On Saturday March 23, I had a very unique opportunity of catching the first United States show of the Icelandic Synth/Punk & Darkwave sensation that is Kælan Mikla, who as we all know have had their breakthrough moment with their album “Nótt Eftir Nótt” released last November, 2018 which was followed by the band's first headliner tour throughout Europe from late January till early March.
It so happened that Kælan Mikla's first show in the United States took place in Denver, Colorado (A city with a very renowned goth scene, I might add) as part of a showcase festival of "Iceland Naturally", an organization based in New York that promotes diverse Icelandic cultural activities in North America. Within these events, there is one that tours around the U.S. called "Reykjavik Calling", sponsored by airline "Icelandair"
Now, it’s no mystery if you have been following Obscura Undead lately, that I'm a huge fan of Kælan Mikla -from their breakout story of 3 High School Girls winning a poetry slam in a public library in the Icelandic capital, to their music which combines Post Punk, Darkwave and Icelandic folk elements, they are a definitive part of the resurrection of Gothic wave that has become popular again during this decade.
Attending this event in Colorado was not planned at all, as I originally intended to go to Denver just to visit my mother who lives in the Greater Denver metro area. So, one week before I left Boston, I saw in the band’s Facebook page that they were going to have a show in Denver at this Icelandic cultural festival on Saturday March 23rd. I was already bummed by the fact the Clan of Xymox’s North American tour was postponed until this fall, so I exploded with joy knowing that I would be able to catch my current favorite Darkwave project on my trip out of pure coincidence.
Be careful with your Vinyl at the Airport
With the possibility of catching Kælan Mikla in Denver and the fact that in the US, unlike in Europe, the band is fairly unknown (which in theory will make the show a much more intimate affair), I decided to travel with my vinyl copy of “Nótt Eftir Nótt” with the goal of getting it signed by the band. Before leaving Boston I decided to bring my Vinyl in a black plastic bag, which I placed in a separate bin by itself when I went through the TSA checkpoint. As I went through the metal detector/scanner to get my bags and record on the other side I found evidence that the officer seemed to have taken the vinyl of its plastic cover to inspect it, but in the process bent a corner or the record sleeve, and cracked the top of the vinyl's cover.
I was livid because there was no need to take the record out of its plastic, and much less to be so clumsy with it when they have X-ray scanners. Mind you, that upon my return to Boston at the Denver Airport TSA checkpoint I had no problem at all; the record stayed in its bin and was scanned without no major issues... so yeah... thanks Boston for ruining my property.
Hey! Are You Kælan Mikla?
Once in Denver, I decide to take a walk with my father on one of the most Iconic streets in the city's downtown area, the 16th Street Mall, which is exactly as the name implies. The 16th avenue of the city which has been transformed in an open air shopping mall that goes across Downtown Denver.
As I was walking on 16th heading back into Union Station (Denver’s main transportation hub) I caught sight of three extremely pale looking young women, one of them on slightly elevated platform shoes walking in the opposite direction... They kind of stood out, but when I took a second look they were none other than Laufey Soffia (Vocalist), Solveig Matthildur (Keyboard and Programmer) and Margret Rosa (Bassist) of Kælan Mikla.
Once I realized it was them, well I nervously approached and asked : "Hey! Are you Kælan Mikla?" to which all three surprised and flattered replied “yes” in their very noticeable and thick Icelandic accents. You could tell their surprise of having someone in Denver ask them if they were Kælan Mikla, which was equal to my surprise at finding them walking down the street because let’s be honest... it’s your first time in the U.S. being a somewhat underground band, the least you would expect is this average Joe (as I wasn't in any Alternative fashion) to just know who you are. They could have just ran away in terror!
However, they didn't, they were very polite. Of course, I told them that I came all the way from Boston to see them and asked them for a picture, which my father took (yes, awkward much). Before we parted ways, I told them that I brought my vinyl and that I would be eternally grateful if they could sign it for me to which Solveig replied: "Sure bring it to us after the show!" I thanked them for their time and not wanting to keep them long as our encounter was already awkward as it is, I bid them farewell and we all went on our way.
A Night of Icelandic Darkness and Rock and Roll
The following night I made my way to the Zeppelin Station by train. The Zeppelin Station is a multi-purpose leisure building, which has restaurants, Pub/Bars and space for different activities like art exhibitions or conventions. This building was the venue for the "Reykjavik Calling" fest for the past three days which offered, products and clothing by Icelandic brands, drinks and food made by both Icelandic bartenders and chefs, cultural activities and on the closing day the festival would showcase of two Icelandic alternative bands, one being Kælan Mikla and the other band Mammút, on a bar on the second floor called "Big Trouble."
As I made my way upstairs there was a huge table where the band members where all gathered as they frequently walked to the stage to set up equipment. At 9:30pm after a small introduction, Kælan Mikla took the stage. The band is known for starting and closing their shows with an ethereal dark and atmospheric song as the trio always says that as part of their gimmick they like to enter into a vibe where they leave their normal and individual selves behind and they become Kælan Mikla in a sort of ceremonial act. They did this with the first track of “Nótt Eftir Nótt”, Gandreið, during which Laufey lights incense and blows the smoke into the crowd while Solveig delivers the ethereal mood on synths with the despair-ish wails of an impending doom.
Making good on their words in not to take themselves too seriously, the band followed the intro track with the second song of “Nótt Eftir Nótt” which has a more pop-new wave feel, Nornalagið (one of my favorites off the album) which got everyone in attendance swaying left and right.
In theory the band’s setlist for the night was the entirety of “Nótt Eftir Nótt” with the inclusion of their breakthrough track Kalt from their self-titled album “Kælan Mikla” right in the middle of the show. Then, in the same manner they started their set, they closed the show with the ominous last song of the album Dáið er allt án drauma. With the same ceremonial vibe, they exorcised their Kælan Mikla persona and went back to being Laufey, Solveig and Margret.
In terms of overall performance, the band was magical. They have the ability to suck you in into their melancholic haze of emotions. If you have followed Kaelan Mikla’s history, this band has come a long way from the days of their first two deliveries in Mánadans and Kælan Mikla. Laufey, not having any previous vocal experience, has become a multifaceted singer able to alternate between her whiny punk screams to which she recited poetry in the band’s early days, to a beautiful, melodic and spellbinding voice.
Kælan Mikla’s strongest trait as a group is the synergy between Margret Rosa on bass and Solveig Matthildur on synths. They both play like they are one instrument, and was ever apparent throughout their performance. To see and hear it live and in action, not just on a studio album, was something sublime. And this is how Kælan Mikla operates as a band.
Individually, you may think that they don’t say much, (although Solveig’s solo project is also very good and I can’t recommend it enough), but together they are a powerful well-oiled machine and a solid project , the likes of which I haven’t seen in quite a while. They bring, other than an inspiring story (editor’s note: the women of Kælan Mikla are proud feminists and “Nótt Eftir Nótt” is about the trauma of witch hunts in Icelandic history), something different and unique to the table, and their closeness to their Icelandic origins and folklore gives them that magical aura that other bands in the genre don’t have. Iceland is by itself an eldritch wonder of nature so you would expect that a band that portrays Iceland in such a dark, nostalgic, and ethereal way would exhibit the same mysticism and magic.
During their performance, songs like Nornalagið, Næturblóm, Hvernig kemst ég upp?, Kalt, Draumadís, and Andvaka were definitely the highlights of the evening. You could see that the band was very comfortable performing these tracks, and this is undoubtedly due to extensive European touring over the last two years. It is also noticeable that they have added little arrangements here and there that give the songs a slightly different experience from the studio studio recordings.
My negatives are not necessarily the band’s fault. One of my biggest issues was the lighting. As you can see by the pictures, it was hard to get a decent shot of the band without flashing them throughout the night with the camera, which would have been rude and distracting. Lighting is the venue’s responsibility, but the band did bring a projector which cast a white light with a moving shadow pattern on the stage. This was the only source of light in the performance and it made what you were seeing somewhat confusing. If the venue would have had some decent lighting, the experience would have been so much better.
Another thing that I could point out as a negative was that I thought Solveig’s synth needed a little more power in the high notes, which is something the sound technician should have taken care of during sound check. And hey... knowing that the band was in the U.S. as part of a cultural exchange performance with the sole purpose of being showcased to open themselves slowly into the American market, well you cannot be too critical; they came out and delivered with what they had and that’s all that matters.
Post Show and Fan to Band Interactions
It is well known by accounts of their first headlining tour in Europe that the women of Kælan Mikla are very open to the people who attend their shows, whether they are long time fans or newly made. Usually after their bow to the crowd, the trio immediately engage with the public. Moment they use to sign autographs and take pictures with those who desired and so they did! Ah, the benefit of a band who just have had their breakthrough moment, as famous bands tend to get somewhat arrogant at times with their fans.
Of course, this was the moment I was waiting for, so wearing the band’s logo shirt, I approached Margret Rosa (The Bassist) and introduced myself as “the random guy who asked you for a picture in the city yesterday”. I took out my vinyl and she signed the record I had brought. Immediately after, she called Laufey over and she upon taking the marker engaged in a conversation with me:
Laufey: What’s your name?
Laufey: Where are you from?
Me: Puerto Rico but came from Boston for the show.
Laufey: Interesting, you know Angel, I saw you singing some of the songs.
Me: Well maybe some lines, as my Icelandic is terrible.
Laufey: I find it very interesting because we understand that Icelandic can be a tough language and there is definitely a language barrier between the band and the fans. Sometimes we want the crowd to suggest an encore but we end up choosing it because they cannot mention the name of a song other than Kalt which is the easiest to mention. So the fact that you try to sing along Icelandic without knowing the language is quite an impressive feat, I love that and believe me I know cause I’m the vocalist!
She proceeds to sign the record but she asked another question as she called Solveig to give her my marker to sign the record.
Laufey: I noticed from the stage also, you have a Kælan Mikla shirt where did you get that?
Margret: You know Laufey… I noticed that too up there and was quite surprised.
Me: Well, I made it.
Margret: Wait, you made the shirt! How?
Me: Well, I went somewhere where they printed shirts, downloaded the logo and asked him to print it on the black shirt.
Laufey: Gasp! Is that a Bootleg? You seriously made a Bootleg of the band shirt? Look Solveig! He made a Bootleg of the band’s shirt!
Solveig laughed at this.
Me: Well at the time that I made it, your shirts were not on sale online so I did what I had to! Come on I actually ordered one when eventually they went on sale after your tour.
Laufey: Hey! Don’t think we are angry or that we are shunning on you! It’s just the fact that you went as far as to make your own band shirt, that’s fucking awesome!
I sighed with relief, and Solveig Matthildur approached me to sign my vinyl. As she did, I congratulated her on the release of her New upcoming solo album “Constantly In Love” out in April, to which she replied why thank you!
Solveig: So you came from Boston?
Me: Yup, you can come visit Boston someday you know! I’ve made sure to play Kælan Mikla up there when I DJ! So they know you!
Solveig: Really? Interesting! You DJ?
Me: It’s a hobby of mine on the goth scene there
Solveig: Ah! I see now! hehe! Angel, I really appreciate you coming out here for us!
The band carried on taking pictures with others in attendance while the next band Mammút, also from Reykjavik, set up their instruments. Before Kælan Mikla finished, they urged the crowd to stay for Mammút’s performance which everyone did including Kælan Mikla themselves, they stood in the crowd and listened to their Icelandic comrades perform like any other individual in that small crowd of like 40-50 people. By the way, Mammút is a very good Indie Alternative band and just like Kælan Mikla before them in 45 minutes to an hour, they brought the house down and I Implore you to check em out regardless of what genre you listen to.
As an added note: Unfortunately, any of the bands were unable to bring merch with them. When another fan inquired Sloveig about it she explained since they came into the U.S. due to a cultural exchange visa to be showcased in this festival, they where prohibited to make any revenue in the U.S. other than whatever agreement Icelandair and the event organizers of “Iceland Naturally” agreed upon for the showcase... mind you that there was no cover to enjoy the show.
Well what can I say; Saturday, March the 23rd was quite the unforgettable day for me as I had the opportunity to see one of the fastest growing bands in this resurrection of the current Gothic Wave. It is evident that Kælan Mikla has not convinced everyone yet of their talent, but you just have to see how in a matter of six years, a trio of high school girls at the time of the project’s conception have become force to be reckoned with. From winning a poetry slam to headlining a tour in Europe, a band that made the most of their opportunities since day one and also pushed by Robert Smith’s blessing when they opened for The Cure 40th anniversary concert at Hyde Park, London, sharing the stage with bands like Placebo and releasing three albums already... If this doesn’t convince you that Kælan Mikla are for real, then I honestly don’t know what will. After seeing the band live I’m able to put my skepticism to a side and honestly tell you the Kælan Mikla hype is for real.
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