From Iceland — Airwaves 2019 Friday Super-Review: The Great Gabríel Ólafs, Magical Mammút & Hot Hatari

Airwaves 2019 Friday Super-Review: The Great Gabríel Ólafs, Magical Mammút & Hot Hatari

Published November 9, 2019

Photo by
Art Bicnick

You might have thought that our Grapevine super-review team would be tired after two action-packed nights at Airwaves. Well, you’d be wrong. Last night, we turned to dial to 11, and tonight, we’ll turn it to 12. See you there!

Of course, make sure to check out our Airwaves: Tuned In podcast, hosted by the Grapevine’s best friend Tim Pogo. Listen to the new podcast every day by following us on iTunes or Soundcloud or Spotify.

Holding out for high energy

There were two bands that I really wanted to see tonight: Hatari and Une Misère. I waited outside the Reykjavík Art Museum for maybe five minutes before they let me in to see Hatari. (I was expecting a much longer wait time, considering how full the venues have been the last couple days, but I digress.)

Hatari put on a great show. Their entire act is BDSM-inspired anti-capitalist performance art, and I really do mean their entire act. From the shows they do to the press statements they release, any time they can lampoon the absurdity of capitalism, they do. A robotic voice came over the loudspeaker, listing the flaws of a capitalist society and introducing the band before Einar Stef came on stage and sat behind the drums. Next came the dancers—rigid, robotic, and graceful as can be. They stood on either side of the stage while the robotic voice continued to speak. Finally, Klemens and Matthías took the stage and began the show. Lasers, fog, pyrotechnics all added to the thrill, and at one point, Matthías climbed to the second level to perform their biggest hit, “Hatrið mun sigra.”

Une Misère didn’t start until 2:00 AM, so I had some time to kill. I headed over to the Hard Rock Café where they would be playing later and caught Ukranian house artist, Ivan Dorn. He manages to combine a funky, retro sound with classic house beats. It’s very high energy and fun, but it felt like something I’ve heard many times before. Not to mention, the venue was becoming crowded and people were starting to push. I wasn’t ready for that yet, so I decided to check out what Gamla Bíó had to offer.

There, Girl in Red was playing to a packed house. She’s a 20-year-old Norwegian lyrical genius. She writes music about complicated relationships, eschewing the heteronormative standard of girls pining for boys, and instead writes about girls pining for girls. It’s refreshing. The best part is, her sound is a lovely pop-rock blend, which I could see playing over conventional airwaves. I’m only sad that I didn’t catch her whole act.

After Girl in Red, Gamla Bíó closed, so I popped back over to the Hard Rock Café where Cell7 was playing. The Icelandic hip-hop scene has its ups and downs, and Cell7 is definitely one of its ups. In a male-dominated industry, she manages to bring a strong female presence, with an emphasis on strong. Her lyrics are fire, her beats are legit, and she is a ball of energy on stage, commanding the crowd with her presence. She is a veteran of Airwaves, having been to the festival a number of times in the past, and she’s a veteran of the Icelandic hip-hop scene, having worked in it for 20 years.

After dancing to some of the tightest Icelandic rap there is, it was the moment I had been waiting for all night. It was time to see Une Misère. Putting it succinctly, they fucking rocked. I waited three hours to see them, and it was absolutely worth it. They’re a hardcore band, so they combine chugging riffs with harsh vocals, brutal lyrics, and heavy breakdowns. Their music is so heavy, and their singer is so charismatic, they moved me to do something I haven’t done in years: I jumped in the mosh pit. As the band played songs about the horrors of addiction and the redemption of sobriety, I headbanged and allowed myself to push through a heavy throng of people. The wait for these guys was so worth it. After nearly an hour of headbanging, sweating, and pushing into other sweaty headbangers, it was time to call this high-energy evening to a close. SPO

Take me to Church

Is it alright to swig whisky from your hip flask in church? Asking for a friend, obviously. For Friday night we were back in Fríkírkjan. What a venue, and the acts that were programmed for it were each quite different but all perfect for the space.

First up was Norwegian singer/songwriter Siv Jakobson. “I hope you’re all ready for some depressing Norwegian folk,” her manager told us, gleefully, as we made ourselves as comfortable as possible on the church pews. Siv sang beautiful, delicate songs of gentle misery and chatted to us in between in her curiously accented English (I later found out her boyfriend was Scottish, which explained why she sounded like she’d just popped over from Milngavie.) She has a vibrato quality that is almost reminiscent of Joan Baez when she holds the high notes. Still, there are a million—probably—other female singer/songwriters with sweet voices out there—what set Siv apart was the quality band she had in tow, and the smart arrangements of her songs. In particular, the percussion really made their sound stand out.

Siv Jakobsen. Photo by Hörður Sveinsson.

After Siv I checked my schedule on the Airwaves app, and realised that actually, almost all the bands I wanted to see were playing in Fríkírkjan. Handy! Impressively, the changeover time between acts was only twenty minutes, so we stayed put, worried that if we left we would struggle to get back in. The queues this year have been an issue. No one likes standing around outside in the Icelandic winter, and almost every venue has had them.

Next up in the church was Gabríel Ólafs, a young, floppy-haired piano maestro. My colleague Hannah Jane had raved about him at the Nordic House the day before, so I was keen to check out his full set alongside his string quartet. First impression: Wow, they are all so fucking young. I hate talented children. Feeling old and useless, I sipped whisky and sat half-dreaming through the gorgeous melodies they wove. Classical music is not my genre of choice at all, but Gabríel’s music is very accessible and objectively beautiful. Put it on tonight to fall asleep to, I’m telling you. Whisky optional.

Another change over, but by now, serious buttock numbness was setting in. This is why I don’t go to mass, amma. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to make it through the whole of the next band without the risk of never regaining feeling in my behind, I moved to the back of the room so I could slip out after a couple of songs. Sadly, the band in question were Hugar, and they were excellent. They played in almost complete darkness, accompanied by an impressive lighting arrangement and kaleidoscope-like projections that lit up the imposing portrait of Jesus hanging over the altar like some kind of wild, ornate ritual. I almost never bother sending videos of gigs to pals—it never looks the same as being there, and they’ll just be like, great, thank you for this shitty quality video of a perfectly good song I could listen to on Spotify. But Hugar’s set up was so impressive that it was too good not to share, and I actually got a few “Wow!” replies. I particularly loved the live trombone—not an instrument that just gets casually whipped out at gigs enough, in my opinion. Unfortunately though, after three songs, I was too uncomfortable to stay seated for another minute, and also was in need of a pint. It was time to go.

I had planned to come back to Fríkírkjan for John Grant—always a fun time—but on leaving we were dismayed to see the queue already wrapping all the way round the building, not even halfway through Hugar’s set. There was no way we would get back in. We popped by IÐNÓ instead for a pint and caught part of Helge’s set—fine, and good harmonies but not really my cup of tea. Fatigued but deeply satisfied with my evening at Fríkírkjan I decided to call it a night and head home like a sensible lassie. Does this mean I’m a good Christian now? Shit. JG

Red hair, black lipstick, and the chairman of the Democratic Party

The night started slowly as I checked out the Spanish band PAVVLA, a group consisting of an electronic drummer (he hits a machine, not a drum set), keyboard player and a singer with a pink wig. Pretty standard setup for a European electropop band, if you ask me. That said, the band immediately fell short from the first song. Their heavily produced sound world obviously works better on Spotify than it does on stage. The singer had some fun energy, but overall, the whole thing was bland.

So I fled from the sugary and superficial texts about love and how complicated the world is (ugh) to the crazy arms of Ceasetone at IÐNÓ. This band is the brainchild of Hafsteinn Þráinsson. He’s an incredibly powerful and soulful singer and the rock was like a wonderful combination of psychedelic fusion and Muse before they became an unbearably boring pop act. A wonderful concert, wonderful singer, and wonderful energy. Definitely the greatest surprise of the festival yet.

After Ceasetone, I waited for our Grapevine Airwaves cover Debutante: the red haired girl with the black lipstick, Elín Sif. She had a whole band to back her up. Overall, she was confident on stage and had a fan base at the front that cheered every time she said something. It was adorable. The music was basically heartbroken folk about the complications of modern times and love (ugh). Most of the songs were in Icelandic and the music was honest to the Icelandic local folk scene. Nothing new to see here, but she did well, and the crowd liked it.

So I sneaked out to see the red beard hippie, Teitur Magnússon. I don’t know where to start here other than to say that the concert was absolutely wonderful. His songs are already iconic in Iceland, and the whole crowd scream-sang “Vinur vina minna” with heads swinging. The simple beats and the vocal cords were ripping and it was the nicest possible massacre that I have been involved in. In the end, another brilliant pop legend, Árni Vil, best known from FM Belfast, joined in with Teitur and it was just wonderful.

Teitur Magnusson. Photo by Hörður Sveinsson.

In the end, I went to see Mammút at the Reykjavík Art Museum. I haven’t seen them for ages, so it was a nice revisit and I wasn’t disappointed: Their show was fiercely strong. Singer of the band, Katrína Mogensen, is heavily pregnant but was so energetic on stage that I missed that for the first four songs. The whole performance was perfect, and Katrína is an amazing rock singer and one of our all-time best.

As I was heading out, I found the chairman of the second biggest political party in Iceland, Logi Már Einarsson, headbanging along with the heavy beat. I stopped to say hi (we know each other because of journalism) and told him that I wouldn’t be surprised if Katrín would scream that child out on stage. Yes, I literally said that. He answered that the last time he saw them, the bass player was also heavily pregnant. And what a glorious rock and roll generation that will be.

Overall; strong night with lovely surprises and a brilliant bang in the end. VG

Mammút at Reykjavík Art Museum. Photo by Art Bicnick

Effortless danceabilty and getting a little bit crazy

My third day out at Iceland Airwaves was defined by a mix of younger and more experienced artists. First-off Hildur’s well-planned performance at the Reykjavík Art Museum emanated with youthful energy. She and her band made up of a drummer, a keyboardist and two backing vocalists made sure the night started-off on a bright and positive note. The music was well produced and Hildur made an attempt to connect with her audience with her songs which appeared sincere and thoroughly planned-out.

Next up was Gabríel Ólafs, the 19-year-old composer who played a set of serene pieces on grand piano at Fríkirkjan. He appeared friendly and relaxed as he performed songs inspired by grand subjects like the sea and more personal ones, like the theme he thought up for a moustached cartoon-character displayed on a poster in his room. The audience in the quite-packed church seemed pensive and introspective as the young composer performed his songs with the assistance of two violinists.

At KEX Hostel, Grísalappalísa performed a set that was brimful of energy, as per usual. The seven-piece band just released their third LP ‘Týnda rásin’—which translates to ‘The Lost Channel’ in English and is their first since 2014’s ‘Rökrétt framhald.’ One of the things that define this band is their vigorous exertion of power on-stage and tonight was no exception. They performed a new song—about an “average guy… it’s very relatable…” as singer Gunnar put it—which had all members of the band bouncing and jerking around the relatively small stage at KEX Hostel. Music to get a little-bit crazy to.

Sykur performed a superb gig at Gamla Bíó. It was my favourite gig of the night and I dare say it was the perfect combination of performance and venue. The singer Agnes wore a ravishing outfit—which she explained was made to resemble the one seen in the figurative painting sporting the cover of their new album ‘Já takk’ released two weeks ago. The way their music gets your body-moving seems almost effortless but it’s the collaborative effort of the members of the band: Agnes’ down-to-Earth manner and fantastic voice, Halldór’s vibrant drumming, Stefán’s careful synthesiser modulation and Kristján’s confident guitar-work.

At Hard Rock Café, Ivan Dorn’s set had the crowd cheering and woo-ing him and his two bandmates on as they played their intrigue-ing mixture of beat-driven and bass-heavy synth pop aided by various kinds of worldly beats and rhythms. Dorn sang in both English and Russian and the crowd seemed to love every minute and so did I.

I ended my night at Iðnó where the 80s-inspired-local-hero-musician Berndsen performed his songs to a packed venue. I loved the way he played his older tracks like “Supertime” in between newer ones—e.g. from his score for recent Icelandic oddball horror film ‘Þorsti’ which is currently in cinemas. He ended his set by asking the crowd to cheer loud and clear for another song—loud enough so his wife, who he said had just messaged him asking him to change their baby’s diaper. And they did and seemed to be totally in-love. A fun and vibrant way to end my third night of this year’s Airwaves madness. See you tomorrow! AJDF

Read more about Iceland Airwaves here.

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