Day two down. The Grapevine Airwaves super-review team went out and we went hard. What did we love? What did we hate? What made us cry our eyes out? Only one way to find out.
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Let The Music Speak For Itself
My first stop was to see Stars & Rabbit at Gamla Bíó. They’re an indie folk group from Indonesia with a flair for the dramatic. They started their set with an instrumental interlude, and then the guitarist took the stage with the vocalist. Her voice has this raw quality that is also somehow pure. The rest of the band is no slouch either. After singing with only the guitarist, the rest of the band joined and the whole house shook with the thunder of the drums and the thick bassline. Notably, they never introduced any of their songs, but rather let the music speak for itself. As a result, I think they were able to get at least one more song into their relatively short set.
I had planned to catch Georgia and Hjaltalín at the Reykjavík Art Museum, but the venue was completely full. Rather than wait outside for the off chance that enough people would leave so I could go in, I decided to head to Dillon and see what kind of metal was playing there.
I caught the last couple songs of Alchemia’s set, the very last of which was called “Psycho Killer.” It’s still stuck in my head, and I suspect it will be for at least a week. Taking up residence with it is music from Paladin, the theme music for your next Dungeons and Dragons session.
Seriously, this is some fun music to jam out to. They’re power metal, so think heavy distortion, fierce string-bends, chugging riffs, high-climbing symphonic solos, epic double bass, and clean vocals that urge you to carry on in your quest. Unlike many other power metal groups, Paladin also growls and screams, which they still manage to make sound uplifting somehow. Unfortunately, I forgot my sword and shield at home, but I was able to procure some restorative potions from the bar to keep me in the fight. SPO
PianoWaves—yes, perhaps not the most groundbreaking title-spin on Airwaves. That said, it was one of the events I was most excited for this year. The idea of sitting inside the Nordic House in a cosy circle surrounding a Steinway listening to some sublime composers was, to be frank, exactly what I needed. It was like a spa getaway but cheaper. (The event was free.)
I arrived but a few minutes before Mikael Lind finished his set. I didn’t catch much, so I can’t necessarily give it that much of a review, but it was very ethereal—more like a soundscape than a traditional song. Of course, I only caught a bit, so take what I say with a grain of salt. That said, I’d absolutely love to hear his compositions again. Mikael, hit us up.
Next up was who I had come to the show for: Gabríel Ólafs. I’m a massive fan of his minimal, romantic piano works. They really transport me into another world—one where everything is crisp and beautiful and there is no more global warming. Will someone show his work to Greta?
Anyway, within the break between Mikael and Gabríel, I managed to snag the seat right next to the piano so I was pretty much as close as you could be to the composer. As a pianist, I was very anxious to see his technique up close. As a normal individual, I tried to not look so interested in his fingerings. It seemed somewhat creepy.
But Gabríel didn’t disappoint. Decked out in a astronaut-esque jumpsuit with wide framed glasses, he turned the room into a whirlwind of crisp, roaming, graceful harmonies. His music, while traditionally minimalist, is weirdly unpredictable. He has a very innate feel for tones, and would often make you think he was going to do one progression before lightly switching to another, equally beautiful, completely unexpected one. I found myself doing embarrassing things like nodding my head with my eyes closed while saying, “Hmmm!”
Between songs, he often said things like, “This is a piano version of a song that normally has strings, so I think I am just going to let loose and go crazy on it.” Then he’d proceed to play a delicate, precise, elegant tune that was, truly, anything but “crazy.” I fucking loved it.
After Gabríel was singer Bláskjár. I wasn’t familiar with her beforehand but it was a solid show. She’s got a lovely voice, which was even lovelier when she didn’t sing into the mic but instead at the crowd. The effects from the microphone definitely flattened her tone—don’t use them in the future Báskjár!
I then ran like the wind to Dillon—it was a pretty far run—to start my rock’n roll education. First on the roster was Ottoman. My conception of them is probably pretty unfair because walking into a metal concert in my zen-like piano state was incredibly jarring. Quite a technically solid band, they managed to make the crowd rowdy with their upbeat rock’n roll metal. It’s definitely music to drink beer to and throw your horns up. I did not do either though.
After was Alchemia. To be blunt, I’ve avoided this band like the plague since the last Wacken Metal Battle Iceland after their song, “Psycho Killer” got stuck in my head for a month. They are fine, but not exactly my cup of tea.
Ok stop. Prepare yourself. We’re here. We have arrived. Paladin. Paladin was next. Iceland’s only power metal band: Paladin. Paladin. Paladin. Paladin.
I fucking LOVED Paladin, so much so that I am going to use all caps in a legitimate piece of journalism. I fucking LOVEEEED them. That’s how much.
I first saw Paladin at the Wacken Metal Battle Iceland where I thought they were a shoe-in for the winner. They didn’t though and I was truly bummed. With lyrics about forests, wizards, and other such fantastical things, they are genuinely the most fun act you can find in the country. Even for those that thing power metal is lame, which is most people, you can’t help but smile at a Paladin show. Everyone is having a good time and pretending they are Gandalf. I’m into it.
But let’s get back to the show: My group and I were so hyped for Paladin that we kept starting Paladin chants in the crowd as they got their instruments in order. We literally hassled the singer outside telling him what big fans we are. He was nice about it.
And don’t worry: the performance was just as epic. Their singer’s high notes were crazy and their guitarist also had some sick solos. Damn, I can’t believe I just wrote “sick solos.” Again, I can’t say enough good things about Paladin. I hope they release anything online soon. I need more Paladin in my life. As Britney would say, “Gimme more.”
The moment Paladin finished, I skipped—like a wizard on a quest—over to the Reykjavík Art Museum to see Mac DeMarco, just because I thought that was something I should do. I thought I’d be late but apparently there was some massive problems with his microphone, which seemed bizarre at such a big, fancy venue. I guess that’s life?
I watched about 4 songs of his set before I realised I was not nearly high enough for that shit. Jesus Christ is he boring. Who listens to this? It’s so fucking boring. I really think the only appropriate occasion for this garbage would be if you were stoned on a pontoon with a beer koozie in your hand. Yes, I’m being harsh, but it’s not like he’s going to read this, he’s fucking famous.
Leaving the Art Museum, I weighed my options. It was at this fateful moment that I realised Auðn would be playing at Gaukurinn in 30 minutes. I’ve been a devoted Auðn fan—in fact I’m a top fan on Facebook—since their early shows. Their depressing, angry, atmospheric black metal is truly a wonder, especially in the land of Iceland, which is known for more furious Deathspell Omega-type tunes.
There was a timing program so Auðn’s set was pretty short. Quel dommage! That said, I made the most of it. Like a 16 year old at their first metal show, I went against the bar in the front and headbanged. I don’t think I’ve done that since I was, well, 16 years old. They played some new material, which was unexpected, and there was proper pit behind me. Auðn has always been the dark horse of the Icelandic metal scene, so it was nice to see the place packed to capacity with a long, long line outside. These guys deserve it. It wasn’t their best show, but even Auðn at 70% is better than every other band at Airwaves, especially fucking Mac DeMarco. HJC
More Is More And The 80s Are Still Cool
Day 2 at Airwaves had more. Bigger crowds, longer queues, more rain, wind and most of-all: More things to see and hear. The multi-talented artist Krassasig—of band Munstur—performed his first solo-concert tonight at Gaukurinn where my night started-out. He appeared confident and spoke to the audience on a friendly note. His keyboard and drum-backing was majestic and radiant and a nice fit with his bright, unconstrained vocals. He was in a rather jolly mood as he invited JóiPé to join him for a track and then he spoke of his upcoming music-releases. The audience was more than happy to join him in the excitement. The venue filled slowly and steadily until he played his last song to a full-house.
Hjaltalín played a mix of older and more recent tracks for a good–sized crowd at The Reykjavík Art Museum. Singer Högni—who as usual was wearing an all white suit and oozing with kindness—naturally managed to win the crowd over fast. The band’s debut album ‘Sleepdrunk Seasons’ came out in 2007 and should be considered an Icelandic classic by-now. Last month, Hjaltalín released ‘Love From 99’—their first single in a while. Their sound still feels relevant and fresh to me and if you haven’t delved into their back-catalogue, now’s a good time.
Pink Milk played a dark and powerful set at Hard Rock Café. The duo’s attire fit their sound perfectly: dark and shiny and referencing the 1980s. They performed a gloomy version of an 80s rock track with the chilly synth pop set to 11. Their performance left me in quite a balanced mood, but I still was craving something. I felt like I might be having a Big Mac Attack (pun-thoroughly intended, read-on dear reader) so I went to The Reykjavík Art Museum.
The last time Mac DeMarco played Iceland Airwaves was six years-ago to a relatively small crowd. That time at Harpa, but now to a jam-packed venue at The Reykjavík Art Museum; the first stop on a new band-tour. The visuals aided the already notoriously light and humorous vibe of DeMarco and his bandmates. It was a live-feed of the band playing, filtered through various old-school effects like fisheye-lense and once-in-a-while, clips of old TV broadcasts of American wrestling matches would play. Following a series of wry jokes about the Icelandic weather, he expressed truthfully his appreciation of Iceland and that he would want to come back soon.
I ended my night at Hressó again, where a full-house listened to the powerful and beautiful songs of Loah from Ireland. She performed with her sister who played drums and percussion. They performed a string of songs that she calls, “Sad bangers. Not so sad you have to leave the crowd, but you’re allowed to have a moment,” she explained. Her voice is centerstage in the songs but the powerful synth-sound and electronic-percussion appealed to my ears. I kept on listening to Loah’s beautiful and hopeful tracks as I walked home, looking forward to day three of this year’s Iceland Airwaves affair. AJDF
Oy vey. Day two and my energy levels were already severely depleted. Why is all the free alcohol concentrated on the first night? It made for a very groggy start to Thursday morning.
That being said, nothing, not wind or rain or a miserable, smouldering hangover could dampen my enthusiasm for seeing Seabear perform. It was their first show in nine years, so very exciting for them, and my first time ever seeing them, so pretty darn exciting for me too. Seabear are one of these bands I discovered on a YouTube deep-dive in the very early days of the website (yes, tweens, it hasn’t actually been around since the dawn of time). At this time Seabear were little-known and very much Iceland-based, playing sweet, charming, low-fi music in their living rooms. I was in love. I watched every video they ever made, growing just as obsessed with their Icelandic culture and language as I was with their music. Their rise to fame came before I was old enough to travel far to go to festivals or shows, and by the time I was at that stage, they had stopped performing and releasing music. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never see them perform.
But this year it all changed—Seabear are back with a new album, and performing for the first time in almost a decade, at Airwaves, and I was going to be there to witness every moment.
Or so I thought. As I battled my way towards Kex, through the high winds buffeting the seafront, an alert popped up on my phone. The venue was full.
Kex have set up a viewing room downstairs with a bar and seating where the performances are screened. It’s a nice space, but I couldn’t pretend it was anything like the real thing. After all these years of watching Seabear on screen, I wanted to see them up close and personal, irl. The queues were static. I was hopping with frustration. I tried to explain to the security guard—how was I meant to review a show I couldn’t see? I failed to mention that it was also breaking my heart, but that might have been implied by how distraught I looked. Eventually, a representative from the radio show, KEXP managed to get me in, for the last song. It was so worth it. Kex was rammed of course, but it was the perfect venue for this act. Brass, keys, acoustic guitar, strings, and percussion melding together perfectly. Reports suggesting I might have teared up at the sight can be neither confirmed nor denied
Where to go from that high? Well, I decided I hadn’t quite got my Hrím fix on Wednesday so I went to go and see them do their thing again, this time at Fríkírkjan. The church was the perfect venue for this band, whose soaring melodies filled the cavernous space. It was honestly beautiful.
Amanda Tenfjord at Hard Rock was a great contrast. Fun, bouncy, Scandi-pop. I found my friends in the crowd and we danced along. What’s not to love about a song called ‘The Floor Is Lava’? This girl is destined for big things.
We tried to go next door to IÐNÓ for Millie Turner, but again the place was stowed out. It was frustrating. Defeated, we went for a pint before trekking back to Kex for sir Was, which was surprisingly quiet for someone I thought was quite a big deal. His three-piece band was tight and hardworking on stage, the melodies interesting and the vibe laid back but engaging. Really an ideal end to the night. A faultless night at Airwaves in terms of bands and music, but not a great one in terms of organisation. JG
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Posted November 8, 2019