At Seattle Opera’s panel on race and representation in Madame Butterfly, one of the younger speakers asked why anyone would even bother trying to redeem such an opera. The obvious answer was, “The music!” but a part of me felt a little guilty for perpetuating one of those “classics” that should be allowed to die as its cultural relevance fades and its artistic merit is proven less significant than its novelty. I felt even more guilty that by taking my 13-year-old Asian daughter to see it, I could be inflicting harmful stereotypes on the very person they could most affect. I think those were legitimate fears, and could have been valid if Seattle Opera had presented Madame Butterfly without comment. But in the context of the local discussion they have started – wow! What an opera! Continue reading
I don’t normally put pictures of other people’s kids on the internet, but these pictures are three years old and these boys are probably big enough to beat you up by now. At Eistnaflug in 2014, this group of kids was always hanging around the venue – sometimes sneaking inside it, too, since the festival was still 18+ back then.
In the documentary Eistnaflug DVD, they talk about how the festival has introduced a generation of small-town kids to heavy music, and I remember people talking about some local boys who had formed a band called Blodstafir in tribute to Iceland’s famous export band Solstafir. At the time, I wondered if it was the same group I’d seen recklessly skating in front of the venue, looking like they’d ride straight into the water of the fjord at the bottom of the hill.
I imagine that if I go back to the festival in Neskaupstadur in a couple of years, I’ll look up at the stage and find out.
At my first Eistnaflug (2014) REYKJAVÍKURDÆTUR was a stand-out act for me. They were one of the only bands I interviewed (unfortunately I never found an outlet for that interview – I should probably post it here one of these days). I probably would have been taken with the band regardless of the circumstances of discovery, because they are doing something quite new and original. But I think their feminist hip-hop, rapped in Icelandic, stood out all the more for being surrounded by the testosterone-laden atmosphere of a metal and punk festival.
I’ve noticed that my favorite shows at festivals are often the ones that don’t conform to the format. I like the rock bands at folksy Doe Bay Fest, the metal bands at Bumbershoot. Maybe the other acts blend together in the memory while the misfits stand out.
I once interviewed Gudny, the woman who booked Eistnaflug for many years, and she commented on how important it was to add stylistic variety to the line-up, even for a festival with as specific a focus as Eistnaflug. She said the oddball acts serve as a palate cleanser. Like smelling coffee beans when sampling perfume, or sorbet at a tasting menu, electronica between metal bands or metal between pop sets clear the head. “No matter how you love it,” she said, “You can’t just listen to one thing for three solid days.”
I was excited to hear that Seattle Opera was performing Madame Butterfly because I love Puccini’s music and Butterfly is one of the most famous operas ever written. I didn’t know the opera was controversial for its racist depiction of the Japanese – especially its promulgation of the stereotype that Japanese women are suicidal, subservient sex puppets – until I heard about Seattle Opera’s free community panel discussion “Asian Arts Leaders Respond to Madame Butterfly,” moderated by Frank Abe, co-founder of Seattle’s Asian American Journalists Association. Continue reading
I recently was in a conversation with a woman whose husband was in a career transition. He wasn’t making the effort to get his new business started that she expected when she okayed the decision to quit his day job, and she was getting really frustrated. I joked, “Yeah, you married an artist not a drummer!”
“He does play drums!” she wailed.
So maybe there is a basis to the drummer stereotypes. Certainly a good drummer is hard to find. I interviewed a lot of Airwaves acts in 2012 on my first trip to Iceland. The search for a good drummer was a common theme in those interviews. One person said that for all the musicians in Iceland, there were only about 30 really good drummers. This is one of them.
Raggi Sverrisson is one of the best drummers I’ve ever heard. A former bandmate claims he can sustain 240 beats per minute with metronomic accuracy and anyone who listens to his bands play can hear the difference a really consistent drummer makes. I think I saw him perform with four different bands at Eistnaflug 2014. I really liked Azoic and Ophidian I, but Beneath is the band I’ve listened to the most. The internet tells me Raggi is no longer with Beneath, and that’s a crying shame, because a good drummer is hard to find.
I can’t make it to Eistnaflug this year, but as the festival approaches, my thoughts wander to East Iceland. The tiny town of Eistnaflug has one record store – it’s a pretty good one, especially considering the size and isolation of the town. Upstairs is an apartment where press stays during the festival. I got to pass for press the first time I attended the festival, and met quite a few writers whose work I follow and respect, as well as some folks from record labels that have absorbed significant funds from my bank account over the years. I am quite fond of this little metal building in a remote Nordic fjord.