It’s back in the pool to begin the Saturday. Friday went big and we closed Kaffinbarin because it seemed the right thing to do. Well, when in Reykjavik. After our dip we treat ourselves to some world-class Icelandic hotdogs from the kiosk next door and duly bump into some Irish with the local knowledge. They bring us to a perfect cafe and then through an old graveyard and back to town, which seemed perfectly normal at the time but ‘normal’ up there is a pretty flexible thing. We need to hide for a while and find a corner of a lunch spot to gather the nerves and end up sitting beside a Ramone lookalike, this American dude we see here every year – part of the Airwaves furniture.
Luckily we travel the city with togs as there’s an ‘underwater concert’ at the city’s oldest (and only covered) pool. There’s a bunch of people bobbing about in the water while Tonik Ensemble, an electronic two-piece, play some uplifting, warm beats. Apparently there are speakers under water and we like the music but it’s a bit of a weird set-up – and it sure as hell ain’t the epic Blue Lagoon hangover parties of years gone – so we repair to the outside hot pots to stew a bit, as being indoors in a pool now is an alien concept by the Saturday.
It’s soon time for a fortifying steak and a sit down though, because there’s plenty of going to be done tonight. It has to start in Harpa as the early run there is rock solid. We catch but a glimpse of a fabulous Porches and have time to fill our pockets with some cans of beer from the bar and get nice and close for Kiasmos. Last year was their first live show – a belter, but a much smaller, less busy room. Now it’s a full house in Silfurberg. Powerful, slo-mo visuals frame them and they feel like superpowered versions of Kiasmos from the year before. They raise us and raise us and blast us to the stars and you don’t even get to think about it as your body just goes with it.
Next door our SOAK has a full house for a more toned down offering. Now very comfortable with the band, and at home under the excellent lights in the gorgeous panelled Norðurljós room, she’s nailing it all the way and ‘B a noBody’ is especially searing. Just outside, an unprecedented amount of people are snaking from the doors of the venue Kiasmos have just finished in, down the huge staircase, and out of the building into the cold. Airwaves previously had a no-return policy for acts that played it, and this kept all invited acts ever renewing and somehow avoided this mass turnout. There is also a large block of mid-level acts missing – we discovered Haim, Electro Guzzi and saw the Jameses (Murphy and Blake) DJ, but that mid-section is mostly filled by local bands now, possibly pushing more people to the bigger acts. This year Beach House are back after only a few short years, a rule break that does open the festival up to some potentially lazier booking. No point in protesting now though, as we are one of the lucky ones in the thick of it. Disappointing in Dublin the week before, there was none of that here – they’re fully engaged and absorbing – Legrand is a puppet-master when they are this good. A miracle happens in the shape of a Boston colleague arriving through an impossible crowd to us, with a TEN pack of ice cold beers. And on into ‘Myth’ and you could just bathe in it.
More of a pilgrimage than anything we call by NASA and East India Youth is on fire, a one man crazed electro-pop machine. Across the square in Idno, local psych rockers The Vintage Caravan are going wild with all their hair. After some of this fun we make a decision to split three ways – two head to Kaffinbarin again to get in at the eye of Saturday’s late night hurricane when one goes to an intense GusGus show that seemed to go on all night, and another to Nao back at NASA. Super confidence from her, she can turn her back on the crowd to dance and spin about with a winning smile. Nao just sucked us in. A funky pop, but also lead by a fair bit of rock guitar, it was a mix of pure dancing goodness. There’s still time to pop out to nose about the late night bustling town before deciding that the energy you have left is best spent back in there with producer Sophie. Pitched up pop, it was a perfect end-of-night show bringing his own work together with some Charli XCX over the mixing desk. Arms up, the last cans cracked open. And to sleep before we collapse. A smart move…
The final day brings the sadness and the withdrawl, but thankfully there are a number of off-venue acts playing as well as the big event later to see you through the Sunday blues. We’re out to the big Vodafone Hall tonight and upstairs, local producer Ruxpin is one we were happy to catch just in the last stretch, and later on Skurken’s electronics would have us tracking down his albums on the Monday. In the main hall Sleaford Mods are an odd pair on the huge stage in the huge hall, very in-your-face musically, they are physically far from the crowd in here and we spend much of the gig worrying that the next band will slip on all the beer they spill on stage.
But Hot Chip are made of sturdier stuff. We saw them here in 2004 and went home raving. Now they get a big stage and practically everyone at the festival out to dance. Bolstered by pop’s best drummer in Sarah Jones (who dances and drums at the same time) they exist live in a place that will just never let you down. So many aces up their sleeves, you could wear your shoes out dancing all night. A perfect closing band closing on the perfect closer of ‘Dancing in the Dark’ leaves us wanting more. Let FM Belfast then take over the hall for a local knees-up while we stumble outside to find the northern lights.
Days ahead are filled with glaciers calving into lagoons, cascading waterfalls, hawks, black beaches, the oldest swimming pool in Iceland and those curiously elusive aurora and they’re all soundtracked in the car by the music we have bought on our trip. And we take one important action before that plane home: Booking the hotel room for next year.
The most party person at Airwaves is usually Emmett Mullaney, a Roscommon man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the heavier, odder side of the Icelandic Music Scene. He goes to an insane amount of gigs while up there and we are always happy to hear his top five gigs from the true trenches of Airwaves.
ROYAL: I saw a lot of bands on Wednesday but Royal were easily the best. Borko in drums and Árni manning the electronics (when not dancing around like a lunatic) provided a much needed dance session to sweat those booze blues away. Brilliant.
SUBLIMINAL: Thursday evening I end up in the cavernous environs of Bar 11 with some Alaskan friends to see Tjörvi Óskarsson, aka Subminimal. Bleeps and beats as dark as the bar itself crash around our ears to deliver the finest drum and bass I’ve heard in my life. He even threw in a Samaris remix. Outrageously good.
DÖPUR: Krummi Björgvinsson is a man of many bands including the mighty Legend and stalwarts of the Icelandic rock scene Mínus. This project involves his very talented girlfriend Linnea on bass guitar while the man himself assaults a Telecaster to within an inch of its life. Programmed beats crash down like hammer blows to the face while guitar sounds that would wake a dead man blow our tiny little minds to pieces. Unreal. To top it all off he played the whole gig with a broken finger. That’s dedication!
BERNDSEN: A brutal hangover threatens to cloud my morning before I enter Laundromat Cafe. Panic over however, when Berndsen announces his gig will be the best booze cure ever. Backed by a guitarist and the happiest man in Iceland in the shape of Hermigervill we get a half hour of synthy goodness that turn frowns way upside down. Massive fun and not a trace of a hangover after. If you could bottle this stuff you’d be a millionaire.
SINMARA: You know you’re in Reykjavík when the night ends with black metal in Gaukurinn. Tonight it’s Wednesday and the leather clad masses have come out to play. An eerie silence descends before five piece Sinmara unleash hell on those of us that know that singer/songwriter chin stroking ain’t gonna cut it at this hour, in this venue. Guitars roar, cymbals smash and the place goes buck wild with a mosh pit clearing all but the most sober (not too many of them by the way) off the dance floor. One guy loses his glasses two songs in and the moshing promptly stops. Ten phones are promptly produced to shed light on the situation. Glasses found and back on his face the place erupts again. Unbelievable and fantastically crazy!
Kiasmos photographed for State at Airwaves by Jakob Bekker-Hansen.