Thinking I would be late, I burst in the side door of the Reykjavík Art Museum into total emptiness. Eva from Hundreds was chilling with a cigarette, the girls from Amiina were doing their makeup and the stagehands were buzzing about lifting heavy stuff and plugging up a rainbow of wires and electronics. But as the queuing crowds outside had waited a long time for this Airwaves epic, who was gonna complain about waiting a little bit longer?
And so it began. German electro popsters Hundreds took to the stage to wide applause. On the darkened stage facing out into the cavernous room, singer Eva cut a striking figure though the hazy glow, her vocals blending and bleeding into lo-fi electronic compositions and melodic keyboard riffs.
The sound, which was to challenge every band that night, seemed to agree with Hundreds, and they rose above the echo to deliver a smooth, tight groove for the crowd. At least that’s what it sounded like from where I stood. Hundreds’ music is slightly introverted and thoughtful, but not in an angsty XX kind of way. Rather the opposite, actually, and rather than standing and looking all moody, Eva danced about like a little pixie in her bare feet and hooded jumpsuit.
But the audience was restless and already desperate for something to sink their teeth into. They wanted to writhe and sweat and be sucked body and soul into something bigger than them, and while Hundreds rightly teased with this vibe on their penultimate track with its dance tempo and punchy keyboards, it felt like they were just getting started when it was time to finish up. A great Airwaves find, and I got the impression that a lot of people had found the next album they wanted to splurge a few ISK on.
A lot of people had come to see Amiina but equally many had come to see subsequent acts, and the product of this in noise and general chatting didn’t favour the bands turn on stage. Opening with ‘ásinn’ from their new album, they delivered a set of the biggest sounds they have and the tempo change from previous gigs was instantly noticeable as they pulled up their rock socks to suit the occasion.
But their melodies bounced off the concrete walls of Listasafn, magnifying the effect of chatter from the back of the venue, and the venue didn’t provide them with just reward for an otherwise fantastic set. However joined on stage by Efterklang and some other friends for the track ‘Mambo’, they grabbed the audience and the echo by the balls and swelling above the din asserted themselves as the incredibly tight musicians we all know they are. And to great cheers from the crowd who had gotten a slice of what they were looking for. Speaking to Amiina’s María after the gig, she agreed that this was the most challenging venue of Airwaves, “For us its been the hardest venue in the history of Airwaves, but I hope that those who came to get their breathless Amiina moment didn’t go away feeling disappointed”. Kudos to the best girl band!
But still something was amiss. The murmur of tension in the audience had grown to a growl. The room felt like a dam aching to burst. Both Hundreds and Amiina had created a few cracks in the concrete at various point, but this baby needed to blow, and soon. Faced with this, Efterklang had everything to accomplish. It was an Olympian moment.
Holy mother of sweet divine Moses. It was incredible. Yes I’m emphatic, yes I’m being completely over the top but those Danes pulled off a musical moment that I hope goes down in the Airwaves history books. Anyone could see that this is a band at the top of their game. They ooze with confidence and love for their music, for performing, but not in an asshole kind of way. This was their first time playing in Reykjavík and it shouldn’t be forgotten for a long time. In a stunning collision of Casper’s mighty voice, wild but skilfully manipulated percussion, brass, electronics and sheer positivity they drew us into a multi layered ether of light, happiness and musical genius. The Amiina ladies joined them on stage about midway through, and from this point Efterklang just kept growing and growing, and the venue shrank and shrank, until it felt like they were singing directly to every person there.
Having built the energy so masterfully, the cork popped, and the room collectively climaxed. Who needs geothermal energy with kinetic power like this? You could have launched a spaceship with it. Even the photographers had to down tools for a precious few seconds and just bask in it.
So! I guess all Moderat needed to do was saunter up and press play eh? Most likely people would have raved to the theme tune for the evening news by this stage, so it seemed like an easy win. But as they got into their set, the reverb from the way heavy bass, at the front of the venue anyways, could have woken a sleeping Eyjafjallajökull. I’m not sure if this was the cheeky concrete playing tricks again but it killed the nuances of Moderat’s music which actually make them Moderat, and not your average fist-pumping dance act. I mean it was great but it did kill the enjoyment slightly. Anyways I pondered no more and joined in the fun until CUT! Some adapter thingy broke on one of their Kraftwerk-esque DJ stands and it all went dead. “Its not the first time that’s happened, we might be able to fix it but we can’t promise” they laughed.
But fix it they did, and for some kooky reason it made the difference, cause when they launched into ‘Sea Monkey’, hell THIS was Moderat! The sound seemed to sort itself out and a bolt of electricity shot up through the crowd making them really sit up and take notice of the music, not just the dance party frenzy. There was appreciation in them their strobe lit eyes! And hey ho, so it went off in to the stratosphere. The crowd screamed MO-DER-AT, crowd surfer were tugged and pulled on the crest of the wave, and we ate from their palms like hungry dance monkeys, savouring every morsel.
An unforgettable evening. New interests were sparked, it was full of unexpected triumphs and challenges, and the most notoriously difficult Airwaves venue was reduced to a purring kitty by the time everyone made their way shoving and laughing into the night.