November is the month that just keeps on giving, musically at least, in Norwich. Even if it does also seem to deliver Christmas these days too.
In a moment of madness and fatigue a few days ago I almost contemplated sacrificing this gig, I was so tired after a hectic schedule of gigs and write-ups. The need to recharge batteries however was heavily outweighed by the desire to see Mammút (Mammoth) from Iceland. Check out any of their numerous superb sessions on the brilliant KEXP channel and you’ll quickly see why.
Mammút are melodic and catchy and beautiful and addictive. They are also darker and heavier than you think they are—maybe they tricked you? This is true though: Mammút craft distorted and beautiful lullabies while maintaining a solid grasp on melody and an eternally independent spirit.
In support they had the uniquely creative and indescribable Broen from Norway, once again highly complimentary about Norwich and who featured amongst their number players on drums, synth, guitar, vocals, … and tuba! I thought the tuba was used, to good effect, as bass, though could have done with being a tad higher in the mix, at least from where I was stood. Broen are an extraordinary band, making sounds with wizardry I could not begin to figure out and dressed in creative and eye-catching stagewear.
Musically it was totally unique, at any moment they seemed able to switch from electro, jazz, dance, rock and rap. I think my favourite was the penultimate song, building from a chiming guitar intro as the band sat on the stage, culminating in something quite amazing. Full marks for inventiveness and exploring new sounds. They also mentioned onstage that they’d spent a couple of days in Norwich, exploring and walking about, telling us how beautiful it is and how lucky we are to live in this city.
The same definitely applies to Mammút too, they simply cannot be defined nor categorised by one song, and nor would they wish to be (to their great credit). I’ve not seen them play live before but Ian at NAC has seen them many times and is full of praise for them. Any viewings of their online videos where there are sometimes influences of “Radiohead joined by Bjork”, Xmal Deutschland, Siouxsie and the Banshees, or even Patti Smith, are all blasted out of the water by the unique set and sound they deliver onstage. Incomparable. They are dark too. Powerful, intense, compelling and brilliant. I’m not sure I’ve seen a set like this since Savages with Jehnny Beth and the equally inscrutable presence they share. There were moments I was not sure what they were feeling onstage, everyone was checking each other out but the NAC was less than half full and Mammút were fresh off a run of sellout gigs. This being Norwich and a cold Monday night the audience were certainly into it but not “Mammoth” in number, though polite and courteous and appreciative rather than boisterous and demonstrative but that’s just how we can be sometimes.
Once again the crush barrier was in place – I’m not sure if this is now a permanent fixture – but perhaps it creates a psychological barrier as well as a physical one. I certainly feel that to a degree it hinders the intimacy and closeness between band and audience that I love so much about NAC but there are surely good reasons for its presence.
I am most definitely a late arrival as far as discovering Mammút is concerned (they’ve been together for since they were 13 or14!) but already have my favourites, one of those is Salt, which they played early in the set. Definitely a highlight of the night, which was full of intensity and inscrutable moments where both band and crowd were sizing each other up and trying to read minds. The set probably didn’t quite scale the unrealistic heights and expectations I had for it but that’s through no fault of Mammút’s efforts … I just think that on this occasion it was the somewhat disappointing size of the crowd … and the barrier, which was, well, a barrier. Mammut still gave it their all, at one point vocalist Katrina and Arnar on guitar sparring in some gloriously weird head-duel. For the most part Katrina had the mic in her hand and put the stand behind her and it struck me just how rare it was to see a stage so totally devoid of mic stand clutter. It made it all the more beautiful, for a photographer at any rate.
They came back onstage after some earnest and appreciative hollering and clapping to deliver an extraordinary rendition of Kinder Version, magnificent actually. Hopefully they will be back in Norwich, if so, let’s fill the venue next time, they deserve it!
At the end of the night I bought a couple of albums, not unreasonably I think Katrina noticed my choices and was a bit disappointed that I had only selected older ones rather than new release Kinder Versions, until I explained that I only had funds for two purchases and the ones I chose were just about impossible to find in the UK – (I am hoping that my assumption that the new one is easier to locate proves true or I will feel a right fool!) – I really admired and respected this attitude, they have often stated they want each release to be better than the last. It shows that essential self-belief, pride and value for each release and I love this a lot. I just hope she believed my reasons … which were honest!
Icelandic bands often resemble a force of nature, and Mammút are no exception. What’s more, the quintet’s spectacular new album Kinder Versions is exactly the kind of volcanic presence that is sorely lacking in 21st century rock, likewise their unpredictable and uncategorisable shape-shifting sound, like a very modern twist on psychedelia.
Mammút is Icelandic for ‘mammoth’ – the name that singer Kata Mogensen, “plucked out of the air,” when she joined guitarists Alexandra Baldursdóttir and Arnar Pétursson, bassist Ása Dýradóttir and drummer Andri Bjartur Jakobsson for their stage debut,aged just 14. Kata is the daughter of bassist Birgir Mogensen, a former bandmate of Björk back when they were young post-punk adventurers, a questing spirit that Mammút have also unconsciously adopted, though without ever discussing what kind of music they’d play. “We’re so close as a band, we have no limits for each other, no boundaries, we just follow our gut instincts,” says Kata.
It’s worked from the off: they quickly won the Músiktilraunir ‘battle of the bands’ and thereafter nominations and awards at different Icelandic Music Awards: their third album Komdu Til Mín Svarta Systir won three of its eight nominations in 2014, including Album (Pop & Rock) and Song (Pop & Rock) for their epically slowburning single ‘Salt’. And with vocalist Kata Mogensen now singing in English, there’s a chance much more of the planet will discover what their homeland has known for a while.
Many thanks to Mammut, Broen, Ian, and all at NAC.
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