From Iceland — Fresh Currents: Meet The New Airwaves Chief Ísleifur Þórhallsson

Fresh Currents: Meet The New Airwaves Chief Ísleifur Þórhallsson

Published March 1, 2018

Photo by
Art Bicnick & Magnús Andersen

Some interesting news broke this February when it was revealed that the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival—the jewel in the crown of the local live music scene—had been, in its twentieth year, acquired by Icelandic events management company Sena Live. The company is well known for handling a variety of large-scale events, from Sigur Rós and their Norður og Niður festival to stadium pop’s biggest Justins: Bieber and Timberlake.

“We’re an Iceland-based company,” says Sena Live CEO Ísleifur Þórhallsson. “I was an independent promoter, and worked alongside Sena for ten years. Two years ago, we formed Sena Live together, and I went full time as part-owner. It’s been going very well. We’re basically the only company in Iceland doing shows all of the time.”

Making it happen

The news was met with some social media alarm, with the festival faithful worrying that Airwaves might evolve away from its roots, celebrating alternative music, breakthrough acts, and—of course—the full diversity of Iceland’s flourishing music scene. Ísleifur is quick to allay such fears. “Because Bieber and Timberlake are the biggest shows we’ve done, that’s what people remember,” he laughs. “But we do everything: local shows, pop, rock, comedy, Sigur Rós, Norður og Niður… we bring the infrastructure and know how to run shows, but we’re always working with an artist or brand, and it’s our job to help them make it happen.”

Airwaves is the best week of the year for Reykjavík’s music lovers. The festival’s reputation was built on spotting new talents early, bringing in a diverse range of acts from Hot Chip to Dan Deacon, The Knife, Caribou, Dirty Projectors, Zola Jesus, James Blake and Micachu to Iceland’s black shores.

Back to the roots

“We’re very aware of that history,” says Ísleifur. “We’re walking into this with open eyes. We know that Airwaves has been around for twenty years, and that people love the festival and what it stands for. We don’t wanna mess with that. Airwaves started as a showcase for Icelandic bands, and we want to take it back to the roots, and strengthen that side of the festival, if anything. We want to get the business side in order, but also to maintain what Airwaves stands for—and do it even better.”

“We don’t think Airwaves is about landing the biggest acts in the world. It stands for something else.”

The festival plans to do so by employing a broad range of advisors on bookings, and maintaining the festival’s famous downtown vibe. The 2018 edition will probably skip using Harpa, with a single wristband instead of specially ticketed shows.

“We don’t think Airwaves is about landing the biggest acts in the world: it stands for something else,” says Ísleifur. “The heart of Airwaves is 101 Reykjavík—it’s walking between all the places downtown, meeting people, discovering new bands. We want to go back to basics. I went to Airwaves when it was in an airplane hangar, and I’ve always loved the element of discovery. Last year, it was great to see Sigrid, and I remember the Omar Souleyman show—I just love seeing these different kinds of acts over four or five days in Reykjavík.”

Iceland Airwaves will take place 7th-10th November 2018. Tickets are on sale at

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