Iceland Airwaves – Reykjavik, November 1st – 6th 2016
On day one of Iceland Airwaves my friend Ragnar compared the Festival to a relay race where all you see between concerts is musicians as well as the audience hurrying from place to place. For the full Airwaves experience that’s exactly what it feels like. He played seven gigs at the festival, I saw about 40, but I didn’t have to carry, set up or take down gear in-between, there were no soundchecks, interviews or rehearsals for me, I just needed to be there. Even that proved to be a challenge at times. It was fun though, a week full of awesome music, familiar faces and new discoveries that left me exhausted, but happy.
For my second time at Iceland Airwaves I had set out with the goals of seeing all concerts of the bands I love and not repeating of the past festival’s mistake, namely running around between too many venues and planning for too many gigs in a too short time frame. I was also equipped with a long list of artists to check out because they had been recommended to me or I had missed them last time. Not having a photo pass this year and therefore not being able to bypass the lines would make things more complicated. My planning, same as the previous time, happened last minute and I was well prepared for were changes on the fly. What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotinal rollercoaster the festival would put me through. As opposed to last time, where they had moved the dates up one week, I was forced to decide between Airwaves and the Nordic Film Days. Last year I had done and loved the film days, but still regretted not seeing Airwaves. Someone really needs to invent time travel! So when I started I already knew I’d regret missing the film days this year and was determined to make this the best Airwaves ever, causing my hopes and expectations to skyrocket, where I should have just let things be and gone with the flow.
Over the six days of the festival (five official, one day of “pre-concerts”) I heard and saw amazing artists, familiar and new, surprising as well as just what I had expected. I laughed and I cried, listened and partied, felt happy, sad, elated and some times indifferent and was overall satisfied with the choices I made. I met many interesting people, saw friends, chatted with strangers and had great conversations in the most unexpected places. I told everyone how much I loved the festival, the bands, the opportunities and I am sure my eyes must have been shining when I did, because being at Airwaves is something special, especially when you love music as much as I do. And yet… there were times when I felt a dissonance between my words and my emotions, felt that I was somehow missing something, that there should be more. I could not put my finger on it really and I cannot claim that things went wrong in any way, but somewhere around the middle of the festival a sadness took hold of me that I found hard to shake. Might have been regret about missing the movies, might have been the fact that I never got enough sleep, might have been that I did not see my friends as much as I had hoped or a combination of all three. Looking back I still don’t know and it makes no sense dwelling on it, but it put a damper on the whole experience. Luckily, I did not feel like that 24/7. In fact there was so much amazing music that I often forgot and managed to live in the moment and enjoy myself. In the end, the festival was worth going to Iceland and that’s all that matters. Látum okkur sjá.
6 days, 38 artists, 45 concerts, 27 venues, 2188 pictures taken, 80 tweets tagged #airwaves16 or #Grapewaves, 106 500 steps according to my counter, too much fun, never enough sleep
DAY ZERO (NOVEMBER 1ST)
Technically this should probably be called day 2, because the pre concerts started on Monday, but officially the festival’s first day was Wednesday. Anyway, I didn’t get to see as many bands as I would have liked to, but it was a good start and certainly got me in the mood, excited about what was to come.
VENUE: LUCKY RECORDS
My flight landed at 4 pm and by the time I got to the City I had already missed the first concert I wanted t see: The Anatomy of Frank playing at Aurora Reykjavik. That’s how Airwaves goes though: For every great concert you see you’ll miss three that would have been equally amazing. Anyway, made it to my Hotel, checked in, took a deep breath and made my way to Lucky records in time to see Epic Rain. Atmospheric music, a voice that reminded me of Tom Waits, great energy that captivated me for half an hour. This was a good start. Planning to see East of my Youth next I hurried on to Bar Ananas – only when I got there it occured to me that the gig was at Paloma Bar. Dang! No time to make it there so I took a Chance and headed into Dillon. On band had just finished and next up was MONT, but that wasn’t my Thing so onwards back to Lucky Records where I caught the last few Songs of Teitur Magnússon’s set and immediately knew that I should have just stayed there. He was just amazing, the place was packed and everyone was swaying with the music. Knowing the following days would be long, I called it a night and returned to my hotel to get some sleep.
It was a good and relaxed start, giving me good music close to my guesthouse and leaving me with happy dreams and the chance to get to sleep before midnight, which would not happen again until Airwaves was over.
DAY ONE (NOVEMBER 2ND)
Already on the first official day of the festival I got to see my favorite musicians and had the chance to check out some of the “must see” bands on my list. It was a long day full of music that was mostly on the softer, Singer/ Songwriter side, with some other styles thrown in-between. I learned that no matter how you feel about a band at the first moment it may pay off to stick around for a while.
I woke up surprisingly early the next day, went for a morning swim and still made it to Grund dvalar in time for Soffia Björg. Only when I got there I realized the venue was a nursing home. There was a kindergarten in the same building though and therefore the audience was young kids and elderly people all happy with the music and very attentive. I liked Soffia’s music, beautiful songs accompanied by guitar playing. She even got the audience to sing along, played a short but lovely set. Would have liked to see her again, but did not manage that during the festival. It was a good start to the day for sure.
VENUE: NORDIC HOUSE
After a break and some neccessary grocery shopping I found myself at the Nordic House to see Sara Jane. I had come across her on Twitter, when she was looking for venues in Reykjavik and I named a few. She tweeted about playing Airwaves off venue and I decided to check her out. It was well worth it. She had only brought one member of her band, but together they delivered powerful songs. Even in front of a rather small audience they played their hearts out. She asked us where we were from and funnily enough most of he people in the room were not Icelandic so she joked she could have played at home in Hamburg then. I much enjoyed her music and was glad I went.
My next stop was Aurora Reykjavík to see Elín Ey – I got there in good time and ran into Jimmy and Max from The Anatomy of Frank as well as A. – we said hello, talked a little, then waited. It was Elín’s only solo show at Airwaves and after loving her performance at SoFaR Reykjavik in September I absiolutely had to see her. She played her own songs, cover versions and songs written with and by members of her family. all of them were beautiful and I could have listened to her for a good while longer than it lasted. Singer/Songwriter music does not always work for me, but this did. 🙂
VENUE: BORGARBÓKASAFN REYKJAVÍK
For all of us, Svavar Knútur was next so we walked to the city library together. We got there before he did and when he finaly arrived he told us how efficient he had been with playing two gigs already and even getting food in-between. He had a small gathering of fans that followed him to every gig that day. In the house of books and words he only wanted to sing Icelandic songs for us and talked a lot about his children as well as a photo session he did for a body-positivity campaign. It all started with him saying he had a cold and then explaining how every time after a tour he wants to cuddle his children and lick their faces and therefore licks off all the germs they carry. A day after doing that he had said photoshoot, because they could not find a date for it in summer. Since it required him to be naked in a bathtub it was cold. The funniest part of the story was that nobody else did nude pictures for the photoshoot: “So the photographer told me ‘One of them is reading a book in the library’ and I asked ‘Naked??’ ‘No.’ ‘And one of them is playing games with his kids.’ ‘Naked???’ ‘No'”… 😀 The song selection was beautiful and included some that I can’t remember hearing live before. He played one for each of his kids and a few more, including the wonderful ‘Brot’. He even asked his Fanclub if it was OK to play that for the third time that day and the agreed. You can never go wrong with one of Svavar’s gigs. 🙂
VENUE: QUEST – HAIR; BEER AND WHISKY SALOON
The next venue, Quest was all the way up Laugavegur and the gig was the first abslutely must-see on my list: The first one of Ragnar Ólafsson’s solo concerts at the festival. Stopped briefly at my hotel on the way there to get some waterproof shoes on and still was completely soaked by the time I arrived. First I ran into Baldvin and Hálfdán from his band and said hello briefly, found a nice spot near the stage and only when she greeted me realized that Linda was already there. We hugged, then talked for a while. It was good having a moment to catch up in all the festival craziness. 🙂 Ragnar arrived soon after and said hello before setting up and Rosa got there too, completing the band. I was looking much forward to seeing them play again after the SoFaR gig in September. His songs work really well with a band and he collected a bunch of great musicians to support him. The venue was pretty awesome too, from the great name “Quest – Hair, Beer and Whisky Saloon” to the cool decoration like the cow head with a hat behind stage. I felt right at home. 🙂
The concert was just as beautiful as I had know it would be with the same setlist they had played in September. Some of the songs have already found a permamnent place in my heart and I found myself listening with my eyes closed at times. Since the album is still in the making the music is work in progress, still changing. I love the band instrumentation of the songs with two guitars and a bass, giving the music more room, buit still keeping the Singer/Songwriter feel of the lyrics. Ragnar’s singing on these songs is often raw, emotional, fitting with the songs alternating between soft and strong. So far my favorites are ‘A Prayer’ and ‘Dozen’ with Rosa’s voice being the perfect counterpart to his. I loved every song though and was especially happy with their renditions of ‘Wine’ and ‘Banjo’. Loved the jokes too about the vintage recorder they use and trying to find the world’s smallest Casio keyboard. 😀 They work well together as a band, each one of them adding their specific part to the songs to make them whole. It’s all about supportig the lyrics, the art of providig a background that carries them without taking away the focus. They master it perfectly and I loved seeing Ragnar in a different role. With this first concert I had really wanted to see, Airwaves had fully started for me.
VENUE: PETERSEN SUITE (GAMLA BÍÓ)
Next up were Árstíðir at Petersen Suite, which involved hurrying all the way back down Laugavegur to get there on time. Got completely soaked again on the way, but made it and even scored a spot in front row just before the pace got too packed to move. The venue was the bar high above Gamla Bíó where a place on the terrace would have been great to view the concert if the weather had been better. Either way it was pretty cozy with everyone crowded around the band. It was a bit dark to take pictures, but I could see them just fine. Just before they started the people in the back asked us to sit down. It felt almost like sitting on stage, especially because the band was at the same level as everyone else who was standing. I expected them to play the same songs I had heard in the UK, but they didn’t, not all of them anyway. They started with ‘Himinhvel’ and were making up the setlist as they went along. At one point they asked if we had any requests so I called out ‘Látum okkur sjá’ and they were like “Nah, not that one”. Hence I asked for ‘Sunday Morning’ and they claimed I was picking the difficult ones so I quipped “Hey, you asked!” After all they had played both songs two weeks ago with the same people. It didn’t matter though. I loved the setlist anyway, loved how they made it up on the go. 🙂 It was amazing how the crowded place focused, grew quiet and listened. Even the people who stood outside were captivated by the music. They told us some stories too and when Ragnar asked the sound guy how much time they had left we all got to laugh because he reinterpreted the guy’s shrug into meaning “lots of it” in Italian. 😉 It was a great start for them, I was sure many of the people would come back to see them again.
After the gig I stayed and chatted a little, witnessed how an Italian woman explained the gesture needed to be slightly more exaggerated to mean “lots of it”, shared a Salmiakki with Ragnar and Linda and heard Guillaume tell of his and Jean-Samuel’s adventures of sightseeing in Iceland with their rental car breaking down. M. and A. came to the gig and K., who had just arrived – reunion of people I’ve met on the road. Erin, the band’s new manager was there too, advertising them to everyone. This was my little break before the evening’s concerts.
Amber, a young pop due was the next band I saw. They were cute, clearly not used to performing in front of an audience yet, but really good. I liked their music a lot. After a few songs they realized that it might be better to introduce their songs in English rather than Icelandic. 🙂 They tunes were soft, accompanied by guitar and I liked their voices too. They only had half an hour of material and said none of it was online yet. I hope people will still remember them once they actually release some music.
On the way upstairs from Harpa Kaldalón to Harpa Silfurberg I caught two songs of AmabAdamA’s set at Harpa Norðurljós. I liked what I heard, the music was engaging and the energy in the room was great. Decided I would do my best to see them again during the course of the festival, but it never happened. Once at my destination I heard the last song performed by Sturla Atlas, but wasn’t really paying attention. Again, good energy, people having fun.
The band I had come for were Reykjavíkurdætur a female rap band with around 20 members. They had been on my long list of bands to check out, but I only made the decision to do so after Linda recommended them to me. Great choice, the absolutely owned the place from the moment they stepped on stage. Provokative, powerful and captivating they rapped and danced their way through their set, getting everyone in the room to cheer. I could not keep my eyes of them moving around stage and completely lost all sense of time. It was an amazing performance and it did not matter one bit that I didn’t understand what they were singing. What they said in-between was enough to get the idea. One sentence that stuck in my mind them talking about freedom to dress how you like: “You can walk around naked and you are still not asking to be raped!” EXACTLY! What a greta band! I will certainly remember them and see them again if possible.
Back downstairs at Kaldalón something completely different awaited me: Myrra Rós. I had expected her to be alone with a guitar, but she had brought a full band and only when I looked up after sitting there for a while did I realize that it contained all the lost members of Árstíðir. Jón was the first to spot me and wave, later Karl did too, but I’m not sure Hallgrímur saw me there. Anyway, I enjoyed seeing and hearing them again and Myrra’s music was especially beautiful that night. It had been quite some time since I’d last listened to her and I didn’t remember many of the songs, but loved them all. 🙂
As soon as it was over I hurried to Harpa Norðurljós, because Milkywhale had been so hyped before the festival I expected huge crowds. Not the case, the place was half filled at best. After many recommendations I had finally decided to check them out and still did not know what to expect, because, frankly, the music I had heard on the playlists had not convinced me. Yet Airwaves is all about trying new things so here I was. After the first two songs I was gonna say “I really do not get the hype”, but slowly, gradually I was taken over by the performance and before I knew it i was moving with the music and loving it. It will never be the stuff I listen to at home, but being there was fun, watching was pure entertainment. Sometimes, that is all you need! It was the last performance of the night for me and happily I made my long walk home.
Day one was just as amazing as it was exhausting. I walked many km and the music I heard was worth every singly one of those steps. Finally the festival had kicked off and there could not have been a better start.
DAY TWO (NOVEMBER 3RD)
Day two brought even more running around than the first one (wait, didn’t I plan not to do that?), but again was worth it. This day I got to see music, hear favorites, made a few last minute decisions and had an exciting, wonderful day. It was the day I walked most, always between the venues that seemed to be furthest apart. I learned that I do need a break sometimes and that beating tiredness can be rewarded. As always with Airwaves, the only things you can count on is to expect the unexpected. 😀
VENUE: BAZAAR ODDSSON
After my morning swim I found myself at Oddsson Hostel, where I had stayed the two previous times in Reykjavík to see VAR, the first band of the day. Last Airwaves I had tried to see the band twice, once they started so late that I missed the show and once they canceled, so I thought seeing them early in the day might be better. Yet again, it took them ages to set up and they struggled with technical difficulties so again, they did not start on time. They rocked and I absolutely loved what I heard, but it bugged me that I had to leave before they were done to get to the next venue on time. What I saw of their gig was great fun though and I wish they had drawn a bigger audience. They tried to blast us away with their energy and a nice variety of songs. I’d go and see them again any time.
VENUE: BRYGGJAN BRUGGHÚS
The next venue was a brewery / bar just down the road where Árstíðir were already setting up when I arrived. Since all seats in the first row were taken and there was loads of room in front of them I settled down on the floor, moving even closer to the stage as more people arrived. Got a quick hug from Ragnar in passing and smiled at the others. by now I had already gotten used to seeing Jean-Samuel on stage with them. Already in England I had noticed the subtle change in setup from everyone being in the front to only the key members in front and the other two in the back. At first I had assumed it was due to the small stage, but at the second gig they had enough room and still did it. Then again, at Airwaves the stages were small once more so I’d see what would happen once they have a bigger stage again.
The guys played a lovely set, slightly different from the previous night and I loved all of it. Jean-Samuel fits right in and I really like his playing. Everyone else did a great job as well. No matter how many times I hear the songs there are still moments of surprises or completely getting lost in the music. Once again I can feel the band reforming, re-calibrating, finding themselves in their new setup. I wonder if it gets easier, but I don’t think it does. The challenges are different this time around so I’m not sure there is any preparation for this. It works though, falling into place, drawing people in. They still create magic and I have no doubts they will continue to do so.
When they were done and packing I asked Ragnar if I could be of help since he had his solo gig half an hour later 1.5 km away, but there was nothing I could do so I made my way to the next venue.
VENUE: BÍÓ PARADÍS
As I arrived none of the band members were in sight yet, but the stage was already set up and waiting for them. I settled down and soon found K. by my side. Finally we had the chance to chat for a bit. Soon everyone settled down, waiting. Ragnar arrived, out of breath and just in time. I jokingly asked him what took him so long, then admitted that I had a headstart. He was not the only one who needed to run from venue to venue though. I don’t know about Baldvin and Rosa, but the previous night he had told us that Hálfdán is playig with Himbrimi as well. they were on my list of band’s to see, but somehow their gigs always collided with something I deemed more important.
They were quick in getting ready though and started only slightly late. Once the first beer was in (“Iceland Airwaves, the only excuse to be drinking at 3:00 in the afternoon.”) and the show was on the road. It was beautiful and would have deserved a larger audience.Those who were there ot a good selection of songs and a nice preview of the upcoming album. We also got to hear the famous “Tuning Song” that seems to be the same for every band. 😉 I loved it, smiled at the tiny keyboard and the “band member that never complains” (the tape machine). It was a good concert with a nice contrast between a band making jokes and often sad, emotional lyrics. Already now I hope there will be a CD release concert for the album eventually.
VENUE: TJARNABARINN (TJARNABÍÓ)
Onwards to the next venue after a quick goodbye. The off venue shows had me walking quickly up and down Laugavegur all day, this time to Tjarnabíó near the city hall where the next The Anatomy of Frank concert was due to happen. K., having the advantage of biking, got there before I did and saved a spot for me. We chatted a while about the new songs and how we were going to love the ‘South America’ album once it came out, when she spotted Eric. Now we knew what the special thing was that Kyle kept going on about for their “secret” off venue gig that was not announced on the official schedule.
Their set was great with the best version of ‘Viteri’ I had heard so far. Like they did last time I saw them and Airwaves and like they do on each tour as well, they changed around the set so people seeing them multiple times won’t get bored. I loved the sound at the venue and their energy. By the end of the set everyone was singing along. Perfect!
On the way out K. and I said hello to Eric and gave him a brief hug. He confirmed he’d be there at the Bar 11 show and said he still needed to find a guitar for that. I was sure that would not be a problem.
VENUE: LUCKY RECORDS
I can’t really remember how I came across Endless Dark, but I know I was googling some members of other bands I knew and landed on their FB page. Checked out one song and decided to give them a go. K. said hey were “a force of nature”, rather loud metal (read: not my style at all), but I had my mind set on seeing them, even though it meant hurrying all the way up the hill again. They had already started when I got there and yes, they were loud! Powerful music, lots of movement on stage in a place that way way too crowded to move. I liked their energy, but other than that they really were a bit too loud for me. I got a taste, then had to leave before they ended so I’d make it to the next gig in time. I was glad I went though, since this was my only chance to see them and I would not have know what I missed otherwise.
VENUE: NORDIC HOUSE
It was a long way to the Nordic House, but I made it there on time for The Anatomy of Frank. They had a smaller audience than usual there, somehow people rarely make it to that venue, even though it is a very nice one. They played a lovely show once again, with a good variety of songs. Everyone who made it there loved it, there were good vibes all over the room. They had started a little late and thus I had to leave just before their last song, because I did want to make it on time for the next gig and had a long way to go once again. I would not have wanted to miss their gig for the world though and was happy to have seen most of it. 🙂
VENUE: CENTER HOTEL PLAZA
Center Hotel Plaza (you guessed it, at the opposite end of Laugavegur) was my final off venue stop for the day. I had stayed there during my first Christmas trip to Reykjavík and as I entered lots of good memories came back to me. Árstíðir had set up on a small stage in a conference room. The lighting can only be described as 80ies disco – it immediately made me smile. Like I had earlier that day I sat on the floor in front of the stage looking up at them.
The guys were in a good mood, talking a bit about the songs and bringing back the “how much time do we have” joke. Of course not everyone got it, but I wasn’t the only one who laughed. The set changed a little bit and the biggest surprise for me was ‘Friðþægingin’ – I had not heard that since the CD release gigs the previous year and loved it! It worked really well, centering all their energy into one powerful rendition of the song. It was a highlight of the set and made me so happy that I told them they should play it every time. 😀 They generally had great energy at this gig and seemed to have a lot of fun. It was my favorite off-venue show by far.
After I ran into C. who had finally managed to see them after last year’s shows in Rochester were cancelled and he moved to Iceland to study. Stuck around, shared some Salmiakki with Guillaume, Jean-Samuel and Erin, taking a much needed break. This resulted in not seeing Ceasetone, because I never made it to any of their other gigs either.
VENUE: GAMLA BÍÓ
The evening’s shows happened mostly at Gamla Bíó where Ceasetone had just ended their set when I got there. Dream Wife an Icelandic/ English band was the one I had come to see. I had liked their tracks on the Airwaves Spotify playlist, but didn’t know what to expect. They brought lots of power and energy to the stage as well as cool outfits. They made fun punkish pop music I enjoyed. It was a pretty cool gig, worth coming for.
During the break between bands I talked to the British guy next to me who had been going to Airwaves for years and knew lots of the bands, including dj. flugvél og geimskip who was up next. His description? “She is entirely bonkers!”. I soon learned it was quite acurate. I’d describe her music as some sort of electro pop. Not generally my style, but fun from time to time. The cool part though were the stories they told that kept everyone watching and listening. She lead us through an underwater cave where we all turned into bats and illustrated the whole journey with her movements. It was hilarious and very entertaining. This was one more performer I would not have seen without the Reykjavik Grapevine mentioning her all the time and I am glad they did. I don’t know how to describe the experience in a way that brings across what happened there, but it was fun!
British Singer / Songwriter Hannah Lou Clark was next. She had been on my list of acts to see from the beginning and she did not disappoint. I liked her performance and her songs, just as I had expected. She did not need a big show, just her voice and her (except for the drummer) female band to support her and carry me to a happy place. For me it was the perfect trip back to music that I would usually listen to and away from experimenting. It was just what I needed then and there. 🙂
Afterwards I grew quite tired and wondered whether I should stay and see THROWS, check out one of the other bands on my list or possibly just go back to my guesthouse and get some sleep. Staying turned out to be the best decision of the night. They were amazing! At first a men’s choir appeared stage right, singing an Icelandic song. It sounded beautiful. The band entered the stage and the choir stayed for a while to sing background for them. Their singing and the band’s music both contrasted and complimented each other turning into one beautiful combination of sounds that carried me away. I even forgot to take pictures for a while, just watching in awe.
The choir left and the band played on. I loved listening to them play and sing, their melodies immediately worming their way into my ears. As if their music alone wasn’t enough to make everyone happy they brought out Mr. Silla to sing with them. How cool is that? Judging by the cheers erupting around me, everyone in the audience felt the same. It was a great gig and I would have loved for it to last longer. 🙂 For the end of the show they brought the choir back and left them to a final song. They visibly enjoyed being there and the audience clapped until the very last one of them had left. It was the highlight of my night.
On the way out I bumped into Rosa from Ragnar’s band. We said hello briefly and hugged, then went out separate ways.
I hurried to Húrra where I expected long lines, but there were none at all. The Pink Street Boys was one of the bands I had repeatedly read about and wanted to check out. Loud, straightforward grage rock was what I had expected and exactly what I got. Their outfits suggested not to take them too seriously as they proceeded to make loud melodious noise. In a different mood it might have been fun, but right then and there it was not for me. I left after two songs and returned to Gamla Bíó.
VENUE: GAMLA BÍÓ
Sin fang was still playing when I got there. I liked his Music much better. it fit right in with THROWS, was soothing and just the right amount of soft for the late hour. I was happy I had returned to hear a few songs. It was a good end to day two.
On this day I had a perfect mix of familiar and new, full of surprises, where not much was according to my expectations, but everything was well in the end. Just what I had hoped for.
DAY THREE (NOVEMBER 4TH)
Without a press pass I had no chance to get tickets for Sunday night’s concert in advance unless I was willing to pay for them, so I decided to spend Friday morning in line at Harpa with everyone else who was hoping for one of the free tickets to that show. I didn’t really know much about PJ Harvey, but I hadn’t known much about The Flaming Lips either before I went to see them in 2014 and I loved it. So the day started much too early and at 9:15 in the mornig I found myself at Harpa. The line was rather civilized and the first 20 people or so even had chairs to sit on. I was one of them. K., who arrived about 20 Minutes later was out of luck. She had wisely brought her knitting to pass the time. Me, I did the planning for the rest of the week and chatted with the people behind me in line. Time passed quickly and shortly after noon I had my ticket in hand. Waited for K. to get hers, finally bought an Airwaves16 T-Shirt, chatted with K. about Amanda Palmer (whose gig in Edinburgh I did not get a ticket for) and finally left to catch the first concert of the day.
VENUE: BRYGGJAN BRUGGHÚS
Máni Orrason had been on my list of people to see early on. What I had heard of his music sounded like straightforward rock to me, there really isn’t much to go wrong there. Bryggjan wasn’t as packed as it had been the previous day, but people were just as excited. Máni is young and I loved his energy. He got very much into the music, moving all over the place, bringing a lot of feeling. Still, the final spark was missing somehow. I liked the music I heard and I liked watching him and his band perform, but I wasn’t into it, it didn’t grab me and carry me away. So overall it was fun, but probably nothing I will remember for long. Interestingly enough I spotted a Tattoo on his arm that looked like Darkness-era Springsteen, but I never managed to see it clearly and didn’t get a chance to ask, so this will remain a mystery for now.
There were a few alternatives on my list for the next two hours. I decided on checking out Svavar Knútur again who was playing two gigs, one at 14:00 and one 16:00. I stupidly mixed up the venues though and when I realized I was at the wrong one it was too late to get to the other in time. Thus I oped for trying to catch up on sleep. It didn’t work out and when I learned in the evening that Gunnar’s new band The Ghost of Greenland had been playing as well I wished someone had told me about it. They did play one more gig, but sadly I could not make it to that one either.
VENUE: ICEWEAR (LAUGAVEGUR91)
Later in the afternoon, rested, but still tired I found myself at one of the Icewear clothing stores with time to spare. I had gotten there much quicker than expected and Una Stef was the first to play there that day so I took a look around while I was waiting. I had seen Una Stef at Airwaves in 2014 and absolutely wanted to see her again. One of the other artists on that list was Június Meyvant, but he had canceled all his concerts but one and that one clashed with one of Árstíðir’s gigs. Either way, I was much looking forward to this one and eventually the band as well as the audience arrived. They set up their gear quickly and in the beginning Una joked about the strange venue, adding “feel free to buy a jacket”. As soon as they started playing I forgot all about being at a clothing store though and just listened in awe. Her voice is so powerful and carries so much heart and soul that she can make you forget everything else. She dedicated ‘Mama Funk’ to Beyonce, saying something along the lines of everyone being a little bit in love with her and played other great tunes as well. It was just wonderful and I truly wished for them to play longer. Maybe I’d get another chance to see them during the festival?
VENUE: BÓKABUÐ MÁLS OG MENNINGAR
Onwards to one of Reykjavík’s many bookstores to see The Anatomy of Frank once again. I was one of the first people to get there and sat down in front of the stage, watching the guys get ready. More people arrived soon and I already recognized familiar faces from the previous gigs. They do have a following anywhere they go, but especially at Airwaves. It’s just hard to resist their magic. Before they started I chatted with some American women who sat around me. Getting to know someone new is always good.
Their set was amazing once again. No matter where these guys play, they always make me forget my surroundings within a few minutes. I had a big smile on my face, listening and singing along, trying to take in every detail. They mixed North America and South America songs, telling us about the upcoming album to be recorded in January. Kyle also advertised their “secret show” at Bar 11 once again and I already knew I was gonna try to make it there. First there was this one to enjoy though and I did. 🙂
I went straight to Fríkirkjan for Árstíðir’s main show and was surprised to already find two people in line. It was rather cold so I got a tea and by the time I got back there were quite a few people waiting already. It was still cold, but luckily the wait was over soon. I scored a seat almost in the same spot I always sit for the Christmas concerts: right side, front row. The house was full, despite being up against Múm playing with Kronos Quartet at the same time.
The band offered 45 minutes of their best music, drawing everyone in. Everyone but me that is. The performance was spot on, each song was great, but I was elsewhere, unable to be in the moment and truly enjoy the music. I can’t really explain what had happened over the past few days, but somehow I had completely lost connection with the guys, felt as if nobody wanted me around. Nothing they said or did justified such feelings and yet I could not change any of it. It was as if I had arrived at the end of a long road of traveling with them and was getting ready to say goodbye. On some subconscious level their songs still touched me and I was grieving the loss of something I could not explain, crying my way through the entire concert. These things happen, there is nothing to be done about them and in my heart I knew everything would be alright, but at that very moment I just needed to get away from all the confusion and sadness I felt. Luckily, there were more concerts that night.
VENUE: BAR 11
After the last Árstíðir song rang out I barely had time to say goodbye, exchanged a few words with Linda and literally ran off to Bar 11 for the one The Anatomy of Frank show I did not want to miss. Managed to arrived with five minutes to spare and sat down next to the people I had met at the bookstore, watching the stage. Soon, Kyle walked out and asked us to come closer. I was the first to jump up and stood front row center. Yay! It was almost too close to take pictures, but I sure loved the view. 🙂
Kyle started solo with the rest of the band joining them from the second song and Eric waiting side stage. It felt as if they had all been waiting for this show, giving it everything they had. Great energy was flowing between band and audience from the start and they rocked more than I have ever seen them rock. It was a good mixture of the songs I love with Max beating the drums like a madman, Jimmy lost in the music and Kyle trying to draw everyone in (and he didn’t have to try hard at all).The audience was awesome, clapping and singing along, cheering them on. It instantly made me feel better, their music healing my heavy heart
They announced a new song, ‘Svalbard’ and called special guest Eric to the stage. It was amazing. While I have seen him play with the band I had never seen them in their full electric setup. It blew me off my feet! Great song, great vibes, great playing. Everything was perfect and long before the show was over my tears from earlier that evening had dried and happiness surged through me. It was so worth it! We did not want to let them go after the final song and kept yelling for more, but sadly the next band was due to play. I hugged everyone I could get a hold of, told Kyle how uplifting it had been and said my goodbyes. Onwards!
At Gaukurinn I arrived mid-set for Dolores Haze, needing a few moments to switch gear. I chose to see them because I liked their band name and didn’t really know what to expect. Their band description sounded cool, but didn’t really give me a clue about their music. They were punkish, they were loud, they rocked and I liked listening to them. It was a good distraction, blowing off any negative thoughts that threatened to return.
My next planned stop was Nasa for Of Monsters and Men, but when I got there the line already reached halfway across the square in front of it. The venue was packed and they only let people in if somebody left. I met K. and A., who decided to leave and I joined them. Waiting any longer was pointless.
Thus we moved to Harpa where all female Warpaint were playing at Silfurberg. At first I could not get in the venue, but made it eventually. Didn’t really know what to make of them on first listen, but gave it some room and felt the music taking hold of me eventually. They were powerful, somewhat hypnotic and soon made me forget everything around me. Next time I’ll get a chance I will go and see them again.
Kiasmos were playing after them, but despite many people telling me how amazing they are I was not in the mood for trying Techno. It just absolutely is not my type of music. I also really wanted to check out Sólstafir and feared it would be packed if I went there too late. Thus I went to Harpa Norðurljós early and watched show me the body. They were, for lack of a better word, strange to me. All dark with coffins as a backdrop, lots of movement and screaming.
Had an interesting conversation with the Norwegian guy next to me though who recommended a Finnish band whose name I sadly have forgotten by now and made me listen to them. Not bad! Note to self: write it down next time!
Sólstafir had been a maybe on my list before traveling to Airwaves, but on the flight in I saw an interview with them and was intrigued. I needed to know what the talk was about, what their music was like. Their concert was pretty amazing, full of energy and great melodies. I loved how they rocked and just enjoyed watching them perform. The band drove away my tiredness, instantly switching me to concert mode, where I am alert to everything going on on stage and forget everything else. I had fun and it looked like the band loved it as well. Being the last concert of the night at this venue they got a full 90 minutes. I had not expected that, but only noticed how much time had passed when it was over. Wow. This is a band absolutely worth watching. It was the perfect concert to end the night. My bed was calling to me and I stumbled home, happy with my choices for the day.
Day three was an emotional roller-coaster for me from sky high to earth shattering low. This is what music does to me though, it makes me feel and at the end of the day I would not want it any other way.
DAY FOUR (NOVEMBER 5TH)
I badly needed some sleep and had planned not to get up before noon, to hell with my morning swim. Strangely I woke up just before 9 and found an email from Icelandair that anyone who had booked through them was invited to see a secret acoustic Of Monsters and Men gig at Fríkirkjan that same night. Tickets to be given out at 9 am, first come first served. 30 Minutes later I was showered, dressed and waiting in line, still half asleep, but sure I’d get in. Would not have needed to hurry so much as I was number three inline and most people didn’t show up until 11. Didn’t matter though. It was the most civilized line every with many people sitting on chairs and I had the best conversations with the English guy behind me who was a film maker and knew all sorts of amazing movies I had never heard of. Sadly we didn’t even think of exchanging names or numbers and never saw each other again. He recommended RuGl whom I would see at Sunday’s main show before PJ Harvey.
Just after 12 I had my ticket in hand or rather around my neck since it was a fancy laminated pass and was off to the Laundromat Cafe for the first concert of the day.
VENUE: THE LAUNDROMAT CAFE
Árstíðir’s show at The Laundromat Cafe was their last one of the festival since Guillaume was leaving the next morning. The sound was pretty lousy, at least were I stood and the energy in the room didn’t feel right either. The guys seemed tired, but it might have been my projecting my own exhaustion on them. Either way, I didn’t enjoy the concert much. They had kept ‘Friðþægingin’ in the setlist and ‘Shine’ was really good, but other than that it felt like their worst performance of the festival. To be fair, it was due to the circumstances (bad spot, bad sound, my bad mood) much more than due to what they did on stage, but fact is that it didn’t do much for me. I had wanted that last show to be great, but everything about it felt wrong and they didn’t even have time for a chat or a proper goodbye so I left rather disappointed, thinking I should have skipped that one or at least left as soon as they were done to see The Anatomy of Frank at Hitt Husið. I got there in time for VAR, but that was the wrong music for the moment and I left after five minutes, getting some food instead. Afterwards I felt considerably better, took a deep breath and a walk and was ready to give the music another try.
VENUE: BÆJARINS BEZTU PYLSUR
At Iceland Airwaves anything is possible so the next venue of the day being Reykjavík’s most famous restaurant (read: a hot dog stand) was nothing unusual at all. The Anatomy of Frank performed on a stage in a container while the line of hot dog customers moved along on their right.
Before they started I chatted with Kyle briefly and he told me that they were going to play the new song they had performed in Paris. I asked him if it was the one he had written in Basel and he corrected me that it was Winterthur, but switzerladn alright. I asked for the name too: ‘Scandinavian Moon’. it was the song he started with, solo before the band joined him. Great song, beautiful version too. Sadly I messed up recording it. Their whole set was nice. Like they did last time I saw them at Airwaves, they changed at least one song on the setlist at every gig so people who came to all of them would not get bored. Once again they managed to brighten my mood considerably and I felt grateful for being able to see them there.
VENUE: HLEMMUR SQUARE
It was time to move all the way up Laugavegur once again to Hlemmur Square hostel. I sure can’t claim not getting enough exercise during Airwaves! A., who did not have any other plans accompanied me and it turned out we could move quickest if she biked slowly and I walked fast. 🙂
I had much enjoyed Berndsen the last time around and this as my only chance to see him this time. he told us somethig along the lines of wanting to cure our hangovers, got up close with the audience and surely kept the smile on my face. What I remembered most about the performance at Airwaves 2014 was how crazy he was and that had not changed. He went into the audience several times, randomly hugging and kissing people or just getting close and looking straight at them and singing as he did to me. 😀 Towards the end of the show he told us he’d take his shirt off, but there might be kids around, only to do it anyway. At the end he was rolling around on the floor too. It was a fun gig. 😀
The Anatomy of Frank played their last gig at clothing store Cintamani, in the window. This resulted in them being surrounded by an audience for almost 360 degrees with as many people outside the store as inside. Kyle turned a few times to play to the people outside as well and in the end the band bowed in both directions. It was a beautiful show overall and again their music carried me. They are such a lovely band, it would be quite difficult not to enjoy what they do. After Bar 11 this was my favorite show of theirs. It was such a great audience too, everyone going along with the music and singing when they asked us too. Beautiful!
After the gig, two people with cool matching make up around the eyes walked up to them, introduced themselves as The Living Arrows and suggested swapping CDs. I liked them and their make-up so I instantly put them on my list of bands to check out. Airwaves is all about embracing such chance meetings. 🙂 Stuck around for a while until I had a chance to hug everyone in the band goodbye. It was their last show after all. Meet you further on up he road!
I went to Harpa afterwards to see Puffin Island who had sounded great in the Airwaves playlist. Alas, many others must have thought the same, because the venue was packed and I could not get in. Rather than wait and hope I changed plans and ended up at Iðnó where I arrived in time to see the last few songs of Una Stef’s set. It was brilliant. She has such a great voice and stage presence that one can’t help being drawn in to the music. Her band is really amazing too and I was happy I had chosen to see her again. Amazing!
Next up was a band called DALÍ, making very listenable Pop Music. They had not been on my list of artists to see or my radar at all, but liked their performance. It was nice music, nothing more or less and just right to pass the time and warm me up for the rest of the night.
I had stayed at Iðnó because it gave e the opportunity to watch Fríkikjan and see when a line would form for Of Monsters And Men. When it did, I walked over there to make sure I would get a good spot. after an hour or so of waiting in the cold I scored a seat at the front.
The music was lovely, mostly acoustic. I truly enjoyed it, happy I had managed to get one of the rare tickets. It was a short concert only, they claimed they could not play so many songs in this set-up, but totally worth it. I own one of their CDs, but must admit I didn’t remember any of the songs save their big hit ‘Little Talks’ which was rather unusual in its acoustic incarnation. Either way, it was great, I enjoyed their selection of songs, loved how they switched singers and changed instruments and could have listened to them a lot longer. I’ll sure keep an eye out for them in the future.
I Of The Storm
Love, Love, Love
Made it back to Harpa in time for FM Belfast, another band I had only heard good things about. The music they play is surely not my thing and I don’t think I’d ever listen to them at home, but their show was one hell of a party. They jumped, they danced, they threw all sorts of things into the audience like streamers or toilet paper and made sure to involve everyone. The band celebrated their tenth Airwaves anniversary and let us all be part of it.Twice they asked us to go crouch down on the floor and then jump up. I had no trouble on the way down, but getting up was a problem and the second time a friendly guy in front of me had to pull me to my feet. I thoroughly enjoyed it though. It was impossible not to have fun there. The venue was packed and the entire audience was dancing, jumping and partying along with the band. It was the perfect way to end the night and I walked home with a happy smile.
Day four was a days of goodbyes, familiar bands and new discoveries. An emotional day once again, but one where I can say that all is well that ends well. 🙂
DAY FIVE (NOVEMBER 6TH)
The last day was a bit more quiet than the others, because many venues had already closed shop and some artists had gone home. I would have loved to have a packed day so I would not have time to think too much or dwell on negative emotions, but I had to live with the fact that it started late. Slept as long as possible, went for a final swim, got some food into me and set out to see what surprises were in store for me.
VENUE: NORDIC HOUSE
The day began with Svavar Knútur at the Nordic House and it could not have been more perfect. Still tired and emotionally hungover from the previous night I needed someone to cheer me up and he was just the right choice for that. Before the show he made me smile already because he promoted a kid selling cake outside the venue. <3
Then he made me cry though. He started with ‘Clementine’ and I was already in tears. Second song was the one I had longed for that day: ‘Emotional Anorexic’ – nothing could have been a more perfect fit and I cried all the way through it while singing along. I know the feeling he describes all too well and sometimes can only try not to let “miseries poisonous claws” win over. It got better after that and soon his stories had me laughing again. Svavar’s promotion was funny as well, telling us that if we did not understand his Icelandic songs we’d find translations on his websites and to find out how to spell his name we only needed to buy a CD. 😀 The cutest part of the concert was the moment when he got hug-attacked by his daughter though. She just walked up to him and hugged his legs mid-concert. <3 Afterwards he told us he tried very hard to remain cool. No need for that at all. 🙂
VENUE: LOFT HOSTEL
I moved on to the Loft Hostel to check out The Living Arrows. They were pretty awesome. In fact I enjoyed their music so much I bought both of their CDs when they were done. A trio with lots of harmony singing and beautiful melodies. Their music had a lot of varienty and a few songs instantly made me feel at home so much I wanted to sing along. I am so glad they came to see The Anatomy of Frank, because I would have never checked them out otherwise. should I go back to Airwaves, I hope to see them again.
Had a nice chat with the guys sitting next to me and stayed for Owls of the Swamp, who had been recommended to me. I loved his songs too. They were just nice stuff and he came across very sympathetic. The whole event at Loft was organized by SoFaR Reykjavik and both artists I saw were great. Would have loved to stay for Ceasetone as well, but decided against it, fearing I’d arrive at the big evening show too late for the first band if I did.
The busses were not going to Valshöllin yet, so I walked and got there before they opened. I was quite surprised by how short the lines were, recalling much longer ones from two years before. Fine with me, it granted me a spot in front row, even almost at the center. Perfect for watching and taking pictures. It really surprises me how photography is so widely allowed at Iceland Airwaves. The only advantage of having a photopass is being able to bypass the lines and go to the pit if there is one, but usually I was able to get a good spot either way and got some good shots. I am grateful for this policy. 🙂
I was looking forward to this final show, excited about seeing some more bands. The only thing I was unhappy about was missing Agent Fresco. Their only Airwaves show started at 0:30 and there was just no way to get to the venue on time to see them if one wanted to see PJ Harvey.
The first band of the night were RuGl though, a duo of two young girls that my acquaintance from the OMAM line had been raving about. They were really good, presenting melodious, well written songs. I likes their performance and voices a lot and believe they can make a career if they keep at it. I found it quite remarkable what they were doing at such a young age. Both girls are 14 and thus too young to even attend the festival as guests, yet they made it to the stage for the main show. Quite an achievement! Well deserved too, they did a great job. 🙂
In between breaks I was chatting with the people by my side, both there to see PJ. The woman on my left knew Kevin Morby as well and told me he was like a young Dylan. He was, in sound as well as style. I liked his music at first, but have to admit to getting bored before his set was over. He was good, but did not show all that much variety. Typical singer / songwriter gone electric. Listenable, but not special to me.
Mammút were up next. Since I knew I’d be seeing them at this show, I had not gone to any of their other gigs, even though they were high on my list of bands to see again. They did not disappoint and rocked the house. Loved everything about their set: Songs, performance, style. Watching them was great, they are amazing musicians and obviously enjoyed performing for us. Not having listened to their music in quite some time, I barely remembered their songs, but still enjoyed them tremendously. I smiled all the way through, happy to be there and knew I’d give them another listen soon. Their set alone was worth waiting in line for the tickets.
Finally it was time for PJ Harvey and her concert started with the band walking on stage lead by two of them carryig drums. They took their places one by one, building up the melody of the first song. She was last of course, taking her spot at the front, drawig people in with her voice. I liked the music, her singing and the selection of songs, but the concert did not move me much. It was enjoyable to watch her and the band, they were good and entertaining, I heard a lot of variety and understoodwhy she has so many fans, but she did not manage to make me forget everything around me as I had hoped. At least not the entire time. Momentarily though, I did get lost in the songs. And I did love her performance. 🙂 It was a good concert overall and I had fun, just did not get emotionally involved very much. The show lasted quite long too, with more songs than I had expected. I’m pretty sure I’ll listen to more of her music, but I’m not sure I need to see her again. Some music is good and I can value it for ist quality, but it doesn’t speak to me much. It was still a fitting closure to the festival and I left with a smile on my face.
On the way out I bumped into Karl and we chatted for a bit, then I met K. and we walkedtogether for a while, discussing the concert. Finally, way past midnight, I dropped into bed, ready to go home the next moening.
Chain of Keys
The Ministry of Defence
The Community of Hope
The Orange Monkey
A Line in the Sand
Let England Shake
The Words That Maketh Murder
The Glorious Land
Written on the Forehead
To Talk to You
The Ministry of Social Affairs
Down by the Water
To Bring You My Love
Highway 61 Revisited (Bob Dylan cover)
Is This Desire?
Airwaves ended with a slow, but good day. It was not the same high I felt when I walked out of that final show two years before where I felt like dancing all the way home, but it was all good in the end and the music I had heard, seen, lived through and discovered was a lot to process and talk about. Festivals are always a mixed bag of goodies, but Airwaves must be one of the best there is. For every gig you see there are several equally good ones that you miss. As long as I have the chance to see most of the shows I really want to see, going with the flow and changing plans does not bother me at all and like the last time around the biggest surprises happened when I least expected them. Overall I was happy to have been there, even though I missed my movie festival and while I felt that maybe I should not be going to this particular festival to see one particular band I had loved being there for the overall experience. Airwaves is something that has to be lived and cannot really be described and I am pretty sure this was not my last time there. Thank you, Iceland Airwaves!