You have to question the wisdom of the owners of new London venue XOYO when they chose to schedule gigs by Icelandic sextet amiina – a band whose beautifully constructed hushed-to-loud instrumental dynamics carry much of their impact – and Dum Dum Girls – a band who tend to coast on a tidal wave of drumming – in adjacent rooms on the same night. Perhaps they were over confident about their soundproofing, or perhaps they didn’t realise just how delicate amiina’s compositions can be; either way, the Icelanders were, if not overpowered by the ruckus in the basement below, more than a little perturbed. “We’re getting an unofficial remix by Dum Dum Girls next door,” they joked goodnaturedly, but you could tell they were unhappy.
Adding to their discomfort, and to everyone else’s, was a rocketing room temperature that gave the gig an almost authentic Nordic sauna feel as beads of sweat formed on knotted brows and cheeks flushed red. The reason: the air conditioning had been shut off, not because it was broken but because it was so incredibly loud that it drowned out the band. An apologetic explanation from the band was then misinterpreted as permission to turn it back on and they were forced to play on as blasts of air roared into the room from the back. “This is the sweatiest gig ever,” one of them quipped as the torrent of noise was eventually silenced.
Hot and bothered though they were, on a purely musical level amiina were by turns enchanting and emphatic, the addition of drummer Magnús and electronic whizz Kippi Kaninus to the band’s core of multi-instrumentalist women – Hildur, Edda, Maria and Sólrún – giving their songs a weight and pace that’s removed enough from the more serene compositions of their 2007 debut Kurr to really lift their music to another level. Most of the setlist comprised tracks from their new album Puzzle, built around amplified zithers, accordion, digital piano, kalimba, musical saw (both bowed and hammered), electro violins, glockenspiel, ukulele and more, all underpinned by skittery electronic beats and Magnús’s nimble drumming. Highlights included the instrumentals ‘Ásinn’ and ‘Púsi’, and the gorgeously arranged vocal tracks ‘In The Sun’, ‘Over & Again’ and recent single ‘What Are We Waiting For?’.
As they finally departed the stage to the cheers of a hot but loudly appreciative audience, their faces aglow, it struck me for the first time that the real magic of amiina’s music, aside from being the internal soundtrack of my shifting mind, is that while it often seems as if their live show consists of six people not visibly doing very much – okay, five, as the drummer’s kinetics are clearly apparent – it all interlocks together to form a perfect whole; a bigger, more beautiful picture. Rather like a puzzle, in fact.
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Photo by Adam Bowie, used under Creative Commons licence. See more of Adam’s photos on Flickr.