Wow, Airwaves hit us like a whirlwind. What just happened?
No seriously, what just happend. Read on, read on…
2 Late 4 2008 and B1B2 A++
I found myself going to bed early (just 2:30 a.m.!) on Friday night, thinking, “Where did Airwaves go?” On Saturday I found myself still jammed up at the front of Húrra at 4:30 am thinking, “Aw, yeah, it’s still right here.” The day started with Hildur doing a stripped down set in Skúli Craft Bar, with only a guitarist at her side. Her voice is the star of the show, though, so she could perform without a band, from behind a veil and I would still be hypnotised. With a voice like that and all the right hooks, she could very well be Iceland’s next big pop export.
Which brings me to Ásgeir. I don’t think Aussie Stella Donnelly would mind me saying so, as she joked about it herself, but much of her audience were just camped out in Fríkirkjan for Ásgeir. (Myself included, admittedly.) Luckily for them, though, they saw Stella. Her performance showcased her sharp songwriting, including sassy little ditties about shitty bosses and weird uncles at family events, but also gripping, blues-tinged ballads about rough relationships and even rape. Her banter between songs was equally clever, putting each song into its appropriate context, whether it was laughter, profundity, or both when necessary. Ásgeir, on the other hand, just played the same Icelandic translation of a Bon Iver song from 2008 over and over again for 45 minutes. Or maybe it was Ásgeir’s new album? I’m not actually sure.
Blood Orange was definitely the name of the night and, for some people, the entire festival. It was somehow both glossy and raw, giving Iceland exactly what it is always lacking and desperate for: warmth. We got a heaping helping, served on a sparkling platter by the ghost of Prince himself, garnished with a pinch of fresh Tracy Chapman. Polo & Pan suffered the same fate as SYKUR the night before: DJing to an entire festival’s worth of people packed into one small venue so tightly that no one could move at all, let alone dance. Damned if it stopped anyone from trying. (It didn’t.) The crushing crowd evaporated just in time for the the surprise of the evening for me. It was the mysterious Icelandic duo B1B2, who pumped out sickening techno infused with Andean flutes and Afrobeats from behind a wall of plants, while burning palo santo. It smelled as good as it sounded and there was even room to dance. I don’t know who they are or where they’ve been hiding, all I know is that if they had a residency at Paloma I would be there every single weekend. Fuck it, just build those ladies a whole new club. GDF
Sick Berns, Dream Teams, Almost-Rap Cults & The Chequered Flag
Walking towards the glittering Harpa on the final day, I felt a pang of melancholy that the explosion of music, parties, friends and fun would soon be over. But, well, why be sad about the end of a meal while you’re still eating it? I tried to shake it off, but Sin Fang, sóley and Örvar Smárason also had a sense of wistful finality to it. As they ran through the highlights of their lovely collaborative album ‘Team Dreams,’ they joked around, teased each other and announced that this would be their last show as a trio—”We’re going to be poets,” said Sin Fang, “because that’s where the money is.” So look out for their poem-a-month collab book in 2020, just in time for the Bernie presidency.
Speaking of sick Berns, next came Berndsen, playing off the back off his US tour, who kicked it off with an old-skool party set rather than the full mature-second-album show. Ever the charismatic bush-bearded frontman, he got the crowd to chant his name whilst checking the mic, and raced through retro-pop hits like “Data Hunter” and “Planet Earth” before we ran back to Harpa.
Why the running? JFDR, one of Iceland’s most prodigious and prolific musicians, was playing with a supergroup comprising Albert Finnbogason, Kjartan Holm and Gyða Valtýsdóttir. The four make some soft, echoing, climactic versions of the tracks from her instant-classic debut solo album ‘Brazil’—“Instant Patience” is taut and fragile, and “White Sun” wistful and affecting—but it’s the newer material that’s most exciting. The upwardly spiralling melody of “My Work” summons goosebumps, almost tears; brand new track “Gravity”—debuted at this show—is mesmerising. A couple of other new songs hint that she might be taking a step towards a more pop songwriting sensibility. With President Bernie, the Team Dreams poetry book and JFDR as a pop star in waiting, 2020 is really shaping up nicely.
kef LAVÍK at Hressó turned out to be the oddest spectacle of the festival, as a small but dedicated audience chanted every single word of their mumbled, amusical lo-fi-almost-rap in unison. I couldn’t tell if it was more like a millennial cult ceremony or a stranger’s wedding party. I asked one of the audience members what they were singing about, and he explained that the track is about suicidal thoughts and masturbation. I have no idea what kef LAVÍK are doing, but it seems to be working.
Soccer Mommy at Gamla Bíó is cute AF. In a sloppy t-shirt and checked pants, singer Sophie sings plaintive, catchy indie-rock tracks, tinged with a kind of halcyon sepia Mayfair-filtered feeling. Her band is so darned wholesome that I catch myself fantasising about a VHS-textured video of that day we all spent playing frisbee in the park together before the Pavement reunion show. Crunching leaves. My So-Called Life. Charlie Brown. Unacrimonious breakups. Yo La Tengo. Hot chocolate. Nice.
Now fully in the mood, it’s time for a festival rúntur. Mavi Phoenix’s last song is like an updated, more posi Beats International, and gets the room doing some impressive white person dancing. At Hressó, Lord Pusswhip plays a breakneck speed DJ set that hops in ADHD style between a genre car-crash of breaks, hardcore, drum ‘n’ bass, and some mutant shit that I can’t even categorise. The crowd goes wild. Black MIDI come on so late due to an amp malfunction that I only stay for two songs of their hyper-Londonish Trail Of The Dead aggro-screamo angry-young-man rock sound. Back at Harpa, Blood Orange, the de facto festival headliner, plays a set of sedate, overtly sensual soul-pop, which seems to fit the mood as the Airwaves masses sway hazily in unison, clearly on their last legs. It’s all very accomplished and Joolz Holland-ish, and it’s fine, but when singer Dev Hynes softly croons “Come into my bedroom” on “Champagne Coast,” the crowd look more ready for their own.
The kids, however, are at Polo & Pan, who close out the night with a quite interesting and extremely effective mashed-up DJ set that takes in old film samples, dancehall beats, U-turn tempo changes, brass bands and fiddle—kind of like an updated Mr. Scruff—to the delight of the still-standing party people. When I finally stumble out and head home, the room is still bouncing. Airwaves 2018 chequered flag crew, I salute you. JR
If You Can’t Stand The Heat, Get Your Tits Out And Dance
I had to work double-duty today and started with an early shift at Húrra, opening up the bar while AV AV AV and Polo & Pan do their soundchecks. Once the place opens the bar is immediately flooded with thirsty passholders glaring at us for service, so of course the gas tank runs out and I can’t serve beer for ten minutes. Luckily, Mighty Bear starts performing and distracts everyone’s beer-tooth with their dark, lush, mysterious artpop. It’s really beautiful and really helps me werq. The lovely boys in Munstur play next, with their crowd-pleasing funky-electro rock. It’s not exactly my thing now, but I am watching these ones. I have a feeling they will surprise me.
When my shift ends, I share a hilarious bathroom stories break with Daði Freyr, Mighty Bear, and MVP backstage volunteer Gabriel. I take a break for some disappointing food and some beautiful friends and then run over to Silfursalir to see Crumb. I walk in and they’re playing some slow, gloomy psych blues groove, and, set against the giant, red-lit carpeted dancehall, it is the most Twin Peaks moment of the festival. The rest of their set is less Badalamenti and more Brian Wilson, with chill, analogue, trippy mumble-rock.
In Gamla Bíó, Soccer Mommy is strumming out the kind of disaffected Big Shiny Tunes/Lilith Fair rock that reminds me of Canadian women I grew up listening to – Holly McNarland, Sarah Harmer, Arlene Bishop. She’s like one of those girls in high school a couple of grades above me who were so angry and so cool and I smiled way too much to hang out with them but inside I was like, “I have my period too!”
Blood Orange at Harpa is packed and I am honestly not sure how long I will last because it’s so hot and Dev Hynes is late. The songs are beautiful, but not transcending any of his recorded material for me. The sound in the Flói room has been questionable for every set and I can only hear the audience in the back of the room talking loudly. Real bummer.
I head back to Húrra to drop my stuff in the staff area. The app says “Medium Capacity” but the place is actually packed to such an insane point that I would call this a fire hazard. I am honestly a bit scared, so I leave my stuff and run outside in my tank top, tits out like Michelle Visage, and go to Gaukurinn for Pink Street Boys. They have now fully settled into that dirtbag redneck Roadhouse band and I wish they were behind a cage, that there were twenty fights happening in here, and that Patrick Swayze were still alive right now. The old-timer with the long white hair and beard rocking out like he’s at a Steve Earle gig is giving me life. I get up and shake my juicy bod like a trucker slut cause that’s what you fucking do at a PSB show.
I have to go back to Húrra to get my shit anyway, and Polo & Pan have the insanely packed and blazing hot room in a grinding arm-waving frenzy, so I just give in and dance. In the end, it’s kind of like hot yoga: once you get used to the heat, it’s kind of euphoric. I run out the back door before the end, witness some light police brutality, take an incredible shower and fall into a light coma. See you next time. RX
More, More, More
My first stop last night was to Cyber in the Reykjavík Art Museum and their Bizness is hot and booming. The trio welcomed us into their office which they had set up on the stage-they never do anything half-ass. They released their new album ‘Bizness’ this week and played a lot of old and new hitters. They toy with the “man’s” world and their narrative switch is always so powerful. In the last song Johanna Rakel took an exceptional slow solo, which was breathtaking and left me wanting more, more, more.
Köt Grá Pe I’ve missed you. The rapper and poet cuts small slits in his heart, lets us watch him bleed while he runs up a mountain. Completely opening himself up to the crowd, it’s so genuine and the crowd digs it. It’s his first stage performance since he quit rapping but it is clear that there is space for him in our hearts and I hope to be seeing him again soon.
JDFR is a sharp gem. Jófríður is so enchanting, and she whisked me away into another world. The colors in the room were dancing and I felt like the audience had all traveled to the same magical world.
I made a pit stop at Rejjie Snow, where he had some loyal fans, but felt called to catch Soccer Mommy. Which was amazing. A lot of acts this year made me feel like I was a 14-year old teenager again, where feelings were a different kind of painful and Soccer Mommy brought me there. Leaving me raw and feeling all the feels.
Blood Orange was on everybody’s list. It’s nice to feel everyone flowing to the same place, and you could feel the unity and excitement in the air. I hadn’t quite experienced that this year as the crowd felt mostly spread out. These moments encapsulate the magic of airwaves.
The unified crowd streamed over to Húrra to see Polo & Pan. Like during Sykur last night it was way too packed, but the crowd was softer somehow and we all grooved together. It was a great time and I was swept away into the bliss. The perfect way to bid airwaves adieu. TNI
Kidnapped By A Cult, American Control Freak and Some Seedy Nightclub
Saturday night was hard. I am getting too old for this. There, I said it.
I started out seeing Mighty Bear at Húrra. I have been a fan since I heard him debut last year, and I was curious to see how he have evolved; I found out that he’s evolved into a goth-glimmer-monster that probably wondered out of Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.’
He started out singing behind a white veil with old movies projected onto it. This obviously created a lot of distance between the audience and him, and made no sense because of his impressive appearance. Thankfully, he took the veil down shortly thereafter and the set took flight.
Mighty Bear’s voice isn’t the strongest, and sometimes he was badly off-pitch within his heavy goth electro soundscape. But that doesn’t mean he’s a bad singer. When his voice hit home, it was amazing. In the end, I saw a tourist (American?) declaring “wow”. It was a great start to the evening.
Munstur took the stage next like a modern hybrid of the 90s disco-rock with a heavy electro layer over it. The performance was solid and powerful and full of young hipsterism (that’s an “ism,” right?) with weird haircuts and a well trimmed moustache. I neither loved nor hated it, but I bailed after three tracks.
Next stop was Harpa to see the last performance of Örvar Smárason, sóley and Sin Fang, all of whom I like very much individually. They teamed up in this supergroup to write and record one song per month together for a year. The resulting album became a live tour, which finally ended last night. The band announced that this was the last time they would play together. They joked around and had a warm presence. But, to be honest, this project was alway a little bit too clever and well done for my taste. “Wasted” was absolutely beautiful, though.
And then to Gamla Bíó. What would happen if Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith had a kid? No, you haters, it would not be the antichrist. It would probably be the warm young pop star, Axel Flóvent (not to be confused with Júníus Meyvant). This kid writes songs for heartbroken teenage boys. It was a little too basic for my taste, but the performance was solid. The crowd was surprisingly old. I would have expected crying teens and screaming groupies, instead of people in their fifties. The only thing I could think about was that I needed to find some seedy nightclub to retreat to.
In my attempt to find one I met old friends that were going to Blood Orange. I didn’t know much about him, but listened to some songs before the festival. Airwaves is all about the unexpected, so I joined them. My friends explained that Blood Orange was probably the most soulful and emotional trip they had gone through, and that was only when they listened to him on headphones. It was then that I realised I’d been kidnapped by a cult. Suddenly the crowd around me didn’t look so innocent.
Blood Orange came to the stage with his Kangol cap. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t connect to his music. Probably because I am psychopath, or because I was too freaked out by the cult. Or people just like different things.
And then just when I thought my night was over… well, shit got weird.
I decided to treat myself and check out the French duo Polo & Pan at Húrra, where I finally got my seedy nightclub. The place was packed and I squeezed to the front just to get this beautiful pompy French house straight into my veins. People spilled beer on the next person and danced like nobody else were in the room. I was loving it! Then some American control freak leaned up to me and yelled; Sorry, can you not bump into me and watch out for my personal space (this is an accurate account of events). I was pretty surprised and told him sorry, I didn’t realise that I was bumping into him. Mainly because everybody was just bumping into each other. A few minutes later he leaned to me again and said: Hey, pal, we talked about this!
I should have just jumped on him and try to kill him right there and then. In hindsight that was the only logical thing to do in this situation. But instead I screamed some nonsense in half english and half drunkenness where I told him to deal with my presence. He disappeared. A full victory for abnormal Icelandic cultural club behaviour. Yay!
But the show was brilliant. Pan & Polo are wonderful. This night was a total success. But I hope I will never see you again. Over and out.
Your Airwaves review team has been:
GDF: Grayson Del Faro
JR: John Rogers
TNI: Tara Njála Invarsdóttir
RX: Rex Beckett
VG: Valur Grettisson