When Sigur Rós teased their return earlier this year, they hinted at a departure. Stripped back shows minus their now-customary orchestra, new songs, old songs re-imagined - all change.
Primavera Sound hosted the return at the weekend, if you don’t count a special 250 cap show in a rehearsal studio in Redditch, Birmingham (sure lads, ok..). And the set brought with it the band’s first new material post-2013’s ‘Kveikur’ in the form of ‘Óveður’.
‘Kveikur’ was a hammerblow, and a crashing return after 2012’s floaty, ambient ‘Valtari’, and ‘Óveður’ sits somewhere inbetween. The main change is the band introducing electronic drums for the first time, filling the space their hefty orchestra always filled. Jónsi Birgisson, Goggi Hólm and Orri Páll Dýrason have been reduced in numbers, and in a way they’ve been forced to change the game, but that doesn’t mean their next step has arrived out of circumstance.
Any fears that a three-piece setup would weaken and tone down the band are already gone, with ‘Óveður’ hitting straight to the chest. It’s a statement of a return, and one that looks set to be joined by other new material across their extensive 2016 world tour.
‘Óveður’ was one thing. But beyond their set opener, they’ve pretty much hailed in an entirely new era.
There’s nothing but a few hazy Instagram videos for reference, but try and picture the scene: the trio opened their set shrouded in light. Stood behind a cage-like metallic structure, their frames were hidden even more by a wave of abstract, ever-changing effects. Like shooting stars being compressed into a small space, it was staggeringly beautiful, a bringing together of lights and visuals that’s rarely been attempted.
This “open rehearsal” of theirs was justified, given how much could have gone wrong. ‘Starálfur’ being reduced to a minimal electronic piece was a risky game, but it worked. And for third number ‘Sæglópur’, the group ditched their background stance and emerged to the front, all crashing cymbals and signature guitar bows. For something that could have easily come off as limp, it was a remarkable spectacle, the Icelandic giants pendulum-swinging between deft and epic extremes.
What’s more - this was a striking experience that’d usually be reserved for concert halls or grand, baroque structures. Not festivals. It shouldn’t have worked in this environment, but somehow these relative veterans evolved in front of thousands, in one of the most daring scenarios.