The evening started with a quiet, laid-back atmosphere at beautiful Iðnó when girl trio My Bubba And Mi took the stage. The slowly growing crowd took their seats on the floor, which, together with the atmosphere of the music, made perfect sense. The girls, who play bluegrass inspired music are actually called My, Bubba and Mi and are Danish, Icelandic and Swedish. In sober thirties style dresses and haircuts they played an impressively large double bass, a guitar and a banjo with great confidence and created beautiful vocal harmonies with their soft, crystal clear voices. The lyrics to the songs were quirky and humorous and often stirred laughter in the audience. Song titles included ‘How It’s Done In Italy’ and ‘I Will Never Love A Young Boy Again’, and exuded a melancholic simple beauty that evoked the past but at the same time proved modern and refreshing. Their rendition of Peaches song ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ was both brilliant and funny. A lovely and sincere start to the night.
I can’t quite figure out the line-ups at Airwaves this year. I’m finding them slightly schizophrenic. Next up on stage were New York rockers The Vandelles and the promising sound of feedback filled the theatre. Crowds of people started streaming in just as the four band members launched into a noise laden soundfest of choppy rhythms, bass riffs and guitar lines with the constant ghost of surf hovering darkly on the set. Drummer Honey ( that has to be the coolest name a girl could ever be called) was particularly impressive, her small frame launching into wildly aggressive bashing of the drum set. Both Honey and Lisha, on bass in their fifties style rockabilly dresses, and singer Jasno sporting a cut off T-shirt, impressive biceps and mirrored sunglasses enforced the ‘60s surf element of the whole thing. The Vandelles certainly play with their influences and one can certainly hear elements from various shoegaze and psychedelic bands, especially from Danish duo The Raveonettes. This beautiful session of noise, feedback and cool sinewy guitar lines could have pumped blood back into the veins of a vampire. Good stuff.
By the time Icelandic star Mugison took to the stage it was boiling hot and sweaty at Iðnó. The crowd kept packing in and obviously Mugison still holds huge appeal to both loyal Icelandic fans and visitors alike. He worked his rugged charm when greeting the crowd telling them how much he loved Airwaves and how wasted he was going to get after the gig. ” What the hell is he saying, speak English!” whined a French guy standing next to me. Mugison then introduced a newly constructed instrument: an invention that was basically a weird kind of synthesizer making weird croaky electronic sounds. This contraption accompanied him into his accomplished forage into blues, psych folk and metal that has gathered him die-hard fans. Personally, I got a bit bored half way through and started yawning. I’ll blame it on the heat.
After a pause from the humid heat inside, I was surprised to find the stage decked out like a school pantomime when I got back in. Jolly painted oak trees complete with perched owls were the backdrop for the next act Lára, a singer/songwriter who has been performing for the last seven years or so. Lára has undergone somewhat of a transformation recently and now takes to the stage kitted out in a geometrical blonde bob and patterned clothes by designer wunderkind Mundi. Lára certainly oozes appeal and stage presence and her beautiful voice, head swirling and frantic arm movements went down well with the crowd as did her brand of non-taxing happy, quirky pop. I did get a bit perplexed over the melange of styles going on stage in the sense of fashion rather than music as Lára’s band wore some kind of neo-gothic get ups that clashed with the nu-rave-ey ethno-chic of Mundi. As for the music, it somehow left very little behind.
Stage effects were also in order for the next band up, For a Minor Reflection, a young foursome playing melodic post-rock. Oh no, I thought when I saw a screen behind them featuring videos of waves and rocks. I tend to cringe when musicians milk that Icelandic nature thing but I could tell that the international Airwaves guests were lapping it up. These guys are definitely talented. Their moody Mogwai-esque soundscapes earned them a place on tour with Sigur Rós and they put on a climactic show of non-vocal guitar laden post rock. Actually, they sounded a hell of a lot like Sigur Rós. I could just imagine international journalists noting how the dramatic music evoked Iceland’s bleak natural beauty with a few elves thrown in. A solid performance but for me there was just nothing new and nothing particularly interesting. On a positive note though, these guys are only twenty years old and obviously very talented musicians so it will be interesting to see how they evolve.
It was refreshing to see a band from Greenland at Airwaves. Nive Nilsen & The Deer Children were next to perform and there were certainly plenty of those deer children on the stage. Instruments included everything from guitar and banjo to horn, but the star was obviously the lovely singer/songwriter Nive Nielsen. Her sincerity, soft vocals and perfect Greenlandic beauty captured the audience. The music seemed a kind of mellow-y country folk music without any particular ethnic undertones, which I somehow missed. Stupid I guess, but a band from Greenland sounded so exotic that I was expecting more Inuit influences. Anyway, this band actually mirrored a lot of what’s going on in Iceland right now sounding at times like Seabear or the Sing Fang, or bands like Grizzly bear and Arcade Fire. A feelgood, cutesy band that knows how to not overdo the cute factor ( other cuties take heed).
[Our good friend Anna Margrét Björnsson had to be excused at this point, so the lovely Kári Tulinius handled the rest of Iðnó’s bands]
Junip play soft, droning rock music. What they reminded me of more than anything were ‘60s acid, drone rock bands, e.g. Country Joe and the Fish. The drone was an early entrant into modern rock music, stemming from musicians listening to Indian music, trying to copy the ragas on electric guitars. Junip are very far from those beginnings, but they do play their music in that tradition. Junip make for very pleasant listening, which should be no surprise to fans of their lead singer, José González, whose successful solo career forced Junip to take a five-year hiatus between releases.
Their songs mostly followed a similar pattern, starting small and building up. The musicians, with the exception of the drummer, all played more than one instrument, for example, José González busted out a weird electronic instrument that I didn’t recognise, which he played through an adorably tine amplifier. Another band member switched between the bass and keyboards, at one point the percussionist played the recorder, and so on and so forth.
It was all very lovely. Good music to fall asleep to, in the good sense. The band lulled the audience into a lovely haze before rocking out in the final song, waking the crowd up.
Of my many sartorial prejudices, none are as ingrained as my distrust of young men wearing bowties. Something as innocent as piece of fabric tied into a bow around a young man’s neck shouldn’t be something that sends out danger signals, but in my experience young men who wear bowties tend to be arrogant cocknozzles, and often neoliberal too boot. You know, guys who go on about how great Ayn Rand is. The lead singer and guitarist of Nóra came on stage wearing a bowtie. So it was with some trepidation that I undertook to listen to Nóra with the open mind required of a music critic.
Things didn’t start well. The mix was awful. The drums were overpoweringly loud, one of the keyboards was barely audible, and a lot of other elements just sounded wrong. The first song was completely lost to the horrible mix. It got better over the course of Nóra’s performance, thank Jebus. I was starting to fear that the whole thing would be a wash, but then Nóra started to win me over with their sincerity, charm, and catchy pop songs. Kids who play with their hearts on their sleeves will always have a special place in my heart. The audience loved them, and when they played ‘Bólaheiðfall’ the entire crowd was dancing, or at least as much of it as I could see from my spot near the front, where I was shaking my tailfeather to the danceable indie emanating from the stage. As well as the previously mentioned song, the other standout tracks were ‘Hæðir” and ‘Opin fyrir morði.’
A fine performance by a band playing in adverse consequences. Just go to their MySpace page or website and prepare to have Nóra charm your socks off with their youthful exuberance. I even forgive the lead singer for wearing a bowtie.
Stephen Malkmus, lead singer and main songwriter of Pavement, wanted to name his first solo album Swedish Reggae, but his record label balked at the idea. The joke was that the idea of a reggae band from the Nordic countries is ridiculous. The man has a point. Seeing the eleven white-as-snow Icelandic kids who make up Ojba Rasta play dub-reggae is a bit ridiculous. But just because an idea is ridiculous doesn’t mean it’s not good.
Ojba Rasta had a lot of stage charm, though I think it’s fair to say that the heavily pregnant woman rocking out on the tuba was the most charming one of them all. She is, unless I’m mistaken, one of the four siblings who make up the core of Ojba Rasta. Her brother the bass player and singer joked that there might be an onstage birth tonight though, happily, that didn’t happen.
It was clear that the musicians onstage love dub and reggae. That was never to be doubted. But seeing these kids play music so completely rooted in Jamaican soil, so infused with the religion of Rastafarianism, did feel a bit wrong. Not to say that they didn’t play well, which they did, or with passion, which they had plenty of. It’s just sometimes things just don’t work out between band and listener. It certainly didn’t help that the main singer sang in a bad imitation of Jamaican Patois, though mercifully he didn’t sing often. But I was clearly the only person present who had any reservation, as the crowd was dancing and jumping.
However, my reservation withered to dust when Ojba Rasta were joined onstage by rappers Diddi and Byrkir of Forgotten Lores. Suddenly the music stopped feeling like an imitation of Jamaican music and became its own thing. It was, frankly, an outstanding moment, one of my favourite experiences so far at Airwaves, and I joined the crowd in dancing and jumping to the music. But when the rappers left the stage, the old reservations rushed back in and my enjoyment went away. That said, I can’t overemphasise how much the audience was enjoying the show. After the band had left the stage about half the people present were still dancing, chanting the melody from Ojba Rasta’s final song and demanding more. Which just proves true the age-old adage that people like different things.