THE AIRWAVES ARE AMONG US. From Peter André lookalikes to taut heartstrings, flowing colours, palace muses, ketamine vs. breakfast cereal, and a coldwave fog spell, here’s what went down on the opening night of Iceland’s legendary winter festival. Also, check out our GrapeWaves daily podcast while you’re reading!
Cornflakes, Ketamine and the Palace Muses
Airwaves always requires a little bit of warming up. One doesn’t just walk straight into a progressive metal show or some rave and jump right in. Okay, some people probably do but I felt like taking my sweet time so I decided to get my evening started with some Special-K. Neither as bland as the Special K breakfast cereal nor as intense as ketamine, with whom she shares her name, Special-K is a new act that is getting lot of buzz lately.
Everything was there: a band of talented musicians known from other local projects, hypnotically charming video visuals, sparkly costumes, actual instruments. And sincerity. What I liked best was the show’s sincerity, something that is becoming exotic in the Icelandic music scene, where everybody else is either trying to be the next Björk or the first Icelandic Eminem (but looking more like Vanilla Ice). And yet, even with all that, it felt like something was missing. Maybe it’s just a new project that is still finding its vibe or maybe it’s just not my thing. Maybe it’s that I felt like I was standing in the final scene of an awkwardly quirky teen film (think Juno, Napoleon Dynamite, etc.) without the necessary lead up to an otherwise anticlimactic ending. Let’s just say it was a bit more like the cornflakes, but I have faith that Special-K can lean closer to the ketamine as they develop their sound.
After a brief pit-stop in the basement of Hard Rock Café to watch teenage garage band Korter í Flog—whose lead singer screamed for more thoughtful dialogue between men, while one band member stood behind, nodding along patiently with a red plastic bucket on his head…which actually really worked for me—the perfect place to end the evening feeling truly warmed up was “The Palace.” Palace Muses is the name of a little collaboration project between three Icelandic honest-to-goddess muses: GYÐA, Ásta Fanney (of aYia), and Jófríður Ákadóttir (JFDR). They get together once per year and play a few little ditties to a small crowd in an intimate setting. With a set list ranging from erotic Ancient Sumerian poetry, some jaunty Renaissance pieces, an original collaboration possibly titled “Nicolas Cage Angel,” and their individual work, the show was equal parts beauty and hilarity. I even won a little prize for suggesting the title of an improvised song, which was very clearly “Nicolas Cage Devil.” Seeing these creative giants all fitting neatly onto the little couch in one of their very own homes, strumming, singing, and laughing, was exactly the warmth I needed to heat up this Airwaves. GDF
Epic cello, Frasier-pop and a gothwave spell
GYÐA stares into the middle distance, a faraway look on her face as she cradles and caresses her cello. The bow skates over the strings, making small scraping sounds; drifting into a rising scale that comes to a crescendo, once, and then again. “Imago” is the climactic, emotional finale of her new album, ‘Evolution,’ and it made for a goosebump-inducing start to Iceland Airwaves 2018.
As the night warmed up, the crowds drifted into town, and the venues started to fill, GDRN’s slick, feather-light RnB drew an enthusiastic audience. Up the street at Gamla Bíó, Kiriyama Family played a set of polite pop-rock, coming off like the wedding band from an episode of Frasier. On the other end of the spectrum, Countess Malaise gave a fierce and sexually charged performance at the cavernous Silfursalir. Her eyes gleamed brightly and strafed the room as she prowled the stage, rapping in English and Icelandic over taut, bassy backing tracks. It was a charismatic performance; the Countess is a genuine star in Reykjavík’s saturated and often insipid rap scene.
Traipsing up to Bryggjan Brugghús in Grandi turned out to be worth it. Ingibjörg Turchi’s virtuosic ensemble played a set of warm, charming instrumental music that hovered between jazz, post-rock, formal composition and improvisation. It was free-flowing and hypnotic, from Ingibjörg’s finger-picked bass melodies, to Magnús Elías Tryggvason’s startling and creative approach to percussion (how does his mind see all those spaces for sounds?), to Tumi Árnason’s sparing and sometimes soaring saxophone passages. The band were so engaged in their performance that when the rapturous applause finally came, they looked almost surprised, like they’d drifted off into a collective trance and had been snapped back into reality.
After the heavily Sigur Rós-influenced vibes of VAR, it was time for Kælan Mikla at IÐNÓ. They’ve been touring like crazy lately and it has paid off—a hot ticket of the opening night, they played a set of tense, atmospheric coldwave with chilly synths, chugging bass, and compulsive earworms in tracks like “Hvernig kemst ég upp?” And “Kalt.” As the buzzing crowd poured out into the night, Reykjavík had been draped in a thick mist— Kælan Mikla had cast their cold magic over the festival and the city. JR
My Airwaves began by exploring the realms of paradise at the Clubhouse in Skúli Craft Bar. The Paradís Sessions curated event helped take me from nightmares to beautiful fantasies with BSÍ shouting boo at the people we do not like, Munstur singing songs written on trains, and MSEA and Sunna Friðjóns cleansing my aura with fragrant, frothy singing bowls.
After some free beverages at the press mixer at IÐNÓ, I ran over to Bryggjan Brugghús to catch Madonna + Child being creepy little suicide sisters. Unfortunately, the stage room is not designed for anyone under 180cm, and it was simply impossible to see their weird rituals. I did manage to move my way up to the front finally to watch Ingibjörg Turchi and her band create luscious, hypnotizing soundscapes defying the boundaries of genre and raising the bar on musicianship.
I ran (or rather paid for a taxi) back to IÐNÓ in time to see Kælan Mikla, but not quickly enough to get very close to the stage in the jam packed room. Luckily, that didn’t matter because people all the way to the back were dancing to the rising goth starlets beautifully honed and intensely energetic performance. It was just dark flashing lights and a blur of whipping hair on the stage from my view, and I loved every fucking second. I rounded things out at Gaukurinn with my good friends Godchilla, being surf-doom weirdos in flashy jackets, balaclavas and an almost nude drummer. Their set was loud, hard and tight, making me twist and shimmy and spill my beer all over the place. By that point it was well into my festival mate’s 30th birthday so I decided to drink like a monster as one does on day one of Airwaves. Go big or go home. RX
The colours between people
Airwaves has begun et voila, there’s not a quiet or dim corner in town. Yesterday, I walked into the middle of the Hugar set at Kex and immediately felt like I had joined a transcendental group meditation. I fell right in and enjoyed the colours flowing between people in the room. It was a perfect grounding to start the festival.
Sólveig Matthildur’s completely packed performance at Gaukurinn got stronger and stronger as the show progressed, as she slowly wrapped strings around my heart. Sólveig is a lyrical genius, and her words feel sacred and cut deep. In her final song, “Unexplained Miseries III,” she tightened all the strings, my heart started to bleed and I realised halfway through that I’d forgotten to breathe. She had most certainly cast a spell over the crowd.
I ran over to IÐNÓ and caught the last minutes of Special-K‘s song “I Thought I’d Be More Famous by Now,” which rang over and over in my mind until my next stop. Her songs tend to nail very particular and certain feelings that I reckon touch our generation quite deeply, like the madness and culture surrounding stardom.
Next was Korter í Flog at the Hard Rock Cafe. Vilhjálmur Yngvi, the singer, screamed/sung/spoke and asked, among other things, if we can’t just talk about something more original than drugs and girls. Which rung like a direct message to his contemporaries. It’s refreshing to hear young men addressing each other, asking for more meaning and depth. They are a charming bunch and all have great hair.
The last stop of the night was Palace Muses, with Gyða, Ásta Fanney, and Jófríður, who welcomed the crowd into an intimate performance concert. They played songs that were thousands of years old, their own material, games like “who here is sad”, and improvised with the crowd. They each have a certain fairy-like presence and it made complete sense to see the three together. The three muses all have separate projects performing at Airwaves, don’t miss them. Just don’t. TNI
Peter Andre’s doppelgänger and back to the Britpop basics
What to expect on your first day on Airwaves? The hand of God coming down through the dark rainy sky, grabbing a guitar and busting some riffs? A tectonic shift and a tsunami of wellbeing? Or perhaps a post-fusion band and a Peter Andre doppelgänger? Well, you can never really know for sure.
I went to Bryggjan Brugghús on this rainy opening evening of Airwaves to see Árni Vil perform, but first i caught a glimpse of the interesting solo artist (and teacher of ancient Greek) Ingibjörg Turchi. The music follows the newest trends in Nu Jazz (perhaps post-fusion is better? Think Portico Quartet, Skalpel or GoGo Penguins). Ingibjörg played the bass and did so in a splendid way. Her band was incredibly tight and the drummer was exceptional. The music was well conceived, and both accessible and experimental. The band’s setup was weird, though—they sat on chairs like they were rehearsing in one of the classrooms of the Icelandic Academy of the Arts. But the performance was strong, so it didn’t really matter.
And then there was Árni Vil, the former lead singer of FM Belfast, now turned solo. He had a band of six (himself included), all boys in black sunglasses. This was obviously a gag, and worked as such. There were also two backing singers, including the well known musician Jara (Jarþrúður Karlsdóttir), who illuminated the stage every time her voice broke through.
Árni is experimenting with an almost nineties Britpop atmosphere with his slow indie music, which is like a Western take on the northern “krútt” generation. The band was a little rusty at first, but found their groove in the third song. The music is well-composed and had some really nice strong points. Especially in the penultimate track (Árni didn’t announce the names), which was the highlight. Árni was terrific on the stage, which was refreshing after the lack of presence in the preceding act, and the band had their moments (I loved the jew harp) although they could rehearse a little more. But who couldn’t?
And who would name their band Bodypaint? I don’t know why anybody would name their band after this tacky artform, but it quickly became clear that this band doesn’t take itself too seriously. Janus Rasmussen—a former member of Bloodgroup, the brilliant electro-party band, and one half of Kiasmos—is a member of the group. When Bodypaint started they struck me like an unsynchronised boy band. And then I realised that the lead singer, the Faroese Sakaris Joensen, was like a spitting image of the nineties pop sensation Peter Andre; that is, if Peter would have gone full indie instead of full retard. Their pop music was driven by Janus’s heavy electro beats, which gave it a refreshing edge. The highlight was in the last song—a party-house track with guest vocalist GDRN. I overcame my mixed feelings about the presence of Peter Andre by the end. Just don’t try to google the band, you will suffer a painful cultural stroke. VG
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