By Rebecca Louder
It was a (presumably cold and rainy) October in 1999 when one famous foreign artist and three super-hip Icelandic bands—Thievery Corporation, Toy Machine, Quarashi and GusGus—gathered in a Reykjavík airplane hangar to play a massive show. As with most things that begin here, it was an experiment. No one knew if this would happen once or if thirteen years later, it would have grown to become the biggest music event in the country. So goes the legend of Iceland Airwaves.
Thirteen years later, the airplane hangar has been traded in for Harpa and the festival has hosted nearly every local band to form in the last decade. However, of the original line-up, only GusGus remain standing strong in Iceland. Not only that but they have played more festivals than any other band or artist. They’ve been hard at work on a new album and touring, getting into top form to deliver a performance worthy of their stature, with lights, smoke, strobes and plenty of drama. We tracked down President Bongo to get the inside story.
How would you describe your relationship with the festival and what does it mean to you?
Not many people know (or care) but GusGus came up with the idea for the festival. We’ve played every year except one, but we still did DJ sets that year, so we’ve been present every year. Our relationship with it is strong, almost illegal. It’s wonderful to see what has become of it, despite the hurricanes it’s gone through. We love all the scars and stitched up sails. It looks great today!
The venue NASA was strongly associated with GusGus and you of course played its closing gig. What do you think Airwaves will be like now that it’s out of the family?
We feel terrible about NASA not being there anymore for us and everyone else who played that venue. It’s a BIG mess! GusGus would like to thank Inga [Ingibjörg Örlygsdóttir, aka Inga á Nasa], here and now, for her part of this adventure, which is invaluable! Thank you Inga!
In your opinion, how does this festival differ from other city festivals that you have played? What makes it unique and how does it keep its longevity?
Airwaves is a great festival for me because I can walk to the venue and eat with my mom before a show! I have never tasted the catering at the festival. That basically enables me to talk about how it differs from others. I am pretty sure Airwaves is still here because people have fought for its existence—Þorsteinn Stephensen being the key “Mr. Destiny” fighter along with his crew. I am also sure the present fighters will continue doing the same and the festival will have a long, long life.
Besides yourselves, of course, what Icelandic bands should people check out if they are coming to the festival for the first time?
I hope Prins Pólo is playing! They’re my favourite! Then there’s the Radio Bongo Sunday night at Kaffibarinn, Captain Fufanu and Gluteus Maximus—I wonder where they will be playing! I wouldn’t want to miss that for the world. This weekend is gonna be tough! I’m gonna call Einar Örn for advice.