In this most perfectly contained pressure-cooker of a festival, the good times and big picture can almost the over from the true gold of the event which is, in the main, discovering fresh-baked artists in a live setting where the crowd are already on a 5-day-long open-minded jolly.
Even with the main days done the festival never seems to quit. Kraftwerk are a Sunday and Monday tag-on to the festival – the show set in the vast, thankfully seated hallows of the main concert hall in Harpa, is an ideal setting for the 3D concert. Looking down from the balcony we can actually see their hands move across the oft-hidden controls and keyboards. The Irish organised Drop Everything ‘krafterparty’ in the bar Dolly sees a Sunday night gem of a DJ bracket a set by the unpronouncable-in-Iceland Daithi. As Slow Magic did last year, he sets up on the floor, surrounded by the crowd like at a fist-fight. This close to the audience, on this curtain-down night, he gets the mood just right, a club feel mashed up with his fiddle-playing and loops. It’s an ultra condensed version of what Hopkins did the night before and just bursts with fun.
The State team have learned that there’s no better way to come down from all of this than by finally getting time to explore the countryside. We stay till the Wednesday, renting a car and exploring the staggering beauty of this nothingness. All this is accessible with a rental car, a good map and some advice. Brendan from Feel Good Lost (appropriately) sends us to a terminal beach, an edge-of-world basalt-meets-crashing-waves place along the south coast, which we drove seeking waterfalls and glaciers. We stop beside the quiet-too-quiet volcano Eyjafjallajökull and swim in outdoor pools in the smallest towns. And it’s easy. So easy.
All this gives us time to talk about what we had seen and to nail down some music to seek out. Of bands we have never seen before we pick over three that we held highest.
Though we only saw Diana in a University bar, and most of the gig was a soundcheck as the band had just come off a plane, they got us in the heart with a thoughtful, paced take on etectro pop with live sax. Oh the sax. Used sparingly and perfectly.
Money were a blank canvas when we walked into the room and they painted it in carefully rounded Northern English shapes. Though melancholy, Jamie Lee’s voice is perpetually reaching out and we were not just impressed with the music but with the theatre of it all. (Video below is our own Cillian Murphy’s directorial debut.)
Despite it being the first night, none of the local bands impressed as much as Bloodgroup. Ideal dark electro for the late hour, it was polished and intense in parts and a killer live show that you don’t quite expect from the records.
Our writer-at-large at Iceland Airwaves is Emmett Mullaney who listens to every single band on the bill before he arrives, crawling into crevices in the local scene, often watching helmeted fights as gigs begin. We asked him for his top five from the 72, yes, 72 bands he saw over the long weekend.
The fact that I saw these guys three times over the course of the week says it all. Menacing postures, synths darker than the Icelandic winter and a delivery that melts faces, all wrapped up in a package set to blow up in front of you. Sounding a bit like Depeche Mode meets Skinny Puppy meets NIN, these guys are so good I’m going to see them again next month in Sweden.
Feedback wails through the Harpa concert hall from the Flying V of vocalist/guitarist Addi for a good two minutes before Svabbi on bass and Pjuddi on guitar join in. Dreadlocked drummer Gummi comes crashing in and the ears are blown off everyone. This is Icelandic metal at its very best. Every song of theirs is a good 10 minutes long so four songs are all we get here, including the number one hit ‘Fjara’. By the end of their set the crowd are roaring for more. I can’t believe I was even considering missing these guys to go see Jagwar Ma. Fantastic.
I found this group at noon in a bar down near the harbour with free cask-aged punch on the go. Consisting of six members all of whom sing and with cello, violin, guitar and piano on show they weave the large crowd in their web of lovely pastoral folky hymn-like songs. The morning sunlight gleams in the window and illuminates the whole group as they leave down their instruments and treat us to an a capella composition that has the audience in raptures by the end. Heaven.
If there was one band I was looking forward to seeing at Airwaves it was Kontinuum. Playing songs off their magnificent 2012 album Earth Blood Magic, a nine track masterpiece of powerhouse Icelandic metal, it takes about ten seconds before the whole crowd go mental. None more so than yours truly. Crunching guitars, deep rolling basslines and thundering drums are served up and gulped down with gusto by the hungry dogs gathered. There’s mind-blowing and then there’s mind = blown. This was the latter. The best gig of Airwaves? Try gig of the year.
I found this Faroese outfit in a clothes shop (see what I did there) window playing to the sizable crowd inside and with an even bigger crowd packed on the footpath out front. Consisting officially of Bloodgroup’s Janus Rasmussen and singer songwriter Guðrið Hansdóttir but backed by four other members here, their own blend of catchy electro pop soon has feet stomping . It’s a delightful set and I can honestly say it’s definitely the most fun I’ve ever had in a clothes shop.
Emmett’s extensive reviews from the underbelly of the festival are over on Louder Than War.
Daithi photographed for State by Jakob Bekker-Hansen.