Arts concert review

Reykjavík Calling in Cambridge

The exciting varieties of Nordic music

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Sindri Már Sigfússon, more commonly known as Sin Fang, was one of the Icelandic artists who performed at Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub as a part of Reykjavík Calling.
COURTESY OF Sindri Már Sigfússon

Reykjavík Calling

Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub

March 15

Iceland’s population is just around 320,000 (which means the island has fewer inhabitants than Alaska), but the nation has an astonishingly high propensity for music. The country boasts ninety music schools, about four hundred choirs, four hundred orchestras and marching bands, and a vibrant scene in rock, jazz, and electronic genres.

Several Icelandic artists — such as Sigur Rós, Björk, and Of Monsters and Men — are fairly well-known in America. Given Iceland’s reputation for creating innovative musical trends, I was interested in attending “Reykjavik Calling”, a five-hour concert that featured three Icelandic artists or groups, and two local bands. The event was characterized as an eclectic fusion of electronic, rock, folk, and soul, rather than a more traditional, purist approach to music genres.

Hermigervill, the first act, was an electronic solo musician from Iceland who experimented with various styles, including creating electronic renditions of other genres. His opening act was an electronic rendition of “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saens, but his later pieces included “Harlem Reykjavik,” which integrates influences from Harlem, New York and an electronic cover of a 1960s Icelandic classic.

Hermegervill’s music differs from “run-of-the-mill” electronic music by combining beats with scratched vocals, compelling the audience to focus on melodies. Generally, his music is upbeat, but also creates a lounge ambience.

Skinny Bones, a local band from Jamaica Plain, followed with electronic folk songs. The band performed several heartfelt pieces that evoked an emotional reaction from the audience. Like Hermigervill, Skinny Bones’ performances heightened adrenaline from listeners through drum-based electronic beats. The lead singer Jacob Rosati also played the guitar, while Christopher Stoppiello played the drums. Their sound was one of intimacy and earthiness.

Sin Fang, the next act and the second artist from Iceland, is also known as Sindri Már Sigfússon from the acoustic folk band Seabear. Sin Fang’s music is best characterized as a fusion of indie and electronic (though he was probably the hardest to ‘classify’ of all acts on Saturday).

His eclectic performance opened with smooth electronic songs, before transitioning to pieces with more thumping beats. His music had an optimistic feel-good vibe, as opposed to the more abrasive sound from Hermigervill. His music produced a feeling of warmth, similar to the sensation of a rising sun and greening land after a long winter.

The Love Experiment was the second local band of the night, and probably the most interactive act. The band’s music can be classified as neo-soul and experimental hip-hop. Unlike the Icelandic acts, which tend to be more austere (though not negatively so) and smooth in style, The Love Experiment’s pieces were upbeat and warm.

The New Orleans background of some of the band’s artists was apparent in their performance. The band members had fun on stage and noticeably connected with each other throughout their performances.

Retro Stefson, an Iceland group that fuses alternative, pop, and dance, closed the night. The band is becoming increasingly well-known in Iceland and has already released three albums.

While Sin Fang and Hermigervill focused relatively purely on the electronic side of music, Retro Stefson’s songs were more dance-oriented. Retro Stefson had the most linguistically eclectic set, with pieces sung in English, Icelandic, French, and Portuguese.

The band incorporates influences from South America and Africa that lend to the dance feel of their songs. Retro Stefson’s performances were spontaneous and uninhibited, and a fitting closing act to the concert.

Overall, the concert was enjoyable and a terrific fusion of genres. The result was definitive images or tones from the performances, not dissonant, overwhelming mismatches. I would like to praise the artists for combining these styles so masterfully and the organizers for giving the Icelandic and local bands the chance to showcase their talent.

The event, however, would have been more enjoyable if it had been shorter. Each band played for roughly 45 minutes to an hour, which was about four to five hours of total playing time. By the time the third and fourth acts rolled around, my ears were exhausted, and it became harder to enjoy the music. I understand that about an hour of playing time per band is appropriate, but many of the audience members didn’t stay for the entire event.

I recommend that you listen to these artists, particularly if you got tired of the electronic genres you currently listen to and would like to explore something new (most of these artists incorporated some aspect of electronic production in their music). Skinny Bones and the Love Experiment are local, so you can catch some of their performances in the near future.