Iceland's hybrid of magic and modernism
Iceland is a place that allows people to travel through a special feeling of space and time. While thriving in its history, soaking in the present and embracing each and every new concept that comes its way, the large island fully meditates on what it means to be Icelandic.
It's a country rumbling with beauty and surprise. One moment, I'm looking at the Harpa, a geometric-eye-puzzle filled with sprinkling colors against its deep, black setting; I'm amazed at this architecture that serves as the main concert hall. And the next moment, to the right, is the too-large-to-be-real-but-is-so-real Esja mountain, standing stalwartly along the coastline — an iconic image Reykjavik stares at every day. Not to mention, this time of year it's 24 hours of daylight, which makes this place far more intriguing (and for its people, well, far more tiring).
Although the capital — home to 2/3rds of the country's population — stands proudly next to the Atlantic ocean and the rough mountain coast, it's tiny — really tiny. Nevertheless, it prides itself on being an urban, zesty and bouncy city with colorful rooftops and stone streets.
But that's what Iceland is about: the dichotomy and the osmosis of urban and natural, real and mystical, inhabited and deserted.
Last Thursday I had the pleasure of seeing two Icelandic music groups, MilkyWhale and Gangly, at a local bar venue, Húrra, in downtown Reykjavik. Not knowing what to expect, I had learned that these two artists are living symbols of Iceland.
MilkyWhale, a high-energy pop duo consisting of two friends, Mel and Arni, brought a new style of performance: the concept of performance art. The creator of the group, Mel, was a choreographer when she met Arni in his band. Soon enough, the two were creating their spunky tunes with Mel's high soprano voice and Arni’s beats and occasionally deep bass interludes.
Needless to say, they got me on my feet.
My five other friends and I jumped and bumped to the colorful melodies that MilkyWhale produced. And it wasn't even her voice that got us going. Mel's dancing and poppy energy made the crowd light up and was genuinely too grand for the tight venue. I told her that she should make her way to a larger stage (maybe Hill Auditorium?).
"It's nice to have people to dance with!" she told the audience in her sweet accent.
Aesthetically, she's an Icelandic princess and Arni is her dj-ing partner in prime. Together, they are taking on the fresh and upbeat style that is musical performance art. Their vibe screams something like “we want you to love your life, get off your ass and let loose." And no matter where in the world I go, I know I could always use that motto.
The mood of the night changed swiftly when the next group, Gangly, took the stage. The trio’s deep bass but soft vibes gave the crowd a sense of sensuality, zen and mysticism. In a way, they sounded like a more hypnotic, relaxing version of The xx.
On another planet far away from MilkyWhale, Gangly’s vibe screams something like “let's take this to the bedroom.”
With the falsettos of the two male and one female group, the harmonies created were sensitive and somewhat sexy. They project this sense of calmness and serenity, a mood that Iceland closely resembles.
Iceland and its regal mountains, majestic glaciers and stunning waterfalls all come together to create its own unique magic. Gangly helps echo that same tone by mastering their ethereal sound. Icelandic music, including the world-renowned music groups Of Monsters and Men and Kaleo, might just be the freshest breath of air the music industry, nationally and internationally, truly needs.