After the excitement of the opening night, which our super-review team spent running between stages, checking out the venues, saying “hi” to old friends, making new ones, and gorging on as many shows as possible, we sank deeper into the rhythm of the festival on day two. Here’s what went down. Listen to our GrapeWaves Daily podcast while you read, and follow us on Soundcloud for more.
Don’t tell Abuela
My first stop was to check out VASI at Slippbarinn. A recent Russian-American transplant to Reykjavík’s music scene, she’s jumped right into the big league at Airwaves. She seemed ready for it though, with a rich, powerful voice and a cinematic sound to match. With such a strong start in the game, she’s one to keep an eye on.
Next up was Mueveloreina, who lived up to their name (something like “move it queen”) completely. Having seen them play to a huge hall packed with hundreds of fist-pumping people at Sónar in Barcelona, their homebase, it was a little disappointing to see them relegated to Hresso. Blending Latin rhythms with industrial synths and spitting lyrics alternating between party anthem and political savagery, it was the Shakira-meets-Die-Antwoord rave of your abuela’s worst nightmares. To us in the audience, however, it was a dream come true. What started with a handful of people ended with a full house as Mueveloreina funneled all the energy of Sónar into that small bar, drawing people in from the street to get tropically sweaty.
My shirt had not even dried by the time I rushed to my annual Milkywhale dance-splosion. Then I caught the end of Girlhood’s soul-warming set at Húrra before mistakenly wandering into Superorganism. It took about three songs to realize that I was in fact at a concert and not laying in an alley foaming at the mouth, hallucinating the kaleidoscopic colours, robotic movements, and jumbo (and I mean JUMBO) prawns oscillating before my wide eyes and hysterical laughter. After that, I had no choice but to dance.
Finally, the evening scaled back a little with Jimothy Lacoste, the most adorable rapper to jump straight out of Instagram and onto the stage. The music was lo-fi and poppy, the delivery deadpan, and the lyrics are frankly so shitty, so lame, so inane that they become universal, relatable, and somehow, incomprehensibly, admirable. Accompany that with an insanely puffy jacket and some high school prom-worthy dance moves and you’re in to end your night with a hilariously wholesome smilefest. Even your abuela would probably approve. GDF
Bassy explosions, bright stars and box wine
One minute you’re clocking out of work fully intending on a bath, a doze and a change of clothes, the next you’re frantically choking down the last bites of your Brewdog burger because you ran into some friends and your phone is pinging like crazy with concert alerts and OMG it’s started, it’s time, how did this happen so fast, it’s Airwaves day two! Let’s. Do. This.
Despite being a pretty new band in town, bagdad brothers turn out to be a hot ticket opening the stage at the packed Húrra. They’re an incredibly charming band, playing sunny, warm indie-pop that switches from agitated, twee, Smithsian bangers to reverby slow-dance ballads that feel like a warm hug. Stick some gladioli in your back pocket, and dance like everyone you know is watching.
After glimpsing Teitur charming the audience of a rammed Skúli Craft Bar—so full, we watch through the window—and the teenaged Ateria playing some moody, minimal chamber-pop, it’s time for the main event. Estonian rapper Tommy Cash carries more charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent on his skinny shoulders than has been previously measured. Under a backdrop of Playstation-textured dystopian virtual worlds, flapping European flags, CGI angels, a lot of general meme vomit and, for some reason, some snippets of Nigella Lawson cooking stuff, his ratatat flow skitters over bassy explosions and sharp, minimal beats. He vanishes from the stage inexplicably for an entire track, showing up again with a cheeky, bug-eyed, “so what?” grin. He asks for a moshpit on one heavy screamed track; gets one; thanks the crowd politely; and then casually breaks into his virulently catchy cult hit single “Winaloto.” Tommy Cash is weird, perfect, and an absolute star—he might not be the hero Iceland needs, but he’s the one it wants.
The schedule feels a little light in the middle section of the night, so I drift into an impromptu off-venue concert at Gallery Port to see Samantha Shay dancing to atmospheric ambient accompaniment by sóley, Bára Gísladóttir making some of her twisted-metal double bass choral drone noise, and Sólveig Matthildur—resplendent in a red suit, and with a distinctive shock of silver hair—delivering a short set of her deeply emotional gloom-pop. Throughout the course of the evening, Áslaug Magnúsdóttir, IDK IDA, Andi, Ásta Fanney, , and a host of the brightest stars of Reykjavík’s underground scene perform in front of a flickering TV installation by artist Atli Bollason, aka Allenheimer. It’s full of friendly faces and good vibes. Box-wine and beers are handed out for free, and it’s exactly the kind of beautiful, sparky, spontaneous party that makes Airwaves special.
We end the night with Tamino in IÐNÓ. This Belgian-Egyptian singer looks and sounds so much like Jeff Buckley, down to to his narrow frame, Fender telecaster and mop of curly hair, that it’s almost spooky. Nevertheless, his finger-picked guitar notes and soaring voice are soothing, lyrical, and, at times, inspired; it’s a perfect landing point for Airwaves day two. JR
An off-venue adventure
One thing you notice when Airwaves comes into town is that the texture of time becomes malleable, the fabric of the city untangling to allow for all the magical elements of music to recast the shape of Reykjavík into something wonderfully unrecognisable for these few days. There is a constant stream of people in the streets, day and night. My Icelandic friends remark how wonderful it is to see the streets this busy and bustling. The silhouette of guitar cases bob up and down in the distance. You can bet that every other person you come in contact with is somehow involved in the music industry. If Hermione’s time-turner could be used anywhere in real life, it should be here, right now, to allow your feet to stop between gigs as you hear a melody drifting from between clothes stands of an unexpected boutique, turning back time to watch the singer unfolding between songs, to pause time as you run between venues or enter into a different dimension altogether.
A time-turner would also allow you to adjust to the flexible schedule of performances. Arriving to see Aurora at 15.30 in Skúli Craft Bar, we enter into her dreamy world—but only briefly, due to an early start to her set. The barman happily clinks away in the background as guests crowd around the bar in anticipation of the next surprise in the reshuffled schedule. This is how things go in Airwaves—unexpected, full of surprises and completely out of this world.
The space outside Dillon is already vibrating with the electronic beats of Omotrack even before you cross the threshold of the bar and climb the stairs to the loft venue. The well-worn wooden surroundings emit an inviting atmosphere as the two Icelandic brothers bring the beats to the buzzing crowd, fuelled mostly by beer.
Rushing back to Skúli Craft Bar, Bedouine are rocking the stage with their furious riffs and urgent beats. Seeking some calm going gently into the evening, Árný brings gentle folk tunes to Hilton Nordica. No sooner is her set over, it is already time to catch Aurora at Kex again before the night phase of the festival rolls around. Needless to say, a time-turner in your back pocket is a must in order to catch all these fantastical performances. M
Kool-Aid chugging & surprising emotions
Tommy Cash. Yes. It’s only the second night of Airwaves and I think I already have my festival highlight. It’s going to be extremely hard for another act to top this for me. I only knew a couple of his songs before and was familiar with his distinctive retro-futuristic trashbag millennial imagery, but I just had a feeling I had to come see this show. Love it or hate it, I had to see this. Holy mother of fuckballs, was I right.
After an intro of spine-shattering noise and glitches set to 3D visuals full of volcanic caves and flags – coolest Eurovision intro ever! – Tommy rushed onstage with a green flowery scarf over his Prince Valiant mane, a backless t-shirt and giant red and silver moon-boots. Bouncing and running and grinding all over while losing his mind on the mic, I chugged that Kool-Aid up and after three minutes I was shouting “PUSSY MONEY WEED” like I fucking meant it. Because I did.
The whole set was just incredible and pummeled me with cyber-dystopia aesthetic brainwashing tactics, dark droning robot-goth rap, hyperactive Ritalin-tech pop, visuals that equally point to alien invasion as well as environmental destruction and a remix of Bomfunk MC’s “Freestyler” that made me laugh as hard as I danced. I can’t help but geek out over having had a couple of moments of intense eye contact with Tommy, most memorably as he knelt down at the front of the stage, looked deep into my eyes and held my gaze intensely while saying, “Little Molly, while she twerk.” Tommy Cash. YES.< After Tommy, I saw a series of anticlimactic shows that were nothing to write home about, but finally bookended the night with ZAAR’s amazing set at Gaukurinn. Having seen her solo a few months ago and loving her brand of dark, vulnerable Nordic experimental pop-meets noisy electro-weirdness, the rounding out of her live band was just insanely good. The musical proficiency of each member was just on another level, and the songs were surprisingly danceable and emotionally charged. I suggested to my friend, who runs a small local label, that he release her music. “Nah,” he replied, “She is out of our league.” In fact, she’s out of all of our leagues. RX
Tara Njála Ingvarsdóttir
Last night started off at Gallery Port, where artists were invited to take quirky, unconventional sets and anything goes. Ísidór kicked off the night. People wandered in off the streets to find a one-man band and very special, dreamy, hypnotizing sounds. His tunes hit you right in the the chest and leave it throbbing.
Next at Port I saw Samantha Shay and sóley enchant the room. Sóley played ambient, chilling tunes while Samantha did an improvised movement performance. She’s an incredible performer and as she bewitched the crowd the room seemed to freeze, as if time had stopped.
GYÐA brought me into a cycle of birth and death with her whimsical and memorable sounds, and I felt raw and cracked open after the set. Gyða, thank you for breaking open my heart.
After having my heart broken open, it needed a restart, and Gróa’s deep bass was like electroshock therapy. They have a strong local fan base in Reykjavík and it was great to see the youthful band play in front of such a diverse crowd. The 16- and 17-year-olds played as if nothing came more naturally to them—and the crowd loved them. Gróa’s new stuff is kick-ass, and I’m sure we will be seeing more of them.
Finally, Snail Mail saw me off into my dreams. She reminds me of one of my best friends, which you could call the indie-famous effect. The songs blended together into an enjoyable, serene soundscape, which reminded me of sitting and waiting at a train station. After the concert, I came back down to earth and had a sweet departure from Airwaves into the night. TNI
GDF – Grayson Del Faro, JR – John Rogers, M – Mulan, RX – Rex Beckett, TNI – Tara Njála Ingvarsdóttir.
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