The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


PREVIEW: Eurosonic
Karl Smith , January 13th, 2015 18:57

Karl Smith's bound for Groningen in the Netherlands this week, expecting to hear some of the best new music that Europe has to offer. Before that, here are six acts that are firmly underlined in his schedule

One of the many things that makes Reykjavik's Airwaves such an excellent festival is its sprawling quality: the knowledge that at any given time, dotted across the city, there are more things happening than digits on your body to count them. It makes for diversity, improves the possibility of discovery – the "fuck it let's just stay here and see what they're like" factor – and it's good exercise in air so fresh Jazzy Jeff is probably living in its colon as I write this. It also, inevitably, makes for disappointment: as much as you might like to, you just can't see everything – they put a buffet of the world's most delicious food in front of you and tell you that you've got to go à la carte.

Groningen's 2015 Eurosonic festival, then, is the tasting menu: the choicest cuts of favourite dishes and lesser-known delicacies. To drop the metaphor, lest it become too rich, Eurosonic is a showcase festival, a spotlight on the best new musical talent Europe has to offer, a Pollock-esque textural smattering of bands from all over the shop, with one 'focus' country each year receiving special attention, and in 2015, Eurosonic's mighty Eye of Sauron is trained on Iceland.

A rare chance, then, to rectify the clashes, poor decisions and outrageous injustices of a festival gone by and, with that in mind, pencil in a few must-sees and make a few revisions...


… such as this. I saw Kiasmos play at Airwaves and I thought it was alright – it just wasn't what I was hoping for; odd as the nuclear bunker quality of Reykjavik's KEX Hostel seemed to play right into their hands. But the album is just so good – such an incitement to melancholy and to movement – that I can't help but think (in fact, I desperately want to believe) it was just a one-off. Or just me. Without a doubt, all the ingredients are there: Ólafur Arnalds' discography alone is testament to that, without even factoring in the talents of Bloodgroup's Janus Rasmussen. Most (decent) techno is smart and backing up the doof with an enviable musical knowledge, and Kiasmos is no different in that respect – it's emotional intelligence that sets them apart.


Despite being a part of the considerably more widely-known Seabear (although still most famous in the UK for soundtracking the prelude to Channel 4's Come Dine With Me) and that band's leader Sindri Sigfússon's subsequent spin-off, Sin Fang, Sóley Stefánsdóttir's own solo project is considerably more interesting than either. The songs are intricate, but never overdone, downbeat percussion and keys weaving in Spirograph-like loops around vocals that are consistently strong without ever sacrificing a vulnerability or quality of tenderness.


'pon reflection, almost all of the BBC's Sound of 2015 list is totally insufferable. There are – as with every rule – a couple of exceptions, of course, amongst which London's Shura sits triumphantly in a moderate-tempo niche that could have proudly slotted itself next to the likes of College and Desire on Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive soundtrack (and battered the shit out of Zane Lowe's dire rescore). Roots-conscious without being derivative, if this is pop music in 2015 then I'm fine with that – in fact I'm ready to call a vote on an early summer.


I talked – at length and lyrically – in my Airwaves review about the impression Hörður Már Bjarnason left on me (and, I imagine, anyone else lucky enough to have caught any of his hypnotic sets at the festival). There's not a great deal I've not said already, but the comingling of the electronics – the tick-like nodding of the head and furious twisting of knobs – and the Gregorian-esque vocals are spectral, ethereal and tangible. That he's just getting started is what's most unfathomable of all.


What I don't know about metal could fill the kind of empty swimming pool Sigur Rós used to record ( ) in several times over. What I do know is what I like and what I like is Sólstafir – a band that knows how to reach into your body, from one entrance/exit or another and not just rip your spine out but your heart and your guts too. (Their album Ótta also happens to be number three in tQ's metal albums of the year; and if you can't take my word and the nod from Toby Cook, well, you can stick it.)


If Shura's supplying the mid-groove then Vök have the slow jamz; with a decidedly more celestial sound and a distinctly more sensual vibe, these are the awkwardly drawn curtains to Shura's city sunset. In that sense their 2013 EP is aptly-titled: Tension is Vök in a nutshell – from sludgy grinds to dying-of-the-light sublime.