We did it again (oops).
We did it again. It was a tough one, what with the one hundred thousand bands each playing three shows per night for fifteen consecutive nights at eight thousand venues spread throughout the gargantuan Reykjavík metropolis area temporarily bursting with ten million tourists eager to add one hundred million krónurs worth of their delicious currency to the fragile-failing Icelandic economy – but we did it. For yet another year, we managed to attend and report on every single show of the official Iceland Airwaves programme; to take in every single sustained note, every feedback squeak, resonating melody and whispered “takk” heard in 101 Reykjavík from early Wednesday night ’til early Monday morning.
We were there with you guys that made it to the shows, we were there for you guys who couldn’t be there, and we documented all of it as best we could in words and images and our imaginations (and one podcast). Phew.
There was a lot of ambivalence. Also: we hated some acts. We loved on others. Some of us hated acts others loved. And vice versa. That’s how it goes. Music isn’t objective, nor should it be. It is a language, a form of expression and communication and exploration; a space where ideas take shape (or lose it). It is one of the most powerful mediums at humans’ disposal and this is why it remains important – even, and maybe especially, in our age of static blog noise – to listen up and try to discern what’s being communicated, what’s being said and what’s not being said, and why.
Of course there is no final verdict, nor should there be. But in the spirit of good fun, we asked our team of writers (which, again, was massive and had cool writers from all over: places like Line of Best Fit, The 405, MTV HIVE, The Talkhouse, The Reykjavík Grapevine (!), The University of Iceland and Össur Prosthetics) to drop us a line and tell us about the best thing they experienced at Iceland Airwaves 2013.
This is what they wrote (PS – click on their author photos to view all their posts):
Oliver Primus, The 405
“How the hell are they allowed to be this good?”
“Who do I have to pay to join this band?”
If you get a chance to see them live, do it. You won’t regret it.
Jonas Kellermeyer – Intern at Reykjavík Grapevine
The best thing I saw was definitely Young Fathers at Harlem. Fuelled by an outstanding tribal energy, their music got the whole crowd going crazy. The four Scotsmen managed to bring their message across with heavy bass and mad drum parts.
I recommend them to everybody who enjoys their hip hop with a slight punk attitude.
Michael Azerrad, The Talkhouse
The best thing I saw at Airwaves 2013 was Vök. Sure, I saw Kraftwerk and a few other bands I really liked, but Vök excited me the most. It was the feeling of a young band that was perhaps still finding its artistic feet but already bursting with potential, playing a room —Þjóðleikhúskjallarinn — that one sensed would soon be much too small for it. Clearly, the rest of the crowd felt the same way, since they had already taken many of those songs into their lives. Things like this are why one goes to festivals like Airwaves.
Helga Þórey Jónsdóttir, Reykjavík Grapevine contributor
Sean Nicholas Savage pulled of an astounding performance on Friday night at Harpa Kaldalón. Savage sang songs of love, loss and even more love, which left the audience astonished and exhilarated. He performed his melodic—and surprisingly upbeat—torch songs in a simple setting, with only a keyboard player by his side. And that keyboard player perfectly complemented the quirky mix of Savage’s beautiful voice, melancholic lyrics and sarcastic demeanour.
John Rogers – Projekta Management/ Reykjavík Grapevine contributor
Zola Jesus has developed into a force-of-nature alt-pop diva in recent years, and gave an intense, raw, emotional performance at Gamla Bíó. She jumped down from the stage and moved through the crowd serenading awestruck audience members one-to-one, and happened to come and stand on the chair next to me in the front row, projecting her huge voice into the faces of second row.
Just as she stepped down, her eyes met mine, and she reached out and touched my face whilst singing. I felt a zap of electricity in the contact; my skin tingled and my heart raced in an intense moment of wordless communion. Unforgettable.
Sveinn Birkir Björnsson, Reykjavík Grapevine contributor/former editor
Through the years, I have learned the value of seeing local bands compete at the Icelandic Championship of Music, otherwise known as Iceland Airwaves. They tend to bring their A-game to the competition, debut new songs, and generally put on a show that has been given some thought. And honestly, the rigid schedule and scant set times have saved more than one band from itself in past years.
I am thus pleased to say that this year, two Icelandic bands did more to impress me than anything else I saw. One is Grísalappalísa, a ferocious band mixing up krautrock and post-punk with a lot of early ‘80s Icelandic punk influences. My other favourite was the hardcore outfit In the Company of Men, which seem more ready than any band to carry the torch for Icelandic hardcore and lead it into the light. I look forward to watching these bands grow.
Brynja Huld Óskarsdóttir, Reykjavík Grapevine contributor
Baby In Vain—made up of Danish girls aged 17-19—absolutely and confidently surpassed any cool factor at Gamli Gaukurinn on Airwaves Friday. Their filthy grunge rock is rife with riffs and screeching vocals, and their lyrics have a sort of hopeless gravity to them. The experience left me wanting to hear more. And, at the risk of breaking a long-standing Icelandic taboo, I will go on the record as saying: if this is Danish rock, I want more!
I wish had been this cool when I was 17.
Paul Bridgewater, The Line Of Best Fit
Savages were incredible. I’ve never been more impressed by the connection between a band and their instruments/a frontwoman and the audience as I was by their set at the Art Museum. Each member existed in their own unique space and each space came together in a glorious, beautiful union. Jehnny Beth dominated the stage and send shudders down the spines of every person she locked eyes with. They are at the top of their game right now, and Airwaves got to witness something truly magical in their performance.
Tómas Gabríel Benjamin, Reykjavík Grapevine journalist
This year’s Airwaves had absolutely no shortage of talent, and I had a great time at (almost) every show I went to. The best thing I saw, however, was also the most unexpected—Dr. Spock! A bout of illness forced folk singer Lára Rúnars to give her spot to the local legends of rock ‘n’ fucking roll, who were not supposed to be performing at Airwaves this year! Only a handful of people witnessed the show, but by Thor’s rugged and filthy beard, it was a gig to catch!
Shirley Braha, MTV Hive
Occupying the stage with just herself and a DJ, Mykki Blanco managed to create a mesmerizing spectacle of gender-bending and genre-blending. Rapping in nipple tassels while sashaying across the stage stroking a mic stand like a giant phallus, her theatrics felt passionate and authentic rather than gimmicky, contributing to Mykki’s live show as being one of the most entertaining and inspiring performances in recent memory.
Bob Cluness, Reykjavík Grapevine contributor
Well, despite not seeing barely a fraction of what I wanted to see, I did manage to at least catch not one, but TWO great Iceland Airwaves moments.
The first moment was GOAT. If you’re going to go into the world of the psychedelic ur-riff then you have to go ALL THE WAY, people. Condensed Gnostic musical mysticism on a stage.
The second moment was straight after. FUCKED UP was sweaty, hairy and a continuous blur of guitars and angry bearded men. I witnessed a grown man cry at the sight of it. True story bro!
Oh yeah—the filthy spit from Oddur Fieldy too!
Jonah Flicker, Paste Magazine
For me, the highlight of Iceland Airwaves 2013 was Prins Póló and his merry band of quirk-rock pranksters. Although I couldn’t understand a single word he said (the Icelanders in the crowd seemed to get a kick out of it all, though), the band’s loosey-goosey excursion through new wave, guitar rave-up indie, math-rock, and even a piano ballad stood in stark, welcome contrast to many of the other bands that played this year. On my final day in Iceland, I even tried their namesake candy bar. My verdict? I prefer the band.
Alex Baumhardt – Intern at Reykjavík Grapevine
Marius Ziska’s sound is like being wrapped in a bearskin rug while rolling down a snowy hill to chirping birds and the smell of pine. They were a surprise Faroese delight.
Burke Jam, Reykjavík Grapevine contributor
Airwaves ’13 was a whirlwind of sonic bliss. However, the best moment for me was Nadia Sirota and Valgeir Sigurðsson performing from the latter’s ‘Architecture of Loss.’ Seeing this music performed live was beyond comprehension. The air in Harpa Kaldalón was palpably changed. The work is infinitely microscopic in structure. Like witnessing the shift of tide or the disappearance of daylight, I could barely trace what was happening in front of me. To feel the work envelop an entire room and audience was unforgettable.
George O’Brien, The Line Of Best Fit
Jon Hopkins‘ Mercury-nominated ‘Immunity’ is an intricate, at times fiercely delicate, record that combines his understanding of mainstream EDM alongside an obvious talent for cinematic composition. However, due to its subtlety, you could be forgiven for assuming translation to the live stage might not be as slick as the Londoner’s production.
Saturday night of Airwaves at Harpa Silfurberg would prove you very wrong; the slow-burning, but hugely satisfying, anti-climaxes in tracks like “Open Eye Signal” ensure his respectability as a producer is unmistakable, while the full-blooded bass-heavy drop that comes with “Light Through The Veins” is genuinely euphoric. The swarming masses couldn’t contain themselves; it was a truly unforgettable highlight from a magical festival.
Árni Hjörvar Árnason, Reykjavík Grapevine contributor
The Purrkur Pillnikk influenced Æla inspired myself and a few friends to throw some questionable shapes on the dancefloor at Gamli Gaukurinn on Saturday. It all culminated with someone fittingly throwing up on the stage (the word “æla” means “to throw up”) whilst I “crowdsurfed,” or more accurately, was carried around by the five to ten people that occupied the front of the stage. All in all a fantastic night.
Ryan Conlan, Bandpage.com
The Bedroom Community off-venue. Church-quiet audience under low lights, and Hallgrímskirkja’s acoustic dreadnought of clustered steel, aimed at the heavens. Arcane, phalanx-heavy chords giving way to Nico Muhly and James McVinnie‘s ornately arpeggiated plucks. Snarling zephyric vibrato, reflection and interference wielded as instruments. Nadia Sirota‘s orthogonal strikes slicing at strings like the angles above, slow drags like distant battle horns, candle glints on arcing bows. Daníel Bjarnason‘s cinematic shards of uplift. Ben Frost and Valgeir Sigurðsson fusing the sonically, impossibly disparate as only this hall could harbour. Strings refracted through thunderously cracking glaciers. Distorted violin, a demonised wolf approaching slowly through a blizzard of sleet and static, suddenly silenced by the quietly crystalline. Massive pillars and walls flickering to reveal the arctic landscape shielded outside. My body frozen in place while my heart races. Unable to tease apart generated and live. Dense, shattering, one of a kind.
Simon Chetrit, Reykjavík Grapevine contributor
“The absolute best thing I saw at Iceland Airwaves 2013 had to have been the Young Fathers performance at Gamli Gaukurinn. Going in with absolutely zero expectations, and being somewhat disappointed by the other acts of the night, Young Fathers single-handedly restored my faith in an entire genre with a single one of their explosive, innovative, unbelievably energetic performances.”