So far I’ve had pretty good luck this Airwaves. Every night I’ve been to has been cohesively programmed and well planned. Having carefully studied the schedule for days and days before the festival, I knew this was an anomaly I would have to be grateful for. I also knew it couldn’t last forever – good things never do.
It all came crashing down for me at Gaukur á Stöng (henceforth referred to as Gaukurinn) last night. It made close to zero sense line-up wise and the possibilities to have make it flow slightly better sonically were totally overlooked.
We started somewhere in 1976 with The Vintage Caravan, whose entire M.O. seems to be the same conclusion Randy “Pink” Floyd reached in Dazed & Confused about guys in bands getting laid just as much as football players – except the band guys don’t get harassed by some asshole coach about their hair or weed smoking. Anyway, I don’t think these guys are in this band JUST to get laid, and in all fairness they really are great classic rock recreationists. They are talented kids, their outfits were perfect and their onstage dynamic seemed to impress the small early crowd. Personally I have no use for Led Zeppelin or anything sounding like them in my daily life, but credit where credit is due. This was derivative done well.
While I’m on the subject of derivative, now might have been a good time to follow with The Dandelion Seeds (who replaced serial gig-cancellers Hoffman on the bill), going in reverse chronological era derivation. But more on that later.
However the next act up was Biggibix who I could have done entirely without and frankly so could have the night. It was so left-field. Here is a guy who basically embodies everything about American dudebro rock from 2002, right down to the undersized v-neck t-shirt over bulging, tattooed muscles and the unnecessary constipated voice-forcing the whole way through. Everything sounded like that frigging Gavin Degraw theme song to One Tree Hill. I kept looking around the room expecting to see Chad Michael Murray broodingly squinting away amid the sparse, non-reactive audience. It was pretty rough.
The night got even rougher after – both in good and bad ways – for this was the exact point when the entire programming began to just be a manic mindfuck. Murmansk did nothing to deserve being placed so early in the night, or to be sandwiched between such moldy bands. Also considering that fellow dark-weirdo Finns K-X-P were on the bill later on, who they could have easily led in or out from, it was just wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.
Luckily this had no impact on them or their performance or their soaring, blast-your-face-off gothgaze songs. I’m just gonna say it: I fucking love this band. They are so fucking good. It is huge, scary, gear-heavy, gorgeous, raw and revitalising. It is reverbtastic. Their only frills are their extremely awesome and extensive pedal boards which caused a group of gear-nerds to have a circle-jerk over right before the show started and made me incredibly thankful for the wonderful teching team at Gaukurinn. Vocalist Laura’s powerful pipes delivered with such effortless intensity and left the growing crowd in a sullen, shoulder-swaying trance. I was looking forward to seeing this band and hoped they wouldn’t disappoint and they have made a full-fledged fan out of me.
So now it was The Dandelion Seeds, who would have been better slotted earlier and weren’t even supposed to be playing to begin with. We were somehow expected to smoothly transition from a wave of blackened intensity back to the psychedelic sixties like it was no big thing. Their lead-in was an anti-drug PSA track or something but that was really counter-productive because drugs are the one thing that would have saved this band’s performance – or maybe would have helped my appreciation of it.
This band just sounds exactly like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and they know it (and so does Anton Newcombe, actually) and they basically don’t care. The replicating of the BJM’s sound and music is actually perfectly accomplished, when I closed my eyes I felt I could had been listening to Methodrone and loving it, but their onstage demeanor was so fucking boring and sober that they might as well have just been facing the back wall. What kind of nerve do they have to carbon-copy from such a seminal band and then not have the bare minimum respect to live up to their standard of performance? Go back and watch DIG!, get your tambourinist up to Joel Gion standards, tie off your veins a few times and assault some audience members. Then get back to me.
Local rockabilly king Smutty Smiff appeared onstage suddenly to introduce the next act who apparently are a phenomena in Iceland that’s gone right past me. JD McPherson is an absolute purist of the genre. It was like being at Turkey Point with the King Cry-Baby himself. Guitar, stand-up bass, saxophone wailing and the happiest piano player of the festival. Slicked out coifs and cuffed jeans, growling and crooning and winking and sneering. The place was jumping and a’jiving like a jukebox hop. It was real cool, daddy-oh.
But again – what’s with such random era and style shifting? This fucking night!
And then came the old school hardcore-punk with Danish buzz-band Iceage! I’ve seen this band before and it sounded like total shit but the energy was infective and the crowd was insane. This time the sound was actually pretty good (it should be said though, that basically everything at Gaukurinn sounded awesome and there were no technical fuck-ups to be spoken of unlike other venues cough-Amsterdam-cough.) It took a few songs before the crowd got fully riled up and the mosh pit unleashed its full fury but once it did, it really did, and it was awesome. The kids onstage and in the pit were ripping it up and having a blast.
The bouncers at Gaukurinn also did something I have never seen before but it was actually pretty brilliant: five of them formed a loose half-circle protective layer between the nucleus of the mosh-pit and the rest of the audience who preferred to watch and head-bob. Rather than stopping people from enjoying themselves as they wanted to (unlike at other venues cough-Amsterdam-cough) they actually increased the crowd’s ability to have a good time. Best security moment at Airwaves.
Then came K-X-P, the strangest act of the night by far in terms of how it was programmed, but definitely one of the best in terms of performance. I don’t know how to describe it at all. It was highly referential yet sounded completely different. I couldn’t figure out what was going on and I couldn’t stop dancing. The bassist stood perfectly still with his feet and legs firmly together, shoulders hunched and blonde hair drooped over his face and doing things to his bass I didn’t even know were going on. I think I might have glimpsed the distant future of Úlfur from Swords Of Chaos/Jónsi. Their extremely tall drummer keeps his kit low and is prominently visible, working it all in the wrist for a mesmerising visual experience. And the singer was like a kraut-rocked out industrial kid who stomp-danced around the stage like it was a warehouse party. This should have happened at Faktorý.
By now the night had finally reached some semblance of a collective mood. The crowd at Gaukurinn had remained consistent for the last two or three acts (not least of which because there was a really long line outside), people were all boozed up and making friends on the smoking deck and getting really excited to see the final act. I was honestly a bit more apprehensive about it.
But there was no cause to be. LEGEND is a band whose name is not only apt but a multifold description of the complexities of their music and bandmembers. These are veteran local musicians and incredibly talented people who can accomplish the musical style of their picking on a whim based on sheer knowledge alone. The sound they produce together is indeed the stuff of legends – think Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails. That kind of legend. It is passionate and danceable, meant for closing your eyes, throwing your hands up in despair and feeling it down to your core.
What’s more, frontman Krummi Björgvinsson is himself, whichever way you look at it, an affirmed local legend, synonymous with the bands Mínus, Esja and his own electronic act. It is in this incarnation however that it feels like Krummi is bearing his opening the gates, baring his soul, cutting out his heart and sewing it on his sleeve for the world to see. While the music gets you in the guts, the words cut you to the core and say everything he’s needed to say. He will not be afraid. Time is on his side.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!