There’s something magnetic in that volcanic rock in the North Atlantic and each year we get pulled up there a little earlier than the year before, and stay a little later. Touching the ground on the Wednesday of this years Airwaves, there’s still an impressive line-up of almost completely local talent occupying the bars and concert halls of “the world’s most northernmost capitol”. Apparently the tourist season of the recently fiscally-challenged Reykjavik now stretches to mid October, so Airwaves now waits till the hotels empty out before bringing bands and the Airwaves faithful to town – meaning that it’s Halloween night when we depart the Plaza hotel on a now familiar buzz of being here once again.
Before bands are seen it’s a catch up with some regular visitors and friends, all familiarity and bear-hugs as we meet like a Before Sunrise Ethan Hawke back on a promise from the year before. Airwaves, as you learn is about three things in descending order: The city first, the crew you meet, then the music. It’s no wonder it now sells out before announcing a single act.
Wednesday evening is a slow re-entry and it begins with Sóley in the lakeside Idnó. A Reykjavik local, the place is rammed with a snaking queue outside. Just catching a glimpse of the gig from the back we weren’t quite in the right part of the room to be as mesmerised by her subdued, minor-key songs and delicious Icelandic intonation but those up the front reliably reported later on a blissful response in the main room.
Elbowing into Deutsche Bar (it seems instead of new bars, this town is content to re-name its old bars to add some variety year-to-year) we are seeking one of the only non-Icelandic bands playing tonight. Norway’s Highasakite came recommended and thankfully so. Young to a fault, and painted up like day-glo indians they are a tight pop ensemble. Slipping in beside Lykke Li and Nikki and the Dove, they still have something different to offer. Another dose of delightful Scandinavian accents, and really smart pop it lifted and blasted us into an early gig-of-the-weekend. Again, and typical of the Airwaves booking smarts, it’s a name we’ve run into ever since we’ve been home and will surely make the festivals of this summer – but of course we get bragging rights on seeing them until then.
Locals Legend managed to cut a foreboding shape next door in Gamli Gaukurinn – back-lit, towel waving and howling, they sent their own laptop flying in the first seconds and sort of Nine Inch Nailed their way through the heavy set. Bold and certainly the sort of blast that encouraged sitting down with the in-costume crew for a drink straight afterwards. It being the first night we had a light beer and went early to bed.
Yeah, sure we did.
A routine can be important when you’re staring down the barrel of five or six days at a music festival so we make sure to get up for breakfast despite grogginess, and out into the brisk day. American festival-goers and bands, held up by hurricane Sandy’s windy path over the east coast, are finally arriving – though sadly Swans would never make it for their headline slot. The Kex hostel on the seafront again hosts Seattle’s KEXP radio and mini gigs are on all day every day during the festival. Starting the day with a coffee in Kex and Ólafur Arnalds (and in his trio, the only Irish performer of the weekend, Paul Grennan on cello) is perhaps the best brunch ever. You can see the sea swelling out the window as inside it’s post-classical intimacy.
A few blocks away is the legendary 12 Tónar record shop. Imagine you walk into one record shop once a year, yet the two suited owners turn to you, offer a hand and say welcome back. Within minutes you’re sitting in the couches at the back by a CD player and they are bringing you pile of musical recommendations and coffee. Later on the delicate Rokkurro will play but we will find ourselves downtown at our regular dinner spot of Laundromat café. A guy called M-band is playing, banks of electronics and himself singing by the window, he’s joined on a few songs by what seems is just a guy sitting at the bar but no doubt it’s one of the huge community of musicians in this town, who cross-pollinate each others music constantly.
With so many things already circled we get some small tasters of Purity Ring. Sounding great in the Art Museum, and THEEsatisfaction who we’re clearly not focused on enough to enjoy. One of those bands we feel we should like more than we do – but for any serious fans, the intimate Deutsche Bar is one seriously up-close place to catch them.
Tonight’s compass is pointing towards Haim in Gamli Gakurinn. Bumping into them earlier in Laundromat, they were cheeky, Jewish Californians ripping the piss at all opportunities. Same on stage, sharing worries about getting pregnant by a guy in the front row and generally kicking off between songs. Super focused and fired up when in action, their pop world is the rougher edge of a Best Coast Instagram-filtered summer. Awesome.
Photographic proof of an after-party has been deleted but there is a vague memory of something happening involving the duty free cache. This will happen to every visitor at Airwaves.