Iceland Airwaves Day Three: Stealing Sheep, Singapore Sling And Omar Souleyman (11/1)

I looked at my phone this morning and a smile came across my face because it was 10:15 am. This meant that I had actually slept for more than the obligatory four or five hours which has been the norm since landing in Reykjavík. I had some home-brewed coffee courtesy of my roommate Andrew and it was off to The Sea Baron for lobster soup and catfish. I was expecting lobster bisque and instead was met with a lighter blend of of broth that worked in celery, tomato, and of course the main ingredient: lobster. I’m a fan of seafood and this place does not disappoint, a must visit if you’re in Reykjavík.

A belly full of lobster soup, courtesy of The Sea Baron, located at Geirsgata 8, 101 Reykjavík.
A belly full of lobster soup, courtesy of The Sea Baron, located at Geirsgata 8, 101 Reykjavík.

From there it was over to Eymundsson Skólatöskur to sit down with Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, one of the top junior doctors in Reykjavík. She is currently doing her residency at Landspitali University Hospital where she specializes in cardiovascular medicine. We spoke about Iceland’s troubling issue of having many junior doctors leaving the country post-graduation to do their residencies or practice medicine full-time in other countries like Denmark, Sweden, and the United States. Lower starting pay, old equipment, and long hours are all contributing factors to the shortage of young doctors that Iceland is beginning to face, according to Kristjánsdóttir. (Check back next week for my full piece on the doctor shortage in Iceland).

With a couple of hours to burn before my next interview, I thought it was about time I got myself over to 12 Tónar, one of Reykjavík’s foremost independent record labels and one hell of a record store. Small in stature but large on selection, I perused through everything from electronic to folk-pop to garage rock. And get this: they have a basement where you can sit on the couch, have a coffee, open whatever CD you want and play it on one of the many portable CD players they make available to customers.

Listening station with a coffee in the basement.
Listening station with a coffee in the basement.

After a few suggestions from the staff, I was in the enviable position of having too much good music to choose from. I eventually settled on Singapore Sling’s The Curse of Singapore Sling, The Third Sound’s, and Samaris’ eponymously-titled debut Samaris. After picking up a T-shirt as well, I figured it was time to get out of there before I wound up broke.

12 Tónar Record Store, located in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustíg.
12 Tónar Record Store, located in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustíg.

I left 12 Tónar in time to meet with 33 year-old Helgi Gunnarsson, a member of the Icelandic Parliament and the Pirate Party. Iceland was just ranked number one in the world in terms of Internet freedom, a fascinating subject that Helgi is well qualified to speak on due to the Pirate Party’s fight for freedom of information, transparency in government, and non-censorship of the Internet. (Check back later for my full interview and story with Helgi Gunnarsson).

After my interview I grabbed a quick tallboy of Egils Gull because you can drink on the street in Reykjavík and headed back to the hotel before yet another evening of great live music was to kick off.

Stealing Sheep: October 31  00:20 at Idnó

Stealing Sheep are just one of the most recent stellar bands to come out of Liverpool, with an electronica ’60s girl group atmosphere surrounded by guitars both loud and soft at times. Emily Lansley (guitar, vocals), Rebecca Hawley (keys, vocals) and Lucy Mercer (percussion, vocals) have a special blend of folk music that especially comes to life when the three of them harmonize. Clearly a band with some positive critical acclaim (the line to get in was out the door), the band played album-quality renditions with tracks from 2012’s Into the Diamond Sun and the more recent Noah and the Paper Moon. Stealing Sheep closed their set with a sea shanty that no doubt brought back memories of their coastal upbringing and left the crowd stomping their feet for more.

Singapore Sling: November 1  18:30 at Harpa 12 Tónar

Singapore Sling was formed in Reyjavík in 2000, and while they may hail from Iceland, they have the look and stage presence of New York cool. Their brand of post-punk is one drenched in reverb and its easy to see that these guys are wildly talented together, probably a result of being a group for over a decade now.

Singapore Sling at Harpa 12 Tónar.
Singapore Sling at Harpa 12 Tónar.

The band rarely took a moment to speak to an intimate crowd huddled around on the main floor at Harpa, instead choosing to let songs like “Life Is Killing My Rock N’ Roll” do all the talking. The group’s bassist plucked lines effortlessly and looked cool doing it in shades that even the late, great Lou Reed would have envied. With three guitarists in the group, Singapore Sling managed not to get bogged down in too much sound and rather, let each guitarist trade off riffs and chords so that you’re almost not sure who’s playing what. As the 45-minute set drew to an end, front man Henrik Björnsson hung at the mic before slamming into “Curse, Curse, Curse” and just like that, the show was over. A fantastic display of raw power and sound, fans of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Sonic Youth should check out Singapore Sling.

Omar Souleyman: November 1  23:00 at Harpa Silfurberg

Syrian madmen Omar Souleyman knows how to throw one hell of a party. Providing the soundtrack for one of the largest crowds at Airwaves, security had to close down not one but two of the entrances to keep people out. Inside, the scene was one of utter joy and mayhem as Souleyman paraded back and forth across the stage waving his hands in unison at the crowd, almost as if he were directing them to dance. And dance they did. With songs that move at breakneck speed, this is dabke music that is typically performed at joyous weddings back in Souleyman’s Syria, so the music definitely fit the mood of the crowd (or perhaps vice versa). It should be noted however, that Souleyman might just be a novelty act if not for the quick fingers of drum machine and keyboard player Rizan Sa’id. He provided the actual music that complemented the lyrics and one could not go without the other. People were lifting others up and putting them on their shoulders, strangers danced with strangers, and everyone sweated it out together as temperatures inside Harpa Silfurberg began to swell. Though from the Middle East, the drum ‘n’ bass style of dance music is universal in that it is infectious. Attend one of Omar Souleyman’s concerts and try not to dance even a little bit; its tough. 2013 brings the first proper recording, Wenu Wenu, for Souleyman at the ripe age of 47 after releasing most of his previous recordings in a crude version on cassette tape. He rapped over quick bass lines without missing a beat and the crowd loved every single minute of it. One thing is for certain: Omar Souleyman’s stock is on the rise.

Follow up with me tomorrow as I’ll be traveling to Iceland’s Golden Ring and I’ll be reviewing Carmen Villain, Úlfur Eldjárn, Savages and more!

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