To understand the extent of the Apparat Organ Quartet phenomenon, you should have been present at NASA yesterday night, in the occasion of the release concert for Pólýfónía, their second album. Pólýfónía, containing material that was composed and recorded over a period of three years, emerges after an eight-year-long wait: quite a long time according to contemporary music industry’s standards.
Born as a side project for indie label and collective Kitchen Motors in 1999, Apparat Organ Quartet — whose members are the organ quartet Jóhann Jóhannsson, Úlfur Eldjárn, Hörður Bragason, Sighvatur Ómar Kristinsson aka Músikvatur, and drummer Arnar Geir Ómarsson — earned great prestige not only thanks to praise received by the first self-titled album, but thanks also to the artistic concept at the core of the band — making use of obsolete musical equipment in unconventional and sometimes unexplored ways, that is.
Every member of the band is involved in other projects and this is probably one of the reasons it took eight years for a second album to be released. Usually the audience is very forgetful. Especially for a country like Iceland, where music never takes a break and dozens of new bands form at a very fast pace, it’s very interesting and also sort of reassuring to see that musicians can make a proper comeback after a long period of time, still managing to cause a stir and generate expectation in their fans. And Apparat Organ Quartet are particularly huge in Iceland, their home country. More than a few had been anticipating the new album for a long time.
In the Apparat’s words, Pólýfónía is an album accessible to the taste of the masses. It mixes a variety of inspirations, both from music and from other forms of expression, with great and at times extravagant eclecticism, without turning from its strongly rooted popular intents. For instance, the fact one of the tracks is entitled Konami is pretty much self-explanatory.
And the masses rushed to NASA for the album’s release concert. The venue was properly packed, even for Icelandic standards. Opening for Apparat was electropop band Sykur, followed by organ virtuoso Junichi Matsumoto. They both warmed up the already enthusiastic audience. During Sykur’s performance, singer Rakel Mjöll joined the band on stage: bizarrely enough the male audience retreated of a good five meters. A very heterogeneous audience that was: teen-agers and middle-aged spectators seemed to be sharing the same excitement — and timidity, in the aforementioned case.
You may like or dislike Apparat’s music, but if you were there you’ll have to agree the overall effect of their live performance was impressive. For many, the concert seemed to be a greatly exhilarating experience. And rarely during a concert I had been deafened so much by the puissance of the sound. Also, although this is totally selfish, given the circumstances I was happy to note Icelanders are not prone to pogoing at concerts, not even when the music gets tougher. In some countries I could have died standing in the first row. To make up for the general overall composure, a few girls had a jolly good time collapsing on the stage — without anybody batting an eyelid, of course. In any case, it was sort of strangely alienating and funny in a surreal way, though I am not sure why.
Before the concert took place, the band warned their fans over the Internet that they won’t be playing again in Iceland for a very long time. Another eight years might pass before they will be seen performing together again around these parts. Whether this means they will be playing abroad or not in the meantime, they didn’t say. I’ll be keeping an eye and an ear opened.
Don’t forget that you can buy or stream Pólýfónía from gogoyoko music store. After listening to it, I can assure you more than a song contained in the album is going to stick in your head for a long time.
Images ©Pu the Owl. Don’t use without permission. Pu’s photography blog can be found at Manic Owl Works.