Icelandic rockers headline Portland music fest that no one can pronounce

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You wouldn’t expect the lead singer of an Icelandic band, undiscovered in the states, to consider Dolly Parton an inspiration. But Katrína Mogensen of Reykjavik rock quintet Mammút embraces the country crooner’s longevity and spunk.

“Dolly Parton is a huge influence. Huge influence. She’s an amazing artist with great voice and is very beautiful,” said Mogensen on the phone from Iceland last week.

Headlining Sunaana at Thompson’s Point this Saturday March 4, Mammút brings their own brand of chutzpah to Portland’s new festival based on the concept of discovery. Sunaana, an Inuit word that means “what is it,” marks Mammut’s first New England appearance. For music fans who’ve never heard of the headliner of this 12-act music and 20-brewery beer fest, there are touches of Bjork in Mogensen’s dramatic delivery. But the cumulative vibe of this band of 20-somethings is closer to their Icelandic crossover brethren Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men.

Formed 14 years ago when they were 13- and 14-year-old school chums, the group of art school grads make it up as they go along.

“We are an indie band. It’s DIY, we do everything ourselves. We have never had protection around us. We are visual artists,” says Mogensen, known to paint her eyes with gold glitter and traipse through videos in modified swimwear, her dyed, mussed locks rocking to and fro. But she can also be stoic, somber and reflective.

Could the current coursing through their upbeat and mellow songs (some written and performed in Icelandic, others in English) have anything to do with Iceland’s disparate weather?

“I used to think the weather didn’t effect me, but when you get older you realize how big an influence it has. You can almost hear it in our music. If a song was written in the winter or summertime there are such contrasts, so much light and dark. It makes you hyperactive in the summer and manic,” said Mogensen. “It influences us much more than we think.”

Like most bands playing Sunaana, Mammút is on the verge of breaking big in the U.S. They opened for PJ Harvey at Airwaves in Iceland a few months back, Rolling Stone called their performance “shamanistic hard rock” ready for the arena. That’s good because Thompson’s Point’s new Brick South space is as cavernous as they come — think airplane hanger with a stage and circus performers overhead.

Their latest album “Komdu til mín svarta systir” was awarded best album in Iceland and their song “Salt” snagged best song of the year. Now Mammút is now ready for the rest of the world. They recently signed with London record label Bella Union for their new all-English album, which comes out in late spring.

“It’s super exciting for people to be exposed to their sound. We’ve caught them at a really good time,” said Darren Elder, who booked Sunaana’s 12 acts, including the other to-be-seen headliner Rozes. “It’s exciting to have something to look forward to that’s fresh and ushers in seasonal change. We are blessed to have them.”

Mammut’s bags are packed.

“We are very looking forward to it. It’s shitty weather in Iceland right now. Windy all the time a and gray. Very, very, very dark. You get very excited when you get invited to fly away off this island in winter,” said Mogensen.

Sunaana is Saturday March 4 from 1 p.m. to 12 a.m. Mammút takes the stage between 9 and 9:30 p.m. Thompson’s Point Brick South. General admission is $45. Beer tickets are sold separately. There is also a musical train leaving Boston called the Sunaana Express that leaves North Station at 6:15. The excursion includes a mini concert and beer! All aboard.  

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.