Generally the start of a new year is a time for looking forward, but I thought it would be an equally good time to momentarily look back. Surely there’s no better way to spend my first gig of 2019 than checking out the band behind one of the best releases of 2018. We stumbled across Icelandic indie folk outfit Árstíðir shortly after they released their latest record Nivalis. It impressed us so much that it snuck its way into our end of year list, and also ensured that I would be in attendance for one of their UK dates.
First up though were post rock duo Veladrome, and I was immediately intrigued by their unique setup of just bass and vocals. With some samples, looping, and a fair bit of technical wizardry they were able to build up rich and layered soundscapes that defied my initial expectations. Needless to say I was impressed by how far they pushed the limits of their sparse set-up, but nonetheless those limits were still present. It became more noticeable by the end as the songs started blending together and I began to feel the need for more variation. However, by that point I was admittedly distracted, as I was consumed by a cloud of fog. Whoever was on the desk decided to go massively over the top with the fog machine to the point where you couldn’t see your own hand in front of your face, never mind the actual band up onstage.
Thankfully the air had cleared when it was time for Árstíðir to take the stage. The chap on the desk even redeemed himself for the fog fiasco with his sublime lighting; the band were simply aglow throughout. However, much of their set left me in an unusual position, one which I’ve never really experienced before at a gig: I enjoyed the songs I didn’t know far more than the ones I did. Tracks from Nivalis made up about half the set, but compared to their older material they felt far too reliant on electronic elements and samples. There were a few issues here and there on the studio versions with overuse of electronica, but it was far more noticeable on the live versions. Unlike Veladrome’s creative use of technology to make up for the constraints of being a duo, here it felt mostly unnecessary. There was a full band ready and able to create much more interesting music without the need for much of the electronics, if anything they acted as a distraction from the main event.
When the band stripped things back for their older material however, it was a completely different story. It was here that they truly excelled. They sang a few tracks acapella either around a single central mic, or stood in a circle amongst the crowd for the encore. It didn’t even matter that many of the stripped back tracks were in Icelandic, just the sensation of the whole room going still and hearing their voices harmonising together was nothing short of magical. As awe-inspiring as these moments were, they weren’t my highlight of the night, that honour goes to ‘Shades’. There was still plenty of chance for the vocals to shine here too, but the violin and cello finally got their chance in the spotlight and both played like men possessed. While the gig as a whole was not as I expected, the night’s highlights were just as spellbinding as I hoped they’d be. The kind of moments that you never forget.