And play it did! This was an eclectic event to be part of, organised on the spur of the moment by Sigur Rós, the iconic Icelandic band who here hosted their very own music festival in their native Iceland. Taking place at the end of December of 2017 in that joyful time of the year with pleasant merrymaking, the magnificent Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík was the perfect place for this unique adventure, Norður og Niður, a four-day event bringing together performances from the band’s friends, collaborators and heroes.
Although regular visitors to this part of the world, this was unexpected and not planned and we found ourselves eager to find out more about Icelandic music, culture and art. The festival proved to be a melting pot of ideas and creativity and formulated with an uncomplicated organic approach, yet intriguing, mystical and real. More than just music, the festival had promised ‘art installations, dance pieces, film screenings, spoken word and impromptu happenings.’
Not unsurprisingly, it was one of the latter that first caught our attention. At the back of the venue overlooking the harbour we meet up with charismatic Tristan Gribbin founder of Flow meditation explaining to us that meditating with intention and focus and correct breathing increases the ability to find what we are searching for. To help to still the mind Flow provides a virtual experience of Icelandic nature and guided meditation, an innovative way to help you relax anywhere in the world allowing you to take the beauty of Iceland with you.
Of all the festival’s events, Sigur Ros was without a doubt the pièce de résistance and not since seeing Nirvana at the Reading Festival many years ago have we been so enthralled and bewitched by a band who's music is an enchanting odyssey for the senses. In fact, words do little to convey the experience, you must be there. The following day we ventured into more music and art to discover Alex Somers, an American visual artist and musician and Sigur Ros’s long-standing producer and collaborator who gave food for thought with his interesting approach to sounds.
Part of the appeal of this four-day event was to be introduced to unfamiliar artists. Who was Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir? Drawn into Harpa’s many concert venues, Kaldalon, named after the most celebrated of Icelandic songwriters in the first part of the 20th century, we found a songwriter for a new age, a most unique Icelandic musician and artist, performing her own songs for piano and voice with occasional accompaniment by guitar and cello. A member of the band Múm 1998 - 2006, Kristín Anna has embarked upon a solo career with a voice almost ethereal in quality, transporting you to a world most magical.
Icelandic composer and conductor Daníel Bjarnason has garnered widespread praise for his debut album and his musical score for Iceland’s entry to this year’s Oscar Awards screened at the festival, Under the Tree, a satirical study of mundane but increasingly feisty goings-on in Reykjavik suburbia, has met with great acclaim. His versatility as an arranger and conductor has led to collaborations with a broad array of musicians outside the classical field, including Sigur Rós and Efterklang.
In view of recent turn of events regarding the empowerment of women it was apt to find Peaches as part of this festival. She has come a long way since her early days with the folk trio The Mermaid Café, now a staunch proponent of transsexuality, promiscuity and obscenity, in a word, hyper-sexual liberalism. She certainly caught everyone's attention with a mix of hard edge melodic rock and electronic sounds accompanied with the graphic manifestation of the message conveyed in the music.
Dan Deacon’s electronic music shows are legendary, all about participation, interaction, blending a background in experimental composition, pop culture and a penchant for absurdism having been a part of his performance you understand why he has gained an enthusiastic following and critical acclaim for his highly energetic performances and elaborate recordings. With Hugar we again went all Icelandic, and if you are not familiar with their Icelandic vibe, then you will feel as if you are starting to appreciate music from this country. Their collection of instrumental pieces gives you inner peace and a longing for travelling through your senses.
During these dark December days, Harpa became the focal point of Iceland’s music lovers. Although not performing, Björk was present and if you were so inclined you might classify one of Iceland’s most promising talents, Jófríður Ákadóttir, as her protégé. Under her artistic name, JFDR, she has received heaps of praise, with Björk commenting: ‘I got obsessed with her band Samaris a few years ago,’ when naming Ákadóttir one of her inspirations, ’and then it was amazing to see her do her own stuff’. Another source of authentic musical energy is Sigrun with her mix of experimental sounds including both melodic and repetitive hypnotic elements. Both artists are a testament to how refreshing Icelandic music can be.
And finally, a mix of classic and avant-garde music from Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie known as Stars of the Lid here we find a fitting backdrop to the serene landscape before us. The duo, formed in Austin, Texas in 1993, list among their influences minimalist and electronic composers and employ a mix of horns, strings and guitars with a sound being described as ‘divine, classical drone without the tedious intrusion of drums or vocals.’
All good things must come to an end, with the one and only Jarvis Cocker frontman of the band Pulp who became a figurehead of the Britpop movement in the 1990’s Cocker has since pursued a solo career, sometimes actor and Radio presenter this was entertainment at it’s best and so is this tour de force of modern music making. Our selection, if archaic, of events featured at this most intriguing of music festivals, Norður og Niður, was indeed a most uplifting experience in those darkest of days. Surely to be continued…? Play on!