“I’m not used to playing venues like this,” the soft spoken Icelandic composer said as he eyed his crowd. “We usually play concert halls.” Truthfully, I was surprised to hear that Olafur Arnalds would be playing Fortune Sound Club for his Vancouver stop on his inaugural west coast trek, but it turned out to be a little more fitting than expected. Arnalds, just 26, has been at the front of a new movement of neo-classical music that straddles conventions by keeping one foot in conventional simplicity and another in modern production and effects. Such juxtaposition was reflected in the venue and set up as Arnalds, accompanied by a violinist and cellist, sat behind a grand piano with a Mac, an iPad beside a large stack of speakers intended for the electronic club music the venue is more known for. In his words: “It’s not often I play next to a TA-1 techno speaker.”
After lying in a popularity limbo on his previous label, Erased Tapes, Arnalds has found himself in new territory recently, and he wears it well. After putting out a few free projects to go along with his relatively successful EP’s, albums, and soundtracks, he put forth what might have been his most daring yet accomplished release to date, For Now I am Winter. Featuring Arnor Dan on vocals for multiple songs and incorporating even more electronic beats and effects, Arnalds showcased an incredible ingenuity and confidence only hinted at with past songs. He had been hyped before, but this was a whole other level of success; a success giving him the ability to finally properly tour North America, instead of just covering the east coast.
Finding myself in Fortune for the first time, I decided to kind of blend in at the back for the opening act, Drogue. I’ve expressed my lack of enthusiasm for live drone music in the past and unfortunately this artist did little to change that. To me, drone music is like a painting: I can see it and appreciate it for what it is, but I have no interest in watching it be made in front of me nor do I choose to indulge in it. Though Drogue did at times show some promise and piqued my interest at times, for most of his 30 minute set I found myself bored and trying to decipher what exactly was being played. As if going to a club and standing completely still wasn’t awkward enough, having that as background music certainly did not make it much more enjoyable.
Once Drogue had finished and the room lit up again, it became apparent just how eclectic the crowd was. At this time, Fortune’s dance floor area was mostly full save for some space in the back with young people sporting the latest fashion and ironic facial hair contrasted by older people from the past generations that sported that same facial hair except ironically. This was clearly a show that had managed to interest people across most ages. But this wasn’t really a surprise, this was just how Olafur Arnalds was. His ability to make classical music approachable makes it him a very prominent figure regardless of age. It’s the reason myself at 20 can appreciate the music yet not be afraid to share it with my parents or grandparents. It’s an incredible feat to boast, though he’d be too humble to.
In his fashion, Arnalds made his way quietly on stage almost without being noticed until he spoke up. What followed was perhaps one the most unique, intriguing, and moving concert experiences of my life. He asked us to sit and reminded us that this would be a more quiet show, and everyone obliged. In the next hour and a half, I saw the most respectful and quietly enthused crowd I have ever seen. Only a few camera flashes broke the darkness and I didn’t overhear any conversations or remarks throughout the entire show.
So we found ourselves sitting on the dance floor, in quiet reverence, listening to a neo-classical composer who has been praised as “prodigious” play songs that ranged from amazingly complex to the beautifully simple. It was surreal. No antics outside of a few funny stories, no dramatic light show, no drunkards or drugs, just awe and an ethereal calm. Each song was performed with absolute professionalism, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t see each of the band member crack a smile once in a while.
Olafur Arnalds is no longer an up and comer. He is currently making his mark and is leaving a long back catalogue to go with it. Though this show definitely wouldn’t have appeased anyone, those in attendance were definitely satisfied. I can safely say that I’ve never felt so, for the lack of a better word, proud of a group of people before. It was an experience I wouldn’t have wanted to share with anyone else. Though Arnalds may have found the venue odd compared to his usual fare, it was a fitting frame for a performance that captured an art form in a way that eludes so many performers. It reveled in its simplicity yet was so complex and entertaining. I don’t expect to have a similar reaction to a show any time soon nor do I remember ever feeling this way. Arnalds had already proven to me he was musically gifted, but seeing him with his charming personality, slightly boyish smile, and flawless execution presented an artist I had already respected in a whole new way.”