The fifth day. The first four fly by and Sunday, as a safety net, catches you just when the chill of the come-down is cooling your blood. There is still music out there. Pockets of off-venue locations are still delivering. The city, which is usually closed up on Sunday, is wide open and after a late, leisurely breakfast away from the bad hotel coffee and an even later even more leisurely trip to the pool we drop back in the city to see what we can scavenge from the final day.
Like a prize for endurance we are given a Scando-pop masterclass from the Faroe Island’s Byrta. One half of Kiasmos, Janus Rasmussen has a serious way with a brooding pop hook and front woman Guðrið Hansdóttir kills with confidence and good tidings. This discovery at the far end of town was a highlight of the entire weekend, so we’re not washed up yet.
Our first visit to the semi-legendary Kaffinbarin was in time to see some acts from the Bedroom Community – a musicians collective who work from an immaculate studio outside town that we were lucky enough to visit. Then the simple pleasure of bumping into some of the Irish crew drinking a few last Thule’s in the back room, this small, small city is so perfect for the chance encounter.
Tonight, to close the curtain we move out of the city to the Vodafone Hall and as we randomly bump into the Germans from Saturday night we stand together as The War on Drugs take the stage. So well versed and rehearsed in playing, you’re watching a pro-league game from the off. Song after song from an album that becomes a more concrete fixture on the turntable they make you want to rush home straight after and listen to it over again. A perfect chord change, a well nailed lyric “I’m in my finest hour, could I be more than just a fool” and Adam Granduciel’s easy way meld perfect once things get going, a few songs in. Then you just bask in your favourites. Like the opening and closing credits to our year ’Eyes to the Wind’ and ‘In Reverse’ would nearly give you a stroke just from grinning. A perfect setlist and we’re buzzing through the pause in the evening.
And no grand entry for Wayne Coyne. As huge string lights are draped down making a hose-like forest, The Flaming Lips slowly appear as things are being made ready, very casual-like. Coyne is being his own warm-up guy and there’s an uneventful slip into ‘The Abandoned Hospital Ship’ when they do begin and then the bouncing balls and a confetti downpour and we’re enveloped. Throw a piece of dried fish at any group of Airwaves over the week and you’ll hit a F’lips cynic, their cheery popular demeanour easy to make a stance clear of but despite pleasing crowds they are no crowd-pleasers, or conversely may be the best. A psychedelic stageshow of some rather odd music truth be told is channelled through huge dancing inflatable aliens, Santas and weird fish as the forest of cables burst into light. Five metre inflatable lettering is brought out and as it stands high, the simple trick of throwing a huge FUCK YEAH ICELAND into the crowd creates a stage of the full arena. Almost everyone in the room gets a chance to help hold up the sign during the gig as it floats between the bouncing silver balloons.
In fact you’d be so busy looking to see where it is that you’d nearly miss ‘Yoshimi…’ and ‘Race for the Prize’ being beautiful up on stage. This is no place for any serious criticism or analysis. Somewhere a problem you thought you had is being dissolved by this spectacle, this upper of a curtain-downer. And ‘Do You Realize?’ slips into ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ you couldn’t fault the night. Inches of confetti layer the ground and as the lights go up and the Lips depart it’s a hard heart that isn’t softened.
So much seen, yet so much missed. We promise ourselves that next year we’ll see more, do more, run about more and, you know, we probably won’t because you cut your own perfect Airwaves experience however way you play it here. And when all is done, if you’re lucky, you’ll give yourself a day in a rental and drive out of the city where no matter what you have seen in the last five days, nature, on this volcanic rock, will kick its ass. And maybe when you’re leaving your second swim of the day in an outdoor pool in a silent random town you’ll have to pull the car in and step outside and see the Northern Lights shape-shifting above you. And you’ll realize that this is what you came for all along.
Flaming Lips photographed for State by Jakob Bekker-Hansen.
State’s man-in-the-trenches Emmett Mullaney tore around the off-venue’s dimly lit corners at considerable expense to his physical wellbeing this year. He has just recovered to deliver us his favourite five needles from the off-venue haystack.
Tremoro Tarantura – Walking into the Gaukurinn venue on Thursday night I’m confronted by a wall of sound. The first time the Norwegians came to Iceland the Irish monks who lived there fled in terror. This time I’m half tempted to do the same but the sheer power of this band with their slow drum rhythms and industrial like guitars suck me back in. Probably the best act I caught at the whole festival.
Lucianblomkamp – I’m not in the best of shape when I catch this guy on Sunday afternoon in KEX hostel but his intriguing style makes me forget about the hangover momentarily. Here he lays down a selection of downbeat tracks while layering sound upon sound over them and adding reverb-laden vocals and even a violin to proceedings. To cap it all off he even does a cover of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Slow’, a hit co-written by an Icelander, Emiliana Torrini.
Glass Apple Bonzai – The fact that the off-venue schedule is so large and is announced only a couple of weeks before the festival starts would almost lead one to just say to hell with it and not bother to delve in further. That would be a mistake however and Glass Apple Bonzai is proof of it. This is the only show that Daniel X. Belasco is doing of the entire festival so there’s no way I’m missing it. Walking into Dillon Whiskey Bar the sound of ‘80s synthwave takes me upstairs as the Canadian pulls out track after track of synthy goodness in the flavour of Gary Numan.
Odonis Odonis – More Canadians and this time they’re the last act on the Thursday night showcasing some tracks off the excellent new album Hard Boiled Soft Boiled. Think Ministry meets A Place To Bury Strangers down a dark alleyway after closing time. The place goes wild as ‘New Obsession’ is belted out with abandon and beer is spilled all over the stage. Blast beats pummel the ears of everyone inside and by the end of the night the doubters have been converted and the faithful rejoice. Amen.
Greta Svabo Bech – This Faroese songstress has collaborated with such names as varied as Ludovico Einaudi and deadmau5 but here upstairs at the very top of a hotel looking over at Mt. Esja she sits alone with her electric piano. You can hear a pin drop as her hushed voice merges with the haunting sound of the keys. Sublime.