Photograph by Steve Asenjo
The third and final day of Ja Ja Ja Festival’s 2014 edition sees the Nordic extravaganza relocating from its usual home at The Lexington to the beautiful, recently refurbished, Great Hall at Queen Mary University of London in Mile End.
The programme for the day is replete with events, and proceedings kick off on an Icelandic tip with a screening of Bjork’s Biophilia Live. Co-helmed by Nick Fenton (who is currently putting the finishing touches to a film of Kate Bush’s Before The Dawn tour) Biophilia Live elegantly transports us to Björk’s final Alexandra Palace show and it is a credit to its direction and editing that - notwithstanding the fact that the film is shown in a lecture theatre across from the Great Hall - the experience somehow still works. Iceland is also the focal point in Tim Boddy and Stephen Bevan’s film, Tonlist, which airs in the Great Hall. The feature-length documentary explores the country’s music scene and how it has been affected by governmental cuts to arts funding. A particular favourite is an acoustic performance by Ásgeir of "Going Home", captured at his local church.
Faroese duo, BYRTA, are the first live act of the day and singer Guðrið Hansdóttir - dressed in a gorgeous, billowing costume - thrills the crowd with the pair’s particular brand of electro-pop. Finnish Ja Ja Ja old-timers Sin Cos Tan follow suit, playing songs from their latest long-player Blown Away. The sound engineering in the Great Hall is still finding its feet at this point but, accompanied by fantastic visuals, Jori Hulkkonen and Juho Paalosmaa nevertheless manage to bring about commendable mid-afternoon thrills.
Highasakite show off front-woman Ingrid Helene Havik’s talents with a moody and thrilling performance. The light design here complements the music beautifully and the Norwegian quintet ably demonstrates the basis for its reputation as a must-see live act.
While the sound in the Great Hall improves with each act’s slot, it is disappointing that it is not yet at its optimal level for Jenny Wilson’s energetic and engaging Demand The Impossible! segment. Wilson’s powerful voice gets lost in the wet acoustics of the venue at times but, ever the professional, the Swede surges on and energises the audience with punchy, brilliant numbers such as "Pyramids (Rose Out Of Our Pain)", "The Soup", "Like A Fading Rainbow", an extended reworking of "Pass Me The Salt" and her recent hit single "The Future".
Earlier in the afternoon Wilson attends a Ja Ja Ja seminar on The Best of Nordic Music Videos, where her co-directed video for "The Future" is shown alongside subsequent performers When Saint Go Machine’s promo for "Parix", directed by Daniel Kragh-Jacobsen (also a guest at the festival). "Parix" later proves to be the live highlight in the quartet’s evening set.
Emiliana Torrini closes the festival on an exhilarating note with full band backing on songs from her last three albums. First up is "Tookah", the title track from Torrini’s most recent release, and the audience is happy to note that the sound levels are properly sorted out for the headliner. Before performing "Home", the Icelandic singer-songwriter tells the crowd how, when she lived in London, she used to get homesick but now that she’s back living in Reykjavik she gets homesick for London. "Big Jumps", "Sunny Road" and "Me and Armini" sound particularly gorgeous this evening and the performance peaks at the encore, where Torrini - joined onstage by Lisa Elle from Dark Horse - performs Tookah bonus track "Echo Horse (History of Horses)".
And so a full, varied day comes to a lovely end - leaving us all excited about Ja Ja Ja’s forthcoming club nights at the Lexington and next year’s festival and what it has in store.
Words by Doron Vidavski