Airwaves is upon us! The off-venues are running, the stages are warming up, and it’s time to download the festival app and start organising your life for the next five days. Grapevine will, of course, be there in force—we have ten writers doing the rounds, and they’ll report back each day on the highlights, low ebbs, crowd surfs, life-changing shows and existential crises they encounter. Here’s where you’ll find them.
Rex Beckett – FUBAR at Momwaves. Party
It’s Airwaves-eve and my wrist is already sweating under my plastic press pass. What a familiar feeling, as I am doing this for the 7th dang-doodly time. Like clockwork, as soon as it was strapped on and I took my ceremonial wristband-selfie, the excitement kicked in. Yaywaves! Funwaves! Drunkwaves! The walk from the media centre at Harpa back to our Grapevine meeting made me praise the universe that it won’t be absolutely necessary to go there this year. I will be bouncing all over the place, from Húrra to see Lido Pimienta (a Colombian-Canadian powerhouse who just took home the coveted Polaris prize), to the Hard Rock Café for GDJYB (heavy dreamgaze rock from Hong Kong), up to Gamla Bíó to catch Torres and Michael Kiwanuka (I know little about both except that I really want to see and know more about them after). I’m also going to be showing up like some kind of proud mom to see friends that are first-timers in the lineup—Godchilla, Sólveig Matthildur, ROHT, and Fever Dream. I also feel a sort of obligation to go see Arab Strap, which I liked for a brief stint when I was 19 and severely hated myself, for a fun trip down memory lane. Of course I suspect that by week’s end, my memory and body will be FUBAR. Oh yeah, and I’m also playing three off-venue shows. I’m Rex Pistols. Party.
Grayson Del Faro – A Queer Mammút of a festival
Just like Iceland itself, Airwaves has a certain inexplicable magnetism that draws even the unlikeliest of people back year after year. You’ve probably already overheard folks in the bars, cafés, and hostel lobbies saying, “It’s my third Airwaves,” or “I’ve been here six years in a row.” To the noobs, it may come across as a phony kind of street cred thing to count our Airwaves like notches in the belt, but three years from now, they’ll be the ones telling some other fresh-eyed noob it’s their fourth Airwaves. And every one of us returnees (or locals, as the case may be) are secretly envious of those who are about to experience it for the first time. I’m no exception. I first visited Iceland for Airwaves in 2013, promptly moved here in 2014, and haven’t missed one since. So this will be my fifth and that milestone has a huge influence on what I’m looking forward to the most.
After many years of waiting as an eager fanboy, it was five years ago that I finally saw Emilíana Torrini play live. It’s almost symbolic to see her return this year, reinventing her own music in her new project with The Colorist. The rest of my must-see is—unsurprisingly—exclusively Icelandic, including the reigning queen of Icelandic hip-hop Cell7, the dark and delicate rockers Mammút, and two of Iceland’s up-and-coming electro-pop icons, Daði Freyr and Hildur. Hildur deserves a second mention not only for her incredible voice and musicianship, but for being a prominent activist for women in the music industry as well as for women’s rights and queer rights too. The witchy, sensuous synths of aYia and the dance party explosion of Milkywhale, although opposite ends of the electronic music spectrum, are two of my perennial favorites. And lastly, as any writer should, I haven’t missed a single Airwords literary showcase, where musicians and writers are selected to read and show a whole different side of sound and performance. My ears are ready listen, my feet are ready to dance, and my mouth is already full of beer. Skál!
Greig Robertson – A foxy church sort of affair
I’m making my debut at Airwaves this year and although I have a limited knowledge of the music scene here, my appetite for Icelandic hip-hop has already been whetted. After seeing some swaggy performances from Joey Christ and Reykjavíkurdætur at Vakan on Saturday night, I’m looking forward to seeing plenty of other acts I’ve never heard of, and viewing them without prejudice. I’ve also been loading up on the Airwaves Spotify playlist and Mahalia, Gurr, Alexander Jarl, Biggi Hilmars and Mura Masa all seem great.
On Friday, I’ll be seeing Asgeir at Harpa Eldborg and—if I can make it—to Billy Bragg at Fríkirkjan at 10pm I will. Billy might not be the edgiest act at Airwaves, but as a staunch supporter of many dank egalitarian causes back in the UK, I’ll have to represent. As I am reliably informed by another member of Grapevine staff, the highlight of my entire festival and possibly life will come at 02.30 on Saturday night when I see Tófa, and by Sunday evening, I expect to have completed nothing less than a musical odyssey that will shake me to my very foundations.
Charley Ward – aeroplanes, spaceships and drunken empowerment
My knowledge of the Icelandic music scene is somewhat sparse, and this will be my first ever Airwaves, so I’m mostly keeping an open mind and looking forward to discovering some new music and seeing where the night takes me. I usually like meandering indie music or stuff with lots of guitars, so I’m going to try to shake things up this year and expand my repertoire. On that note, I’m looking forward to dj. flugvél og geimskip (“DJ airplane and spaceship”). This weirdly wonderful electronica is created by Icelandic artist Steinunn Eldflaug Harðardóttir, and features erratic melodies, lots of bass, the occasional bongo drum and intense, and high pitched vocals. It sounds a little bit like if Cocorosie cheered up considerably and then were abducted by aliens. I’m also excited to see Vök, which is more like dreamy electronic pop, and Fever Dream for a dose of drunken female empowerment.
Jenna Mohammed – A lo-fi Canadian pops Airwaves cherry
This year will be my first time at Airwaves, I had plans to experience the festival in all its glory last year but it never happened… long story short, things ended badly with an ex. It’s probably for the best since that experience taught me to be more open minded. So this year I’m branching out into new experience because you never know what you might discover. I’m excited to see artists I’m already familiar with such as the synth-punk trio Kælan Mikla, Fufanu—an amazing local up and coming post-punk band—and Gangly, one of Iceland’s most mysterious bands.
In terms of expanding my horizon, I’m trying to be more open to Iceland’s hip-hop scene. When I first heard Sturla Atlas I initially thought “this is great music to pre-drink and wild out to,” but now I find myself blasting his music on my walk home from work. Lonely Parade is a band I’ve discovered through the Airwaves lineup. They’re an “art punk” band from Ontario, Canada, not too far from where I’m from so I want to show support to my fellow Canadians. Their lo-fi sound with dreamy vocals reminds me of home.
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