On Friday night, I headed down to the Echoplex in Los Angeles to check out Ólafur Arnalds, an Icelandic musician. I only got lost about 12 times this time and drove in about 15 circles before I found it (an all-time low for me) before I headed into to the darkly lit venue, which reminded me sort of a laser tag room, oddly enough. I groped my way through the dark as the opening band, George Sarah and Strings, played an epic accompaniment to my blind mini-journey. Needless to say, I felt sort of accomplished when I finally nestled into my seat amidst a semi-circle of folding black chairs. As George Sarah and Strings finished up, I surveyed the crowd bathed in the blue light and found it was comprised of either a) Icelandic-looking people or, b) artsy, educated couples having conversations about the history of Icelandic classical music or something strangely specific like that. Disco balls spun lazily above me and across from me and threw the blue light around, while the woman's afro in front of me glowed an electric blue on the edges. Arnalds took the stage.
As Arnalds sat down at his piano, five others took the stage as well. A four string quartet--a violist, two violinists, and a cellist--and a guy managing one of two computers (Arnalds did the other). The set began beautifully, albeit a little rocky. One of the computers overheated and set the band back a little; however, this allowed for Arnalds to provide some hilarious commentary. In his adorable Icelandic accent, he talked to the crowd about how his "pale Aryan skin" was not used to the LA sun, his adventures with skateboarding in San Francisco, his American-law-abiding ways because "we're on immigrant visas…", how one of his songs was about bathtubs, and how "if you ever start a band, don't use computers." Another benefit was the band's exquisite performance of an acoustic song. The computer was eventually fixed, and the show continued on smoothly.
The distinctly awesome thing about this concert and Ólafur Arnalds was the band's ability to create accessible classical music. When I previously described the audience, I left an important demographic out. There were a ton of young, hip people at the venue to see a classical artist. Arnalds' sound was like chocolate and peanut butter; like peanut butter and jelly; like Andrew Mercer and Danger Mouse--things that you wouldn't except to go together but do wonderfully. He fuses neoclassical, traditional instrumentals with electronic, modern beats, resulting in a technically beautiful, rich, and exciting new sound. Additionally, this concert was as much a visual event as it was an audio event. Something about getting to actually getting to see classical instruments being played makes it so much more enriching. I mean, just the motions that go into playing a viola or violin are mesmerizing to watch: the nuzzling into the cheek rest, the delicate sawing of the bow, the oscillation of the hand, and above all, the passionate but almost pained look of the violinists in response to the sorrowful sound of their instruments. Additionally, the lighting effects were phenomenal: images were projected against the background from the duration of the show, including a childhood mobile, falling leaves, and swaying trees; strobe lights pulsed together with beats for moments of high intensity; and lightbulbs dotted the floor while yellow backlights illuminated smoke for moments of intimacy.
The show was one to get lost in. I scanned the room to watch the audience every now and then, and everyone was seemingly hypnotized by the display of musicianship on stage. Arnalds was talented and endearing. The quartet was beautiful and skilled. The environment was mystical (and the disco balls didn't hurt). And most of all, the sounds were euphonic and touching, but fun and exciting. Overall, it was a terrific experience.