Buckle up, kids, it’s Sónar time again! A dance music fever has taken over Reykjavík and the Harpa concert hall is booming every night this weekend! If you can’t make it to Reykjavík in time for tonight, first of all, book a flight for next year as soon as you can. For now, however, you’re going to have to dance vicariously through the What’s On correspondents attending Sónar this year. Here’s a little recap of Thursday at Sónar by Gréta and Ásdís! This is Gréta’s first time at the Sónar Reykjavík Festival but Sónar guru Ásdís’s third time. As a veteran on the scene, Ásdís obviously has the educated view while Gréta brings a fresh-faced naivité to the story.

Thursday Night

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Hatari

Gréta – After a lovely dinner of sushi and white wine, we strolled down to the Harpa concert hall and were greeted with our first act of the evening, Hatari. Hatari (e. Hater) have been getting a lot of attention lately, especially for a band with almost no recorded music on the internet, for their attention-grabbing live performances that feature what can only be described as post-apocalyptic nazi slave master bondage aesthetic. Think Mad Max: Fury Road meets the third Reich. While it’s definitely intense, I do love that they put this much effort into their look. It takes the performance to a whole new level. The music is a striking mix of dance music and shouted dominance-themed lyrics but strangely, it sort of works, especially when you get used to their look.

Ásdís – I’d only recently heard of this band and was curious to see them perform. Although they probably would have given my mum a heart attack, I enjoyed the performance. I felt like I was in the theatre. Despite all the hatred that was going on there, they left me wanting to see more and I look forward to more concerts.

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Tommy Genesis

Ásdís – One of the artists that I was looking forward seeing the most this evening was Tommy Genesis. I admit, that I hadn’t listened to her music much, until a week before the festival. This young Canadian-born rapper is fierce and laid-back. I like listening to her music at home, but I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. Her voice, and her presence wasn’t very strong, and she kept asking to turn down the lights. As soon as she got on stage, she went down to the floor/crowd and finished a whole song there. I liked that, it’s something different, and gave her fans a chance to be closer to her. I decided to check out another artist, while my friends stayed there, and apparently the end was also quite weak as well. Maybe this was just not her day, but I was expecting a bit more.

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Örvar Smárason

Gréta – After a slow start to the Thursday night, and an attempt at some unenthusiastic dancing at the car park club, we wandered into Örvar Smárason’s set at the SonarComplex in Harpa’s seated Kaldalón hall. This turned out to be just what the doctor ordered and an unexpected highlight of the evening. The hall was packed with people and all the seats were taken so we perched on the steps and were transported to another dimension on the waves of Örvar’s music. The introspective music, interspersed with voice effects created the perfect ambience.

Ásdís – I felt like I was immediately transported into a sci-fi movie, floating around in space, and it left me wondering if there’s perhaps life in outer space. The music was somehow capturing, making me want to sit there all night. I caught myself thinking how his voice really sounds and was happy to learn that he’s actually in the group FB Belfast, performing later that same evening. Who know’s, maybe he’s in all the bands!   

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GKR

Gréta – Okay, so we didn’t see too long of GKR’s set but what we saw was enough to lift my spirits and keep them up for the rest of the evening. GKR reedy frame and his shock of bleached blond hair, along with an outfit of a red hoodie and red shorts, may not immediately inspire confidence but as soon as his set starts, his earnestly positive performance gets to you. His songs all sound like he’s making them up on the spot, somehow, but they’re fun and the beats soon get you going. His set featured some terrible 90’s looking graphics, which apparently is what the kids are into these days, but it definitely worked, fitting perfectly with his style. All in all, GKR and his music shouldn’t really work, but somehow, they do! It’s never not fun to see him live.

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Ben Klock

Ásdís – Ben Klock, the famous Berlin techno DJ was the biggest name of this evening. The queue reached as long as the eye could see (almost). This was my first time seeing him play, and I would do it again. If you like glowsticks, dancing in parking garages and german techno, this was the place to be. This might sound like it was too “hardcore” for people who don’t listen to techno daily but my friend and I really enjoyed it. The lights matched well with the music, and the fog machine made me feel like I was in a club – we don’t have any big clubs in Iceland so this underground car park was getting really close to that.

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FM Belfast

Ásdís – is a band that should play every music festival. They are uplifting, they make great music and they get to the crowd easily. And everyone likes them. If you don’t like them, maybe you don’t like unicorns either? What’s wrong with you, anyway?
Gréta – As usual, by the end of the show, most of the band had stripped down to their underwear, one guy was dressed in a beer costume, there was some crowd surfing and as a testament to FM Belfast’s amazing energy, they even managed to make the crowd dance to pub troubadour-cliché Wonderwall and love every minute of it! They were the perfect end of the first evening, making me excited for the days to come!

All in all, we were happy with this start of Sónar Reykjavík 2017. The acts were so diverse, and having the opportunity to see all these talented artists under one roof is too good to miss.

Harpa is the perfect venue for a music festival – the building is stunning, the view of the harbour is soothing, and the five different halls/rooms of Harpa manage to create a different mood in each one. We are going to write about our journey through the coming days of the festival so stay tuned!

Friday Night

On Friday, I wanted to get to Harpa early to soak in the atmosphere and catch the first few acts of Sónar Reykjavík. Walking up to the building, the façade lights set the mood: if you’re familiar with Harpa’s light display, you know it usually shifts slowly, its movement and mute colours reminiscent of the northern lights. Last night the lights were programmed to change in time with the music inside. They were pulsing rapidly in rainbow colours across the building, and got me pumped for the night.

Photos by: Therese Precht Vadum, Berglaug Petra, Steinunn Lilja, Ásgeir Helgi, Aníta Björk.

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Berndsen

This band was the reason I showed up at 8 pm, before the Sónar crowd had really gotten going. It was worth the effort! With their two synth players, two singers, guitar, bass, and drums, Davið Berndsen’s music sounds like an 80s high school movie soundtrack, in all the best ways. Davið’s resonant voice reminded me of Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields) in his more 80´s inspired moments. Being at this concert felt cozy, like jamming with your best friends in your parents’ garage, if your best friends could actually play their instruments. The crowd was disarmed, pulling out their cheesiest dance moves with smiles on their faces and not a hint of shame. For the last song, Davið ran off the stage, screaming through the crowd. I’m not sure we had had enough Tuborg to feel that moment, but it was a good start to the night!

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Samaris

I sauntered over to Silfurberg to check out Samaris, curious to hear how they would fit a clarinet into an electronic music trio. Verdict: despite all odds, it worked! I had heard lead vocalist Jófríður sing solo, but in this configuration her energy was much bigger and she showed a totally different sound. The sequined outfits, swinging hair, and light displays made me feel like I was listening to a band of mermaids from the future. I’m excited to see how this group’s sound develops.

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JOHN GRVY

The first revelation of this show in Kaldalón was that “GRVY” is pronounced “gray”. Who would have thought? John started the show with an apology, informing us that the band’s equipment had been lost on the flight over and consequently the set would be a bit shorter than planned. The drummer had been relegated to cameraman, and the remaining two band members did what they could to get the crowd going. With his tight black turtleneck and slicked-back hair, John was like a 70s Casanova. Even though Kaldalón is a sit-down venue, it wasn’t long before people were dancing on the stage, in various states of inebriation. Kudos to this group of pros for triumphing over a difficult situation.

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Sin Fang

I arrived in Norðurljós shortly before the Sin Fang show began. On the stage were a tuba, some keyboards, and a camping tent. As the lights dimmed and the music began, a video projection appeared above the stage… of Sindri Már Sigfússon, from within the tent. Sin Fang’s music is delicate and introspective, and this choice of performing via screen inside a tent made me ponder about the artist’s intention. Was he pointing toward our societally rampant addiction to screens? Was he asking us to consider what constitutes live performance in a technology-obsessed age? Was he mad about tourists who camp on the delicate moss in the Icelandic wilderness? I didn’t stick around until the end to find out, because I wanted to catch the beginning of:

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GusGus

For more than 20 years, GusGus has made Iceland dance, and Iceland loves them for it. This group’s show was everything I expected: a loyal crowd surrendering to killer grooves. Every show of theirs should have the fantastic space, lights, and crowd we were gifted with tonight.

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Oddisee

I have two words to describe my feelings in this show: major crush. Oddisee’s a masterful rapper. He can boast relevant lyrics, articulate delivery, and rhythm for days, and he knows how to work the crowd. It doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes as well. Each song in this set was better than the last, and those of us who were hearing them for the first time couldn’t help singing along.

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Sleigh Bells

One word: intense. This trio’s not to be messed around with. Their dark sound was matched by their energy on stage. Definitely a great performance.

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Moderat

The Sónar crowd was clearly pumped to see this headliner, packing the largest hall of the festival before the set began. A message projected on stage asked us to refrain from using flash as the performance was intended to be “very dark”. This was a solid show by a veteran trio who knows how to pace themselves but doesn’t fail to deliver, which is exactly what you want in a lov—I mean band. Definitely mean band. Extra points for the lights and intriguing video projections which took advantage of Harpa’s technical possibilities.

Saturday Night

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Kött Grá Pje

KGP is not just a rapper, he’s a personality. This is apparent on his Facebook page, where between February 12th and 16th, he made a string of 15 posts about handrails. Yes, handrails. This show was as fun for the eyes as it was for the ears. The band was wearing shiny gold sweat suits. The video stream included funky shifting patterns and gold cats. We really got going when Kött took his shirt off to reveal a giant phallus drawn on his back, and “This Machine Kills Falafel” written on his stomach. Bonus points for working a tongue-in-cheek Woody Guthrie reference into a rap show, and for answering the question “in what context does a gold glitter beard actually look appropriate?”

We then drove down to Harpa Concert Hall for our last night of Sónar this year; five people in a small car like sardines in a can. I was looking forward to seeing the UK-born rapper Nadia Rose this evening, but sadly, she had to cancel. We went straight to Silfurberg Hall to see the legendary rapper Kött Grá Pje. He‘s an Icelandic rapper who worships his cat, Kali. With him on the stage were two band members dressed in beautiful gold uniforms and his side-kick wearing a festive glitter beard who had a fabulous golden glitter beard. Kött Grá Pje soon ripped his shirt off, revealing a drawing of a penis on his back and on his belly, was written: “This machine kills falafel “. I do not know the story behind this art. Between songs, he used the opportunity to talk about politic matters that are dear to him (immigrant issues and feminism for example). He published a poetry book recently and likes to play with words. I find his poems and lyrics enjoyable to read. The stage performance was super interesting to see. I would describe him as a cat-loving, long-haired hippie occasionally wearing nail polish.

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De La Soul

Jelena – We were heading to see Nadia Rose when we heard her show had been cancelled, so we made a detour back to Silfurberg to hear De La Soul. These hip hop veterans were one of the headliners of the festival and highly anticipated by the gathering crowd. Though I can’t dis their music or their vast contribution to hip hop over the years, their drawn-out attempts to get a screaming competition going in the audience felt a bit MC-at-a-high-school-dance.

Ásdís – De La Soul, the American hip hop trio were mostly famous in the 90s. I haven‘t listened to their music much, although I recognised some songs. I‘m not the biggest hip hop fan, but I decided to stay and check it out. I didn’t regret it. They were great on stage. They asked everyone to put down the phones, so we would enjoy the show better. They managed to get every person in the crowd put their hands up and dance. I even saw the mayor of Reykjavík, Dagur B Eggertsson having a good time.

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Marie Davidson

This Canadian native stepped onto the stage dancing and got the crowd on their feet without delay. Her set was more beat-heavy than I had anticipated based on previous listening, but she owned the music and the stage. After the larger crowds and more mainstream sounds upstairs, this set was a refresher for the ears. Davidson’s focus and confidence shone when she coolly ignored some mid-set harassment. For Christmas this year I would like more women like Davidson in electronic music, please.

Ásdís – I decided to take a break from De la soul, I left my friends and wandered around, as I think that a big part of the festival experience is the people, and all the different fashion styles going on. At festivals like this, you have a mix of tourists and Icelanders, in every age. Walking past the door of Kaldalón Hall, I heard appealing music and went in. Kaldalón is different from the other concert halls at Sónar because there are seats there. That’s perfect for people who are either tired or who don‘t like dancing. I think I saw someone napping in there. I sat down and Marie Davidson was playing hardcore techno. On the stage next to her, a small group of people had formed a small dance floor. I really enjoyed her show and sat there for a long time. She‘s a singer, poet and electronic music producer from Montreal.

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Fatboy Slim

Jelena – Personally, I didn’t have any clear expectations for this show. It had been years since I had asked myself what Fatboy Slim was doing. I think many of us in the audience felt the same, but we were quickly rewarded with a perfect balance between expert showmanship, danceable beats, and humour. We heard the hits we all wanted to hear, but they were presented in a fresh way. One of my pet peeves at live shows is when text or lyrics are hard to understand, so I loved the accompanying video projections with animated text and mouthing lips. It put the focus on the light-heartedness and wit of the content. This show struck the perfect balance!

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Giggs

Jelena – This was just the chill show I needed after slipping out of the sweaty, less-than-fragrant mess of bodies at Fatboy Slim’s set. Giggs was rocking it with a cool confidence. The songs were well-crafted and varied, in a way that felt good to dance to, or just sip your beer and nod your head to. Recommended for your next house party playlist.

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B. Traits

Jelena – Just before I headed out for the night for a solid post-festival sleep, I peeked into the Car Park to see how the party was going. This venue created in the parking lot of Harpa was the underside of the Sónar festival. It was the space for those who just wanted good beats and no fuss. B. Traits was rocking the crowd, which was not huge but was certainly dedicated. In this space and moment, I really felt the commitment of the musicians and the fans to electronic music in Iceland. The festival ends, but the beat goes on!

The Best Of the Best

Best performance

Á FM Belfast was hands down the most fun performance. Their energy seems to be never-ending, and this energy was infectious. Confetti, crowd surfing and beer costumes. What more do you need?

Jelena – Berndsen’s show had a unique vibe in the festival: danceable, yet really cozy and chill, like a good house party at your best friend’s place. It was the first show I saw in Sónar since I missed out on Thursday night, and it was a great start to the weekend for me.

Gréta – For best performance, there may be a few contenders but you can’t really beat FM Belfast. Their music is so infectious and their energy is so abundant and fun. The confetti, crowd-surfing and costumes are pretty good but even if left out, you’d still have a great show!

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Best band we‘d never heard of before

Ásdís – I have to admit, I’d never heard of Marie Davidson. Since I saw her act at Sónar, I’ve been listening to her music at home.

Jelena –  Oddisee. All-around brilliant lyrics, rapping, beats, and showmanship. [insert heart eyes emoji here]

Gréta – I was going to go with Oddisee but it seems Jelena beat me to the punch so I’m going to have to say Örvar Smárason. I’m cheating a little, since I’d heard of him before (he’s a member of Múm and FM Belfast for example) but I hadn’t seen his solo set (as it was his first ever). I didn’t know what to expect when we walked in but was more than pleasantly surprised with what I found.

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Best venue

Ásdís – Silfurberg is my favourite venue during Sónar. It’s large and was usually filled with people. I saw FM Belfast, Gus Gus and Moderat in Silfurberg. I just love being in the middle of big crowd with the loud music filling the room.

Jelena – Norðurljós. Big enough for the fun, danceable sets, small enough to feel cozy no matter how full it was. It also never got too crowded or smelly like the biggest shows did over in Silfurberg.

Gréta – My favourite venue was actually the Kaldalón hall. You don’t really expect it to be great because it’s a seated venue but some of the most surprising acts I saw during the festival played there. Also, it was great to have a place where you could sit down for a while.

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Favourite Night

Ásdís – My favourite night at Sónar Reykjavík 2017 was the Thursday night. I managed to see at least six acts that evening, and enjoyed all of them. The atmosphere was relaxed and there was some anticipation in the air, and I looked forward to the next evenings.

Jelena – Friday night. I think most festivals will have eclectic programming on the first night, and save the biggest names for the final night. Friday was the sweet spot in between where most acts were interesting or unexpected, and yet still seasoned performers with a polished sound.

Gréta – It’s a tough call but even though Thursday had the least fanfare in the schedule department, it takes the prize for being more pleasant than expected. Also, Thursday had FM Belfast. You can’t go wrong with FM Belfast.

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Best experience

Ásdís – This is a difficult choice. FM Belfast is the easiest answer. Moderat comes second. But, I want to mention Hatari. They were a huge surprise and now I’m waiting with impatience for their next concert.

Jelena – Sin Fang. For this set, Sindri Már Sigfússon performed from inside a tent onstage via live video stream. You can love or hate the weirdness of that, but it matched the introspective content of the music, which Sindri wrote when he was going through some “bad brain times”. Among three days of groups whose main goal was to make you shake your booty, it was a nice change of pace to have an act that made you think.

Gréta – I’m going with Örvar Smárason again, since it was such a pleasant surprise. It was still a bit early so the energy in the underground car park rave was a liiiittle too much for me at that point. Örvar’s set, in the seated hall, Kaldalón, was an engaging experience without demanding too much of a party mood from me.

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The top three best Icelandic bands we saw

Ásdís – Kött Grá Pje, Sin Fang and Örvar Smárason are my top three.
Jelena – Berndsen, Sin Fang, and GusGus.
Gréta – Örvar Smárason, FM Belfast and I must admit, I’m partial to a little Emmsjé Gauti

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Special mention

Ásdís – I saw Sleigh Bells, and I’d only listened to few of their songs. They surprised me, as the music was more rock n roll to it than I expected. I would have preferred to see them in the bigger concert hall. Everyone was getting ready for Moderat in the next hall, so I think they got a bit forgotten, unfortunately. But I really enjoyed their act.

Jelena – There were two acts that triumphed over difficult situations and deserve a special mention. John Grvy, who killed it despite having all of their equipment lost on the flight over, and Marie Davidson, who coolly ignored some unfortunate harassment in the middle of her set and had us dancing in a seated venue.

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What we thought of the festival as a whole

Ásdís – There were so many good artists that it was difficult to choose what to see. I would have wanted to be there earlier each evening, but didn’t have the time. Next year I want to see even more acts. All in all, music was great, Harpa is great and the people who attended the concerts were great. It seems that the festival was well organised and that there were no major problems.

Jelena – This was my first time at Sónar, and I loved it most for two factors: the size and the venue. It’s the perfect size festival to host both well-known and up-and-coming musicians, creating an eclectic and varied lineup. It’s also has good crowds with great energy, yet there are virtually no lineups and you’re never too far from the stage. It’s so cozy and convenient to have all of the venues inside a single building (especially considering it takes place in the middle of the unforgiving Icelandic winter). Harpa is also such a state-of-the-art venue, which makes for great sound, lights, and video, all very important elements in contemporary electronic music.

Gréta – This was my first time at Sónar as well and I had a great time! It’s such a different festival compared to the other big ones in Iceland, Iceland Airwaves and Secret Solstice, because it focuses on electronic music of all sorts. It gives the festival a really distinct atmosphere and makes it a unique experience. Also, for a music festival in February in Iceland, having it all in one building is perfect!

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