Monday, March 13, 2023

Adventures in Never-Never-Land

Chapter 11 of Search For a Dancer, a serial memoir about a week I spent in Iceland. Mondays on Flippism is the Key

After leaving Maria, I had some free time before the before the first off-venue show began. I wandered down to the old harbour area to check out one of the new off-venues, the Hafnartorg Gallery, a food court in a multipurpose building. The last time I was here (in 2018) complex was under construction. Its appearance is undistinguished, but is far from the worst of the new developments in the area. On the way to it I passed Hafnarstræti, a monument to the dearth of imagination of the city planners:
This area used to be open to views of the harbour, of Mount Esja and to the skies above. Now it was a: scene from a nightmare; a mausoleum; an abattoir; a perverse temple dedicated to Mammon. Nearby streets, even Austurstræti with its tacky bars and stores, were full of life but Hafnarstræti’s brutal austerity had even driven the low-life idlers and drunken panhandlers away.

I went into Kolaportið where the Airwaves HQ was and picked up my Airwaves wrist-band. The scene there seemed to be decidedly low-key, although they are nearly sold-out. I then walked over to Austurstræti where I stopped into the usurous 10-11 convenience store to buy a replacement toothbrush. They had some for the equivalent of $8 (ouch!), but also had a child’s toothbrush for $2 (that would actually fit into my travel toiletry kit-yay!)

On my way back to my apartment via Lækjargata, I walked past the new Sirkus bar, now featuring Indian food. A big change from the old place that I visited in 2006. While change is inevitable, and can be for the common good, what I feared in 2015 has now become a reality.
After freshening up I made my way over to the Smekkleysa record store off-venue, where Hekla, a famous (and famously shy) Thereminist was setting up her gear in an unadorned basement room, a truncated white cube about 10 meters on a side with a 5 meter-high ceiling. It was just the two of us as all the other people were in the store proper (on the level above). She had finished with her equipment and was standing alone, looking a bit forlorn. I made my way over and started gushing like a fan-boy: “Oh, I have to tell you I much I enjoy your music, I first saw you playing with Bárujárn, your music has become part of the soundtrack of my life, it’s on heavy rotation in my car, I listen to it all the time! Thank you so very much!” She smiled and clasped my hand and simply said “Takk.” My blood pressure rose with the touch of her hand.

Other people began wandering in, including Óttar Proppé (below), who had recently made a video with Hekla so I reluctantly left her to mingle with her friends while I picked out a dark corner (and the only chair!) to catch her performance.
Hekla augmented her Theremin with backing tracks and an occasional keening vocal. As she continued her performance I was transported to the never-never-land of imagination. As eerie as the theremin sounds, it is absolutely mesmerizing to watch someone play it:

After her set I returned to the apartment and made a light dinner of Fiskibollur (fish cakes) that were entirely… adequate. It is better to eat light before a night out than to be logy from over-indulgence. You can always grab a pylsur later…

The evening the Airwaves had a preview show (at Iðno, a nineteenth-century concert venue), a new feature at Airwaves. It seemed to be more of an ad hoc collection of Icelandic musicians in various proto-groups than established acts. Kilður, a choir, was wrapping up their set when I walked in and of course they were wonderful (Icelandic choirs are always great.) The next performer was Neonme (Salka Valsdóttir) who stunned the crowd with her art-songs. Backed by a sax, harp and guitar, Neonme is also dancer; when she wasn’t singing her graceful moves put the crowd in a trance. Her guitarist also sang a song; she had an angelic voice, I was transported. There were also some what I thought might be sound effects, or perhaps they were glitches? Neonme was enchanting as she sang melancholy tunes of regret, a tiny bit like Lana Del Rey. Her peek-a-boo “Peter Pan” outfit made for a beautiful, transcendent experience:
As the intensity of the set increased, it seemed as if there would be a point where something would have to give and it did: a member of the crowd collapsed, right in front of the stage. Immediately the crowd gave her space and some water and the venue’s crew opened the side doors of the venue to let in some welcome fresh air. The afflicted audience member recovered but the spell had been broken. Another group, Kónguló, came on but was plagued by equipment issues. In an attempt to preserve any lingering afterglow, I left and went back to the apartment for a relatively early bedtime. It meant missing some other good acts but tomorrow would be a full day and I needed to get up early; there would be no pool visit in the morning.

Search for a Dancer Index…

By Professor Batty


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