and production skills in the run-up to her new studio release. There’s definitely an 80s vibe in there and the chorus wouldn’t sound out of place on a Haim record. A bright prospect in modern pop music.

14.

Big Red Machine

Forest Green

The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon first collaborated together on a 2008 charity album Dark Was the Night before they had met in person. Since then, the pair have worked on the project at their various collaboration-heavy festivals under the banner PEOPLE (my interview with Dessner about the next People event in Berlin) at places like Eaux Claires in Wisconsin and Sounds From A Safe Harbour. An album was subsequently recorded and from it, and a trailing EP, is this lush and rolling heartwarmer.

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Posted on August 7th, 2018

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Reykjavíkurdætur, the all-female rap collective from Iceland who slay every stage they step up on, including recently at Body&Soul Festival, have released a new song ‘Ekkert Drama’ which means ‘No Drama’.

It was a song that stood out live at B&S as it had an electro-rap swing to it and a memorable hook. It features fellow Icelander Svala. What are they singing about? We don’t know for sure but it’s a too much fun to care.

Listening on Spotify? The song is on our new music playlist.

Posted on July 27th, 2018

Artists:

I’ve called Body&Soul Festival one of the best festivals in Ireland in the past and the allure of the event at Ballinlough Castle is clear. It’s a festival with a considered lineup and offerings in the mediums of food, conversation, installations and site layout. For our festival preview, look out for a ticket competition, our playlist and irish acts to see in the coming days.


1.

Jon Hopkins

Body & Soul stage, Saturday, June 23rd.


British experimental dance music producer and composer Jon Hopkins will be bringing his highly immersive set to Westmeath this year. Following the release of Singularity, his second full studio album, earlier this year, this headline slot on the Saturday night is bound to be full of that Body’n’Soul magic. This is an absolutely essential gig. Fans of all genres will find something they’ll like in Hopkins creative musical process. Expect to feel the bass in your chest, a hypnotising light show and about 10,000 people having the time of their lives.

2.

Fever Ray

Body & Soul stage, Friday, June 22nd


Fever Ray’s latest release, Plunge, found the Swedish producer and songwriter sounding at their absolute best. Formerly one half of The Knife, Karin Dreijer’s solo material is far more experimental and nuanced. Fever Ray’s appeal will spread from fans of art pop music like Bjork’s to synth pop vibes. The artist is well known and admired for a theatrical live show and larger than life stage presence. Expect some surreal aesthetics and well crafted art music during their Friday night main stage appearance.

3.

Fatima Al Qadiri

Body & Soul stage, Friday, June 22nd


Born in Senegal, the now Berlin-based electronic producer Fatima Al Qadiri will be performing this year at Ballinalough Castle. Al Qadiri’s music has always had an anti-authoritative feeling to it, especially on Brute, her 2016 album which took a skeptical look at policing standards in America. Al Qadiri’s music is spacious and hypnotic, pulsing synth tones sleep underneath the cosmic choir voices she uses time and time again throughout her music. There’s little doubt how much her time spent growing up in Kuwait under Iraqi invasion has influenced her music. There’s a distinctly Eastern feeling to the melodies and the thematic content on her albums is always wary of aggressive powers. While her music varies from sparse to hyper aggressive, it always retains a sense of animal intensity. A perfect Friday night to get the blood pumping.

4.

Reykjavíkurdætur

Midnight Circus, Sunday June 24th


The recent success of Cardi B in hip-hop, a female MC succeeding in a crowded male space is a rare occurrence. Outside of the nucleus of North American scene, female hip-hop is still rarely visible.

In Iceland, an all-female collective are redressing the balance by employing a “power in numbers” ethos that means Reykjavíkurdætur numbers a dozen ladies strong.
Their name is Icelandic for Daughters Of Reykjavik and formed in 2013 in Icelandic’s surprisingly active rap scene, as a safe space for female MCs to find their voices. Since then, the sisterhood has developed as a force to be reckoned with – talented rappers who can wipe their floor with their male contemporaries. Though they rap in Icelandic, the language’s expressive rolls and pops are so suited to the genre that not understanding the words feels less of an issue than it should.
The band were the hit of Iceland Airwaves in 2015, and have repeated the trick every year since. On stage, they are a wild collective of performers with fierce attitudes, unapologetic demeanours, distinct personalities, styles and flows.

Their unique energy and spectacle was infectious enough that they have developed a cult following, yet their number is a prohibitive touring logistic that means they don’t get to travel beyond their hometown. With live shows rare, make it your business to see this Icelandic powerhouse at Body&Soul Festival this year.


5.

Susanne Sundfør

Body & Soul stage, Sunday June 24th


Take some time to yourself on the Sunday and go catch Norwegian singer songwriter Susanna Sundfør. Having been releasing music under her own name for more than ten years, Sundfør has become a master at penning expressive lyrical ideas to haunting minimalist melodies. Her latest release Music For People In Trouble is starkly beautiful. Songs like ‘The Sound Of War’ are delivered in a falsetto as clear as Kate Bush’s but with the lyrical temperament of a folk hero like Leonard Cohen. Her breakthrough album The Brothel, released in 2010, is far more electronic in nature. Full of moody synth sounds and layered vocals, it reached the number one spot on the Norwegian charts and became the best selling album of the year, helping her become one of the nation’s most popular artists. As such, the chance to catch her in what is sure to be an intimate performance is one you shouldn’t pass up on. Pensive and sweet, Sundfør’s performance will be hypnotic.

7.

Arca

Body&Soul Main Stage, Saturday, June 23rd


You’re not likely to see a show like this in a hurry. The Venezuelan artist Arca is known for his avant-garde electronic productions and collaborations with Bjork, but a recent live show was more akin to a energetic drag show with fake boobs, DJ sets, costume changes and an uncompromising barrage of future beats. One to witness.

8.

Shame

Midnight Circus, Sunday June 24th


While relevant post-punk bands are few and far between in the current musical climate, British group Shame have proven themselves to be one of the most vital young voices in rock with the release of their debut album Songs Of Praise earlier this year. Their music is dense, with layered guitars providing that wall of sound feeling. Add to that a killer rhythm section and a clever ear for a chord progression and you have the raw ingredients for Shame’s visceral take on the modern punk sound. The group excel lyrically too. Songs Of Praise tackles politics, sexual perversion and the “four chord future” (check out ‘The Lick’) with the sort of unyielding youthful fury sorely missed among much of modern guitar music. With this year’s lineup being filled with mostly electronic and acoustic acts, the blistering set Shame are sure to perform is going to feel wholesome and cathartic.

9.

Iron & Wine

Body & Soul stage, Sunday June 24th


Sam Beam, better known as Iron & Wine, is a Southern folk singer. Having been releasing music since 2002’s The Creek Drank The Cradle, he’s established a reputation as a tour de force songwriter. His music blends elements of folk, country & western and delta blues with a noire feel. Even when at his most optimistic, say on a release like 2013’s Ghost On Ghost, there’s always a sense of the oncoming storm. Perhaps it’s Beam’s anxious lyricism, which is utterly superb, or the dynamic instrumentation used throughout his discography. In any case, Beam’s music rarely feels downbeat, despite his foreboding. Instead, Iron & Wine’s music feels celebratory, finding the beauty in both the good and bad. His Sunday set will provide ample refuge for those craving some soul food.

10.

Tshegue

Midnight Circus, Friday June 22nd


Body&Soul is known for booking European acts that most festivals wouldn’t be even aware of. The French project of French singer Faty Sy Savanet and producer Nicolas Dacunha, Tshegue, is one such example. Tshegue mix beats, African sounds, percussion, tribal singing and hypnotic rhythms into a sound that is on the bleeding edge of what’s happening now.


Posted on June 21st, 2018

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The most essential tracks of the last week handpicked by the Nialler9 team.

1.

David Byrne – Everybody’s Coming To My House

As suggested last week, David Byrne will release his first solo album since 2004 on March 9th and it’s called American Utopia. He has made albums with Eno, St. Vincent and Karl Hyde, it’s his first solo album. It’s produced by The xx cohort Rodaidh McDonald and features guests, Jack Peñate, Oneohtrix Point Never, Jam City and Thomas Bartlett,  and its choreographed live shows to come, Byrne has suggested are “the most ambitious show I’ve done since the shows that were filmed for Stop Making Sense.”

Talk about expectations. ‘Everybody’s Coming To My House’ is Byrne at his best – melding acoustic textures, brass and Afrobeat textures with his trademark pop songwriting.


2.

Wolf Alice – Don’t Delete The Kisses (Charli XCX x Post Precious remix)

A highlight from Wolf Alice last year gets a reworked electro-pop version from pop auteur Charli XCX. The song’s ode to young love and it’s “what if he’s not meant for me?” hook is wisely reinforced with new tones here.


3.

Kendrick Lamar x SZA – All The Stars

Kendrick is curating Marvel’s Black Panther movie soundtrack and ‘All The Stars’ is our first offering from it. So that’s both creators of album number 1 and 2 of 2017’s best albums collaborating (they are on the same label). SZA outshines Kendrick on this – her honey-dripped voice beholden with power is very suitable for a superhero movie. Kendrick can’t compete.


4.

Bruno Mars – Finesse (Remix) (Feat. Cardi B)

Cardi B adds some Salt’n’Pepa ’90s shake to a highlight from Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic. Props also for the 60fps video.


5.

Superorganism – Everybody Wants To Be Famous

London-based eight-member pop crew Superorganism show off their off-kilter electronic pop with their second big single. An album comes out on Domino on March 2nd.


6.

Rosie Carney – K

Donegal singer-songwriter Rosie Carney dropped a fine and faithful cover of a Cigarettes After Sex song written about lust and desire for a new partner on the Lower East Side.


7.

Reykjavíkurdætur – Hvao er Malio

Icelandic ice-queen rap collective Daughters of Reykjavík are always welcome around here, regardless of what they’re rapping about – the driinks menu? Either way, it bumps.


8.

Fischerspoooner – Togetherness feat. Caroline Polachek

The wandering Electro-clash Casey Fischerspooner returns with a fine electronic pop song featuring former Chairlift singer.


9.

Charli XCX – Backseat (Feat. Carly Rae Jepsen)

Charli XCX strikes again. December is a terrible time to release anything but Charli doesn’t give a fuck and dropped Pop 2 mixtape that kicks off with this M83 style banger.


Posted on January 9th, 2018

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The music world moves fast. Thousands of songs are competing for your attention every day so it takes something special for a full-length album to not only get your attention in the first place but keep you coming back for more. I found 2016 to be one of the most testing and taxing times for me to give decent albums as many spins as I’d like. That’s the hazards of the job – you’re always off looking for the next thing while trying to find the time to find music you already love from the past as well as give due ear time to albums released this year. I know, WOE is me. But it does get at a deeper problem – that some artists aren’t getting their just recognition amidst the noise for whatever reason.

The below 10 albums are a collection of releases that I feel may be missed by listeners. A more comprehensive 2016 list will feature in the next week or so.

Listen to a playlist on Spotify.


1.

The Invisible

Patience

On their third album, The Invisible, Dave Okumu (guitar, vocals), Tom Herbert (bass & synthesizer) and Leo Taylor (drums) produce their best work yet, an avant synth-pop collection of songs with appearances from Jessie Ware, Anna Calvi, Rosie Lowe and Connan Mockasin. The album also produced an epic Floating Points remix.


2.

Roosevelt

Roosevelt

Which is where Marius Lauber’s escapist debut album for Greco-Roman is an escapist tonic of electronic disco pop sound with shimmering synths, digital bass, percussive funk-infused rhythms and a glassy gaze. Star guitar bursts, funk bassline and synthesizer haze dominate and the album has many highlights: ‘Moving On’, ‘Belong’, Night Moves’, ‘Colours’ and ‘Hold On’ among them.


3.

Cakes Da Killa

Hedonism

New Jersey rapper Cakes Da Killa’s debut album released in October, after a handful of mixtapes made his name is a pedal-down collection of upbeat electro-infused rap songs (hip-house?) with superfast flows and guest turns from Peaches and Rye Rye. It’s a party inspired by B-more, bass and set in the club.


4.

Reykjavíkurdætur

RVK DTR

Reykjavíkurdætur are dozen-plus strong female rap group (their name is Daughters of Reykjavik) from Iceland. Their debut album is all in their native tongue and is a brash collection of electro-tinged rap from a small country that has a big scene for rap. They’re like the Spice Girls but actually empowering and badass. Highlights include ‘Drusla’, ‘Ógeðsleg’ and ‘Fanbois’.


5.

Cinema

A Night Train To Budapest

Peter Fleming, the Kildare-born producer makes instrumental electronic music, that generally can be described as bright, Balearic and luminescent.

A Night Train to Budapest, his debut album features just five tracks but at 40 minutes, it allows the songs much room for exploration of slow-tempo disco, guitar ambiance, cosmic disco, house and electronica.


6.

Doomsquad

Total Time

Doomsquad

The Toronto band Doomsquad’s second album is a new-age leaning psychedelic album full of rhythmic focus and electronic textures. The band’s closest comparison is the music of Gang Gang Dance; a tribal dance take on atmospheric electronic haziness inspired by artists Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle, Georges Bataille, the French thinker, Richard Tuttle a post-minimal artist and Tanya Tagaq, Canadian throat singer.

Total Time’s major appeal is its electronic mysticism and its throbbing psychedelic heart.


7.

Pavel Dovgal

The Aura

The Aura, Pavel’s third full-length album was inspired by trips around Asia, along with “hip-hop, jazz music of the 70’s, indie pop, ethnic African sounds and artists that include Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes, Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, Bjork and Curtis Mayfield.

It’s a collection of textured electronic beats informed by R&B, trip-hop, jazz and rap. Featuring guest turns from L.A. rapper BLU, Azari & III”s Starving Yet Full and Pavel’s friends Mujuice and Graciela Maria, The Aura is recommended for fans of the beat-driven electronic music of Brainfeeder, Bonobo, Gold Panda, live instrument samples, glitchy beats, and headnodding rhythms.


8.

Tiger & Woods

On The Green Again

The New York dance duo Tiger & Woods are known for their floorfilling disco-tinged club tracks like ‘Gin Nation’ and ‘Bash at Jacks’, return with a second full-length on Running Back delivers a solid 13-track collection of house and disco electronic jams with boogie and Italo textures.


9.

Mind Enterprises

Idealist

Italian London-based lo-fi dance musician Andrea Tirone’s debut came three years on from his first appearance as lo-fi chillwave-leaning musician. Idealist has more loose-fitting indie disco territory which took inspirations from Afro-funk music.


10.

February & Mars

February & Mars

The Galway duo, Carl Ramberg and Jack Considine, released an open-minded debut album earlier this year that wasn’t massively promoted at the time. Featuring analogue drum-machine synthesizer songs that use guitars, a deep knowledge and a love of music’s genre fringes to produce a record that could be described as danceable, dreamy, detailed and discerning.

Co-production comes from Galway DJ John Daly (who also released a fine album on All Cityeary this ) who gives the album a cohesive sheen. If you count Brian Eno, Guns ‘n’ Roses, cosmic disco, house and techno as interests, as Considine and Ramberg do, February & Mars is for you.

Listen to a playlist on Spotify.

Posted on December 8th, 2016

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One of the best things I saw at Iceland Airwaves, and last year in general, was the 16 strong female rap group Reykjavíkurdætur (Daughters of Reykjavik) from Iceland.

The girls crowdfunded a debut album with t-shirt extras and all and now, it’s out for all to hear via Spotify.

It’s mostly in Icelandic but one track ‘F*E*M*I*N*I*S*M’ that mentions “16 pussies going loco”. True vagina warriors.

Highlights include ‘Drusla’, ‘Ógeðsleg’ and ‘Fanbois’

Posted on July 14th, 2016

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One of the best things I saw at Iceland Airwaves, and last year in general, was the 15-20 strong female rap group Reykjavíkurdætur (Daughters of Reykjavik) from Iceland.

‘Fanbois’ is rapped by a duo of the group in Icelandic ( there are a few English words) as are their other songs, but even through the delivery (and a cursory Google translate) the lyrics are pretty clearly filthy, tongue in cheek and turn the tables on the normal male-fronted braggadocio. The irony is lost on the guy giving out in the comments on the video cannot see the parallel to male rappers addressing the opposite sex in an explicit fashion.

Reykjavíkurdætur are playing London this week. A 30-track album is coming soon. They are looking for funding for it.
There’s an interview with Noisey this week too.

Posted on March 9th, 2016

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Well, that was quick. It’s not on til November but Iceland Airwaves have already announced names for the festival in Reykjavik from November 2nd to 6th this year.

They are:

PJ Harvey
Julia Holter
múm with Kronos Quartet
Lush
Axel Flóvent
GKR
Mammút
Reykjavíkurdætur
Mr.Silla
Sturla Atla

Reykjavíkurdætur were my highlight of Iceland Airwaves 2015.

Info and tickets.

https://nialler9.com/iceland-airwaves-2015-16-of-the-best-sets-in-reykjavik/

Posted on February 8th, 2016

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Iceland has a special allure. The island is alone in the North Atlantic but upon touching down in the country, you get the sense it is unique in more ways than its geographical position. Sure you’ve heard about its most famous cultural exports: Sigur Ros, and Iceland’s most famous musician Björk. Not a day goes by without a mention or a spotting of the lady herself while in Reykjavík. Despite cancelling shows for the remainder of the year including Iceland Airwaves, Björk gave a press conference during the festival to call for action to stop the destruction of the Icelandic highlands (petition here).

Iceland is idiosyncratic. At just over 300,000 inhabitants, the music is topsy turvy in this part of the world with alternative/rap/rock and folk seemingly more dominant than mainstream pop.

The country teaches music throughout primary and secondary school, meaning there are lot of music-educated people in the country. All that musical knowledge is felt at Airwaves with what felt like 150 bands from the country playing the festival.

Adding to the mystique of the country and the festival, is the adventurous young landscape that gives us jutting volcanic rock, glaciers, geysers, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, black ash beaches, mossy green ground and geothermal volcanic water that gives magical tourist attractions like the Blue Lagoon and a culture of naturally-heated public pools that the entire population use almost daily. Its wonder isn’t confined to the ground either, as the the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis were spotted in the sky on our last night. It all adds to the uniqueness of the Airwaves adventure.

Three things people enthusing about Iceland maybe didn’t tell you? Post-crash and on the way up, the country is an expensive place to stay once again. Secondly, the hot water smells like sulphur, that rotten egg smell which is a surprise jolt to receive in your first morning shower. Thirdly, the Icelandic love rap. Those hard Icelandic vowels lend themselves to it. Which leads us to…

The Daughters of Reykjavík

The Icelandic love rap. You couldn’t escape it at Airwaves. Like many other places reappropriating the American cultural force, much of it copies the source. The few rappers I saw were pretty standard.Yet overall, the Icelandic bands had an equal amount of women as men (the country has a history of a strong women’s equality movement) and it was like a refreshing glimpse into a hopeful future.

It was most evident when I encountered The Daughters of Reykjavik aka Reykjavíkurdætur (1).

Reykjavíkurdætur, who I saw three times at the festival, embody that feeling. They are all-female rap group formed from girls-only rap nights, who take to the stage with between 11 and 22 rappers depending on whether they’re all available (one gig saw a rapper do the first song then make excuses and leave for work). Their collective performance was the pinnacle of this idea. Here were a wild collective of Icelandic ladies with fierce attitudes, unapologetic demeanours, distinct personalities, styles and flows; united in sisterhood by rap.

They rap in Icelandic so the content of much of their lyrics are unknown though at Airwaves the songs were about social networks, slutshaming and a song in English, that you wish you were left guessing, about the joys of get a finger up the ass.

“Daughters of Reykjavík / On dark nights / We own this town / Listen to the lioness words,” they sing in Icelandic on the chorus of their eponymous manifesto song ‘Reykjavíkurdætur’. With the lyrics obfuscated by a language not understood, live, it’s the individual characters of the performers that draw you in.

With so many rappers, the quality can vary throughout the verses but the unique energy and spectacle was more than enough to keep us coming back over the course of the week. With so many members of varying commitments, each show was different. Reykjavíkurdætur may remain an Icelandic concern due to logistics and the cost of bringing so many people on tour but for those who witnessed them for the first time, they empowering to watch, female or male. There was talk of the Daughters Of Dublin being formed as a direct result of their shows.

More on them from Grapevine.


My own experiences with Icelandic music other than Reykjavíkurdætur didn’t have a great hit rate. While I didn’t get to see Fufanu, Soley, Tonik Ensemble, Milkywhale, Mr. Silla and countless others on my list, I did enjoy a set from Samaris’ Jófríður (2) and her band who all drank tea and chilled us out off-venue at the Alda Hotel on Friday, as well as a small slice of the Austra-style electro-pop of East Of My Youth (3).

Harpa from the side.

A photo posted by Niall Byrne (@nialler9) on

Much of the Airwaves action takes place in Harpa, Reykjavik’s recently-built architecturally-impressive luxurious concert hall on the docks, which is where I see an Icelandic band singing about a thing I travelled to see the day before – a waterfall. Iceland’s biggest new band, if the crowd in Harpa, is anything to go by, is Vök (4). It’s hard not to be impressed at first, the band’s glacial electronic moody pop takes advantage of Harpa’s great soundsystem and the band’s stylistic monochrome live-captured visuals is perfectly pitched to their mood. The xx-style ambiance is a natural fit to Iceland’s own vistas, but their icy electronics soon give way to a a lower quality that basically boils down to flimsier songs and too much wailing reverbed sax. When in doubt, do not just keep playing that saxophone.

Electronic variety

22450299357_8f33d6ee74_k Kiasmos (5), the electronic project of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, know the power of minimalism. Their cinematic electronic music has a neo-classical and contemporary sensibility that moves in small shades and gradual dynamics. Matched by sumptuous visuals that might be graded and mirrored Icelandic tourist videos, Kiasmos in Harpa is a high-definition event. The next morning at the geothermal public pool at Vesturbæjarlaug, Arnalds is seen relaxing in the naturally-heated hot tubs. That’s just how Icelanders roll and one of the nice things about Airwaves, fitting into the local’s leisure time.

Ever since I first saw Sophie (6), the male producer at SXSW in 2014, the hyperactive, pinging electronic pop music he’s been making has been crowded by peers in PC Music who aren’t as captivating or take the music too far into art project territory. People were unimpressed at the fake energy-drink branded QT show in Nasa where she pressed play on a CD/USB and stood there as if it was an art project like this. Thankfully, my check in with Sophie proves he’s a cut above the rest in the same venue later that night. That’s because Sophie’s music has its own sonic imprint even if it impressively sounds like a mashup between Daft Punk, Michael Jackson, Dutch hardstyle and the Chipmunks. It takes real skill to take disparate styles and make then your own. Sophie did that live. Plus, he played his brilliant Charli XCX collaboration, which points a way to establish this unique fizzy pop into the mainstream. Kudos also to Kane West (7) who did a great job later that night in Hurra of delivering his own take on percussive lo-fi weirdo dance pop music.

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Earlier that night, it was electronic pop of a different persuasion, one informed by soul and R&B that impressed. My previous run in with the English singer Nao (8) at the Great Escape in Brighton earlier this year was let down by a crowded venue and poor sound, but this time around there were no problems. Nao killed her set in Nasa. Tight, bright and funky, songs like ‘Inhale /Exhale’ and ‘Zillionaire’ were responded to fervently by the engaged Nasa crowd in front and watching from the sides, so much so that there was a dance circle formed at the back of the room.

North American thrum

The North American contingent featured with some strong marquee names like John Grant, Father John Misty, Mercury Rev, Ariel Pink, Beach House and Battles among them yet some of them didn’t live up to that stature. The latter two headline shows caused the busiest night and the longest lines in Harpa. Mercury Rev has the loudest show imaginable, so loud, many hardened gig-goers were forced to the back or to leave the room. Ariel Pink remains a curio, unable to translate his quirkiness into something palatable live. Father John Misty has one of the albums of the year concerned with confronting his jaded romanticism but he looks like a jaded performer these days, bored with the characterisation he’s undertaken, not engaging with the audience other than to quip about preferring the mink whale meat back home or to record the perfect take of a song for a fan on their mobile. The set suffered from sound issues though so the scowls aimed at the scrambling backstage and a buzzing speaker in front of the audience and that didn’t help the performer and audience connect. Only, Grant’s show with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra was among the most coveted and special for many and softened the blow of no Bjork show. I was filled in another way at the same time, by one of the best meals I ever had in the Nordic restaurant Dill, which could show Irish chefs how to embrace our local produce with flair and imagination.

There was plenty of both at shows from Braids (9) and Hundred Waters (10) at Airwaves. The former Canadian band left the best impression of themselves as a great cross between indie electronics and jazz drumming. Drummer Austin Tufts is so impressive during Deep In The Iris’ standout ‘Blondie’ that not even his glasses falling from his face can distract his intense breaks. Hundred Waters meanwhile, as one of my favourite bands ever since a chance encounter at SXSW years ago, never fail to make me melt. Nicole Miglis’ voice makes me drippy, it has a special quality, as does their music. Live, the now-three piece have bridged a perfect gap between their debut’s pastoral electronics and the second’s moody ambience. Live, ‘Down From The Rafters’ transforms into a propulsive number using the Huxley remix as a guide. The New Jersey hardcore punk rappers Ho99o9 (11) are outliers of the American music here, though they fit in with a lot of the metal-leaning Icelandic bands. The band (it’s pronounced ‘Horror’) brought some serious mosh vibes in wedding dresses and face masks to NASA complete with backflips.

Backflips and hardcore noise with Ho99o9 #airwaves15 ✔️ A video posted by Niall Byrne (@nialler9) on

Hometeam

On the first night in Iceland, Feel Good Lost hosted an Irish welcome with Slow Skies, Talos and Daithí playing in the budget gastropub-housing KEX Hostel. As the night wore on, spirits continued to lift and Daithí (12), once again, as he did at Electric Picnic, put on a killer hour-long performance that got the natives throwing big shapes for a Monday night. It set the scene for the rest of the week, the streets of Laugavegur, the main street where many of the daytime off-venue gigs took place were filled with familiar Irish voices and faces.

Mr @daithimusic representing in Iceland. Place was hopping.

A video posted by Niall Byrne (@nialler9) on

The UK

The UK contingent was also strong at Airwaves. Later in the week, KEX hosted the Manchester post-punk funk musician LoneLady (13) whose taut danceable rhythms lingered long in the ear. Skepta and JME (14) shutdown the Reykjavík Art Museum with their chiptune-recalling London grime. Anna B Savage (15), fresh from supporting Beach House, delivered an intense solo set of brittle electric guitar confessionals that reminded more than a few people of PJ Harvey.

The final night takes place outside the city in a very large hall, the only one that can accommodate more than 2000 people in one go. That jump in size doesn’t benefit Sleaford Mods, whose music, guttural and compact doesn’t travel around the room but no such problems for the people-bolstered Hot Chip (16), festival closing vets at this point, with the best drummer around in Sarah Jones, who finish us for good and end a magical week with our Lumo #1 closer, their spiffing cover of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in The Dark’ interpolated with LCD Soundystem’s ‘All My Friends’.

In between all of this music, Iceland seeped into my pores. Whether it was watching the awesome power of water at Gullfoss, driving through a country which had four seasons out each window, catching the Northern Lights overhead, losing hours browsing second hand vinyl at Lucky Records, having a great coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, dancing late into the night elbow to elbow in Kaffibarinn, or spending the most relaxing time of recent memory in the local pool at Vesturbæjarlaug, there was much to mark Airwaves out as a destination festival and Iceland as a haven in the North, to which I will readily return.

Photos from Iceland Airwaves.

Posted on November 12th, 2015

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