No sooner have you gotten around to braving a small piece of minke whale than it’s suddenly Friday and you are desperately trying to hold on to some semblance of order on the carefully highlightered schedule you prepared on the plane. With some magnificent fish restaurants in Reykjavik it would be a shame to not visit them yet every spare 20 minutes tugs at your sleeve whispering the names of all the intriguing off-venue bands that you’ll miss if you sit down for any length of time. With 15 minutes to spare before a dinner booking in the heavenly Fish Market restaurant we make a bee-line to the never-before visited Evrópustova and a brief glimpse of Clea Vincent. Upon arrival to what seems to be a pleasant community centre we note a table of triangle sandwiches and sodas set out for free, and in front of about 30 seated people the petite Mme Vincent on a synth and a young Frenchman on drum pads. In the short time we have it’s all just pocket-sized gorgeous ‘bossa pop’. Containing DNA from classic French pop, and just smokey enough to suit the evening as much as the morning, you fall instantly in love.
Having waited two hours for the finest sushi to finally arrive we have to wolf it down to get back to Harpa’s seated main concert hall for an event remarkable in the midst of so many little bands in odd venues. We have Icelandic post-classical composer Jóhann Jóhannsson playing his soundtrack to The Miner’s Hymns silent movie, live, with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. The movie, cut from archive footage of the lives of the north of England miners, is a moving testament and for this hour Johannsson is controlling subtle noises in the mix from a laptop while the orchestra rise up, vast and beautiful behind. The closing movement is visually an epitaph for the mines and the miners and the accompanying piece, ‘The Cause Of Labour Is The Hope Of The World’, swells so large that it seems to be breathing for you. As it sinks back down and the only applause of the night bursts out you ponder how on earth you just stepped in to this world to be lost for an hour so far outside any idea you could have of a music festival. In a word, Airwaves.
A mere skirting of Ballet Schools’ pop and we must regroup some friends and get back to Anna Calvi in Harpa. Perfectly on time and immaculately lipsticked she chomps straight into ‘Suzanne and I’ and glues you to her for an hour that seems like 10 minutes. The napalm of ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’s extended, sprawling live version falls on the room to close. Her stunning guitar work hangs like a halo above when it’s all over. Finding the Þjóðleikhúskjallarinn is as tricky as it sounds, and with the help of a Russian with an iPad we get to the basement of a theatre where we find Ruxpin’s intimate electronic gig. People are seated on the staggered floor and steps as Jonas Thor Gudmundsson slides through some cut-above beats. It’s a perfect after-orchestra chill and you know you’re at the right gig when Bjork swans in and sits almost beside you.
The hard to categorise Adult Jazz are just across the road in Gamla Bio and we duck in to enjoy some of this off-kilter, curiously left-of-centre and more experimental band. By now we literally have to run to get to what we want to see and a quick duck back to the hotel en route has us bumping into Johann Johannsson who is enjoying a glass of wine at the bar. After a brief calm chat it’s a quick trot to the first of the Irish this weekend. Girl Band take on the excellent, low-ceilinged Gaukurinn and their staccato noise rock is bouncing over the heads of a sizeable crowd. Barely visible beyond, they cut an intense shape and fit the rough-edged venue like a glove.
Another final push out into the night and now flying solo we have no shame in getting up a gallop to make it back to Harpa’s Nordurljos room. A merge of Iceland’s neo-classical Ólafur Arnalds with Faroese electro-pop producer Janus Rasmussen, Kiasmos’s self titled new album has sailing under five-star reviews. Essentially being this year’s Jon Hopkins, its warm, engaging techno and dark pop sounds are in full swing as we get into the room but beefed up hugely for the live setting. The two guys are bouncing about being the desks like two kids on Christmas morning, Arnalds triggering samples from a tablet. With no-one on afterwards the gig just runs and runs and builds and builds. Your jaw gets sore from smiling and when they fire both barrels into ‘Bent’ it’s an unequalled palms-up adrelelin rush.
Finally re-connecting with some pals on the way out we find some local food, queue outside some bars then give up and on the way home, when all seems to be done, we find a friend in Húrra who’s puts a beer in front of us as we settle down to watch Árni² pull a few ambient techno tricks. As we just have enough energy to get home we once again pass Mr Johannsson, who has just come in the door. Our hearty greeting is met with a warm bear hug and then we are back out under the starry sky for the final push back to a warm room (and still two more days to go) with this gleaming pearl of a night neatly rounded off.
Girl Band photographed for State by Jakob Bekker-Hansen.