“…Let me whisper the terrible word, from the Old English, from the Old German, from the Old Norse. Death. Many of those crowds were assembled in the name of death. They were there to attend tributes to the dead. Processions, songs, speeches, dialogues with the dead, recitations of the names of the dead. They were there to see pyres and flaming wheels, thousands of flags dipped in salute, thousands of uniformed mourners. There were ranks and squadrons, elaborate backdrops, blood banners and black dress uniforms. Crowds came to form a shield against their own dying. To become a crowd is to keep out death. To break off from the crowd is to risk death as an individual, to face dying alone. Crowds came for this reason above all others. They were there to be a crowd.”
—Don Delillo, White Noise
Maybe Elon Musk is right and we are, in fact, just avatars living in a simulation of someone or something else’s game. That’s the only explanation I have for how I feel on Airwaves Friday, the festival’s drowsy and delirious midpoint. The line between real and surreal is blurry today, so it’s the perfect state of mind for having an out-of-body experience with múm and Kronos Quartet. But first, a coffee, some schnapps and a pleasantly jaunty Throws at 12 Tónar off-venue. Opening with the ‘The Harbour’, there’s a lot of kick jumps, floor-stomping beats and seriously intense eye contact verging on bromance between the duo. Hello, I’m awake now.
I’m lulled back to dreamland with the complexly layered sounds and gentle vocals of múm at Harpa’s grand Eldborg hall. Everything about this performance feels like a mindfuck, down to the nymph-like twin sisters on the accordion and cello. Kronos Quartet delivers an impressive string cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” when they take the stage and the two groups joined in harmony at the end are pure experimental gold.
Up next on my headliner-heavy Airwaves Friday is Warpaint in Harpa Silfurberg. At this point I’m so chill that I don’t even throw shade at the guy behind me with the loudest nasal snorting I’ve ever heard in Iceland, a chronically congested nation. On the way past the Norðurljós hall I overhear something that sounds like a badass roller derby. It’s Thunderpussy, hands down the best damn band name of Airwaves this year. Back in Silfurberg I end the night on an extra sweaty note at Santigold. There are giant shoulder pads, backup singers in tourist lopapeysa shirts and fake adverts for next-level selfies. Order now and receive a 30-day free trial! I’m sold. Buyer beware: Santigold may lead to insomnia; consume at your own risk.
Hannah Jane Cohen
Ok, I’m gonna focus my review today on one band, which is non-traditional, but I essentially have to write a love letter right now. To whom you ask? Gísli Pálmi? Svartidauði? Páll Óskar? Fökk nei. Today it is all about Cyber. Cyber. Cyber! First, why the fuck have I not checked you guys out before? I remember when your EP was all over my Facebook as was that super pastel-futuristic-shoot you did with Hrefna Björg but apparently I never clicked on your soundcloud, which is disrespectful. I’m kind of happy though that I got to see you as a surprise. Yesterday I just stopped by Slippbarinn because it was close and there y’all were so I decided to watch the show.
If you haven’t heard of Cyber, these girls are not only incredible rappers, great singers (seriously Salka, seriously), fab dancers, but they are also really fucking good showmen and performers. They do aerobics. They do jokes. They reference Russian gymnasts. They were so funny and likable and their songs were really good too—quite dirty though (which won’t matter if you don’t speak Icelandic). I genuinely don’t like watching shows of bands I don’t know—which is why I’m probably a bad music reviewer—but y’all were without a doubt my favourite show of Airwaves. I once got in trouble for writing too much about Reykjavíkurdætur’s clothing so I’m going to say this last bit delicately: they also have these 90s tramp stamp tribal turtlenecks that were really cute. I really want one.
I think a lot of the reason I’ve suddenly become a massive fan of Reykjavíkurdætur and Cyber is that now I understand their lyrics and their lyrics are great. I remember when the song “Hæpið” came out I was like “Oh, this song’s OK” but now I’m like, “This song is ah-mazing.” They played it yesterday and now that I have listened to the lyrics, they are awesome. It was fine when I didn’t understand what GP was saying ‘cause I just assumed it was about Oxycotin/Subutex/etc., but RVKDTR’s lyrics are really, really good. Trust me. So definitely ch3ck them out.
Close runner up of yesterday’s top mentions was Emmsjé Gauti trying to break up a fight between two little boys over a V&V shirt by saying, “Yo, I came here to rap not be your dad.”
What am I up to today? Björk! Glacier Mafia!! Ahhh!
Ughhhhhhh. Yep. It’s that time of the week where self-respect and day four Airwaves begin to coil around one another like oil and water. Is it day four? It’s day something. Who knows? Life is suffering, and not in the chill Buddhist way either—you’re down to your last six duty-free beers and the existential dread has really begun to set in.
But, it goes on! We’re still staring down the barrel of at least another full night of Airwaves, if not two, and this one has got to count. Yesterday was intense. First up, I caught ULTRAORTHODOX’s off-venue set at Kaffi Vínyl, which was perhaps one of the most surreal experiences of the festival for me. Tourists were sitting around eating their vegan nut roasts when all of a sudden the most doom-laden, evil electronic music descended upon the most twee off-venue. Talk about clearing out the Gore-tex—the tourists tried to maintain the illusion of normalcy by looking deeply into their nut roasts while ULTRAORTHODOX threw our souls into a blender and hit ‘pulse’.
After a spot of food at Gandhi—my first curry in Iceland—I walked into Húrra just to, y’know, see what was in Húrra. That’s what you do there. It was my first time hearing Bróðir BIG, who were laying down some funky old-skool hip-hop beats and bars—it’s the most I’ve enjoyed a rap set in Reykjavík in a long time. Lord Pusswhip came onstage for a bit to do his thing, which is not my kind of thing, and so I left for Harpa.
Harpa was absolutely rammed. I left Harpa.
After that, it was all downhill—or uphill, depending on how you look at things. I caught Samaris at Listasafn for my final band of the night, and they did not disappoint. They had these absolutely amazing 3D projection visuals behind them and killed it with their new album tracks (which are super danceable). After that, I hit up Kaffibarinn for… well, it’s a bit of a blur. There was a lot of people there. A lot of drinks. Just, a lot.
I managed to miss Kate Tempest last night, so she is my main priority tonight. C’mon, people! We can do this shit! Let’s do it! Ride the snake!
Grayson Del Faro
Friday’s off-venue circuit yielded two new local acts to me. I’ll admit I only stopped in to see Omotrack at Kaffislippur because was on my way to the grocery store, but I was pleasantly surprised. They looked fresh from menntaskóli (if even), but still managed a solid lineup of catchy pop songs with lots of twee and a little soul, well fleshed out by a four-piece brass section in cute matching hats.
As fun as that was, my favorite discovery of the day was the dark, twisting, and complex rhythms of local singer-songwriter-self-produced-beat-maker IDK | IDA. Mixing samples of unusual machine sounds (literally a dishwasher at one point) with traditional beats and loops, she crafts not-quite-pop songs with an industrial edge. Showing off a strong voice, practiced movements, and a killer crop-top-spacesuit-pants combo, she had the right intensity of stage presence to hold up her sound. Fast forwarding toward the end of the night, I was pleased to see that Kiasmos had finally been given the top-notch laser action their sound deserves. And if you were wondering what Santigold has been up to since her 2009 explosion on the music scene (besides being forced to change her name due to some asshole’s inane lawsuit), I can finally tell you. She’s just been fighting the existential experience of discount shopping by choreographing tiny shopping carts on stage, wearing a plastic dress filled with candy, and throwing clever shade on consumer culture with maniacally catchy pop anthems. Sign me up, Santi. I’ll buy it.
Hrefna Björg Gylfadóttir
TGI-finally-F! I witnessed Cyber at Slippbarinn for the second time at Airwaves this year and they were even better than last time. I wasn’t going to be drinking but soon found myself with a pink cocktail in hand planning the rest of my evening. I saw King at the Reykjavík art museum. They had a very tropical vibe going on, which went perfectly with my tropical cocktail. I headed over to Gaukurinn to see Dolores Haze but couldn’t see much because of the sunglasses I’d acquired on the way. These Swedish punk rock girls however sounded amazing. After a few songs I ran over to Harpa to catch Reykjavíkurdætur. Their performance in Silfurberg was so powerful and the crowd went wild when they performed their last song “Ógeðsleg.” Warpaint was next up and again, I was really impressed. I then ran to catch Santigold, who ended the evening perfectly with the coolest background dancers ever and regular outfit changes. All in all, it was an amazing evening of rock and roll and girlpower!
This was the day that Airwaves finally took me by the throat and dragged me through the day and night. It started innocuously enough: watching the gorgeously, outrageously joyful and creative DJ flugvél og geimskip perform her (beyond) wonky pop for a pre-school moshpit of tiny, cute toddlers (who then proceeded to follow her around like a line of ducklings after the show). Then suddenly, somehow, it was already time for Sam Amidon’s off-venue at Kaffibarinn. The place was absolutely heaving, but I managed to fight my way in, pressed in amongst the throng. Sam’s reworkings of old American folk songs have a magic that it’s hard to pin down. Something about the timbre of his croaking, lilting voice, his wide-eyed but knowing delivery, and the cadence of his finger-picked banjo and guitar notes, resonates so strongly with me that I felt my body responding, with waves of endorphins. It’s a strange and beautiful thing to find music that makes your heart beat faster, and brings surprising tears to your eyes. It was magical. Afterwards, I thanked him for the show, and saw his inward eye roll to a sentence he’s heard thousands of times—words just seem too bland and plain to suitably thank someone for such a healing musical gift.
A true Airwaves staple is the moment where you let go of the steering wheel, forget your schedule, and go off on some adventure or other with a friend, acquaintance, or someone you’ve just met. Suddenly, I was leaving Kaffibarinn with a full pint in hand for 12 Tónar to see Throws. This British three-piece played some driving guitar-pop with drum pads and programmed synths—the two frontmen maintained eye contact as they harmonized together, creating a tension that was humorous, but also oddly captivating.
The night began with múm and Kronos Quartet, the high point of which were the sublime arrangements of múm songs, one of which included an interpreted and transcribed string arrangement of a quite abstract sound, with the four string players working together to mimic its qualities. I’m not sure if that description does it justice, but my mind was blown. The opening notes of “Green Grass Of Tunnel” created a ripple of excitement around the room. I left feeling charged with some kind of warm, kind, quietly celebratory energy: the reason everyone loves múm, basically. After that, I caught shoegaze darlings Oyama, who’s new songs sound super promising, and then 80s pop don Berndsen at Gamla Bíó. As much as I adore the guy, his set was disappointingly low-key—it started slow, and took so long to warm up that my attention had already wandered out into the night, to the bars, DJs, and—eventually—a blurry, happy, glowing walk home, and to bed.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!
Posted November 5, 2016