You can feel things pitch upwards as Thursday begins. Already there are more guitar cases and beanie caps in the hotel receptions of the city and less hiking boots and cruise-ship types on their all-inclusive Northern Lights tours. It’s a crime not to begin every day in a local outdoor pool and so starts the first of what would indeed be a morning ritual dip at Vestaurbaer baths. At a cost of €4 you have all sorts of relaxing-in-water available and it shaves euros and hours off the more hyped Blue Lagoon trip.
Heads fresh and ready after a welcoming Viking Christmas beer, we move towards Harpa’s concert hall again for perhaps the quietest night of the weekend. Sweden’s Alice Boman is playing her delicate keyboard-and-brass-tinged songs in the Nordurljos room. The perfect sound (a notable trait of the festival in general) makes it a detailed, calm and not over-sweet introduction to the night, ramped up next by Icelandic post-rock specialists For a Minor Reflection who take on the bigger Silfurberg room next door. With no deviation from their chosen genre, these guys can still pack a live punch by just doing it very, very well.
Like most local acts FAMR are also a yearly feature of the festival. Presumably relishing the act of playing to both a national and international crowd in a large venue (and myriad off-venue locations) they always draw a sizeable crowd. It seems there’s a great hunger in Iceland to go see live music as well as to be in bands, and attendances are naturally boosted massively by Airwaves. These acts aren’t putting on their best frocks for any influx of A&R up here, they are just taking the chances they get to create bigger gigs, and have more fun. The repetition year after year of these acts just means, to those of us who fly in, that you’ll probably catch what you missed either tomorrow, or next year.
The bar in Harpa is fine for a stop-off between bands in the venue, though it has none of the charm that a drink and chat in the smaller bars they used to use more. Something in the flow of the place works against bumping into people, but nonetheless we are easily able to dip in and out of Horse Thief. Though we’re not quite engaged it’s a pleasant distraction of Americana and once we hear the excellent ‘Devil’ we’re good to go again.
Time to walk across downtown to see the closing songs of Rökkurró – locals with a new album in the bag. These Reykjavik bands seem to be able to evolve into a small orchestra live, and the same faces keep showing up behind French horns and cellos. Not venturing far from a distinctly national sound, Rökkurró still swell up in a rather pretty way in this live setting. Samaris are locals who have crossed oceans, and even made it to Ireland a number of times including an Electric Picnic trip last year. Though Jófríður Ákadóttir’s voice is cut from the same lava rock as that most famous local export, the warm late-night electronica behind it reaches deep and as they play at the end of the art gallery’s long hall they look every bit the established act. They are perfect to envelop ourselves in for a while as we try to shut out the distractions of getting to the bar or being dragged to another gig with both Pins and Dísa playing consecutively.
With Samaris eventually over we succumb to the wind for one last push tonight and are directed to Australia’s King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. This is definitely where the funsters are off to tonight and there’s a giddy buzz in Gamla Bio instead of po-faced gig watching. Just as well because the gig kicks off with what seems like an 11 minute psych trip dropping in and out of meaty guitar, wild hair and a dreamy descent into a fissure of rock. A smile-inducing legal high and now, NOW, we are floating out into Airwaves ’14 like a calved iceberg.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard photographed for State by Jakob Bekker Hansen.