Negotiating the Airwaves schedule, and a clash of the titans
It’s somewhat common around this time of year for Reykjavík music lovers to get, in the parlance of our times, “hella planny.” Many locals map their movements during the Iceland Airwaves festival to an uncharacteristically exact degree. A simple “who are you seeing tonight?” can be greeted by “I’ll be watching off-venues at A, B and C, then eating dinner whilst watching band X at restaurant P, then going to venue D and catching three songs of band Y—because you have to be in venue D before the queue starts—then I’m off to venue E for the last few songs of band Z, and then maybe an after-party at KB…”
Given that Icelanders are usually totally averse to planning anything beyond the next drink, I found this unusual. But maybe it makes sense—whereas in larger capital cities the gig circuit is a kind of an ongoing all-you-can-eat buffet, in little old Reykjavík, things are very different. Visits from international bands are fewer here, and if you happen to be into alternative or underground music, then gigs can be scarce indeed.
Airwaves is, seen in this light, a rare chance for Icelanders to gorge on incoming new music. People have to be organised, otherwise the festival can rocket by in a blur, leaving bewildered wristband-holders with just an empty wallet, a banging hangover, and hazy memories of long queues and second resorts.
So, some interesting festival tactics emerge. One set of friends load a parked car with beers during Airwaves week for a convenient downtown spot to speed-drink between gigs; others turn their hallway into a giant Airwaves schedule, with each day’s on-venue and off-venue shows blue-tacked to the wall (this in addition to a dog-eared printout for when their smartphone inevitably dies, taking the Airwaves app with it).
But no matter how well you lay out what bands you’re going to see, there’ll always be clashes. It was with mounting horror, via a Snapchat from an equally perturbed friend, that I noticed an almost sadistic programming clash—on Saturday night, at the peak of the festival, brother-sister duo The Knife and theatrical alt-pop band Future Islands almost completely overlap.
Now, this might seem like no big deal. Just… you know. Pick one. Right?
Well, there’s more to it than that. For The Knife, this is their final gig ever, possible reformations notwithstanding. For Future Islands, this show comes after they were catapulted from a long period of cult-band status into the popular consciousness, when their Letterman performance went viral. Both are potentially the only Reykjavík shows these bands will ever play, and both carry a heightened energy—it’s a chance to catch each of them in a special moment that won’t come round again.
I still have a few weeks to solve this serious #firstworldproblem. But if you should see me on my bike rocketing between Hafnarhusið and Harpa that night, please—step aside, and wish me luck.
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Posted October 31, 2014