We’ve given you the bands’ picks for Airwaves 2016—but what about our own Very Special Grapevine Airwaves Writer Super-Team? Here’s where you’ll find us down the front, malingering at the back or propping up the bar over the next five fevered days and nights.
So, Airwaves. For the uninitiated, it’s Icelandic Hipster Christmas, the best goddamn week of Iceland’s worst goddamn weather season. Along with a few hurricane-force gales and slap-you-in-the-face horizontal rain that will inevitably soak your beard and flannel, there’s a storm of excitement brewing about this year’s line-up.
Storms. Let’s talk more about that for a moment, namely the shit-storm that has been 2016 so far in the political arena. I personally can’t think of anyone better to stick it to the man than righteous headliners PJ Harvey and Kate Tempest from Brexit Land and Santigold representing the disparate youth stuck in Trump Land. And, of course, we have Björk to save Iceland’s soul after the post-election malaise. But fuck politics, Airwaves is all about escapism! So we’re going to add a dash of dream-like Julia Holter, ethereal Sóley, the spirited Myrra Rós and some brooding Warpaint for good measure. All in all, it’s turning out to be a great year for female artists. This nasty woman is excited indeed.
Hannah Jane Cohen
Airwaves completely snuck up on me this year and now I find myself frantically comparing venue line-ups to plan out my attendance. I’m lucky that a lot of my favourites—GKR, Alvia Islendia, Úlfur Úlfur—are playing many times during the festival so I know I’ll catch them at least once. I’m a massive PJ Harvey fan so I’m really hoping I can get into that show because hey, it’s not everyday that she comes to Iceland! I’m also crossing my fingers for Björk tickets because I’ve never seen her live. Airwaves newbies Auðn and Valby Bræður are also acts I will 100% not miss. If you need a break from the electro and indie-pop that peppers Airwaves, Auðn is your go-to. They are without a doubt the best new black metal band on the map—they just got signed to Seasons of Mist actually! Valby is a party rap group that I’ve been a fan of for ages. Their show is definitely going to be rowdy. Obviously though, I’m most excited about the Glacier Mafia performance. I will 100% be right at the front, dancing like a white girl. Come join me?
After a few lineup changes and a subsequent disappearance into the ether for a couple of years, Sykur were the first band to catch my eye on this year’s Airwaves lineup. I last saw them play in 2014, and at the time, their space-age party energy was immediately captivating. It will be interesting to see where they’ve taken their particular brand of punchy, neon-peroxide electropop in the last two years. Representing London will be Dizzee Rascal and Kate Tempest. The former is a UK grime and hip hop legend, the latter is one of Britain’s most articulate and radical spoken word artists—big up yourselves. The rap trio of Krakk & Spaghettí have been making a lot of waves lately thanks to their pioneering fashion sense and silly-serious bars, and while I am yet to see them live, they will no doubt cement their rightful place among Reykjavík’s rap legends after this year’s Airwaves. Meanwhile, if you’ve never had a large, topless, bearded ginger man lunge towards you covered in glitter while singing at you in 80s robo-speak, you not only haven’t lived—you haven’t seen Berndsen play either.
Grayson Del Faro
I probably don’t need to mention Björk, but as I haven’t yet had the fortune of seeing her perform live, I will mention her anyway: Björk. I did, however, have the fortune of taking part in the now-internet-famous “guy starts dance party” at Santigold’s Sasquatch set in 2009. This year, I will be that guy. Entirely convinced that Syd tha Kyd is an American soul legend-in-the-making, I will be making the trek to Valshöllin to see her perform with The Internet right before hip-hop gods Digable Planets. On the more Nordic side, I’m fascinated to see Liima, a collaboration of Danish dream pop giants Efterklang and Finnish percussionist Tatu Rönkkö. For a good groove, Boogie Trouble’s classic brand of disco is one of the most lovable performance I’ve ever seen. Plus, if you ask really nicely, sometimes they’ll even play a Britney Spears cover. Really. I’ve seen it. If there are two things Icelanders kick ass at, they are poetry and electropop. So I wouldn’t miss Airwaves’ annual literature showcase, Airwords, nor performances from Mr Silla, Vök, Hildur, or mysterious newcomers aYia. And lastly, there is no experience more Icelandic than dancing yourself into a sweaty, confetti-plastered partybeast with hometown heroes FM Belfast.
Hard to believe this is the 10th Airwaves I’ll be taking part in. I usually gravitate towards the hip-hop acts, as those are usually the most fun, but I think this time around I’m going to mix it up a little. Boogie Trouble are on my list, as their disco sound has gotten more sophisticated and refined, and I’m also very curious to see how Cryptochrome has developed live (last time I saw them live, there was still a skate park downtown where yet another ugly hotel is now being built). I of course can’t not see Digable Planets, because Jesus how could you miss them? But I also hope to check out Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl and other poets, although I will most definitely be skipping John Lydon, insufferable bag of wind that he is. Glowie is also on my shortlist, and I will probably also pay a visit to long-time favourites Mammút. I would also love to see PJ Harvey, who is at this point some kind of hero in my eyes. Not sure I’m going to have time for all this, but that’s the kind of problem of luxury Airwaves can give you.
Hrefna Björg Gylfadóttir
Finally, Iceland Airwaves is here, the most wonderful time of the year. I believe that the festival is the official start of winter, mainly because the weather always turns shitty as soon as it starts. The town fills with excited guests ready to see fresh music and practise heavy drinking. This year will be my fifth festival and through the years I’ve noticed the artists keep becoming younger, and the drinks more expensive. However, I have a really good feeling about this year. Starting with Wednesday, at Valshöllin, I’ll be dancing along to the créme de la créme of Icelandic hip-hop such as GKR, Sturla Atlas and the queens in Reykjavíkurdætur. Of international artists I’m really excited to see the ever-so-fly performer, Santigold, The Internet, which I just discovered this year, and the groovy girls in Dolores Haze. I would recommend some new Icelandic acts such as the duo RuGL, and the coolest pastel coloured tribe in the world, Cyber. I must also mention Dream Wife and Hatari, which I am extremely excited to see. The main attraction of Airwaves however, is to grab a drink, walk around town, and stumble upon artists you’ve never heard of and might fall in love with.
Writing an Airwaves guide for the Reykjavík Grapevine is a bit tricky. For one, I’m skipping anything that’s really Iceland-centric—that is, great lyricists and acts that fit into a local nostalgia. This narrows the scope a bit.
This guide is in essence a recommendation for “doing an Airwaves.” How I perform the act of Airwavesing is really not list-related. If I find the time, I will pour over the international acts and the newcomers, to get a sense of where to head. More often than not though, I will not have the time for this, and so I’ll resort to plan B: freeing up my schedule, and planning a restful and fun time on Airwaves days. A good Airwaves day starts at the swimming pool, preferably at 5 o’clock, just before dinner. Meeting up with nice people heading to Airwaves for dinner is a must. Getting out of any commitments during concert time is a must. The idea is to feel as open as possible entering the fray. It is important to plan nothing. Ask what people are looking forward to, see where the stream is heading. Be very lazy. Don’t waste your time in a queue, and don’t waste your energy on getting upset that you’re not getting to see what you wanted. There’s always a great band with a shitty name playing somewhere to a half-full room, waiting to be discovered. Watching a familiar band playing songs you know is pleasant, often fun, very occasionally a sublime experience. At festivals, where everyone is a bit restless, this is rarely the case though. The most fun you’re going to have is very probably discovering something new, seeing something unexpected, making a discovery. It is important to have social media boundaries. If you’re gonna document a gig, give yourself a set time. Take 3 minutes to take some pics for posterity, and move on. Don’t waste gig time uploading, tagging, browsing. Watch the crowd for the people that never quite get into the concert, stuck on their phone. Use downtime between concerts for the social media biz. Drink plenty of water. If you’re having a late-night snack or meal, all the kebab places around Ingólfstorg are great. Just go to the one with the shortest queue. You should have as many contacts as possible during nights, but avoid being in a big group, if you’re out with strong-willed people.
Since her first band Pascal Pinon, Jófríður Ákadóttir’s music has been a slowly blossoming wonder. Her quiet, unpretentious, wavering singing voice—and the gentle poetry of her lyrics—radiate warmth and preternatural wisdom. Now emerging as a solo artist under the moniker JFDR, her new songs are soothing, insightful, kind and nourishing. Milkywhale were the discovery of Airwaves 2015—an electro-pop vessel for the boundless energy, enjoyment and enthusiasm of dancer and singer Melkorka Sigríður Magnúsdóttir, who performs some kind of kinetic alchemy on the stage to turn every gig into a joyful explosion. Ben Frost has a Silfurberg slot—I can’t wait to hear him mangle the massive speakers with his searing, impassioned noise music. Don’t miss it! Julia Holter’s arch chamber-pop has been on my stereo a lot this summer, so I’ll drop in there. Berndsen is always an 80s flavoured treat. And I’m looking forward to Crispin Best’s internet-age poetry; seminal garage-rock grandpas The Sonics; the promising simmering electronica of newbies aYia; pulsing Sykur solo spin-off KRELD; the new Sin Fang live set; and some of the pillars of Icelandic music in Björk, múm, and the Bedroom Community collective. I’ll also be hosting an off-venue at Kaffibarinn on Sunday, with the magical solo artists: Bastardgeist, Mat Riviere, Gyða Valtysdóttir and Kira Kira.
When I got my first iPod I was an insecure middle school girl, so excited that now I could listen to whatever I wanted and no one would give me shit about it. Until the other girls in the locker room caught me listening to “Girlfight” by Brooke Valentine and gave me shit for it. Given, it is the worst rap ever made. Still, they weren’t making fun of the style, they were making fun because it wasn’t Maroon 5 (and given that Maroon 5 is still around and Brooke Valentine isn’t, maybe I fucked up). I guess I still have a chip on my shoulder because I’m all up to see Alvia Islandia’s set. She’s genuine—a lady rapper more about getting hyped than getting political. Not that I have anything against politics in rap—I’m also psyched that the hip-hop trio Digable Planets are coming around. They elevated clever political rap, early-90s style. As I’ve always been taught: respect yo elders! They are a must-see for me, and for anyone genuinely interested in the evolution of rap’s fine form. Finally, since we’re somewhere along the edge of spoken word, I am looking forward to Harpa Kaldalón’s Airwords Thursday night. Some anticipated highlights are Ásta Fanney because her hair is the color of magic, John Lydon because he was once Johnny Rotten and now I hear he’s a realtor somewhere in the States, and Crispin Best because he wrote a series of poems addressed to the cast of Ninja Turtles.
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Posted November 1, 2016