Kælan Mikla (rotten photo by Wyldman)
It’s a bitterly cold February night and everyone is standing around shivering. I’m squished somewhere between the bar and the toilet in Power Lunches, a tiny venue near Dalston Junction that was once a café.
The door to the room is wide open to accommodate a steady stream of smokers, bands, friends and acquaintances. I break the ice forming on the surface of my beer and struggle my way down the stairs to the room below.
The space is tight and dark and even the mirrored walls do not disguise the claustrophobic feel of the place. It’s like entering a pharaoh’s tomb.
We start off with a selection of short films. Without exception these are shot in black and white and depict something indeterminately unpleasant occurring. Indistinct images jump and flicker. The deafening atonal soundtrack amplifies the unease and horror. Probably the best film depicts what might be some ancient hunting ritual enacted by strangely attired girls hurling wooden spears and chasing after some unseen quarry.
In order to avoid their heads getting in the way, half the audience is enticed to duck down or sit on the floor. We hunch in the dark and it all feels very daring and arty.
The first act of the night eventually emerge from behind the tacked-up movie screen.
This is CityBoys Band, two musicians who fuse distorted vocals and heavy percussion to create an unsettling, industrial rhythm that echoes Mark Stewart’s solo work or even Cabaret Voltaire. As such, the duo’s hypnotic sound is right up my street.
The singer mutters intensely, his head bowed as he hunches over an electronic console or clatters away on a drum. The performance space at Power Lunches is so small, and the stage area so low, that if you stand more than two rows back you are pretty much stuffed in terms of actually seeing what is going on.
The room is pitch dark by now and I’m standing on a sea of discarded bottles. The room is packed and there is a real sense of danger about the place. One moment of panic and people could die down here.
I like City Boys Band a lot, but I make sure that I’m in a better position for the next act.
I’m here this evening to see Kælan Mikla, a three piece noise outfit from Reykjavik. Such is the speed of the internet, I only discovered they existed on Sunday afternoon, and yet, here we all are two days later.
The band are young, cheery and sing emotionally in Icelandic.
They have a very simple set up. A drummer (Sólveig Matthildur Kristjánsdóttir) who also sings; a thumping bassist with orange hair (Margrét Rósa Dóru- Harrysdóttir) who occasionally screams terrifyingly off-mike; and the psyched-up singer Laufey Soffía Þórsdóttir, who is necking a respectable quantity of beer and whisky and who crawls around on the floor of the stage.
It’s my idea of heaven.
I love acts such as this. They are following their own idiosyncratic path to create something that is important to themselves and if an audience likes it, so much the better.
As my conversational Icelandic is sadly not up to scratch, I’m not entirely sure what Laufey and co are singing about. I do know that it involves a fair amount of screaming and alcohol. And that is a universal language.
It’s been a genuinely different and really enjoyable evening. There is an easy atmosphere of genial chaos – things sort of start when then there is sufficient momentum for them to do so, rather than to a set timetable. At times, this has been less of a gig than a Sixties style Happening. It fits in with the tea bar origins of the venue.