– Words by Alex Baumhardt
Magnús Trygvason Eliassen, “Maggi,” drums in local bands Amiina, Borko, Kippi Kaninus, Moses Hightower, Sin Fang, Tilbury, Snorri Helgason and a number of others on a rotating basis. He manages to balance domestic and international touring, recording and practicing with all of them throughout the year, but from a peripheral view, it seems like trying to date several people at the same time, and Airwaves would be that weekend when they all happen to be in town at the same time.
Last Airwaves, Maggi played 24 shows with various bands, running with his drums between venues in November weather that feels like someone is beating you with a cold, wet towel. By most music festival standards, this is an insane number of shows to play, but by the standards of Reykjavík’s tight-knit music community, it’s kind of just expected.
When I walked into the Airwaves office seeking the person scheduling the bands, or what I imagined would be a burnt-out intern crying in front of an Excel sheet, everyone seemed wildly caffeinated and totally unshaken by my insistence that 24 shows in five days was abnormal. “Everyone in an Icelandic band is playing, like, ten shows,” someone chimed in.
“It’s actually a rush I really like, playing all that and running between venues,” Maggi says offhandedly, as if 23 shows would have been too boring. This year he’ll be playing with just seven bands in nine shows given that he has to miss the first two days of the festival. I try to imagine a Brooklyn-based indie band playing more than twenty shows in a weekend because they were supporting friends in other projects. Perhaps Reykjavík hasn’t been cursed by the rigidity that came with tight pants and the ultra-competitive music scenes of larger cities.
“I don’t feel the music scene here is very competitive,” Maggi says. “I want to see great drummers here play and succeed. I think most musicians in Iceland are like that.” Maggi posits that the music scene in Reykjavík is less about an aesthetic than it is about people who found a type of music they love and then threw themselves into it. “Musicians here don’t make a lot of money so if you’re making music it’s something that you really love. You don’t have to listen to the Replacements and wear Cheap Mondays to play in an indie band here.”
Guitarist Örn Eldjárn, who will play with Maggi in Borko and Tilbury this year, played fifteen Airwaves shows last year. “The music community here is small, we all just hang out and play together,” he says.
Equally ambiguous about what was beginning to seem like a musician’s mafia, Albert Finnbogason, of bands Grísalappalísa and Skelkur í bringu and accompaniment to sóley, says he can’t explain how it all works out. This year he’s slated to play upwards of 14 shows and he doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal. “It seems like a lot but I think everyone’s doing it,” he says. “If you play a brass instrument it’s likely more than that.” Both he and Maggi mentioned the Airwaves 2011 Wonder Woman Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir, the trumpeter of Of Monsters And Men, who played thirty shows including three with the biggest bands on Saturday night.
Perhaps that’s the local enigma of the festival—that if you miss your friend in one band, you’ll be able to see them at least five or six other times. “Airwaves is a festival to go see something you’ve never heard before,” Maggi says. Played, perhaps, by an arrangement of people you’ve seen only every-elsewhere.