So we did it again. We compiled a team of music lovers-slash-misanthropes to review every single show of the official Iceland Airwaves programme. Every last musician that played the festival in an official capacity can head to grapevine.is/airwaves and read what a particular person at a particular point of time, bearing a particular mindset, has to say about his or her particular performance at that particular festival.
“Why would you do this?” you ask. “Does anyone really need to read reviews of every single show at Airwaves?” you continue.
Well. We did this mostly because we could. We’ve done it in years past (in print form from 2005-2008, on-line last year and this year), and it’s always been a fun part of the festival, whether you’re playing there or just attending for fun. You get to re-live your previous evening via the words of some writer who documented the venue that entire night (and through the lens of that photographer who was always hogging the best spots, getting in your way). And you maybe don’t agree with the writer’s assessment, and you may not be familiar with the photographer’s angle, but they still serve as starting points for some sort of conversation, whether it be with yourself or your friends or maybe the letters/comments section of the Grapevine. And we are big fans of inciting conversation, of fanning the flames of discourse.
And discourse doesn’t always have to be about super important life or death political stuff. It can also be about dumb, fun stuff. Like music.
Now, if you played one of the shows in question, the reviews can also be pretty useful. You get some guy or girl putting thought and words into describing your performance. You had someone sitting at four in the morning, drinking their umpteenth cup of coffee, trying to think of that one adjective that describes better than any other what you do, or what you did, or what you were trying to do.
Putting some effort in describing what went down, and how it appeared to him or her that given night.
And that can serve as a gateway for some great discourse within your band, or for your band. If nothing else, it will ensure a record of your being there at that particular place and moment in time exists, and will be accessible to future music lovers and archaeologists. Or at least until our hard drives break down. Imagine how stunning it will be for THE FUTURE’s teenagers all the way over in 2094 to read about Panoramix’s performance at Jacobsen on Airwaves Thursday 2009.
And if you disagree with a given assessment of your night, that’s fair, fine and to be expected. There is no final word on music and there can be no closing verdict. There should be conversation about it and discourse and disagreement and everyone making it – as well as everyone writing about it and listening to it – should strive at bettering themselves at all times.
I’ve been attending this festival for a bunch of years now. I’m getting old. This time around, I wasn’t able to take in as many performances as I would have liked. There was a lot of work to be done, running around, editing stuff and playing the occasional show.
But I did catch some shows, and I liked what I saw for the most part. I liked the spirit, the energy, enthusiasm and professionalism of every single outfit I saw displayed. And the very evident passion. This held true whether they were playing for an empty Faktorý, a bookstore off-venue or to a packed, throbbing NASA. They all loved it.
They loved it as much as they seem to love every single show I see them play, and playing music in general. This is why I very strongly believe in the musicians that make up the Icelandic scene at t he moment, and it is why I believe that they all have a great future. Loving what you do is the key to doing lovely things. Yeah.
Another thing that impressed me greatly, what I’ve come to hold as one of the principal reasons Airwaves often surpasses similar festivals of its calibre (and that’s not empty boasting – I’ve been around) is the amount of work the audience is willing to put into it. A band might only have four officially released tracks to their name and they still get to perform to a crowded venue brimming with folks that are singing along to their stuff. You had people queuing up for experimental ambient-noise shows. Couples slow-dancing to obscure DJs or even more obscure acoustic duos. Festivalgoers seem eager to embrace and celebrate a lot of unheard music over the course of five days.
Now, read on for our reviewers’ favourite performances, and our photographers’ favourite images from Iceland Airwaves 2010 …HSM
Orphic Oxtra Made Me Want To Be Young By Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir
I don’t know what it was exactly; perhaps it had been a long four days—a long 30 concerts over the weekend—but when I entered NASA on Sunday night I found the walls were crumbling. Coming from the stage, the most exultant, rapturous sounds—individual notes racing up and down stairs, together scaling mountains. Tuba! Horns! Trombone! Bassoon! Galore! Orphic Oxtra is youth distilled by wind instruments. I don’t mean to sound fanatic, (and yes, I’m only 21-years-young), but they made me long to be young again—with a trumpet in one hand and my heart in the other. The kind of feeling, the kind of show, that we all wish would last a lifetime.
The Dandelion Seeds Created A Sonic Explosion – By Anna Margrét Björnsson
Kaffistofan was the ultimate place to be on Airwaves Saturday night. This venue was so underground it even failed to make the Airwaves off-venue schedule. The crowd counted perhaps a total of twenty people (most of them moonshine-drinking teenagers). I just managed to catch The Dandelion Seeds, a band previously called Kid Twist. Their new name draws from the song Dandelion Seeds by July, a British cult psych band, obviously a heavy inspiration. When the five fresh-faced youngsters came on stage something quite magical happened. These British invasion styled feedback rockers created an amazing and all-encompassing wall of noise with sixties psych-patterned videos overlaid on sixties soft porn and go-go dancing projecting in the background. The gallery space turned out to be a magnificent venue, with plenty of space for the musicians and plenty of walls for the sound to resonate from. The Dandelion Seeds do seem to live in their own little world of sixties psychedelia but at least they’re doing something completely different from anyone else playing Airwaves this year. They managed to create a stunning show and a sonic explosion that will be hard to forget.
Náttfari Made My Gut Shake – Hell Yeah! By Wiebke Wolter
The show I enjoyed most at this year’s Airwaves was more like an anti-show: Náttfari did everything right. No embarrassing addressing the audience in between songs, for instance. The band didn’t really do a ‘show’, they just played their songs for the audience—or let’s say for me and a few other people standing around. And that was the only flaw of this concert: the lack of people witnessing the gut-shaking Náttfari experience. The guitar sounded like a guitar should sound: just a little bit of distortion, no delay, yeah. Some slide guitar and some old strings squeaking along ones attached to the guitar added a psychedelic feel to the post rock-y sound. Melodic bass playing and exciting drumming completed the sound that felt more like the American South than 101 Reykjavík.
Shows I also really liked were Ólafur Arnalds’ Gesamtkunstwerk-performance, the playful French electro combo Gablé and similarly energetic LCMDF from Finland, the unpretentiously soulful Angel Deradoorian and the vibrant rockabilly combo 59’s.
Gone Postal Were The Bomb By Florian Zühlke
I saw some very good shows this year, including XXX Rottweiler, Jungle Fiction, Svavar Knútur, Of Monsters and Men, Prinspóló and Swords Of Chaos. There wasn’t the particular ‘one show’ that I would consider the best. I remember all of the above playing rousing, touching or simply entertaining concerts.
I guess I liked the Metal Hammer evening at Sódóma best as a whole package. This isn’t just because I saw a couple of great concerts there (Gone Postal were the bomb!)—this evening also offered the audience a good overview of what’s going on in the Icelandic hard music scene. There are so many talented, creative and awesome bands that play all the metals and cores you could imagine; it would be a shame to not give them the chance to play at Iceland’s most popular international music festival. Also putting them together at one venue was a good choice, as it prevented them from playing shows in front of unappreciative indie kids.
If it was the melodic screamo of Endless Dark, the nostalgic death metal of Angist, Momentum’s epic melange of metal and post-rock or the breathtaking performance of England’s most-loved hyperactive Rollo Tomassi—as a fan of hard music this whole evening was the most interesting and fun one of Airwaves 2010.
Rock Legend Staredown By Bob Cluness
OK, this is a little tough, as there were several really good performances all round. But I’m going to give the best performance at Airwaves as a tie between S.H. Draumur and HAM. They may have a combined aged of 942 between all of them, but they showed that PROPER rock music is often best left to the grownups. As for the best of the rest, I give props to Apparat Organ Quartet @ NASA, James Blake @ Venue (one of the best DJ sets I’ve heard for a long time) and Ghostigital @ Tjarnabíó (surrealist power electronics from a city councilman). For the most improved performance, the Fist Fokkers at NASA were a complete revelation. Some wonderful songs with an interesting flourish by adding a nonchalant wind section.
Momentum Backed It Up – By Bogi Bjarnason
My favourite gig at Airwaves was without doubt the Momentum performance. Since receiving their excellent latest album, Fixation at Rest, two months ago it has yet to leave my CD tray. And they back it up live.
Be it the awesome dynamics, the powerful vocals or the masterful musicianship, it all blends together into an unstoppable feral force that mesmerises and brutalises, all at the same time.
Although they played to a dismal crowd, they still projected a total professional front and the image of a band that is finally about to go places.
Honourable mentions: The Joy Formidable—power trio, with an emphasis on power, Bloodgroup—over-the-fucking-top, but long winded, Mammút—more fun than a bag of kittens.
Spleen United Kicked Ass – By Sindri Eldon
The best thing I saw was Spleen United, who in my humble opinion outshone anything and everyone at the Art Museum that night, Robyn included. What’s supposed to be so fucking amazing about Robyn, anyway? Whatever. Point is, Spleen United (what a stupid name) kicked ass. They had a strong pop sensibility imbedded in a base of good, honest, retro, and played it very inventively, using live drums and multiple sequencers and loops, and making excellent use of live percussion, such as tambourines and hi-hats. What’s even better is that they managed to do it without coming off like the preppy, pretentious assholes Hurts look and sound like… but I don’t know, maybe Spleen United are assholes and Hurts are really cool guys who like Star Wars and bowling. Who knows, right?
I Did Not Expect Lazyblood By Kári Tulinius
Lazyblood at Faktorý, first show of Saturday night. I’m there on the recommendation of fellow reviewer Bob Cluness. Other than that, all I know about Lazyblood is what the Airwaves booklet says. So when the duo walked onto the stage I didn’t know what to expect. Erna Ómarsdóttir, who is a modern dancer, a petite woman with wild hair and muscles like suspension bridge cables, picked up a microphone and announced, in a voice that sounded a bit like Jónsi from Sigur Rós doing a Björk impression, that the next song was about “being in love and laziness.” Therefore, I wasn’t expecting when Erna and Valdimar Jóhannsson, the other member of Lazyblood, a large, imposing, long-haired man, started screaming in the deep, guttural manner of black metal singers, their faces and bodies contorting.
It was as if an electro-schmindie band had been eaten by rampaging maenads. While Valdimar stuck to the stage, playing music on a laptop and other gadgets, Erna twisted and coiled her body, at times rushing into the crowd, even crawling around on the floor, pushing audience members out of her way. This was, of course, a thoroughly premeditated and choreographed performance, but in the moment it felt like being enveloped by a soft avalanche of human madness. Describing Lazyblood’s performance is an exercise in futility, as their art can almost be said to be about the limits of what can be communicated in language. So just go watch a live video. It’s Björk Metal (that’s a good thing).
Efterklang’s Energy And Euporia By Eimear Fitzgerald
Some might see it as a lazy choice to pick a well established act as my best Airwaves show, but the experience of standing amongst the sheer energy and euphoria that Efterklang brought to the stage of the Reykjavík Art Museum is a feeling that’s come back to my mind time and time again since.
So many people I spoke with before this gig expected an introverted, thought provoking performance from these Danish purveyors of instrumental electronica. But Efterklang superseded all expectations, blowing the entire audience out of the water with a set that lit the place on fire.
The size and austerity of the Art Museum has traditionally made it the most notoriously difficult Airwaves venue for bands to master, and a challenge for even the most experienced of artists. So there was something extraordinarily special in Efterklang’s music and stage presence that enabled them to move beyond that and connect with every member of the audience in the way that they did. It felt like coming from the cold into a big warm, motherly, musical hug. Wonderful.
But I can’t finish off without giving special mention to Morðingjarnir, Berndsen and Futuregrapher, my top Airwaves finds of 2010. Why? Well, although they span very different musical genres, they all delivered exciting and engaging sets that demanded my attention, completely surpassed expectations and, very importantly, made me shake my groove thang until the last song. I hope this year’s Airwaves provides the launch pad they all deserve.
Think about life By Anna Andersen
After enjoying a series of Icelandic favourites on NASA’s Friday night line-up, I pulled out my programme to remind myself of who was up next. That’s right, Think About Life, some indie rockers from Montreal, Canada. With no idea what to expect, I certainly didn’t expect them to put on the best show I would witness at Iceland Airwaves 2010. But, that’s exactly what they did.
From the moment they took the stage, their fresh, feel good vibes put a fat grin on my face. These interactive performers were on FIRE. Energetic singer Martin Cesar, who dawned a pair of suave shades reminiscent of Ray Charles, and fun-spirited Caila Thompson-Hannant tantalized the audience. They evidently also have a good sense of humour. I have no idea what Martin was doing dancing around with a Chinese flag, but it was entertaining, and some lucky soul in the audience now has that flag.
So, it’s not that I listen to their music on repeat now, or really at all for that matter, but it’s just that they played a really good show with fantastic energy that permeated through the crowd. When they finished playing, I still had a fat grin on my face.
Lazyblood made me look twice – Bergrún Anna Hallsteinsdóttir
The best show I witnessed at Iceland Airwaves in 2010 is a pretty hard one to pick. Frankly the line up this year was awesome. However, because I was reviewing for the Grapevine, I got the opportunity to see all kinds of things I wouldn’t normally have thought to check out. One of these happened to be Lazyblood, an Icelandic duo who cranked out a truly impressive and powerful performance for the few keen punters who came to check out their set early on Saturday evening.
It is perhaps because I am new to the particular style of dark, grinding music that Lazyblood play that I was so blown away by their set. All greenness aside, their performance was deeply affecting simply for the amount of energy they put into their work. Veins were bulging from their necks and eyes rolling back in their heads. It was cool. They also used the space in a really different way, not leaping around theatrically and striking the typical rock star poses, but moving snake-like across the floor, amongst the thinly scattered crowd.
A concert is really great when it opens your eyes to something, makes you look twice and see that music doesn’t just have to be about playing notes, it can also be a performance which challenges people. This is what I saw in Lazyblood’s show, and probably what made it the best show I saw at Iceland Airwaves 2010.
Diamond Rings By Morgan Levy, Photographer
Perhaps what made Diamond Rings so captivating to watch and photograph was the incongruity between his soft, angelic face and his unexpectedly low, disaffected voice. His effeminately feathered eye shadow clashed perfectly with distinct masculine vocals reminiscent of Stephen Merritt. The disconnect between sight and sound and the blurriness of gender lines added a delightful element of absurdity to his performance. I couldn’t resist over-stating the sweetness of his face by creating a halo around his head with the beams of white stage light. Nor could I hold back laughter when—twenty seconds into his first song—he encountered technical difficulties and dryly asked if any pictures were taken so that at least someone could blog about his performance.
Efterklang By Hörður Sveinsson, Photographer
Efterklang’s concert at Hafnarhús was absolutely fantastic. I was seeing the band perform for the first time and didn’t quite know what to expect. I’ve also always been rather prejudiced against Danish bands (what’s the deal with crappy Danish bands anyway?). But Efterklang played with immense joy and fun, and for a while I had to stop shooting, take a break and watch the band play. Five thumbs up.
Teeth, By Páll Hilmarsson,Photographer
Teeth played Friday at Venue. I didn’t know anything about them before I entered after having witnessed the rather dull and not so photogenic Dikta at the Art Museum. Teeth didn’t impress me with their music but they sure were photogenic. Especially their singer, who I noticed later that night when editing, wasn’t too concerned about hiding her underpants, or vagina for that matter. But this is their drummer and it’s my favourite from Airwaves because, like so many photographs, it’s a half-truth or even a lie. I bet you think that he’s tired or unhappy, right? He isn’t, he’s drying the sweat from his brow. It was hot in there.
Fist Fokkers, Reykjavik!, SH. Draumur, Ham By Hvalreki, Photographer
How can one sum up Airwaves with just one photograph, let alone one from Thursday night at NASA featuring a line up of Iceland’s heaviest hitters and legendary rockers all in their finest form? The Fist Fokkers opened the night, rocking their hardest, and setting a tough-act-to-follow tempo. Reykjavík! had the spirit with a stage presence that lit the crowded house on fire. With their first concert in seventeen years, S.H. Draumur had fans in tears. Finally, the icing on the cake: a most anticipated and rare performance from the legendary HAM. The guitar gods were most certainly smiling on NASA this evening, need I say more?
There’s a couple of things that could’ve been done differently this Airwaves festival.. read our Review Team’s views on what we need more, and less of, for 2011..