Now that last year’s Airwaves hangovers have finally receded to the point that we can once more look one another in the eye, listen to modern music without retching and even contemplate engulfing ourselves in the evil spectacle again, it seems like a proper enough moment to touch upon the subject of who will partake in mangling our pure hearts this year. Yes, the Iceland Airwaves festival looms over yet again, what with its flood of self-promoting new wave bands, foreign A&R boys looking for buns to stick their ‘pylsa’ in, savage, drunken journalists and, but of course, some really great music to get acquainted with in a live environment.
Gazing over the list of artists announced for this year’s shindig is an exhilarating act, if only for realising the sheer amount of planning one must resort to in order to catch the desired amount of shows (of course, experience has taught us that such plans are bound to fail miserably and it’s best to just pick a venue to go with for the night). Most, if not all, of Iceland’s exciting up-and-comers are performing throughout the week of 18-22 October, along with more established local and international acts. There is a certain amount of hyperbole surrounding many of the festival’s artists. Surely many of those flavours-of-next-month will fade into the obscurity from whence they came soon enough. There’s lots of genuine talent though, and a minimal amount of research and preparation should ensure a weekend stuffed with some of the nicest stuff today’s music scene has to offer.
Once again, the UK hype machine spews out new and exciting musical geniuses for us to converge around and worship for the next six months or so. This time around, they’re calling the bandwagon ‘New rave’ and among its progenitors we find Klaxons (others include the inventively titled ‘Shitdisco’). Hailing from trendy New Cross, London, these hit mongers of tomorrow released their first single in April 2005 and have since worked hard at gaining the following the British music press feels they deserve,
Say what you will about the NME’s tendency to overblow and obfuscate musical styles and artists; those that give Klaxons a fair listen will find that the band is indeed rather exciting. Good, even. The ‘New rave’ banner does seem misplaced, as their sound is more reminiscent of the ‘Discopunk’, ‘Electroclash’ (remember that) and ‘New new wave of new wave’ trends that reigned supreme over the early 00’s than any rave bands I remember. But their fans reportedly bring glowsticks to gigs and that’s gotta count for something. Either way, the four songs thus released by Klaxons sound fucking awesome to me.
Klaxons will perform at 22:15, Thursday, at the Reykjavík Art Museum
The Go! Team
The Go! Team’s reputation precedes them – at the time of writing they are most self-proclaimed Airwaves experts’ top bet for filling the gap left by GusGus this year, providing a dance party to end all dance parties. A safe Friday night slot at the Art Museum is sure to work in their favour, as is their experience in entertaining festival crowds all over the world for the past year. Having long since disproved all doubts that their excellent début, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, wouldn’t translate to the larger stage due to its sample-based nature, The Go! Team seems a safe bet for those about to rock.
The Go! Team will perform at the stroke of midnight, Friday, at the Reykjavík Art Museum
Newark NJ industrial hip-hop duo Dälek blew the roof off the Iðnó theatre when they performed there last fall at the behest of Sugarcubes/Ghostigital front man Einar Örn. Easily the noisiest hip-hop act ever; the heavily distorted shoegazer-like (even dreamy, My Bloody Valentine-style) music and driving beats of Oktopus mesh perfectly with the aggressive, yet literate, emceeing of rapper Dälek. Given a proper sound system, it’s safe to say that Dälek make music that moves the body along with the brain – even to the point of decibel-induced nausea. And that is always a good thing.
Dälek will perform at 23:00, Friday, at the Iðnó Theatre
Wolf Parade’s début, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is easily one of last year’s finest guitar-oriented rock albums. With it, the band set itself firmly in place as one of indie-rock’s flag bearers, garnering hefty amounts of both critical and public acclaim in the process. Their Bowie-influenced take on distorted pop sets them apart as one of the most exciting young things to come out of Canada recently (of which there are plenty) and their live shows are reportedly legendary affairs that tread the thin line between total chaos and utter brilliance. Either side they manage to land on at this year’s Airwaves festival is sure to provide a memorable experience for those attending.
Wolf Parade will perform at 00:00, Friday, at Gaukurinn
Cold War Kids
While their young and tender age proves that the Cold War moniker is perhaps less than apt for these particular kids, their music speaks for itself and it does speak in volumes. Their biography is obviously designed to evoke an association with the whole Americana style so in vogue these days, citing Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday and The Velvet Underground as influences and referencing Reagan and the Dust Bowl. While that may reek of sensationalism (their biggest influence clearly being The White Stripes), the songs on their so-far released EPs (and those are really all that counts) are good, stylised and interesting. So we will check them out and hopefully, their live performance will not betray their recorded material.
Cold War Kids will perform at 23:00, Friday, at Gaukurinn
Straight outta Montréal, Islands have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with since releasing the critically acclaimed Return to the Sea earlier this year. They rose, all phoenix-like, out of the ashes of defunct masters The Unicorns, who in their limited lifespan released one great record before inexplicably breaking up. Hopefully, Islands will last longer, as is implied by their domain, Islandsareforever.com
Islands make music that’s just plain… weird. But still pop-ish. Luckily, they set themselves apart from most weirdmongers by doing it well, as they manage to hold on to the essential but oft-forgot duo of melody and thought while ploughing through the minefield that is experimental rock. Expect lots of jumping around to infectious pop melodies.
Islands will perform at 21:30, Friday, at the Reykjavík Art Museum
It’s safe to say that Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir is among Iceland’s first and only MySpace prodigies. Having been an integral part of the equally exciting Benny Crespo’s Gang for many years, this 24-year-old uploaded two of her solo endeavours to a MySpace page this February at the urging of some of her girlfriends. Within a month, those bedroom recordings could be heard sounding out of the laptops of informed hipsters around the country, the following hype-storm resulting in her being signed to the major label (by local standards) Sena’s internet-based imprint, Cod Music. Performing under the moniker Lay Low, she has charmed local crowds with her bluesy take on folk music in these past six months and will release her début album this October.
“I definitely didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Sigrúnardóttir tells the Grapevine in an early evening telephone conversation, sounding genuinely earnest and surprised about the level of acknowledgement she has garnered in her admittedly short career as a solo songstress. “The Cod music guys contacted me quickly after I uploaded my songs on MySpace and basically got the ball rolling. I had certain reservations about playing live at first, but they talked me into it, along with making a record that I am in the process of mixing right now. I didn’t even have enough songs to fill a record when all this started.”
Sigrúnardóttir is obviously a devoted music fan and sounds enthusiastic at the mere mention of her scheduled performance at the Airwaves festival. She reminisces about her first time playing there last year with Benny Crespo’s Gang, performing what she says was a fine show in front of a large crowd. “I also had a lot of fun there seeing the bands that I was interested in. The whole queue-thing was a bit of a problem, but I managed to see most of what I wanted to in the end. This year’s festival sounds really good too; it’s fun to get to play it twice and there are also a lot of acts that I look forward to checking out. The Go! Team and Cold War Kids should be fun to witness, but there’s always the fact that Airwaves is the best time to scope out the Icelandic bands and what they are up to. They put a lot of work into these performances and you usually can’t walk between venues like this, seeing whatever holds your attention for the moment. Downtown Reykjavík is also packed with people during that week, and every show is crowded. That adds a lot of flavour to the proceedings.”
This must be a bittersweet fact however, considering that the local public isn’t always that enthusiastic about seeking out local talent.
“I guess it depends on what people are looking for. This festival is probably very convenient for those who don’t usually hang out on sites like MySpace or Rokk.is, or even listen to the radio all that much. I think it serves a fine sampling of what’s going on even if you don’t spend all your time browsing for something new. Of course, there are a lot of good acts that aren’t performing, but I think the long weekend can and does provide an excellent source of the finest in domestic and imported new music.”
Lay Low will perform at 20:00, Thursday, at NASA
Ultra Mega Technobandið Stefán
Eighteen-year-old Sigurður Ásgeir Olsen is a self-proclaimed saviour of music and, incidentally, the leader of one of this year’s more interesting Airwaves débuts, Ultra Mega Technobandið Stefán (The Ultra Mega Techno Band Stefan, for those interested, UMTS for short). The band was formed last summer and made its first splash at the Músíktilraunir competition (an Icelandic battle of the bands type festival) this spring. Those who have witnessed their deranged live show often find themselves having difficulty shutting up about it, as the spectacle of a hyperactive 18-year-old Mark E. Smith-style wunderkind fronting a band comprised of two synthesisers, a bass guitar and a drum-kit really needs to be seen to be believed. ‘Out of control’ would be one way to put it, and you really keep wondering if they will make it through the show intact; they have also been described as ‘captivating’ and ‘truly exciting’.
Olsen tells us that this will be his first time attending Airwaves. Although he has been excited about the festival for several years he has found himself lacking in, well, age. “I’ve taken note of Airwaves for a long time, the first one was held in an airplane hangar and it’s actually been a dream of mine to perform in one of those ever since I was a kid. I wish they would bring that back for this year, although I know very well that we can ‘trance’ any house that will host us. That’s right, we trance places, we don’t rock them. That’s not our style. Trance is the future.”
Olsen says that the Airwaves performance is as incidental as any of the band’s other moves, “We’ve been saving the world since last summer, as I recall it. That’s when we formed, somewhere in the wilderness of Iceland. And, you know, we were just mucking about on the computer one night when it dawned on us that applying for this fine showcase would be a fun thing to do. And we did and it worked, luckily. See, we have this plan of taking over the world, all this playing is just our way of getting it done, step-by-step. We challenge Kerrang and Rolling Stone and all these other people to come check us out and let us light an almighty fire under their ass.”
When asked about the visiting acts he’s interested in witnessing, Olsen says that he is particularly excited about The Kaiser Chiefs. “I also heard that the Goo Goo Dolls are playing and that should be pretty cool [note: they are not] and Brazilian Girls is something I’ve been into a long time. I’ve mainly been watching them compete in the Olympic Beach Volleyball competition, more for the sake of jerking off than the sport itself. I’ll try and hold on to my tradition by catching them at Airwaves too.”
Ultra Mega Technobandið Stefán will perform at 22:20, Wednesday, at the Pravda Airwaves Club