First of all, I’ve got to give Metz an honourable mention. I ducked into Bar 11 to see them before heading to my post at Harlem, and they deserve a mention for enticing the first crowd-surf of the weekend. Here’s to Metz!
But, my OFFICIAL Airwaves schedule started with the wondrous thing that is DJ Flugvél og Geimskip (DJ. Airplane and Spaceship). DJFG is a girl with a lot of very bright lights attached to her and she seemed adamant to outweird her name with her music, and she certainly achieved that. Inviting the audience to go on various themed adventures rather than actually introducing songs, she took us all to space and back, into the world of conspiring midnight cats, and even travelled to the crossroads that troubled many Delta Blues musicians in the early 1900s. With a bit more than a handful of Bollywood influences and a lot of staggering beats, her set only really suffered from the lack of intoxication of her 8 o’clock Harlem crowd.
Grúska Babúska obviously wore the obligatory headscarves and showed up with the type of instruments that instantly made my stomach turn. Ukuleles, music boxes, a flute, and some percussion, it all spelled intolerable quirk and “cuteness”. Thankfully their choice of instruments wasn’t particularly indicative of their sound. Opening with a song that owes a lot more to actual Icelandic folk music than the “Promote Iceland” version we’re all accustomed to by now (hey!), they instantly made a pretty good impression. They quickly moved on and started incorporating some ’90s synths and the compulsory dance beats, whilst still retaining their folk roots through their vocal melodies. The most memorable song was an ode to searching for your crush at Kaffibarinn (a feeling we’ve all experienced). It was by quite a distance their cutest song despite the fact that nothing cute has ever happened at Kaffibarinn.
This developing “on the verge of unbearable cuteness” scare was completely averted by the first real electro act of the night Tonik. The Airwaves veterans had clearly stirred up some excitement, as the venue completely filled up five minutes before they showed up on stage and the audience seemed confident they were going to witness something worth their while. Thankfully they were proven right. Tonik was one of the highlights of the night. Bandleader Anton Kaldal was accompanied by a relatively avant garde cellist and a vocalist obsessed with “atmospheric” and they produced electro music fit for nurturing the weekend’s wounds on a Sunday afternoon. That does by no means suggest that Tonik’s music is easily dismissed background music. In fact the detailed precision of their minimal beats was captivating and absolutely infectious.
Tonik was followed by a couple of more veterans, Love & Fog. The band consists of vocalist/guitarist Jón Þór (whose debut solo record was up there with the best Icelandic albums of last year) and Axel Árnason on bass. The two of them have previously shared a stage as part of Dynamo Fog but have since dropped the Dynamo for the Love, and downsized the band by taking on one extra member instead of the two they had. Love & Fog play moody synth pop á la Depeche Mode whilst retaining some of the Brit pop influences Jón Þór manages to instil into everything he does. They provided long awaited relief by giving us some actual pop melodies, and Jón’s talent for writing them has certainly not been lost over the years, but as he’s now opted has opted for singing in English, I found myself missing the impressive control he has of his own language.
The third threepiece of the night showed up with a drummer and two guys behind synthesizers and treated us to some more ’80s inspired synth pop, but this time without the mood. Nolo provided a change of pace by initially addressing the crowd in Icelandic, but quickly changed tactics and reverted to the good ol´English. They also sported the first dedicated fanclub of the night, which consisted of a few girls chanting the band’s name whenever they could be heard. Nolo’s set grew as it went along and peaked when they picked up a bass and a guitar and stopped relying completely on a programmed backing track.
The night was drawn to an end by the aptly named Legend. They were the first band to find the on-switch on the fog machine, and in a veil of dry ice blasted out their immensely intense industrial synth rock and proceeded to try and scare the life out of the audience. Think Suicide for the 21st century with a former noise-core singer. Featuring the best frontman of his generation Krummi Björgvinsson (Mínus), and former Klink drummer Frosti Gringo, Legend are the type of band that could proclaim judgment day is coming tomorrow, and you’d probably believe them.
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