The tidal Saturday night peak of Airwaves crashed over our tired review crew—and everyone else at the festival—mercilessly. Here’s what went down, from experimental composition to folkie gnomes to raging metal, and beyond.
John Rogers – From melancholia to euphoria
Bára Gísladóttir sits in the corner of Kaffibarinn with a faint, mischievous smile on her face. Atop multi-layered laptop playback, she’s torturing a double bass, scraping the strings to make a shrill screeching sound and plucking them so violently they snap alarmingly. She sings, cackles and mutters into the mic as she whips up a discomfiting, grating cacophony that sounds like nothing so much as the groan of a huge metal ship sliding beneath the waves.
It’s a spectacle that helps rouse the festival audience for the night ahead. After three days of off-venues and two nights of Airwaves, the wear and tear is starting to show, so I decide to ease into the evening via the piano ballads of sóley. It turns out to be a popular destination—Fríkirkjan is rammed, and I end up perched at the back of the balcony peering through a wooden railing to catch a glimpse of her ensemble. It’s worth it: coming off a lengthy tour, they expertly deliver the magical earworms of ‘Endless Summer.’
After dipping into shows by simmering solo artist einarIndra and goth-punks Kælan Mikla, we arrive back at Fríkirkjan in good time for JFDR & Pascal Pinon. It proves to be one of the most intimate concerts of the festival, with the twins Jófríður and Ásthildur Ákadóttir reuniting to play chamber versions of their back catalogue with a string ensemble led by guitarist Albert Finnbogason. It’s an utterly charming concert, and their soothing, heartfelt melodies bring the audience to their feet for a thunderous final ovation.
After rallying with a caffeine-laced cocktail, it’s time to step things up. One reliable way to do so is a second helping of dj. flugvél og geimskip, who seems to have been put on this earth to bring a smile to human faces. Her surreal world is full of encounters with strange creatures, this time including taking the audience to visit “a dog who lives in a trash can in India, and is so drunk that tonight he’s going to tell us his secrets.” His biggest secret, as it turns out, is that “everything is nonsense and nothing matters,” and with this in mind we dance along with the bouncing, grinning Steinunn, the audience reflecting her infectious, beaming grin.
After an enjoyably slick set of textured electronica from Kelly Lee Owens, we finish the night with the carefree, euphoric Euro-pop of Milkywhale, who turn Iðnó into the scene of a climactic dance party. The duo give it their all for the occasion, whipping up the room into a gleeful, whirling sea of people. Melkorka crowd-surfs balletically, and Árni incites the audience to bounce along en masse. We swim out into the icy night laughing, happy and sated.
Alice Demurtas – miraculous nature wonders and an Afro-beat dance party
Saturday is the day, they said. The day when this post-surgery-inspired wristband truly shows me what this festival is really worth. I had already popped down to Loft to see British artist Phoebe Coco at 15:30 on my way home from work. This dainty English rose with a full mane of soft, wavy hair might fool you into thinking she’s the tenderest creature to set foot on earth, but boy has she got soul. Her voice is charmingly hazy but rich at the same time, while her tunes are catchy without being corny. A true pleasure to listen to, and I could sit here forever.
Nevertheless, pleasure or not I desperately needed a nap, which quickly turned into a coma. Thus, it was only around 20:30 that I finally went to see JFDR + Pascal Pinon, who played with a string quartet at Fríkirkjan. It seems like it’s a day full of surprises, because what awaited was something I’d never seen or heard before. Jófríður is known for her whispered sets—songs almost breathed out, like mellow gusts that you can barely perceive. That’s what I love about Pascal Pinon: Jófríður’s voice seems to blossom out of nowhere, naturally existing within the air I breathe. But this time—oh!—this time it was something else. I don’t know whether she pushed herself to perfection, or whether the acoustics of the church were ideal, or both, but her voice was truly off the charts. It was like being in the midst of a powerful storm, but instead of feeling destroyed I felt reinvigorated, as if I had just witnessed a miraculous natural wonder.
I didn’t think the show could be topped, and almost shed a tear—where would I find something as good as this? But twenty minutes later, I found myself bouncing and dancing to wicked Afro beats down at the Reykjavík Art Museum, where Songhoy Blues turned up the heat on this icy cold night. I got lost in the crowd between guitar solos and rhythms, shaking my head and clapping my hands like I was someone else. Dancing crowds aren’t that common at Icelandic concerts, but these guys played so passionately that the audience couldn’t help but move as if bound by a mysterious spell. I found myself wishing there were more gigs like this in Reykjavík, heading home with a lighter heart and a beaming face, my pains forgotten, and happy simply to be alive.
Fleet Foxes at Harpa was an experience like no other. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy their performance because I thought folk was dead; I thought I left that in the past when they went on hiatus six years ago. However, they’ve made a comeback. Their new album ‘Crack-up’ can sound boring, but live it’s a totally different experience. It’s more raw, lively and energetic—something I thought folk couldn’t be. For “Mykonos” they brought out a choir and it was absolutely lovely. I’ve seen Fleet Foxes before, and never have they done this so it was a special treat. Also, lead singer Robin Pecknold is the most adorable, charming human ever. Usually you see artists chugging a beer down between songs, but he was pouring himself tea from a thermos. How endearing.
At Airwaves I’ve been getting use to smaller sets, about 30 minutes in length, but Fleet Foxes got a headline-length two hour slot. They were amazing, but having been going out until 4am for the past few days, about an hour and a half in I was starting to fall asleep. Two hours of folk killed me, so I had to find the next party to keep me pumped afterwards. But overall, I think anyone would enjoy Fleet Foxes live, even those who aren’t indie-folk fans.
If you want to see ROHT, you better show up on time. They will start exactly at their scheduled time, with or without you, even if the Gaukurinn sound guy is out smoking, and despite another band taking an hour and a half to soundcheck right up until ten minutes before gig time and their manager throwing a hissy fit when told it’s time to stop (Childhood. True story. It was embarrassing.) Their set is 12 minutes of raw, deliberate noisy fast hardcore of complete fury and disgust at the world and everyone in it. “Most people should just shut the fuck up,” drummer and singer Þórir Georg tells me before his set. “It’s a philosophical standpoint.” Blink and you will miss them and if you do, shut the fuck up.
Later on up at Gamla Bíó, I get the sense that seeing Brooklyn up-and-comer Torres at this point in her career is about as cool and will have the same long-term cred as seeing Sheryl Crow live in 1995. I can see this music pairing up nicely with a rosé and hybrid car, or whatever yuppie yummy mummies are into when they feel angsty. (Remind me to get my tubes tied.) Unfortunately not one of these songs is as catchy, or even that distinguishable from one another, as any of Sheryl’s Volvo-shaking bangers. It’s all just a lot of bland wanky noodling falling in the same middling range. Even her mom-dancing seems like contrived posturing.
But I stay because I want to see Mammút, the app says this place is at capacity, there is a massive queue, and I have a cushy seat. I haven’t seen them play in five years and I have been loving the new album. By the end of their second song I am covered in goosebumps and my uterus is growling in connection with the deeply feminine essence of their grown-ass psych rock. From the soft dreamy swaying of the guitar-sections’ long hair, singer Kata’s witchy Kate Bush-ian howls, their unified goth-pyjamas look, and the recurring themes of the elemental, the celestial and the erotic, they are basically Iceland’s Fleetwood Mac (minus the stupid divorce bullshit.) Unfortunately their set is cut abruptly short due to Torres going over time, and they don’t seem thrilled. After their set, I give in and go home to watch The Craft and invoke the spirit of Manon.
Fríkirkjan welcomed one of its most charismatic acts on Saturday night. Birmingham-based singer-songwriter Mahalia invested her audience with an interactive performance, in which her natural, quintessentially British charm came through. To be fair, I doubt the church has been so packed since the early 20th Century, so putting Mahalia’s banger ‘Sober’ onto the hymn-sheet might be a good idea.
Formed in 2003, there is no doubt Mammút’s quirky stage presence has been a very strong influence for some other internationally-acclaimed artists. It was clear to see why last night at Gamla Bíó, which made me hungry for some more indie at Airwaves 2017. My appetite was sated almost immediately with Fai Baba’s Hard Rock Café performance, which produced sixties-inspired, near-fit-inducing jams. Some say that in lead vocalist Fabian Sigmund’s moustache lays the key to Fai Baba’s success, and long may it reign.
I saw Michael Kiwanuka walking up Laugavegur before he played Gamla Bíó, and could have got a few words from him had I not been savagely devouring a hotdog at the time. Without that calorific energy boost, though, it’s unlikely I would have made it through to 1am at all. Airwaves has made me realise I may not be quite cut out for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but nevertheless, Michael’s well-rounded set sent me home wanting more of his dreamy vocals.
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