PATCHES OF ICELAND: F-bombs

Finally, a sleep in! We rolled out of bed around 10.30am and treated ourselves to a sumptuous home cooked breakfast before rugging up and heading over to the Vesturbæjarlaug on advice of an Instagram friend I’ve never met and know only as @barbro. I’ve been to some of the other thermal pools around Reykjavik but this was my first time to Vesturbæjarlaug and I was not disappointed. I imagine these pools are ordinarily sparsely populated during the day but today they were full of people wearing purple wristbands, and for good reason. The thermal water was just the thing to soak away festival aches and pains and reset for another night of action.

On our way to Vesturbæjarlaug on the other side of Tjönin
On our way to Vesturbæjarlaug on the other side of Tjönin

Our first gig for the evening was at one-time biscuit factory, KEX Hostel, to see Low Roar. It was packed to the rafters so we heard more than we actually saw. I was put onto Low Roar earlier in the year by Australian singer/songwriter, Dustin Tebbutt, who did a cover version of one of their songs at his Sydney gig. It felt serendipitous to have the chance to see them live and for the second time today, I wasn’t disappointed. Once the crowd dispersed a little after their set, we could see that the make shift stage looked strikingly similar to my house with its dark floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with all kinds of freaky ephemera. When the next band took the stage, a Japanese electro-punk group whose name now escapes me, it was quite disconcerting to see them in my lounge room!

An artistic impression of Low Roar in my lounge room on a busy night
An artistic impression of Low Roar in my lounge room on a busy night

After some running around and queuing in rain without gaining admission to see Braids, we cut our losses and headed over to the Art Gallery for what would be the most memorable show of the festival – Úlfur Úlfur.

I’ve mentioned the disparity between Karina’s and my musical tastes, yet here we found another unlikely overlap: hip hop. I hasten to add that I’m not a fan of all hip hop. I deplore that particular American style thematically based around money, men in oversized clothes and women in barely any; and I have little time for ‘Brit hop’ at the other end, too often concerned with being downtrodden and ugly; but I do love a bit of ‘skip hop’ with it’s left wing politics and social justice agenda.

The Art Gallery all decked out
The Art Gallery all decked out

We arrived at the tail end of previous act who were giving it up like gangster rappers…only Reykjavik is hardly South Central LA and it tickled me to think what they could possibly be so angry about living in this utopia. The graphics rotating on the screen behind them only made me giggle more as they flashed up retro cash registers with coins as opposed to stacks of bills and weapons. The words ‘Glacier Mafia’ kept popping up to as though to menace but surely there are few images more serene and desolate than glaciers. I didn’t know whom exactly they were lording it over except perhaps the occasional arctic fox.

Glacier Mafia!
Glacier Mafia!

After a short break between sets, the crowd swelled as Úlfur Úlfur took the stage. Hip hop is a very lyrical form so it was impossible for me to judge what they were saying in Icelandic but I preferred the way they said it. The only words we could understand were the liberally used ‘mother f#@ker’ but even so they had a completely different vibe and one that resonated with me as something much closer to my preferred skip hop.

The other thing that was instantly recognizable was the band – it was Agent Fresco without the singer!!! The two acts couldn’t be more dissimilar but yet, there they were, the guitarist now on keyboards, the bassist now on guitar and the drummer with the red afro!

Úlfur Úlfur mother f@#kers!
Úlfur Úlfur mother f@#kers!

The thing that I loved most about this gig though was the crowd. In so many ways, it was exemplary of what I love about Iceland. To sum it up in one neat sentence: no one matched but everyone belonged. Nowhere else in the world would this be a hip hop crowd! In fact, I only saw one kid in a backwards baseball cap and a heavy gold chain that looked like it might have been his mums. Everyone else was part of a crazy mix with no common thread other than the love of the music. It was quite something to see an older lady in Burberry shawl hurling F-bombs alongside a wide-eyed, drug-addled teen as though it was the national anthem. The audience even smelled lovely – the Nordic blonde mane that kept whipping me in the face was clearly freshly washed in an Icelandic stream or something equally unthinkable of your average, non-Icelandic hip hop punter. It was as surreal as it was delightful, so much so that we looked up Úlfur Úlfur the next day on YouTube and I implore you to do the same: they’re cruising round town… on Icelandic horses which are even cuter than ponies (though NOT ponies, don’t call them ponies!); driving round… with Saint Bernards; blowing dandelions in dreamy landscapes and eating cinnamon scrolls: it’s hip hop alright, but not as you know it!

Getting our kicks at KEX
Getting our kicks at KEX

Elated by the experience, we drifted back over to Harpa to catch the last of the lovely Lonelady before grabbing a drink and vantage point against the wall for Sin Fang. We were joined in our leaning by friends we’d made in the wristband queue on the first day, a very sweet and charming pair of friends from Wales who regaled us with stories from their hostel and a girl they fear was poisoned by their bootleg alcohol. At the end of the show, we made our way back up to Laugervegur in the rain to find the rúntur in full swing (infamous weekly pub crawl along the main drag) but we’d done enough queuing in the rain so we kept on to our apartment for another serving of 3.30am noodles.

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