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I can’t say I’d ever thought too much about Iceland much before. As such, I didn’t have too many expectations for my flying visit to its capital, Reykjavik, for the one-off hometown show for Barði Jóhannsson’s Bang Gang project. Though for a country with a population of just over 300,000 – around the size of Cardiff – maybe that’s not so surprising. Beyond Björk, Sigur Rós and flight-disrupting volcanos, I didn’t have too many points of reference for the sparsely populated island.
As with most of the other music that’s emerged from there, Jóhannsson’s work reaches out beyond the confines of his homeland. His newest album, ‘The Wolves Are Whispering’, features a number of collaborators from both home and abroad, some of which – like Samaris’ Jófríður Ákadóttir and Daniel Hunt of Ladytron – were also slated to make appearances in the show. The surprising number of record shops (along with geothermically heated pools and the penis museum) packed into its city centre – around half the size of Cardiff – is perhaps testament to their taste for musical imports from more southerly locales.
In support were Gangly, another Reykjavik-based act whose sound sits somewhere in the region of Banks, Kelela and FKA twigs. The sound in the old theatre was polished and sharp, which was particularly ideal for the crack of the sampler-filtered handclaps and snare hits that were the mainstay of their songs. The few snippets of lyrics that I could make out seemed to suggest subject matter just as inappropriate to listen to around your co-workers or family as most songs by Kelela & co. It was impressive, especially so given they’ve only put out one or two songs online.
UK nu-rave survivors Is Tropical, recently signed to Crystal Fighter Graham Dickson’s new label, were booked for in-between DJ duties and succeeded in keeping things ticking over smoothly. Jóhannsson and his band soon took to the stage, however, and kicked things off with the melancholy-type pop that makes up much of the new LP. The lighting was set to dim for the moody atmospherics and glitchy paranoia that filtered into the set, with the mood and tempo nudging its way toward an upward trajectory as the show moved toward a close.
Jean-Benoit Dunckel of AIR (who’s previously partnered with Jóhannsson for their Starwalker project) and Ladytron’s Hunt joined the rest of the band, frantically hitting and twiddling keys and knobs on the synths and keys they brought with them to stage, kicking things into gear for the show’s final moments. Though the energy levels dropped at points of the show, the finale undoubtedly brought together the ensemble mixture of ideas that ties the record together. I’m still not sure if I’ve got much of a handle on Iceland compared to before, though I’m not sure that matters too much.
Thanks to Wow Air for making the trip possible.