From Iceland — Airwaves Sunday Super Review: Thunder, Lightning, And All The Feels

Airwaves Sunday Super Review: Thunder, Lightning, And All The Feels

Published November 6, 2017

Photo by
Art Bicnick, Timothée Lambrecq, Magnus Andersen, Chris Rowe & Florian Trykowski

And it feels like as soon as the festival has begun, it’s already gone. Airwaves 2017, we barely knew thee. Here’s our final review.

John Rogers: Broken beats, ambient washes, authoritarian screaming
Oh, Airwaves. So much fun, glamour and glitter. So much beer, and music; tears, and laughter, and dancing under bright lights; so much whirlwind, heat and flash. And then, it’s over, and I’m left once again trying to pick up the threads of my former life, asking: “What is it I do again? Who was I before, and who will I be now?”

The final day of Airwaves crept up fast, and in dramatic fashion, as a huge, violent storm lashed the city. Festival goers poured into venues in soaked clothes, wearing traumatised expressions. Luckily for me, I’d gotten to curate Sunday’s off-venue daytime programme at Kaffibarinn, and so I spent the storm happily sequestered in my favourite bar, drinking bloody marys and watching five of my favourite bands. It was like Christmas came early.

EinarIndra opened proceedings with his slow, soulful electronica, complete with discreet, poetic lyrics delivered in a stunning singing voice. Áslaug, aka slugz, ran into the venue and out of the weather, plugged in her laptop, and casually produced a set of mindblowing, shattered, choppy electronica, veering from spoken word extracts to juddering beats to ambient drones. She managed to make it feel like a genuinely live performance whilst staring intently at the screen, manipulating sound using only the MacBook’s trackpad. IDK IDA performed her debut album ‘The Bug’ in its entirety, turning in an impassioned vocal performance over her bassy, spacious electronic compositions. Napoleon IIIrd presented a sequence of thoughtful songs via his huge singing voice and an ambient wash of guitar sound in a stripped down performance of his latest LP, ‘The Great Lake.’

Hatari finished the day with a final blast of their dark, stagey, artistic synth-led goth-pop. The two singers made the most of the packed-out room, with one dancing topless through the audience, and the other climbing up onto the bar, ranting through a distorted, grating vocal effect. Through their interactions, it appeared that the two characters perhaps symbolic—one representing hedonistic libertine figure writhing through the crowd freely, only to be castigated by the harsh, authoritarian presence of his counterpart. Hatari are a complex band, and a compelling riddle to untangle. All that, and huge tunes too.

After taking a seat and ordering some comfort food with some friends at a restaurant, my phone pinged with the final starred item in my Airwaves app—“Sólveig Matthildur is starting in 15 minutes at Gaukurinn.” Without really thinking about it, I pulled on my coat and ran out into the night, promising to be back in 20 minutes. Laugavegur had become a gushing river, and lightning flashed overhead accompanied by crashing thunder. I arrived at the venue blinded by rain and soaked to the skin, with boots full of water and steamed up glasses, but still hungry for just one more show, and wishing Airwaves would never end.

Valur Grettisson: Dancing the blues away
On the last night of Airwaves, I walked from my home in west Reykjavík and fought the roaring wind and the endless rain. I even heard thunder on my way there, which ended up destroying the electricity for 40,000 people. On the way downtown I thought with myself: “who would literally risk their life in this godforsaken storm just to see a band playing?” But it wasn’t just any band—it was the nihilist monsters of Hatari.

I barely survived the storm, and ended completely soaked at Kaffibarinn and pissed off that I hadn’t grabbed my cap before I went out. I was early enough to catch a glimpse of Napoleon IIIrd, who saved my mood. Progressive and intelligent indie-rock always has that effect on my soul.

Then the house filled up. Kaffibarinn was packed within minutes. Hatari entered dramatically through the back of the room, so the packed audience tried to make room—if they hadn’t, the spikes of the drummers mask would have pierced them. The performance was powerful and smart, with the singer stood on a stool and screaming his melancholic text about the gruesome repetition of human life, and asked us all why we sold ourselves so short. This band is obviously the best one at the festival.

My favorite unexpected performance was though Post Performance Blues Band, also at Kaffibarinn. I didn’t really know what to expect, and thought this was going to be a shitty blues band, but lord was I wrong. They were funny, clever and incredibly talented. It was a dance performance with a theatrical flair, and one of my top three most enjoyable acts at Iceland Airwaves. I ended the festival with Lord Pusswhip. He didn’t rap (thank god) but held this 90s hardcore electro concert with two gogo dancers. This guy will be playing at Berghain within a year—he’s real talent.

Jenna Mohammed: Dreamy sounds and endless discoveries
The last day of Airwaves was the night of cute, talented women. First I saw IDK I IDA at Kaffibarinn. Her beats and strong vocals create such a warm atmosphere, just what I needed to escape the terrible storm. Afterwards I saw Sólveig Matthildur at Gaukurinn. Here entire performance was dreamy; she puts on such a good show you can get lost in her sound. She’s also super genuine on stage. I love when artists talk to their audience about their next song, makes everything more authentic.

My last show for the festival was Alvia Islandia at Hurra. For a rapper, she’s not very abrasive or harsh; it was like easy listening rap. Overall the entire Airwaves festival was such a good time. Scouring downtown not knowing where the night will take you—and what you might discover—was one of the best feelings at Airwaves.

Charley Ward: Rose shortages and handsome boys
So my first Airwaves is over. Owing to some ungodly weather conditions last night, I didn’t much want to leave the safety of Kaffibarinn, where it was warm and dry and had Hatari playing off-venue. Their show at Gamla Bíó was definitely one of my faves so I was happy to catch them again. To be honest, I couldn’t see much from where I was stood, but that’s my own fault for being 5’4”. Afterwards, storm or no, I had to make it to Solveig Matthildur’s final show at Gaukurinn. She forgot to bring the roses she picked apart and scattered over the stage on her Friday show but it hardly mattered; she seemed to have more confidence with this performance and the audience huddled around her as she unfolded her emotions on stage. It was lovely.

It was then time for the Sunday night closing act: Mumford and Sons at Valshöllin. Now, I don’t remember the last time I even thought about Mumford and Sons before I got here. I think I must have been about 13. But regardless, I went in with an open mind and an open heart. Even though I’m not really a fan, I didn’t want to end a great week on a downer. I wanted to love it so bad, but eh, I’m so sorry, but I just wasn’t feeling the vibe. It wasn’t that they did anything wrong: they all seemed like very nice, well-spoken, handsome boys and they bustled on stage on time and played their songs to a high standard. What more could you want? Only a band that wasn’t Mumford and Sons, really. Watching their set as the closing act to a great week felt a bit like when you drunkenly pull a cracker at Christmas dinner, put on your paper crown and it breaks instantly as you pull it over your head.

But not to be negative: I’ve had a great week. I danced loads, drank too much and discovered a boatload of amazing new Icelandic bands. So, thanks Airwaves and I hope to see you again very soon.

Grayson Del Faro – drunk artistry and musical revelations
I first visited Iceland for Iceland Airwaves in 2013. I moved here shortly after and haven’t missed it since. At five official days per year over five festivals, I have spent 25 days of my life at Airwaves. If you count pre-week Airwaves planning (drinking) and recovery days (drinking), I have spent about a month of my life at Airwaves. That’s a lot of Airwaves. The music has changed, but the weather has not. The venues have changed, but the hot dogs have not. My goal has changed from discovering new music to supporting the constantly, surprisingly, “duglegt”-as-fuck (a word that translates to something like “diligent” or “dutifully busy”) musicians of this country (and my friends) – but somehow always discovering new music anyway.

Every year I am converted to the religion of one new artist. This year it was Lido Pimienta, whose rhythms and spirit had me so captivated I had to see her twice. I even found her afterword and genuinely asked to hug her and we hugged and chatted and it was utterly lovely. (The past years were Kate Tempest, Milkywhale, Kiasmos, and Vök, in reverse chronological order and without any hugging.) For me, this was the year of the solo artist. I saw musicians I know from other bands standing center-stage, powerfully performing their own music under their own name (or some version of it). I’m talking about Gyða Valtysdóttir, JFDR, sillus, and IDK | IDA, who I braved a week-long hangover and an apocalyptic storm to see on Sunday. She is that magnetic. There are so many more artists that I want to name (Emilíana Torrini, Milkywhale, Cell7), but I can’t give everyone who deserves it any justice with a list.

So as Airwaves giveth and Airwaves taketh away, I have to apologise to the artists I didn’t get to see, including many dear friends. I’m sorry, but thank you. We are lucky to meet and see so much international music because of Airwaves, but in the end we wouldn’t have them here if it weren’t for the musicians who live and work in Iceland. And honestly, we also wouldn’t have such a perfect excuse to get so shamelessly fucked up for so many days in a row. Airwaves is when artistry and entertainment get drunk and dance together, maybe even wake up together.  

Rex Beckett: Devastating rock, and the afterglow
Oh, Airwaves. I’ve had better years. I’ve had worse years. I made it through the entire without falling ass-over-ankles into a drumkit, crying in the street over spilled D, punching someone, or catching the flu. I also ended the festival without having danced in complete abandon with my new single-serving best friends, meeting and interviewing some incredibly talented artist, stealing a drink from a member of GusGus, or feeling like whatever unknown band I just saw is about to blow up and I’d get to utter the most hipster of phrases: “I saw them before they were famous.” But I had fun.

As the storm rolled in that would toss my recycling bins down my alley and rattle my roof, I bookended the festival with ROHT at Lucky Records. They were the first band I saw this year, caught them play three times, and the ultimate winners of this festival for me. Their raucous and noisy minimal hardcore is dynamic and melodic in its guttural simplicity, and their onstage connection and energy went unrivaled. They face each other as they play, not the audience, and feed off each other’s physicality and presence to deliver a sharp and devastating blow. Singer and drummer Þórir shouts his disgust for systems of oppression, social upheaval, depression and nihilism without a shred of pretense or gimmicks. Bassist Júlía thrashes back and forth, grimacing and stomping with every low, growling lick lending force to these words. The beats are tight and fast and these songs are just fun to flail, pogo and skank around to.

These are not pointed, deliberate and calculated tactics. I am more than on board with my fair share of absolutely over the top pretentious performance art, but ROHT deliver a powerfully genuine experience that reflects the inner reality of these individuals’ daily life. This isn’t a costume or a mission statement, it’s fucking good punk music. I highly recommend picking up a copy of their cassette, whose cover art gives a much-needed improvement to Bjarni Ben’s face.

In the afterglow, I’m left wondering what’s on the horizon for Airwaves. A return to the more showcasey nature of its past? A continued move towards a smattering of unknown internationals and a few choice superstars? It seems to be in a bit of an identity crisis itself. But it’s eighteen years old, and eighteen year olds are usually pretty dumb.

Greig Robertson: Any port in a storm
Walking into town on Sunday made me feel like Robert Falcon Scott at the bitter end of his failed Terra Nova expedition. Horribly under-equipped in paper thin jeans and Chelsea boots, and blinded by a combination of howling wind and ice rain, I accepted the inevitability of death. I was supposed to be seeing Fever Dream, but I decided to enter the first flicker of warmth and civilisation I came across. It turned out to be the blessed Gaukurinn. If I’m honest, the music was secondary to my ecstatic realisation that I had not perished in the Great Storm of 2017, but Rósa Gudrún Sveinsdóttir did enough to warm me up a bit.

After my frostbite had been treated, it was time for the biggest global act at Airwaves 2017. Mumford & Sons’ visit to Iceland was inspired not by any affinity with the festival but rather by the Iceland football team and their glorious smiting of England at Euro 2016. Specifically dedicating ‘Ghosts That We Knew’ to strákarnier okkar (our boys), the song opened with the lyrics ‘you saw my pain’; the irony was not lost on the crowd. A ‘Viking clap’ and an encore filled with low-key gems like ‘Where Are You Now’ revived an otherwise slow set and finished Airwaves on a high.

As expected, the last five days have been a test of mental endurance, which on the whole I think I’ve failed, but I still hope to be back next year and do it all over again.

Elías Þórsson: Punk saves the day… again
So Airwaves 2017 is over. What was it? Where was I? I wrote a review of Thursday and some dude on Twitter suggested I needed a hug. Thankfully, I got plenty of of hugs over the weekend. The highs of the festival were two amazing punk concerts both at Gaukurinn. First Hórmónar on Friday and then Tófa on Saturday. If you haven’t seen either you have to go next time they are playing.

I also became a big fan of a somewhat strange Faroese man called Sakaris and now we are Facebook friends, yey! Rarely have I seen anyone have this much fun playing a solo concert in front of a calm seated crowd. I could just picture him in his bedroom in a place like Strendur or Runavík going crazy on his keytar. In a similar vein I now love Quest. Like Sakaris it’s very 80s inspired, and they also included a cover of a song by the 90s sketch show Fóstbræður, which was amazing. Go check out these two, they’re both too much fun.

But there were also points where I was just not really interested in anything happening. My friends and I finished a Heidrik off-venue gig at just past 7pm, and nobody could answer the question what we wanted to see next. Maybe we are just getting old, or maybe this year’s lineup didn’t suit our tastes, but I wish there’d been more stuff I was interested in. But, plenty of drinks, plenty of fun and good company. Airwaves gets a grade of B.

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