Friday daytime is to be savoured. An early night had been enforced on Thursday, and we have passed on an interesting press trip to Sigur Rós’ studio to wallow in Reykjavik itself and the many off-venue events as well as seeking out a winter hat, a good coffee and a bit of record shopping. We even took a breather in an open church near the hotel to find ourselves alone with our thoughts and a coffin, front and centre. Meditative.
Credit to the local phone network Síminn who developed it, the excellent Airwaves app takes the place of a good memory or folded up clashfinder and directs us with ease to the gigs on our personal list, the first being an Irish showcase run by Young Hearts Run Free in the expanse of the Lucky Records shop at the far end of the town. It’s a bit of a hike from the main drag but tomorrow will see them repeat the showcase bang-near almost all the big venues. Some delay in starting and a frustrating shuffling on the running order means it’s pot luck who we catch, but it is a treat to see The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock before lunch on this clear, crisp day. Their traditional leanings make them fit easily into the local musical ether it seems. Villagers have planned a trip out to the showcase for later in the day and we also manage to catch Adrian Crowley. Surrounded by banners and balloons in the corner of the store, he helps to mellow out our afternoon. It’s a low key set-up, and also a fundraiser for a local homeless charity, but for the effort involved in getting the performers (including Katie Kim and Donal Lunny) up there, the city location tomorrow should suit proceedings and walk-ins a bit better.
On the way back to town we pass a seeming essential part of the tourism experience – the Penis Museum. Leaving formaldehyde’d genitals to a braver tourist, we pass by and with no earthly way to get in the chockers Kex hostel to see now-local boy John Grant play a small gig we make the annual pilgrimage to our favourite record store in the world – 12 Tónar – and are greeted, yet again, like a returning prodigal son for that one day a year; coffee presented, a seat on the couch, headphones provided and a personally recommended selection brought to the table. We take home Múm’s Smilewound on vinyl as well as discovering Ruxpin’s extensive electronic album This Time We Go Together.
Time is getting the better of us and the best laid plans start slipping by. Spending so long in 12 Tónar, we are now looking like missing Olof Arnalds, Girls in Hawaii’s off-venue show and Rokkurro (again) but we trade this in for coffee with a local, which turns into a trip to the local homestead of Bubba where ourselves and some friendlies from Filter magazine have been drafted in to eat local dishes of pancakes (freshly made by Bubba’s grandmother), cheese and lamb away from the main gig drag in the centre. An oasis of a stop-over and a rare chance to enjoy a normal Reykjavik moment.
Again with the annual rituals, we return to eat in Við Tjörnina – fine dining in an old house, with sardonic icelandic humour from the waiter. Cheery greetings come from the owner who comes out of the kitchen and treats us like his favourite regulars. Not a note of music in the air, but such a gold star Airwaves experience at the same time. As mentioned before, this city and how you enjoy it is always the biggest act. Múm have been kind and though their show in the cosy Fríkirkjan church started an hour ago, it will be a two hour set so we all wedge in to the back and slowly make our way through the standing room only areas, to pick out spaces in the pews. Acoustics to die for, it doesn’t take long to get mesmerised. You’ll never hear ‘Toothwheels’ and the rest so delicate and enchanting. These Fríkirkjan gigs are a highlight of every year, without fail.
Starry-eyed, we still make a brisk walk to the Art Museum. Denmark’s MØ has been on our ‘excited!’ list since her few releases earlier in the year and it’s the best venue to see her twist and flail around through her smart, tight pop. She kicks it from the off. The sound channeling through this high-ceilinged room goes straight to the dancing gene and everyone is finding their moves when musical disaster strikes. Half way through the fourth song everything dies but the drums and guitar. The soundcard in her band’s only laptop has erased itself. Nothing can be done. She’s inconsolable. We’re devastated for us and her. Sad faces. Dancing left unfinished. We shuffle out, but for those three and a half songs she ruled Airwaves.
Again, we’re sadly crossing off the artists we won’t see to make sure we don’t spread ourselves too thin. Miriam the Believer gets sacrificed for the only Belgians, Syrians and Irish on the main bill. Girls in Hawaii have a decent line in central-European indie and are sweating out passion as we make a quick stop, while in Harpa, Omar Souleyman is doing something that everyone but us seems to have got a hold on. Collaborator Björk may well have been in attendance, but she didn’t grace the stage and we lost all out hip credentials by leaving without fuss, but we had to get into the old cinema to see Villagers. A seated gig, they had prepared an up-tempo live set, and it certainly worked from where we were sitting up on the balcony, the rest of the venue at capacity. The ear-hungry Airwaves audience almost always are open and appreciative – as with Anna von Hausswolff in the same venue the night before – and Villagers were received with open arms.
Backtracking now and running out of steam we’re back in Harpa for AlunaGeorge. Confident and cheeky, Aluna’s jogging shorts enable her legs to own about 90% of the stage, but that accented voice is the real killer. ‘Attracting Flies’ is grin-inducingly good but when we’re caught unawares by their own version of the Disclosure collaboration ‘White Noise’ we race to the front and allow ourselves to dance like no-one was watching. Moment.
We can’t resist a look at Fucked Up in the venue next door. Growling, despite the melodies. Rotund, sweaty and hairy up front despite the sharp, tight band behind they are an endlessly entertaining duality.
Trails of gigs continue into the night but we need a respite from the looking and listening. It’s time for talking, discussing, bullshitting and perhaps drinking. It’s Friday in Reykjavik, and from what you see about the town, you don’t need to be told that if you’re not getting messy you’re not doing it right. Queues are skipped with Irish charm which will always defeat Scandinavian stoicism. It’s all “hi, we met you earlier somewhere. Come with us” shots of Opal and no chance whatsoever at enough sleep to be ready for Saturday.
Fucked Up photographed for State by Jakob Bekker-Hansen