Iceland Airwaves returns to Reykjavík after a 2-year hiatus
It’s been almost three years since the last Iceland Airwaves festival warmed up November nights in Reykjavík. Running between the gigs, discovering a new band playing in a church, making friends from all over the world…No, you’re not dreaming—“Good old Airwaves is back downtown,” says Festival Director Ísleifur Þórhallsson.
It’s not news that the world has changed since the last Iceland Airwaves hit up Reykjavík back in 2019: global pandemic, political turmoil, economic recession—the list goes on. Ísleifur cannot hide his excitement that in 2022 the festival is going ahead, despite everything. “We’re just incredibly happy that we can finally do the festival,” he says.
Ísleifur’s company, Sena Live, acquired Iceland Airwaves in 2018. “We only managed to do the festival twice after taking over,” he shares. “We had started a lot of work of changing the festival and getting a handle on it. The festival is awesome, the experience, the lineup and everything, but it’s always challenging to make it work financially. We were on our way to getting to grips with it. So it was really difficult not being able to do it, trying to just keep it okay through the pandemic. But we got through it.”
Same strategy, same energy
Ísleifur shares that the organisers had already made some big changes to the festival in 2018-2019. In 2022, they are basically keeping the same strategy. “We went back to the roots,” says Ísleifur. “We stopped chasing big bands, we stopped having some big venues booked, we took it downtown.”
The downtown festival venues are staying the same this year: Reykjavík Art Museum, Gamla Bíó, Iðnó, Fríkirkjan, Gaukurinn and Húrra. “We can feel that Airwaves creates a lot of energy in Reykjavík. It creates a willingness to participate and join the festival. So we have created concepts that are called partner venues and partner events,” says Ísleifur. “Basically, we can’t add any more venues. But if a venue wants to do their own thing and just limit access to wristband holders, they can do that and we promote it as a part of the official schedule.”
Wednesday night is out
Normally a four-day festival, Iceland Airwaves 2022 has been streamlined to three days. “We took out the Wednesday,” Ísleifur says. “We watch really closely how many people are out at the festival and we saw that a remarkably small share of the people who bought tickets went out on Wednesday.”
Wednesday was traditionally IA’s warmup night, with fewer venues open and bands playing. Taking it out seemed like a rational idea, Ísleifur says: “I think for us to do the best possible festival, we can do a little bit less and stop doing everything that is unnecessary.”
Alongside removing superfluous aspects of the festival, Ísleifur and his colleagues are excited about new innovations that they are introducing for 2022. “We are starting a thing called the Airwaves Center,” he shares. “We have never sold our own food or drinks or had any sort of centre for our guests. So many of them have been roaming around during the day, trying to find something to do here and there downtown. But this year, we are going to have our own centre in the old Kolaportið, now called Hafnarþorpið.”
Festival attendees will be able to get a wristband, buy merch or grab some food and drinks at the centre. Additionally, there will be off-venue programming from the afternoon and into the evening. “I think it’s great that the festival will finally have a centre for our guests to hang out, talk, mingle, just chill and enjoy some off-venue programming before the official programming starts and all the venues open,” says Ísleifur. The Iceland Airwaves Center will be open from noon to midnight, Thursday through Saturday.
Icelanders vs tourists
There is a stereotype spreading around Reykjavík that no Icelanders actually go to Iceland Airwaves. Ísleifur laughs: “I think Icelanders just have to realise how fun Airwaves is! A lot of Icelandic people somehow think that Iceland Airwaves is not for them, they think that it is something else. I would just encourage people to give it a chance.”
“We’re really happy about how many people from abroad fly in just to experience Iceland Airwaves,” he adds. “But we would always like to see more Icelanders at the festival. I mean, Icelanders just have to go downtown.”
One thing that Airwaves is doing differently this year is selling more affordable day passes. “I think this is especially good for Icelanders, young people and all kinds of people who may just feel that it’s too much of a commitment to go out three days in a row,” Ísleifur says.
The 2022 lineup
The Iceland Airwaves lineup this year is made up of some exciting Icelandic and international names. From aspiring local artists like Gugusar, BSÍ, and Inspector Spacetime to renowned acts including Bríet, Sóley and Ham, Iceland is, of course, well represented. The international presence includes breakthrough British artist Arlo Parks and Ukrainian electro-folk band Go_A.
Ísleifur enthuses over the lineup: “I’m excited about Arlo Parks, Metronomy, Amyl & The Sniffers, Röyksopp, Nation of Language, Porridge Radio, and from Icelandic artists, I’m really excited about Laufey and HAM, Kusk, Una Torfa. I’m also looking forward to seeing Reykjavíkurdætur,” he says.
Live music post-Covid
The topic of live music post-Covid will become a focus of discussion at the Iceland Airwaves conference, a satellite event hosted during the festival. “I think the whole live industry globally is dealing with the aftermath of COVID day in and day out,” shares Ísleifur. “First of all, costs have gone up a lot. A lot of people in the music industry gave up and found other jobs. Ticket sales are pretty far from being back to normal, they are weaker and very unpredictable.”
In the midst of the pandemic, instead of the usual Iceland Airwaves, the festival hosted a live stream festival, ‘Live From Reykjavík.’ In 2022, even though the festival is returning in full swing, it will keep some of the virtual festival features. In particular, three or four of the main venues will be streamed online, free of charge. Ísleifur is confident that people will appreciate this feature.
“The way we envision Iceland Airwaves—you can just walk into any venue and don’t know who’s playing. But it’s going to be great!,” says Ísleifur, adding: “What people love about Iceland Airwaves is running between the venues, finding new bands, giving recommendations to their friends, getting tips and just discovering stuff.”
Iceland Airwaves kicks off in just a month, on November 3. “We can all sense excitement for the festival building up right now. There’s no downtown like Reykjavík,” Ísleifur concludes. And we cannot disagree with him.
Join Grapevine’s team at Iceland Airwaves 2022 on November 3-5. Purchase tickets at airwaves.is
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