You are now entering the Republic of Afro-Iceland
The often awkwardly-used multi-term afropop is not necessarily something you would connect with the harsh north Atlantic island of Iceland. But for the lack of a better definition, it is one way of describing the music of Icelandic septet Retro Stefson.
The band was formed in 2006 by a group of young friends who wanted to boycott paying admittance to a local Reykjavik talent show. At the time the oldest members of the band were 16 years old, the youngest 14. Frontman Unnsteinn Manuel explains on their website that they “lost the contest, but we did get our tickets. And then we just kept going …” Much has happened since then, including three albums, number one hits in their native country and a record deal with the German subsidiary of Vertigo Records, which in 2010 released their second album Kimbabwe. Their most recent record, the self-titled Retro Stefson, was released in 2012.
Less known here in Denmark, the band have long since become a household name in the vibrant music scene centred in the downtown areas of Reykjavik. To give an example, they have performed at Iceland’s biggest music festival, Iceland Airwaves, every year since their formation back in 2006.
The international community has also taken note, and the band were recently nominated for the 2013 Nordic Music Prize, a Scandinavian award celebrating the best music from the region. There have also been tours criss-crossing Europe, and they are scheduled to give a notable upcoming performance at the Berlin Festival in September.
Stylistically the band does its best to elude categorisation. Their records range from low-key numbers for the reasonably sane to catchy bangers for the recognisably insane. There are elements of funk, synthesiser pop and old school rock, mixed with the aforementioned afropop elements.
“We used to tell people we played ‘Retro-Latin-Surf-Soul-Powerpop’ and I guess that’s as good a name as any for what we do,” explains the band on their website. “But it keeps changing.” Which kind of makes it next to impossible for any would-be music writer to describe the band to his editor.
The fusion of genres is also recognisable in the band’s lyrics, with the mixture of Icelandic, English, French and Portuguese sure to tickle the fancy of any linguist enthusiast.
The band’s strongest suit, however, lies in their undisputable dominance of the stage. I can say from personal experience that it is remarkable how the band takes control over any venue they perform in. Frontman Unnsteinn Manuel has all the necessary charisma and arrogance to marshal a crowd into a frenzy as they trample over each others’ shoes and elbow their way towards the stage. The fact that many of their songs are quite danceable does not hurt either.
Iceland has produced a few quirky acts in its time − most notably Bjork and Sigur Rós − but if you are expecting either an experiment on the limits of music, or a sombre evening best enjoyed with a blanket, a cup of cocoa and a loved one, you should probably stay at home. But if you are a fun loving party-goer looking for an energetic, action-packed night, then you should definitely mark the calendar for a night of Retro Stefson.
Lille Vega, Enghavevej 40, Cph V; Wed 21:00; Tickets: 120kr; www.billetlugen.dk