SONIC REDUCER I love the fact that whenever you leave this country, you immediately come to the discomfiting realization that … you’re such a damaged by-product of capitalist America. Case in point: Last week I gazed upon the beauteous, barren, and treeless expanses of Iceland, miles and miles of rock, scrubby grass, and mirrorlike pools of ice. Iceland in the spring is the chill, brown-white-and-blue equivalent of the Southwestern desert, austere yet fragile in the face of certain global warming, and barely containing an undercurrent of volcanic energy reminiscent of Hawaii’s Big Island. So why do I look at these moonscapes and wonder where all the people are and why there aren’t any houses, strip malls, or ski resorts out here? Why do I look at untrammeled land and see real estate?
Reykjavik: I’m here on a press trip with other media field operatives from BPM, OK!, Nylon, and Vapors, studying the club culture, seeing the sights, taking in gutfuls of fresh, fishy air by the wharf, gazing at snowcapped mountains, and perusing menus in shock. I just couldn’t help blurting a culturally insensitive, "Omigod, that’s My Little Pony!" when I saw the roast Icelandic foal with a tian of mushrooms, caramelized apples, and calvados sauce on the bill of traditional Icelandic restaurant Laekjarbrekka.
Likewise, the Icelanders probably can’t help turning those cute puffins and herb-fed lambs into meaty main courses to warm them through those long, dark winters. The real, long-haired, sweet-faced Icelandic horses turned out to be more engaging and curious than I’d ever imagined, strolling up to our group out in the wilds near Thingvellir to examine the hipsters (and hip-hoppsters) and be ooohed over. "They’re more like dogs than horses!" our Icelandair rep, Michael Raucheisen, exclaimed.
After a scrumptious Asian fusion meal at the elegant, cream-colored, deco Apotek (started with kangaroo tartare and finished off with a mistakenly ordered $125 bottle of Gallo cab; travel tip number one: Reykjavik is not the spot to sample California vino), our wild bunch was more into checking out a local strip club than settling in with a good book like Dustin Long’s charming Agatha Christie parody, Icelander (McSweeney’s), or the catalog for the National Museum of Iceland’s current photo exhibit of fishing village life in the southeast, "Raetur Runtsins" ("Roots of the Runtur"). We were more likely to price the local, ahem, pharmaceutical offerings ("$175 for a gram of coke is not cheap!" was one assessment) at the city’s nightclubs than shop for runic love charms or grandmotherly woolens.
One reason for the aforementioned vast, unpopulated expanses: There are only 300,000 people in the entire country — albeit well educated, well employed, relatively youthful, and wired. (Is it any wonder this isle has the highest concentration of broadband users in the world?) Most of the youth culture was happening in the capital, where about a third of the population lives it up, sucks down Brennivin and macerated strawberry mojitos, dances with compact little hand motions that resemble a funky elfin hand jive. I must confess that, watching Deep Dish’s Ali "Dubfire" Shirazinia skillfully work Iceland native Björk into his house mix at NASA, I’ve rarely seen more hot, seemingly straight men dancing, en masse, on the floor, on the mezzanine, in the booths, every damn where. Where did they get the energy — from a geothermal pipeline or those mischievous sprites called Julelads?
As we piled into the van to steep at the sulfur-scented but soul-soothing Blue Lagoon and study the brand-spankin’ Icelandic Idol Snorri Snorrason (I kid you not) serenading the soakers lagoonside with Jack Johnson–like tunes, I could only sit and plot my next visit — possible when Icelandair resumes its summer flights from SF in May? It’ll be too late to catch late April’s new Rite of Spring alt-jazz and folk music festival, but not for October’s Iceland Airwaves music fest (Oct. 18 through 22, www.icelandairwaves.com), where big tickets like the Flaming Lips have filled the city’s venues alongside Icelanders such as Sigur R??s. I’ll have to catch these new Icelandic rock artists:
Ampop, My Delusions (Dennis)
This trio was getting the royal hype in Reykjavik — posters were plastered everywhere. How nice to find that their jaunty yet dramatic English-language orchestral psych-rock traverses the dreamier side of Coldplay and Doves.
Mammut, Mammut (Smekkleysa)
Polished though quirky, this bass-driven, all-lady post-punk fivesome takes a bite of the Sugarcubes, Siouxsie Sioux, and the Raincoats, with plenty of all-Icelandic lyrical histrionics.
Storsveit Nix Noltes, Orkideur Havai (12 Tonar; to be released on Bubblecore)
Last glimpsed at South by Southwest’s Paw Tracks/Fat Cat showcase, these Animal Collective tourmates draw inspiration for their instrumentals from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and the Balkans.
Mugison, Mugimama — Is This Monkey Music? (12 Tonar)
The Mark Linkous of Icelandic rock digs into the raw stuff on this acclaimed full-length. He also recently scored Baltasar Kormakur’s film A Little Trip to Heaven, reinterpreting the Tom Waits track of the same name.
For the real folkways, check out Raddir/Voices: Recordings of Folk Songs from the Archives of the Arni Magnusson Institute in Iceland (Smekkleysa/Arni Magnusson Institute), which includes a great booklet on the music, collected between 1903 and 1973 and revolving around Icelandic sagas and cautionary fables of monsters, ogres, and child-snatching ravens. SFBG
CH-CH-CHECK IT OUT
Anthony Hamilton, Heather Headley, and Van Hunt
Hamilton killed, from all reports, at SXSW, and we all know how good that Hunt album is. Wed/19 and Mon/24, 7:30 p.m., Paramount, 2025 Broadway, Oakl. $39–$67.75. www.ticketmaster.com
M’s and the Deathray Davies
Chicago cock-rockers meet quirk poppers. Wed/19, 8 p.m., Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. $8. (415) 861-2011
The chairs are pushed back when this band of Tuaregs, the indigenous people from Eastern Mali, break out the guitars. Wed/19, 8 and 10 p.m. Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakl. $14–$20. (510) 238-9200
The gritty girlfriend that might be the next Mary adds a late show. Fri/21, 11:30 p.m., The Grand, 1300 Van Ness, SF. $32.50. (415) 864-0815
The ensemble premieres a collaboration with Walter Kitundu, takes on a Sigur R??s number, and teams with Matmos on "For Terry Riley." Fri/21–Sat/22, 8 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. $18–$35. (415) 978-ARTS
Saddle Creek’s electro-folk-pop sweetheart steps out from Azure Ray. Sat/22, 9 p.m., Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $10. (415) 861-5016 SFBG