Some observations from our team
Iceland Airwaves 2014 came and went, and oh what a blast it was (it was. It’s crazy. You should come next year). We very much like the Iceland Airwaves festival. Indeed, every year since 2005, we’ve operated a gargantuan team dedicated to reviewing EVERY SHOW by EVERY BAND on the official festival schedule. Through the years, this has proved a fun and often rough process that has resulted in some great writing, several nice quotes for a band’s press kit, a few broken hearts, several heated phone calls and more than one death threat (including that time in the late ‘00s when a local electronic musician proclaimed very seriously that he would burn our office to the ground). It will also, as time progresses, surely provide vital insight for tomorrow’s pop scholars.
Anyway, rather than repeat ourselves for the tenth year in a row, we decided to try something different this year. “Something different” in this case meant assembling a small team of music enthusiasts (and one photographer), equipping them with press passes and letting them loose on the festival grounds, to do as they pleased, so long as they would turn in at least one piece per day—interview, review, thinkpiece, whatever. Then, we also did fun things like build a portrait studio in our office and feed pizza to drunken garage rockers.
This worked out fairly well—a lot of good stuff came out of it actually. You can read all those wonderful articles and look at a bunch of great pictures on our airwaves page. In the meantime, read our team members’ thoughts on the best/most memorable stuff they experienced at this year’s Airwaves.
See you at IA2K15!
It was a cup of soup. A free cup of scalding oil bubbles, salt, carrots, meat, onions, and more salt. The soup reached me on Sunday evening at Bravó, at the Grapevine team’s final Airwaves meeting. By that point, I had been physically assaulted by the festival. I was running off of a maximum six hours of sleep and a Bounty bar. The cold from outside had crept into my core and taken residence in my body like a parasite. I was a host to exhaustion; this was bedrock. Simply existing was too grand a task for me, and the thought of dancing, thinking, interacting nearly brought me to tears. And then the miraculous hand of Haukur reached over my shoulder and floated the oily styrofoam cup down to the table. It was relief itself—mediocre-tasting, extremely salty, so hot that I could hardly use my mouth the next day.
But it was nourishment. It was replenishing my substance and collapsing the ice cavern inside of me. What was truly profound about this cup of soup is that it revived in me the will to be. Listening, dancing, engaging with the night no longer seemed like a malicious attack on my sanity. I welcomed it, I was excited, even. With a renewed vitality I charged to Húrra where Ghostigital were performing their final Airwaves set. And there I found my second favourite sight of the festival, which I have already written a total fangirl review of.
The best thing I saw was Caribou on Saturday night at Hafnarhús. Caribou‘s purified beats and textured electronica with Dan Snaith’s lullaby vocals singing “I can’t do without you” led the crowd into exciting new worlds of musical finesse. The diverse variety of songs, some with a techno beat, others with a more electronica focus, gave us an insight into the many wonders of music by Mr. Snaith and his band. The build-up from the first song to the last added up through dynamic shifts and created a warm and loose atmosphere leaving the audience ecstatic! I loved every bit of it and wish it had never ended!
“Caribou was the best concert this year… actually it made it to my Top Five concerts of the past seven Airwaves,” my Icelandic friend concluded on Sunday night after the final Airwaves concert.
I agree, they were amazing!
Polish sonic assailants BNNT left the longest-lasting impression at Airwaves 2014. Their performance was both engaging and uncompromising and it shook me up. Some would argue that it had more to do with performance art than music. That might be true. But then, my interests have simply shifted over the years.
Maybe I feel like something is lacking in the standard concert model. Maybe I’m not that interested anymore in seeing kids performing music with their fingers crossed, hoping a snippet will end up in an Adidas or H&M ad so their “name will get out there” and their YouTube views stack up and their page-like numbers rise. Maybe it has something to do with the “state of the industry.” Maybe it has something to do with “industry.” Because my runner-up also played with the format: The Knife put on a memorable show that was extremely successful in doing away with celebrity and rather celebrating unity. Naysayers who dread the apparent miming should consider seriously how much performance there is generally in electronic shows. I’m not sure cueing scenes in Ableton Live necessarily counts as performing, whereas dancing cheerfully around with a dozen people in pastel onesies and pretending to play huge drums definitely does.
But don’t be fooled; rest assured that both BNNT and The Knife performed music that was very very very cool.
There were plenty of great shows at this year’s Airwaves that deserve special mention, including Agent Fresco and Mammút’s dramatic sets, and Brain Police and Jaako Eino Kalevi’s energetic performances, but they weren’t the best. It is very tempting to nominate Future Islands or The Flaming Lips as the best—after all, they were two of the headlining acts and had a deeply emotional impact on me, with the former absolutely gutting me, and the latter being such a grand blues-buster that my face still hurts from smiling.
It would be easy to pick them, but the “BEST THING I SAW” was clearly Girl Band. No, they aren’t the Irish Spice Girls, they are a four-part smack-in-the-face noise post-punk outfit that excel at subverting your expectations and rocking the fuck out! They are the real deal and you should go see them play, both because they’re really good, and also because there’s not much to watch or listen to online, as these bloody wankers still haven’t released anything more than a single 7”…
This is a query that I find daunting, frustrating, and unanswerable and I don’t think I’ll answer it with the typical expected explanation of “Flaming Lips put on the best fucking show holy fucking dog dicks, Fuck yeah Iceland!”
Nah, I think I’ll go a different route on this one, but it’s no less genuine as I feel I could never narrow a festival spanning five blurry nights of dazed and confused magic into one favourite moment. It’s never about just one occasion, or specifically one performance, it’s a beautifully decorated cornucopia of good times with good people, with good music, with good vibes and a whole lot of liver punching with alcohol consumption.
Some things are lost and forgotten in the hippocampus, which is a major component in the brain responsible for creating new memories, both long-term and short-term, as well as spacial navigation, hence the swaying of drunkards to and fro as if the gravities of the world are tugging at them from every which angle. I may not remember everything exactly as it happened, but looking back through my photos I’m reminded of one particular beauty I saw at the Girl Band/Spray Paint show on Friday. Here it is in all of its glory:
Behold, in all its free-flowing beauty! As a stereotypical hockey-loving Canadian, the best thing I saw at Iceland Airwaves 2014 was definitely this dude’s hockey hair. Everyone, meet Kaarl Cårlsberg, he was drafted to the NHL in 2014 for having perfect hockey hair. His flow is impetuous and his defense is impregnable, his stickhandling with the biscuit (puck) is sub-par and his wrist shot is shit, but that doesn’t matter when your hair looks this good… anyway players are often too completely distracted by his valiant flow to strip the puck off this rookie.
Why was this my favorite Airwaves moment, you may ask in bewilderment? Because man, like Neil Young once said, Rock and roll is about micro moments, and if you don’t appreciate this micro moment, than you don’t appreciate rock and roll… You hoser.
PS—His name isn’t really Kaarl and he doesn’t identify with hockey in any way, but he was a good sport about us snapping a photo of him, if you see him around give this dude a high five! fuckin’ right bud.
The best thing I saw at Airwaves 2014 was when two blonde, teenaged Icelandic girls came up to 19-year-old Danish-Palestinian poet Yahya Hassan at a bar in downtown Reykjavík and asked if they could take a selfie with him. They said, “Excuse me, I know this is weird but we love your poetry.” I have never seen anyone act like that around a poet before in my life. Long live the revolution.
Well, this was a “vintage Airwaves” in my opinion, although I seem to say the same thing every year. The headliners didn’t disappoint, although the programming of Future Islands against The Knife did. Having chosen Future Islands, I was duly blown away by their odd, intense, emotional, theatrical pop music.
The only thing that hit quite the same peaks for me personally was Ghostigital—a kind of improv-electronic-punk band that whip up a storm of energy, and seem indefatigably creative. From the new Icelandic crop, M-Band‘s tenor vocals and atmospheric soundscapes seemed to shine particularly brightly.
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