From Iceland — An Airwaves Noobie's Newfound Festival Wisdom

An Airwaves Noobie’s Newfound Festival Wisdom

Published November 5, 2015

Alexander de Ridder
Photo by
Birta Rán
Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

As is tradition, every year at least one article by an intern must discuss their experiences as a first-time Iceland Airwaves attendee. My first evening at my first Airwaves was fantastic, and educational. GKR was amazing, and the Reykjavíkurdætur flat out rocked. Their mix of feminist/sex-positive lyrics, stage presence and costumes just blew me away. This was followed by an act I hadn’t expected to love so much, Æla. Turns out that good-looking guys in skimpy dresses who play incredibly loud noise is something I kinda dig. Hm. More importantly, however, I learned a lot about proper Airwaves preparation, and want to share my wisdom.

I wanted to try to go with the flow; have a general idea of things I might want to see, but not be too committed to any act. However, I went overboard and under-planned, which left me at one point being unable to choose between four different acts, all starting at the same time. If not for the intervention of two helpful strangers, I might not have been able to choose what to go see at all. This would’ve meant that I’d have missed Æla.

This would've been a huge shame. Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

This would’ve been a huge shame. Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

I spoke with Chris, an Irishman who’s on his third Airwaves, and Lottie, a Brit who’s here for the first time. They liked the atmosphere, the openness, and the relatively large scale of the festival when compared to society. “Just this afternoon we were in a hot tub in Vesturbæjarlaug, and I thought I recognised someone. After seeing the Reykjavíkurdætur, I realised that we were in a hot tub with one of them earlier today. At what other festival does that happen,” Chris tells me enthusiastically.

When asked about how they planned their evenings, the answers varied a bit. “I have clue, except that I need to see Perfume Genius at some point. Other than that I just follow this guy around,” Lottie says. Chris seemed to have more of an overview of things, reaching for the often-unfolded schedule with a crazy amount of circled events.

“I definitely want to see Hjaltalín. And Ylja. And Beach House, which is maybe kinda big for Airwaves, so I’ll try to be at Harpa early,” Chris explains. “On the busier nights I’ll try to prioritise venues over acts when the queues get crazy. I’d rather have to see a band I’m less excited about before seeing something I really want to see, than miss an amazing artist because I’m stuck in line.”

This feeling was seconded by a passing-by Icelander, Rósa, who was on her fourth or fifth Airwaves. She has two acts that she definitely wants to see: Batida (Friday) and FM Belfast (also Friday). “I’m definitely going to get there early, just so I don’t miss them. But other than those, I’m not planning too heavily—it’s not worth getting too bummed if you miss your favourites. No matter where you go during Airwaves, you’re bound to have a good time with great people.”

When asked for more nuggets of wisdom, Chris told me the biggest secret of all. “If you’re at Harpa, go to the downstairs bar. There are multiple bars, but the downstairs one serves pints instead of cans, for basically the same price. So if you’re at Harpa for longer, you save a lot of cash.”

So, yes. There’s a lot to learn about Airwaves-ing successfully, but let me help you along and summarise my findings after my first evening.

  • Schedule properly. Don’t leave gaps, but allow for leeway and backups in case a venue is full.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t make a show. There’ll be others (probably), and Airwaves doesn’t really have bad music.
  • Bring a fucking hat. It’s really cold.
  • Don’t get ripped off. Some beer is bad, and some beer comes in cans when a bar five metre to your left might get you a pint.
  • Hydrate.
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