Fresh after a good night’s sleep, there’s actually a full day to wander the excellently pocket-sized town before the main shows start. The atmosphere in the town alone is a joy, with punters and bands alike all catching up and chatting over coffee or some early beers. Throughout the day there’s still plenty of off-schedule events in small cafés, galleries and even a hairdressers and it’s into said venue (Sjoppan) we go to see Danish acoustic duo Murder – who are actually hanging about outside when we arrive. Being a very relaxed festival means that some of the venues run late – quite a lot actually, so you can often not match up what you want to do on the original schedule. That being said, there’s more of an upside to this as you end up finding some great bands by chance, when you’re actually expecting to see another.
Murder are Anders Mathiasen and Jacob Bellens and they perform quiet, thoughtful songs, getting a lot out of some simple harmonies, one guitar and humorous interludes between songs. In this hairdressers, one storey above the main street – and with haircuts still being administered – they were pretty entrancing.
As we arrive to see them open the official proceedings later in the evening we realise they are hanging about outside again – another late start time – so we wander to the Iðnó venue to see who’s on. At first we’re not sure what to make of The Vandelles. A garagey ‘noir rock’ band mixed with a surf sound, they were loud and brash and already in a lather of sweat. Frontman Jasno seems to take his stage presence tricks from the Fonz, the leather biker jacket, a sneering lip, shades and rolled-up tee revealing the fruits of his working-out labours. We were initially thrown but we were suckered in to this guilty pleasure by both the addictive fuzzy melodies (the more streetwise cousins of The Drums perhaps) and the misfit look of the band. Straight out of The Breakfast Club; a pretty, dark-haired girl on bass, tall dude on guitar and the frighteningly precise, pounding drumming coming from strawberry blonde Honey, a delightful young lady you might mistake for a shy, retiring type if you met her in the street.
We were sold on The Vandelles by the time we wandered back to see Murder charm another room, who were then followed by Útidúr, a local band, though more of an orchestra as we counted 15 people on stage. Balkan in sound, they would have been perfectly blissful, in a nordic Beirut way, except the singer couldn’t really hold a tune and with hunger taking hold, we headed on.
As a quick aside, what was to be a quick fish supper turned into a feast of the tastiest fish and some fine wine as we stumbled upon the granny’s-kitchen style restaurant Vid Tjornina and leveraged the Icelandic Kroner to the max. Bursting with the finest shark and some local skyr we waddle to Everything Everything in the art gallery. We knew our dinner had settled when we found our feet dancing to ‘Photoshop Handsome’. Uplifting guitar pop as it is, it got a little funky for our ears at some points but it was perfect Friday night fare and it had the gallery dancing – full as it now was with Icelandics who know that they won’t be going to bed for at least another seven hours.
A can of cold, local beer is just €3 thanks to the weak kroner, so a trip to the bar for a round won’t break anybody and it’s on the return from there that we catch the fresh new electro-pop boys Hurts. What Hurts have done is mine the last 20 years of pop songs and taken every single gold nugget of what makes girls dance and/or cry and blended them all into the most sheened, and well-honed sound. Not to mention their uber-polished appearance and the most perfect performance. So intensely enjoyable was it, that we could actually feel ourselves getting more camp as the show went on. They utilised the venues lights to great effect and the pure theatre of the gig raised their synth pop songs (whose stories can sound a bit laughable on record) to sweeping epics and every screaming girl in the room will tell you how awesome that sounded.
Normally the DJ coming on at 1.30am would end the night but not on a weekend in Reykjavik – it’s a mere warm up. James Blake had been doing some interesting things with his individual take on dubstep lately, but tonight he has the task of DJing to the packed, sweaty Sodoma (yep) venue. Everyone in the room takes their turn on the dancefloor for the hour and when not on the floor, we’re enjoying hanging near the bar chatting to all and sundry – the festival feeling in full swing. Meeting randomers who become part of a mini, hybrid crew for the weekend is the most pleasurable part of any festival, and this one in particular. The venues lend themselves to this socialising and with a DJ like the fresh-faced Blake providing the soundtrack for an hour, all you can do at the end of it is gather the team you have amassed and hit one of the late night venues in town. We chose Kaffibarinn and in the packed upstairs room of the like-being-at-home club we pounded the beers and discussed the merits of The Vandelles, while downstairs Hurts made out with an assortment of Icelandic girls.
Photos by Jakob Bekker Hansen