Airwaves Friday Super-Review: aYia, BDSM Chomsky & Cell7 School4 2Bad Rappers - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Airwaves Friday Super-Review: aYia, BDSM Chomsky & Cell7 School4 2Bad Rappers

Airwaves Friday Super-Review: aYia, BDSM Chomsky & Cell7 School4 2Bad Rappers

Photos by
Art Bicnick, Timothée Lambrecq, Hörður Sveinsson

Welcome to the eye of the storm. Here’s what went down in the fun and chaos of Iceland Airwaves last night, brought to you by our semi-frayed, somewhat frazzled and partially euphoric festival super-review team. You can listen to our GrapeWaves Daily podcast while you read; subscribe via Soundcloud or in Apple Podcasts to catch up on the previous episodes or to get the new one tomorrow.

The frog at the start of the universe meets BDSM Noam Chomsky

Seeing dj. flugvél og geimskip is kind of like going to the hot pots. You’ve done it a lot, and you’re sometimes like, “shall I go?” and kinda undecided about it, and you’re maybe a bit lazy and you take it for granted—but then, when you make the effort, you always feel 100% better afterwards. It’s impossible not to break into a smile as she weaves her psychedelic musical journeys, on which we encounter strange animals (“We are about to meet the frog who was the first creature in the universe…”), sail across the ocean on ship (“Don’t you feel it moving beneath our feet?”), and get generally sprayed with a dayglo mess of lasers, bubbles, lo-fi beats, weird synth scales, and Steinunn’s generally joyful, adorable, yelping creative abandon.

aYia is a figurative and literal change of pace. In the cavernous Harpa Flói—a converted corridor, basically—their set starts at a slow 60 bpm tempo, with minimal drums, heavy bass stabs, and icy production flourishes. The singer, Ásta Fanney, wanders the stage issuing breathy whispers from a cloud of white-blonde hair that conceals her face and catches the light like a halo. “Easy” is a glacially-paced track that’s nonetheless compelling and catchy; “Water Plant” is a wondrous, goosebump-inducing masterpiece, and the propulsive “Ruins” draws enthusiastic squeals and bellows from the audience. Their impressive self-titled album drops next week; who knows where it’ll take them.

Every Airwaves night needs a passage of venue-hopping. Vök’s stadium-ready, hyper-slick pop sound proves popular, but fails to hold my attention, so I head to Hresso for EinarIndra’s slow-paced electronic soul; it simmers invitingly, but perhaps some onstage accompaniment could bring it to boiling point. Bistro Boy gets the crowd moving, serving up some relaxed 4×4 party sounds; Flamingods’ motorik, deeply retro acid-rock careens along nicely at IDNÓ; the ever-enjoyable SYKUR bowl some slow-paced gutters and energetic strikes at Húrra.

The stars of the night, however, are Hatari. Ever the onstage spectacle, everything about their show is staggering, from the vast, pulsing, 80s retro-gothic synth sounds, to the fleshy visuals, the synchronised dancers in their light-up outfits, the cameo appearances from CYBER and Svarti Laxness, the militaristic coats that are later removed to reveal BDSM harnesses, and the relentless, pounding rhythms beneath contrasted falsetto and harshly distorted vocals. Interestingly, one inter-song passage of ranting is, this time, in English. We’re told “we are both product, and the consumer,” or something along those lines, and some other Chomsky-lite gobbledygook. But when a show is this good, I’ll forgive a bit of soap box theatre. JR

Cell7 School4 2Bad Rappers

Last night started (and may as well have ended) with Cell7 at Lucky Records. I’m not going to say that she’s the only good rapper in Iceland because that would be unfair to the indeterminate (but definitely small) number of others who deserve some credit. So let me put it this way: Cell7 is probably the best rapper in Iceland. She was in Subterranean, Iceland’s original hip-hop crew from the literal 90s, not the ironic 90s comeback we currently live in). This means she’s been in the hip-hop game longer than most of Iceland’s current wave of rappers have actually been alive (and still looks better than most of them). The experience shows. Her flow is sickening, her beats sound classic but with better production value, and she’s got just enough attitude to pull it all off without looking tryhard. I wish she would open up Cell7 School4 2Bad Rappers and teach these wannabes how to turn it the fuck out.

I shouldn’t say it should’ve ended there, because there were a few other good performances. aYia showcased some new songs from their upcoming record in their characteristically spooky style. Ólafur Arnalds did his thing with the pianos and the lights and the smoke and coy charm to a packed theatre and a standing ovation. Aurora, some tiny, screaming elf with a big heart, seemed to captivate her audience. After singing that each of us has a home in her queendom, I decided: yes, I wouldn’t mind a home in her queendom.

Smerz, on the other hand, totally flatlined. It was hard to tell if there were technical difficulties to the fault of the local production or if the artists were just being divas. During the whole set, they kept signalling the sound booth to turn things up and down and these were always accompanied by very distracting laser beams of red-hot seething hatred. The artists looked annoyed and miserable, the audience bored, and people began to filter out before Smerz could even get to the good, funky shit. Even SYKUR couldn’t get a packed Húrra to move or even listen. For the first time in my six years of Airwaves, I found myself standing in the street at 2:30 am on Friday night, thinking, “Is that it?” I’m crossing my fingers for tonight. GDF

Weird vibes, soft misses and alien punk

What the fuck was up with last night? Maybe Venus retrograde was hitting extra hard, maybe it’s Maybelline, but there were some weird ass vibes in the air.

I started off the night with Sigrún. I generally quite like her mermaid-on-Neptune ethereal space travel dream-pop. This time, something is off. The sound isn’t great, and the energy stays pretty one note until the end when she picks up some white chiffon and waves them around like a cheerleader on quaaludes, but even she seems over it. At Húrra I watch Heiðrik’s bluesy cabaret-pop speak to some of those universal clichés about heartbreak (“I wear black to show that I grieve for you”) but his delivery is disconnected from the audience and the songs don’t pack a tremendous punch.

I head back to Harpa to see aYia, but singer Ásta Fanney’s beautiful, delicate vocals are buried and spayed. The sound rights itself midway through as they go into the dark low-key banger “Easy” and her enigmatic energy finally clicks in. By the time they reach the epic synth crescendo in the darkwave dancer “New Moon,” a giant smile has plastered across Ásta’s face and the crowd is moving in trance. The set closes perfectly with the raging “Ruins” blasting our faces off. It might have been a slow start, but as they say… easy does it, don’t force it.

The most exciting thing to happen for the next couple of hours was sharing a box of Mandi fries. EinarIndra could have used a live band, and was ruined by loud Americans being whisky snobs. Flamingods showed that having two drummers does not save a band from being basic. Bistro Boy made everyone dance but I immediately forgot what he sounded like as soon as I walked out the door. Fontaines D.C. have a pretty good working-class-hero post-punk thing going, but their frontman seems lost when he’s not singing, and their audience are awful bros. Cashmere Cat kept building anticipation and then anti-climaxing at the drop, like the kind of sex where you’re like, “just cum already!”

Finally, I end the night with the amazing surprise of WWWater, pulling futuristic twisted trip hop and totally nuts rave-pop. Like Deelite on even more drugs fronted by Solange-gone-punk. I wish I had had more steam to get on the dancefloor and move to their super fun and wild tracks, but I am old and my feet hurt and it had just been a really bizarre night. The answer, of course, is aliens. RX

Kata Kata Kata Kata Kata Kameleon

Kata, Kata, Kata. Say it three times and it’s a spell—which is what the singer of Mammút— Kata Mogensen—cast over the crowd during her last ballad. I only caught this last song, which left me stirred up and ready for the night. Mammút is a solid good time.

Högni had a unconventional performance at the National Theatre. In a bold and exciting move, people arrived to find handwritten notes from him in the seats. He took the role of the conductor to a string quartet and read snippets of texts to the audience, really using the space as a theatre. There were some impactful and truthful seeds in there, and I wanted to travel to the stars with him, but needed a bit more fuel to take off.

At some point I tossed away the schedule, and floated between places. Sometimes that’s a great idea, but last night I wish I had made some scheduled decisions—I wasn’t deeply touched by anything I wandered into.

it seemed that everyone who was still standing went to see SYKUR. I’ve never seen so many people at Húrra, we were all so tightly packed together that we could have definitely used a bigger venue to hold everyone. But SYKUR is always a good time, and Agnes introducing the last song by sharing that it was written about when she was raped. It was powerful to see people take that in at 3 AM. Thank you Agnes.

Now I’m going recover from last night. Later I’ll put on my boots and leave the house into the last night with an open heart welcoming whatever is to come. TNI

A new pop star, constipated Smerz and The Nothingz

I began the day on seeing the young pop musician Tara Mobee at Petersen Svítan. Tara was one the faces on the cover of the Grapevine’s Iceland Airwaves magazine that was published ahead of the festival. The concert was low key and relaxed. Tara started with some acoustic R’n’B songs, in a comfy kind of style. Her voice was beautiful and her delivery confident, although you could see that she hasn’t been on stage that often. Her songwriting could be more focused, but some songs were on-point, especially towards the end of the set. But what stood out most was that she’s really talented, and I felt that this could be Iceland’s next pop star. Just give her some confidence and experience, and she’ll kill it.

Once night set in, I went to see the Danish/Norwegian girls of Smerz, a band I’ve been listening to for over a year know after Urður Hákonardóttir (Earth from Gus Gus) shared their track “Blessed” on Facebook. After some initial technical problems, they seemed to lack energy and it felt like they weren’t comfortable on the stage. The songs were like every pretentious electro hipster band that you can find; I waited for them to find their groove, or some goddamn focus, but they never really did. They looked constipated on the stage and once the audience started to sneak out of this uncomfortable mess, so did I.

But all I found was more mess. I’ve probably never seen a band with such a fitting name: The Voidz. This performance, fronted by the has-been legend Julian Casablancas, was like if an alcoholic black hole would throw up on everything you care for in music. This smelled like old timers trying to squeeze a buck out of past glories. The only thing I could think about while watching this band was the reality show, Rockstar Supernova. The band was tight, but when Casablancas started mumbling and staggering around the stage like he was on a boat in a storm, it became clear that this was just one of those almost manufactured bands that adds absolutely nothing to anything. I was warned, I suppose—the band’s name literally means nothing. The highlight was when Casablanca tried to hit those screaming notes and all you could hear was a whimpering shout of help from his liver. Overall, this concert was a waste of time. The night may have been a bit of a failure, but at least Tara saved the day. VG

Read more about Iceland Airwaves here.


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