On the bus in from the airport to the Icelandic capital you notice that not only is the sky and land some mix of grey, but even the coloured houses dotted along the lava fields are all tinted in greying versions of some once bright colour. The colour in this town, thankfully, is all in the people and there is a general good mood in the air as the city welcomes people to its biggest festival. A pretty blonde girl and a polite fresh young guy working for the festival offer State a lift from the airport if we don’t get a seat on the shuttle bus, so from the arrivals area you know that there’s a real positive and friendly atmosphere surrounding Airwaves, now in it’s 11th year. It’s quite unusual for a capital city to have a music festival as its biggest international event, and almost every corner of the city is involved in either on or off-schedule gigs and parties running the length of the small city, 10 minutes walk end-to-end.
Passes are collected with ease and there’s no queueing in the festival office at the Plaza Hotel. Bustling past crowds of bands all checking in is the hardest part. A look at the events taking place show us that there are about 20 different things to do at any one time including, at 6pm each evening, swimming in one of the cities municipal pools while a different band play pool-side (free hot water literally pours out of the ground here). With a plan in place for a big few days, we book tickets for the hangover chill-out in the geothermal Blue Lagoon on Saturday morning and then set about to find the city’s art museum (Listasafn) where most of tonight’s eagerly anticipated bands are on.
German spectral, electronic duo Hundreds are late on, which gives us time to enjoy a full, though shortened, set of their mellow, brooding sound. The lady on vocals looks about seven foot tall in a one-armed jumpsuit as she slowly trails her arms through the air endlessly. Like the more quiet sides of Lamb, not massively unique, but a pleasant start to things.
We had been looking forward to Iceland’s Amiina for some time. The group played with Sigur Rós on their Takk tour (as seen in the film Heima) and the quiet, orchestral yet still folky sounds they added to the Sigur Rós show sounds beautiful in their own right on their new album. Described by Efterklang later in the evening as “the greatest girl band of all time” (though there are two male members) they changed between instruments regularly – the glockenspiel, violin and a strange, small, stringed instrument played in the lap were just three of those. Perhaps the chatty room of people (Icelandics talk a lot it seems, especially at gigs) combined with a shyness on stage meant that they never quite broke down a wall between the crowd and the band. It’s quite possible for the quietest of music to stop a crowd dead, but this performance was almost a bit apologetic. A smaller room might suit better, though every now and again they punched through – especially when joined by the super-confident Efterklang for one song and a lot of clapping.
The aforementioned Danes followed and certainly hit spots that Amiina had missed. Efterklang were engaging and energetic, each member looked to be having the time of their life. This seems to be confirmed with uplifting, and multi-layered pop songs such as ‘Full Moon’, mixed with the more angular slower paced ones. In a return of the favour, two of Amiina joined the band to add strings for a song. The hugely enjoyable ‘Morning Drift’ threw in trombone and trumpet and layers of drums and blew away any thoughts of the grey colours outside.
No need to leave the venue as Moderat are on stage in the time it takes to have a beer and bump into the programmer for vogue.com at the bar. The German hybrid DJ/band set up in front of three tall screens and in no time raise the game of the evening. Four guys in a row, mostly at computers and synths, they look like a casual-Friday Kraftwerk and seem incapable of playing anything that does not want to make you dance. With parts of electro, techno, and some small rock elements, dropped in, they don’t stray too far in any one direction. They never drop the ball and constantly find beats that are warm, and easy to love. If only they could play the closing hour of each night here at the festival we’d be set.
Thankfully Airwaves don’t let you peak too early, and with the bars closing at 1am there’s just enough time to call into Risid to see Sindri Eldon. A guy with a Badly Drawn Boy dress sense and an obvious surplus of body hair, he still looks every inch the son on Iceland’s most famous swan-wearing export. He’s content thrashing out scuzzy garage rock and it’s simple and enjoyable. Noting a relatively decent crowd on the top floor of the pub, he performs a survey-by-handclap to see how many people who don’t know him personally are there, and is happy and thankful of the result. Not world-changing, it was however and enjoyable half hour with some treats in the low-fi, dirty rock sounds him and his band thrashed out.
A famous Icelandic hot dog, some shopping for breakfast in the morning in the 24 hour shop and home at 1am. How utterly sensible.
Photos by Jakob Bekker Hansen