Wow, that was fun. Iceland Airwaves 2017 had a stellar first night and got off to a roaring start. Our ten-strong review team was roving the battlefield, going hard on the Pepsi and falafel. Here’s what went down.
John Rogers – Crooning, Yoga, Distorted Shoegaze
I began my Airwaves in the unlikely environs of the Grund nursing home, surrounded by old people and young children at 10am. After some coffee and a gentle morning yoga session, Ásgeir entertained the grey-haired residents—and visiting festival goers and pre-schoolers—with a set of poignant acoustic music. As he plucked the guitar strings, his father read out the poetry on which his lyrics are based; Ásgeir then segued into the songs he made from the poems. It was a beautiful intergenerational collaboration that held the audience in rapt and reverent silence.
Back downtown, Reykjavík came alive with concerts. At Gallery Port, the intriguing and glamorous solo artist Mighty Bear wove a web of dark, fascinating electronica from inside a cloth cocoon; across the street at Loft Hostel, Samantha Shay created an enticing mist of sound, breathing her surreal poetry into the mic over a soundscape created by Icelandic artists JFDR and slugz. At Húrra, SiGRÚN played a set of bold, bassy electronica that firmly marked her out as one to watch on the Icelandic music scene; up the street at Gamla Bíó, charismatic crooner Högni showed off the soulful, slow-burning material from his debut solo album ‘Two Trains.’ The night ended with the wistful, distorted shoegaze anthems of Oyama in the cavernous Hard Rock Café basement.
The first day of Airwaves proved that the festival is still a perfect platform for Reykjavík’s boldly experimental music scene, and has grown into a truly city-wide event where nobody is left out—from toddlers to OAPs, and everyone between.
Alice Demurtas – Eyes Shut And Hair Swinging Loose
Halldór Eldjárn—the co-founder of legendary Icelandic electro-pop band SYKUR—took the stage at Húrra under dim purple lights. Accompanied by his long-time friend Stefán Finnbogason, he took us on a chill musical journey that had little to do with his more well known electronic project. The crowd was getting restless as the band was—as so often happens—late to begin. As soon as Halldór stepped behind his drums, however, things fell into place in a surprisingly calm way. Stefán‘s beats were soft, but also as clear as raindrops, rocking the mind back and forth in a placid hug. Despite the beauty of his melancholic stream of notes, it was Halldór’s percussion that really breathed life into the performance. The rhythmical strength of his drumming cleared the mind, guiding people’s steps onto the dance floor in a wave of bodies that swung left and right like a single entity, eyes shut and hair swinging loose. If life were a movie, Halldór’s music would be the perfect soundtrack to it, defining all of our turning points, and all the lost opportunities.
Jenna Mohammed – Hatari Stalking
Hatari at KEX was a cathartic experience. In the span of their 30 minute set I asked myself a series of questions: the first was: “Where did they buy their outfits?” 15 minutes later I asked myself “what the hell is he screaming about?” At the end, I asked, “What the fuck did I just watch?” I’ve been hyping these guys up throughout the week—their aesthetic alone caught my attention. And let me tell you, these guys are worth the hype. They were weird, fascinating, and fun. From the moment they walked on stage—pushing people out of the way to get there—they never broke character, keeping serious and straight faces the entire time. If you can get past the abrasive vocals, their beats are heavy and their synths are dreamy. The way they act on stage is as entertaining as their music itself. I’d describe them as goth industrial bondage. Very spicy. I loved seeing them perform so much that I’m making it my goal to see every show they play at this year’s Airwaves. (Photo courtesy of KEXP)
Rex Beckett – Anthrax, Mandi, Swaying And Crying
I’m just trying to do the right thing. Salvaging broken friendships, making graceful exits, reporting extremely drunk drivers, switching to coffee and water when the beer brings on the sleepies, giving the best performance I can even though my voice is going out and I can feel every fibre of my soul breaking apart in mid-performance panic, going to bed early. All of this went down last night.
After pulling off my ice-breaker Rex Pistols set at R6013, I stuck around to watch and hang out with my pals ROHT. They literally just moved back to town, haven’t practiced in months and their noise-punk set was still pure tight energy. After a couple of tracks by the Halloween-masked hardcore band Bag of Anthrax, I took my butt down to Stofan to see Kaleikur play some Twin Peaks-y improv goth-blues and reunite with old friends. I was beckoned by the siren song of falafel and hit up Mandi before going on the official program. Those guys are already fucking over it, and their falafel service is truly a gift. Thank you, Mandi.
Having pre-emptively averted hanger, I went Húrra to see Kosmodod but was a little underwhelmed by the live experience of his super chill, spacey electronica. It was just very, very chill and even the trippy visuals made me want to be home with a joint. I pounded back a coffee and went up to Gaukurinn where I caught the end of Gunnar Jónsson Collider’s set. It was very beautiful but only increased my desire to fall into dreamy slumber. Fox Train Safari woke me up and made me run for the hills though, as the “unique sound” promised in their festival description was more like super generic adult contemporary ska-pop with horns that gave me NYC subway mariachi band flashbacks.
I ran straight to the Hard Rock Café to plant myself for Kælan Mikla’s set and thanked my lucky stars for my priority pass because that place is lineups on lineups on lineups. The room has a really weird layout and a remarkably small stage given how big the space is, but Kælan turned it out like pros, showing the pay-off of touring extensively and indiscriminately. They were so good that I lost myself swaying and almost crying. Afterwards, I walked to 10-11, bought supplies and went to bed at 1:00. #GettingOld
Greig Robertson – Hard Rock Pepsi Challenge
If Airwaves has many faces, I experienced at least two of them last night. First up were Reykjavik-based hard-core two-piece Phlegm, who opened the night at the Hard Rock Café. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been as terrified at 7.30pm in my life, but the searing gaze of Phlegm’s frontman made me feel like an 8th Century British villager, helplessly awaiting the arrival of Viking ships at shore, before being inevitably and mercilessly conquered. A tall glass of Pepsi was not the beverage to get me through that experience, but it was the only mate I had. Phlegm’s uncompromising stage-presence and pulsating beats made sure of a scintillating—if mildly disturbing—half-hour performance, with a star-turn coming in their cover ABBA’s ‘casually paedophilic’ Does Your Mother Know.
Next came Jana’s 8.20 performance at Iðnó and with it, my first experience of intelligentsia-pop. On the positive side, there is something to be said for knowing your crowd, which Jana already does in her first solo project. Unfortunately, that crowd doesn’t include me. Her material is inspired by life experiences, but those life experiences seem more nobility and less Tupac. Technically, there can be no complaints and I’m sure Jana will have no problem establishing a fanbase, but transcending crowds of wine-collecting, olive-munching opera enthusiasts might be a problem.
At the end of my first ever encounter with Airwaves, I’ve learned about the festival’s musical diversity, that random gig-hopping can giveth and taketh away and that my emotions will be fucked with repeatedly over the course of next four days.
Find out what the final five Grapevine writers did later on today: our Airwaves Wednesday super-review part two is coming soon.
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Posted November 2, 2017