From Iceland — Iryna’s Saturday Night Iceland Airwaves Diary: Pockets Full Of Beer, Eyes Full Of Tears

Iryna’s Saturday Night Iceland Airwaves Diary: Pockets Full Of Beer, Eyes Full Of Tears

Published November 5, 2023

Photo by
Joana Fontinha

My final day of Airwaves this year starts very early – with four gigs by up-and-coming musicians down in the basement from Grapevine’s office. The venue is tiny and weird, but also charming in a way. It feels like nothing has changed at Djúpið for the last 20 years or so, but I don’t mind. I’ve heard that it was here Sigur Rós were playing early in their career, and this makes the venue even more special. The door is open, and music is blasting outside. Maybe some big record label manager or the editor of The Rolling Stone is eating a hot dog outside, but then will decide to check out this basement? You never know.

First up is lúpína, an artist I’ve honestly been hooked on since seeing her perform at Hátíðni festival this summer. With her iconic vocals, lúpína mesmerises the basement, and while I text a friend that I wish more people could hear her, he replies, “the fewer people, the better.”

Next up is Emma, a band I’ve never heard of until today. I think they emerged in the scene very recently, having made it to the finals of Músiktilraunir. I can’t even seem to find them on Spotify. What can I say? They are very good live.

GrapeWaves continues with an unlikely combination of three Faroese natives playing music with a Mexican, in Iceland. Andervel’s work is melancholic but beautiful – here you have an homage to his family, roots, and even Iceland with a song in Icelandic.

The next band sets the basement on fire. I have no idea how the visitors of the restaurant above are feeling, but down here, everybody’s dancing and jumping. Xiupill brings their industrial hip-hop with infectious energy, and the audience takes it all in.

I take a break to recharge and kick off my official Airwaves program at Fríkirkjan, where for the first time ever, composer Herdís Stefánsdóttir performs with her project Kónguló. With Kónguló’s first album in the works, Herdís admits she’s nervous as almost no one has heard these songs. It’s the first time this year I feel like this venue really suits the artist, and as Herdís tells a story of how the second song came to be, I shed a few tears. I wish I could stay for the whole gig, but I need to run to Gamla Bíó.

I start crying the moment I step into the next performance. Haraldur Þorleifsson, known in Iceland as Halli, performs tonight under his stage name Önnu Jónu Son. With the name and the song that’s playing, Halli gives tribute to his mother, whom he lost when he was eleven years old. A lot of Halli’s musical work comes from experiencing loss, grief, trauma, and the powerlessness of being trapped in a body that almost daily fails to perform things most people take for granted. I think about how grief is one of the strongest feelings, how it shapes us and takes us to previously unknown places. And how Halli doesn’t have to be on this stage tonight – he’s a very successful entrepreneur and philanthropist – but also how happy I am that he is. The founding member and member of the iconic The Sugarcubes, Sigtryggur Baldursson, joins Halli on stage to introduce the band that’s supporting him today. This might not be the most popular festival music – it surely breaks your heart. Spoiler: This isn’t the last time I’ll cry tonight.

With tears running down my cheeks and the harsh wind blowing in my face, I try to get to Iðnó as soon as possible. Here, the Arctic music showcase is in full swing. Canadian Inuk musician Elisapie starts with Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” cover in Inuktitut. I secretly really like it – it’s the language I’ve never heard before that makes up for the unique sound I’m curious to explore more. But my companion disagrees, and we leave for Hauschka before we find out if Elisapie only plays covers or not.

I challenge myself to only drink alcohol I get for free tonight, and so far, it’s going really well. Security guards at Gamla Bíó don’t let me in with an open drink (they have no idea how many I have in my pockets), but I pretend to finish my beer and get through. Hauschka is definitely a name I’ve heard before, or at least, it sounds very familiar, but I don’t have a song to associate it with. A good pianist is always a tearjerker for me, so I shed a few tears, happy that my friend doesn’t notice.

Another friend sends a photo of the line to the Art Museum, and it’s huge, so we have to leave again. Luckily, there’s a separate line for press, so I get through quickly. My friend isn’t that lucky – weirdly enough, if you’re an artist who has also played Airwaves, you don’t really have a shortcut and have to wait in the general admission queue. I reconnect with my friend 40 (!!!) minutes later.

Squid is one of the bands I was looking forward to the most tonight. The UK-based post-punk band, who describe themselves as anxiety rock on Spotify, brings on a feast at the Art Museum. Having lots of personal memories associated with the band’s 2021 album Bright Green Field, I was almost sure it’s during Squid’s performance that I’ll cry – but the opposite happens. I allow myself not to overthink it this time and just have fun instead. It’s rare when a band has a lead singer who’s an equally good drummer, and this is definitely the case with Squid. A friend texts me, “They are so good!” – I told you, I reply to her.

Next up, I have to make a big decision of the night (and I’m never good with those) – Celebs or Daði Freyr. I opt for the latter since I’m already at the right venue, and if I leave for the IA Center and then change my mind, I’d have to look for ways to conquer that line again.

With a gigantic inflatable head and hands on the stage, Daði Freyr certainly makes an appearance. The audience goes crazy. But I’m there with a non-Icelandic friend, and it’s hard to explain Daði Freyr’s music to someone who hasn’t heard it before or watched Eurovision. It’s fun, but not fun enough, I think, and sprint back to Gamla Bíó for Andy Shauf.

Andy Shauf is one of those musicians I think I’d make good friends with should our paths cross in a more natural setting. He’s there just with his guitar – shy and not verbose; the lyrics of his songs speak for themselves. I cry again and take a seat at the balcony of Gamla Bíó to remember this moment.

I end up at the official Airwaves after-party at the IA Center, where we were promised a DJ set by Daði Freyr, but it turns out to be his weird cover night. He starts with singing Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” and continues with “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi. What is this, Daði Freyr? This song peaked 20 years ago. I feel like I’m the only person in the room hating this, so I decide it’s time to go home.

Follow along with the all the Grapevine’s Iceland Airwaves 2023 coverage here.

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