How is this event different to how it was ten years ago?
I don’t think I would have expected to be in this position ten years ago. I wasn’t sure if we’d make it through, no one really believed this had a chance, people were very sceptical; it took a lot of convincing, but it’s different now. Everyone wants to be a part of it, and the last few years have been more pleasure then pain. Now it’s still hard work but you have the wind on your back instead of in your face.
How many people are you expecting? If the demand is so high wouldn’t you like to expand?
It should be sold out around 4,000 people. I wouldn’t want it to get bigger. It’s different from other festivals. The popularity is because it’s so small and so intimate, fans and artists are drinking in the same bar. If it was bigger we’d have to include bigger venues, we’re basically using every big venue in Reykjavík as it is.
Is the current economic situation in Iceland threatening the festival?
It costs probably somewhere between 14–15 million Icelandic krónur to run – it should cost half that. That’s another thing that has changed, it’s a big event in Reykjavík and the volunteering sprit that dominated in the beginning has partly gone. We used up all our favours so now we pay full price wherever we go. Sometimes I feel like we are victims of our own success. We used to get hotel bookings for artists because no one is coming; now we can’t because everyone is here to see us! The programme is getting so extensive we basically have every capable stage technician and sound technician working for us, so it’s getting more expensive for us.
Is this why the event feels downsized?
There are changes to the programme, which is different from last year. Tunglið has now changed into a club so it’s going to be an all electronic music venue for the festival; we are having an all girls night, with great female talent from Iceland and beyond. We’re also having ‘Label Night’ with Kimi records and a few others promoting all the headliners from their labels. The basic structure for the festival is still the same: The Art Gallery, Tunglið, Organ and NASA, these are the backbone. It’s been a winning strategy so far, so we’re not going to change it.
How big is your team?
There are three people, including myself, who work here year round, then more people come on board the closer we get to the festival, it goes up to around 78. There are always setbacks and u-turns, but usually its goes according to plan.
Who picks the bands, is it led by personal taste or by what you think people will like?
There are people who know more about the local scene, but we listen to all the demos together – there were well over 300 this year – then I have the final say, but we go as close to what people want as possible, there are always surprises. Obviously personal taste has everything to do with it, if we don’t like it, it doesn’t get on, but we also consider what’s going on. You have to respect other peoples’ taste, you have to put on what’s popular in different crowds, but taste has a lot to do with it.
With the international acts do you chase them or do they apply?
This isn’t the biggest festival in the world and we don’t try to be. Communication with the outside world takes up a lot of our time, musicians and journalists, and we try to give everyone as much info as possible. We write to the people we really want to have on the bill, but we get loads of requests. People play the festival, then a year later their friends who played with them on the US tour want to come. It makes it a family feeling, friends who are friends of other bands, or managers who know managers. I kind of like that, it’s cosy and homey. Out of the 2000 foreigners who come to Iceland, even though you don’t know them, they are normally regulars.
What’s the best stuff?
I’m looking forward to seeing international acts I haven’t seen yet, but I’m looking forward to new Icelandic stuff I haven’t seen too, and also a lot of established bands will be playing new material: FM Belfast and Reykjavik! for example. There are so many things to see and you can only see so much.
If you could book a dream band, living or dead, who would it be?
Frank Sinatra? Nah, I’m joking. Kraftwerk would have been a great booking. They played a one off gig a few years ago. Airwaves has never been about ‘one big band.’ Sometimes the best performances are from the bands you’ve never heard of or hardly have a record out. It’s not about ‘the one Rage Against the Machine concert’ or the ‘one Pearl Jam concert’. It’s a good platform for new talent. These are very good conditions to do a good show, you have a very perceptive crowd and venues that are packed. Bands say they play their best gigs ever at Airwaves, so it’s a perfect platform for up-and-coming bands to get recognised. People were so obsessed about getting people from Sony and BMI in the house, but now it is more democratic, it’s about reaching out to as many people as possible.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!