Wow! Grapevine’s super-intense, in-depth coverage of Iceland Airwaves 2015 is underway! We’re already going slightly mad trying to convey all of the everything that’s going on. We’re already infatuated with several bands, acts, musicians, performers and/or persons. We’re already feeling like—try as we might—we’ll never properly convey the feeling of just being here, deep inside all the lovely chaos. It’s still a goal, though.
There are many of us, roaming the streets, sliding between venues, trying to make the most of everything. We got our IA2K15 crew to drop us a line and tell us their highlights (and sometimes low-points) of that first Airwaves night. Without further ado, lo, behold, yay!
Until last year, Gamla Bíó was a venue I always tended to actively avoid at Airwaves. I really hated their old layout and the fire-hazard situation of people sitting in the aisles. But since they renovated and re-opened, it has become one of the most pleasant places to see gigs and last night it was the epicentre of all my fun. Just a hop away from my house, there were no lines all night, I met a bunch of friends and made a couple of awesome new ones. Two of my favourite bands/bunch of friends were playing, Börn and Pink Street Boys. They both killed it, the latter even getting a nice ten-person moshpit going on. Another lovely highlight was the glorious return of Æla, who gave the festival what it has needed for years: some dude dancing around wearing nothing but a horsehead mask. The best moment of hanging around Gamla Bíó was completely self-serving though—while standing just outside of the entrance I suddenly overheard my own voice spilling out of the door and realised my band Antimony is on the official Airwaves interstitial playlist! YAY!
No other video of ours gets more hate than The Grapevine making ice cream with Gísli Pálmi. The comments include “This dude is a straight LAME!!” and “This guy makes me cringe so hard.” In the eyes of an Icelander those comments are bizarre, because the man is a national treasure. When his album dropped last spring you couldn’t enter a car without it blasting the CD (probably because cars are the only places where you find a CD player these days). When I saw his first music video I was flabbergasted—finally someone had made rap in Icelandic work.
However, the hype has a dark side, I’ve always been so overexcited for a GP concert that I’ve never finished one. Until last night. For a moment I thought they were already starting to build the hotel that’s going to replace Nasa, because GP was demolishing that stage. The energy he brings to stage makes one nostalgic for the high-energy rock bands of the early 2000s, a deafblind person could mistake him for Reykjavík! He dropped a couple of fresh tracks and even came on for an encore. But then again, maybe he always does that.
I eased into Airwaves on the first night, dabbling mostly in off-venue events: a Bedroom Community showcase at Mengi and a durational (read: thirty-odd hour-long) party at the far end of Grandi. The BedCom showcase opened with Liam Byrne playing songs on a beautiful viola de gamba: some old tunes (think Bach) and some new ones (think Muhly). The label’s latest signing—Jodie Landau—followed with his set, backed with whimsical orchestration: twang of a massive harp; hum of a female choir; buzz of Valgeir Sigurðsson behind a computer—nigh twenty folks making sounds together in Mengi’s cozy space. Jodie’s music is lush and grand, but lyrical all the same: sweet musings, filled with personal pronouns—you, me, etc—sung in a mellifluous falsetto. BedCom continues to put out music that is sophisticated and intricate without being haughtily high brow; it’s deeply moving and personal. I’ll be sure to continue following their off-venue programming at Kaffibarinn.
Milkywhale is a new project formed by Árni of FM Belfast and a dancer lady and vocalist. That’s all I knew, going into their off-venue show — the first of four this Airwaves — in a crowded lunchtime Laundromat. The dancer lady, as it turns out, is Melkorka Sigríður Magnúsdóttir—an inspired, somewhat divine individual who has decided to use her time on earth to plant an immovable smile on the faces of every human being possible.
She jumped, writhed, span, stamped, pumped her hips, reached for the crowd’s faces, threw herself to the ground, stretched for the sky, popped her shoulders, and was a generally unstoppable maelstrom of movement. The energy that pours from her isn’t that kind of “let me entertain you” professional-but-practiced stagey dancer feeling, but rather a channelling of a deep love for life, dance, music and movement — her face regularly broke into a grin as she felt the building energy of the room. The music is energetic contemporary electronica in same ball park as SOPHIE, perhaps, but more playful—enough to makes your feet move, and get your mind pinging pleasantly. In the end, people stopped eating and danced, jumped, screamed. My heart glowed, my mouth spread into a smile, and I felt a familiar warmth spreading through my body — Airwaves was officially open.
This is my first Airwaves. Before it started, I was excited for it (obviously), but also kinda anxious. Will I have enough fun? Will I meet to, speak to, and connect with enough people? Will I be able to find music I like? Is it possible to fuck up going to Airwaves, and if so, won’t I inevitably do it? As with most/all worries, I made it a bigger problem than it needed to be. I still have a few days to mess up, but so far, so good! The first night was amazing. I saw incredible acts (I never thought I was into rap, but GKR and Reykjavíkurdætur are making me rethink that), and I got to experience the openness that is typical of Iceland, only magnified. I saw a naked guy in a horse mask dance around to the loudest music ever (“to hang out with your wang out,” one of my new friends called it). And at what other festival can you rock out to a bassoon solo? The only downside so far has been the cold, but even the incredibly cold fucking wind on my walk home couldn’t get me down.”
Day one at Airwaves 2015 is already a blur. It’s only day two and already feels like day five of something else entirely. I had two friends join me this year from London and so co-ordinating pickup from BSÍ and drop off of stuff in between getting media passes, attending opening meetings, and parties was great but wow it’s a lot. And we haven’t even gotten to the gigs yet. By the time I walked into my first one I’d talked to thirty people and was like a stunned newbie, tripping on the metal struts as I shuffled into the photo pit.
The best thing I saw was Tonik Ensemble and the worst thing I saw was Agent Fresco. Sorry, it’s not like they’re ‘bad’ at playing their instruments, but they got placed out. Competitive rating systems are harsh. My Icelandic friend said it sounded like it wanted to be Muse, but was pretentious. One London friend said they had a ‘Christian Rock’ attitude and the other London friend said it sounded like a cross between Bon Jovi and Weezer. Bon Weezer it is.
I broke into the Petersen Suite above Gamla Bíó, not with a bang, but with a whimper. I’ve never liked class systems. Call me a revolutionary. I had a pass to get in, but my friend didn’t, so I joined him on the secret way in. We are all in this together. My wristband gets me into the fancy Airwaves Nonference: complete with Brennivín-infused cocktails with canned pineapple (how fancy). My friend’s peasant wristband, his demarcation, got him stopped at the door before the elevator. Luckily, I know another way in.
Úlfur Úlfur was playing at Loft Hostel to a packed crowd. So packed, that no one noticed us go out the side door opposite the balcony, right next to the bar/check-in desk. Once there you take stairs onto the roof, lower yourself onto the roof of Gamla Bíó, parkour yourself along the edge of the roof beside the building to the far-side of the patio of the Petersen Suite—hanging onto the white metal guide railing. You then lower yourself onto the storage building there and, finally, lower yourself down onto the Petersen Suite Patio and act like you belong.
I did everything up until the storage building. My friend lowered himself gracefully down with the agility of a peasant labourer, with the strength of years of toil and working class living to guide him. My soft, spongy body weighed a considerable amount more than my arms estimated. I crashed to the wet, wood floor of the patio with a SPLUD (a mixture between a splash and a thud). I whimpered a bit and watched a man hurrying toward us. We were busted.
“I’ve only ever seen that in Sitcoms. That was amazing,” the man said, he sounded American. “I was having a bad day. Then I saw that. This is going to be an awesome festival.”
With this story under my belt for the first day. I can’t help but agree.
Today, I found myself in a bourgeoisie restaurant watching three women with varying black dresses and dyed hair, rocking out in a sophisticated but subdued fashion. Each was wearing a matching gold chain that connected their neck to their waist and one was even wearing a spiked choker. At this point, I wondered how I managed to make it back into the glorious ‘90s— and I don’t mean the grimy, matte, pre-internet ‘90s but the 2015, glossy, idealized nostalgic-for-a-time-I-barely-remember ‘90s. I mean the ‘90s I discovered were awesome about five years after they were over. As I watched the surrounding contemporary concert-goers bob their heads to Kælan Mikla’s show, I felt like I had finally achieved my 15-year-old self’s fantasy of being an extra in a scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s about as high an honour as I could ever hope to bestow.
–Grayson Del Faro
I started Airwaves 2015 rammed near the door of 12 Tónar, my oversized backpack brushing uncomfortably against all those who dared enter the venue late. Myrra Rós was singing, and, as usual, folks were listening. In the wake of Myrra’s music, a mist had fallen over us all. Soon, I remembered the peace of being in an audience, the serenity of standing closer to others than I’m used to and not really caring. Though Airwaves often means being shoved into small spaces with a lot of people, next time I’m standing in line or growing more desperate every time my hand accidentally touches that of the sweaty stranger next to me, I hope I remember the feeling of being collectively entranced, the heavy hands crowds and audiences have in making Airwaves what it is. I hope I remember that though music brings me to a concert, it’s the people (however many) who make me stay.
Misþyrming played the best show they’ve ever played, and enchanted the metalheads and indie rockers gathered there alike. They shattered expectations and showed they are well worth the hype. It’s fresh black metal that’s heavy and atmospheric, but not inaccessible (which is no small feat).
If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to anyone attending Airwaves for the first time, paramount would be: don’t make the mistake of only seeing bands and musicians you know you’ll like. By all means, drop in on bands you never heard of. But moreover: go and see bands you’re pretty sure you won’t like. Not just because your expectations are so low that even semi-competence will be impressive, but more importantly, you might have your preconceived notions challenged and shattered. And how are you going to discover new musicians, even new styles of music, that you can grow to know and love without stepping out of your favourite genre or favourite group of bands? You bought a pass. Get the most out of it and challenge yourself. And don’t let bars charge you money for a glass of water. It’s illegal, and kinda dickish.
Posted November 5, 2015