Without doubt the greatest morning of a drinking-persons year is Airwaves Saturday. It is Blue Lagoon Hangover Party afternoon and you are encouraged, nay obliged, to me in a messy state for this is the best cure nature provides. DJs and live music welcome you into the geothermal water and if that isn’t Gus Gus and local Dj group Glutemus Maximus playing ‘Ladyshave’ I’ll eat my swimming cap. One quarter of the wide geothermal pool is tearing it up, and the dancing even makes it to the stage as State’s off-venue roving reporter for the weekend braves the icy conditions to dance out of the water by the dj and is soon joined by Mr. Maximus to joyful uproar.
It’s in the same Icelandic-food-only restaurant where last year we tried the rotten shark, that this year we try, well, the rotten shark. More a dare than a culinary experience it gets a little less death-like each year and the reindeer burger and Christmas beer that followed it turned the taste buds around.
45 minutes later, we barely squeeze into the packed Frikirkjan church for the most beautifully set Daughter gig. Pin-drop quiet, you could not have asked for a better setting to drink up the delicate songs of Elena Tonra. A trot through the still-windy city gets us back to the Art museum for the cheery Friends. Echoey and with the fuzziness of bass, they have filled the stage and the venue, the naive school-yard sound ramping up the mood and warming up the dancing legs for the night.
Vacationer are one of two US bands brought over by the local Vodka to play Airwaves. Living up to the name, it’s a costal pop sound with a touch of ‘50s movie soundtracks about their intros. The distractions of the Saturday night city are too much to keep us swaying to the pleasant sounds however, as Django Django are playing an adjacent room. But wait, no they’re not. Cancelled due to illness, we are instead to enjoy Denmark’s Rangleklods but having seen their impressive enough morning set at Roskilde we skip it for a bit of Dirty Projectors. The right thing to do would have been to engage and get up close and sure as hell you’d have got lost in the gig, but with so many things vying for our attention we are reluctantly moved on. Our next experience, however, would make the night.
At this point, four days in, we’d have been happy to kick back with some Viking beers in a dark corner somewhere but slipping into Gamli Gakurinn again and we’re suddenly in a room of warm techno sounds. It’s our photographer who tells us to push through the crowd to the low stage where, to our surprise, is three guys on the standard guitar, drums and bass. Miracles are happening in the pedal board and to witness this conversion of analogue instruments and a human, not programmed, techno beat is stunning. Elektro Guzzi have our mesmerised attention for every second on stage.
A serious amount of smaller events happens around Reykjavik for almost six days around Airwaves, mostly with Icelandic bands. Here Emmett Mullaney reports on some of those events.
LEGEND – Front row at Gamli Gaukurinn for the dark electro of Legend, we had been practically foaming at the mouth in anticipation of this show ever since their debut album “Fearless” dropped earlier in April. Frontman Krummi Bjorgvinsson arrives on stage covered from head to toe in black paint and spitting water everywhere. Opener ‘Amazon War’ sounds like the Mayan’s were right about the end of the world. Straight into ‘Benjamite Bloodline’ and the crowd goes off leaving us, half an hour later, in a daze.
NORA – Saw this band last year but with a great new alum just released we though them worth a repeat visit. Their set is packed full of folky, pop harmonies that have the standing room only crowd in raptures.
GABRIEL -A packed house for an Icelandic artist who doesn’t want to reveal his true identity and as such wears a knitted mask to hide his face. Joined on stage by a host of hip hop musicians from the local Icelandic scene, the Icelandic lyrics go over our heads but we are blown away by their delivery. Plus we end up beside a six-foot Chewbacca, it being Halloween night.
YLJA – Harmonies and acoustic guitars, there’s not a seat to be had as Bjartey Sveinsdótti & GuðnýGígja Skjaldardótti weave their magic backed by Smári Tarfur Jósepsson on slide guitar and English speaking duties. The hurricane blowing outside can’t chill their heart-warming sounds.
RANGLEKLODS – Another act we had been anticipating, their ‘Clouds’ being one of favourite songs this year. This Danish act led by Esben Andersen produced a blistering set of synth based electronica with a real knack for catchy songs. With a fill-in slot for Django Django, we ended up seeing this act 3 times over the course of the festival.
SOLSTAFIR – Dresssed all in black and sporting cowboy hats, long hair and beards, if you have come to see a synth pop act then you are in the wrong place. Frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason wields a Gibson Flying V like Thor’s hammer and it sure sounds like Valhalla in the Harpa concert hall tonight. A set of top drawer metal follows, a highlight being their recent hit ‘Fjara’. They are playing Dublin in February as part of the Redemption Festival with Primodial.
TANYA AND MARLON – These two are cousins and are the co-founders of WeirdCore along with the late, great Biogen. This high octane style of music, mixing drum n bass with electro and breakbeat has us on our feet screaming for an hour. Marlon wears a Donnie Darko bunny rabbit head throughout and they make The Prodigy sound like The Carpenters.
HANNE KOLSTO – We catch this Norwegian songstress and her band at an off-venue show at a backpackers downtown, which is so full we end up squeezing into a space sitting on the floor. Her sound is composed of a old Casio synths, homemade beats, guitar and layers of voice, all of which delights.
ARSTIDIR – Standing room only as they begin, their cello player hadn’t even made it at that point as he was taking a music exam at the same time but did rush in after two songs to much applause.This band are a vocal-based group who take an acoustic approach and sing entirely in Icelandic. Their beautiful soundscape of acoustic guitars, violins and cello soon warm up a cold day.
HAZAR – The energy from this local producer was amazing. Tune after jaw-dropping tune left us absolutely drenched in sweat by the end of the set. Outstanding.
PATRICK WOLF – Set in an old church by a lake this show is packed to the rafters on this cold winter’s evening. An acoustic set of piano and ukulele are Patrick’s tools of the trade in this set, backed by a violinist and his sister on vocal duties. Our own personal favourite ‘Overture’ is belted out with gusto and at one stage he starts playing requests from the congregation between a healthy dose of on-stage banter. Magnificent.