There are countless locals who go to Airwaves just to see their friends and relatives bands play. Given how the festival is dominated by locals – and used to be much moreso – this is a very easy thing to do. I used to mistake this for some kind of laziness, close-mindedness or lack of interest in experiencing newer international bands who were getting a rare opportunity to play this event. I was new to this country, I didn’t have many solidified relationships yet and I was hungry for all kinds of new experiences and enriching opportunities to hear new music and meet new people, so I judged people unfairly for going to support their loved-ones.
But Iceland Airwaves helped me make friends. Actually, it’s probably been the catalyst to some of my best friendships here. Definitely the best parties, the funniest memories.
Now several years later, with countless friends in bands, I am unashamed to say that I have become one of those people. Or at least, for the first two nights of the festival, I made the conscious choice to be the I’m-Just-Going-To-See-My-Friends-Play person. You’ll always hear someone say, “but I can see them anytime”, but going to see your friends at Airwaves, it’s just different.
The first friends I went to see were my oldest friends – dare I say my surrogate family – the Grapevine team. I know they’re not a band, but trust me, it’s as integral to Airwaves as griping about the line outside the art museum. I hadn’t been to the office for a while so I stopped in to say hi to my “uncles” and then we walked up for our pre-festival beer meeting. I used to interview bands and hear them call Airwaves “Christmas for Icelandic musicians”. Now that I have established sit-down traditions with a similar group of people each year, yeah, it makes perfect sense.
After we wrapped up the ceremonies, I ran down to Bar 11 to see Godchilla, since the bassist, Biggi, is my bandmate, and guitarist Hjalti has eternal pop-in privileges at my home. Basically, more surrogate family. They have been applying to the festival since 2012 but have yet to get in, so it felt crucial to go support them. It was awesome to see the basement of Bar 11 just as packed as when they play any other gig, but with a lot of random faces that were clearly there to discover them.
A little while later, when I met up with Biggi and his girlfriend, Júlía of WESEN and Oyama, over at Gamla Bíó, we had just barely settled onto a sofa in the lobby when two nice guys approached Biggi to express their new love of Godchilla. Turned out that like me, they are Canadian, and so I made my first new friends of the festival, Matt and Neal.
I always look forward to making new friends during the festival and it’s one of the times when I am at my peak extroversion. If years of solo reviewing at one venue for a whole night has taught me anything, it’s that good and interesting people are always around you, especially at a music festival. You might overhear someone share some extreme opinion about the band onstage, and it just happens to be exactly what you were thinking. Next thing you know, you’re at an after-party stealing wine out of the homeowner’s cabinet together. Just go with it.
But I digress.
Our new pals asked us about the darker scene here, specifically about post-punk, which gave us an opportunity to shamelessly promote our band, Antimony, as well as our friends in Kvöl, Kælan Mikla, Döpur and the next band to hit the Gamla stage, Börn. They immediately said that the latter was already of great interest to them, so it wasn’t so surprising when halfway through their set, one of them leaned over to me and said that if this was all he got to see at the festival, he was set. Knowing how intense they can be onstage, I could tell that those lovely children were on their fourth set of the day, but they carried the set with dark brooding energy and stoic cool. Gush gush gush.
Unfortunately I ended up misgauging my time a bit and missed my dear friend AMFJ play at Boston. (Seems I’ll be getting a noogie.) Biggi and Júlía were heading down to see Gísli Pálmi, and even though I don’t really like him at all, I thought our new Canadian friends should see it as a social observation of popular Icelandic culture. After a very anti-climatic hype intro and a couple of songs, Neal said that this set reinforced the takeaway message he got from Börn’s set, held up his phone and it read: ‘KILL THE PATRIARCHY’.
We decided to go back up to Gamla Bíó to unironically rock out to Pink Street Boys, who are some of my favourite people to meet on djammið. They’re always rowdy as fuck and fun as hell. This set was no different but it wasn’t exactly friendly vibes, as they openly aired their animosity for a well-known and commonly disliked scenester between nearly every song. The crowd fed off this ragey energy and a small moshpit broke out that sent kids flying across the room and spilling beers all over. By the end of the set, I was dancing with Júlíana of Börn so much that I wasn’t even looking at the stage anymore. Dancing with a friend is always more fun than just watching the band.
I kept the nepotism going on Thursday night by sticking with my bandmates all night and going to see Börn again, as well as Þórir Georg, someone we frequently share a stage with when he plays as Kvöl, and then over to Gaukurinn to see Just Another Snake Cult. When this last one plays, I always forget that he used to be in a band with my boyfriend and we used to share a studio together. His star-power is brilliant and his strange charisma is only surpassed by his songwriting, which impresses me more and more each time I see him play. Maybe it was exhaustion and the three beer emos, but his closing number of “Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key” brought me to tears. Usually, the longer I am friends with a musician, the less chance they have of breaking me down. This was just weird.
But after two nights of sticking with my buddies, I know it’s time to venture to places and people beyond my own acquaintance. Having embraced the ability to just support the people I love playing the small and early sets of this huge festival, I will now go stand in long lines for people who I can admire or scorn without reprisal.
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