From Iceland — Airwaves 2022 Thursday Super Review: Super-cool snny, Crowd-Pleasing gugusar, And Nation Of Language Divides Opinion

Airwaves 2022 Thursday Super Review: Super-cool snny, Crowd-Pleasing gugusar, And Nation Of Language Divides Opinion

Published November 4, 2022

Photo by
Cat Gundry-Beck, Joana Fontinha

After being gently eased in by the pre-opening night‘s concerts, our super-review team hit it HARD last night and saw an impressive amount of bands and artists. If you see one of these guys out tonight, buy them a drink. They deserve it.

Of course, make sure to check out our GRAPEWAVES podcast in collaboration with Iceland Airwaves, hosted by the Grapevine’s best friend Tim Pogo. Listen to the new podcast every day by following us on apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Who Run The World? Girls

I started the night at Hafnarhúsið downtown to see The Reykjavík Grapevine’s favourite, gugusar. We discovered this young woman when she was only 15 years old, and we were literally in disbelief when listening to her first single. Was she lying? Was she perhaps 55 years old? Well, we had to find out, so Hannah Jane Cohen, our then culture editor went to take the first interview ever taken with gugusar, and everything checked out. She was 15 years old, and we knew that this was going to be an incredible success story.

She started out with a bang, dancing like a ninja on the stage, proving that she is not only ridiculously young, (she’s 18 now) but also just offering incredible composition. Although it was a hard venue, people were still taking in the atmosphere and not diving into the music—which was perfectly performed by gugusar. The drum’n’bass was powerful and you’d have thought it would inspire some of the audience to dance like ninjas too, but nobody started, so it just became a broken dream on the not-dance floor.

Next off we headed to Janus Rasmussen, the Faroe Islander. He was offering a powerful set, similar to the Kiasmos kind of thing. He was struggling a bit in the overly crowded venue at Gaukurinn. He was playing solid indie house but felt like he needed a stronger distinction from all the other indie houses in the world. But when he started singing, Janus took off and gave me a strong urge to state the case that Icelanders and Danes were like parents in a custody battle over the Faroe Islands. The Danes are like the responsible mother and the Icelanders are the stereotypical weekend dad. Perhaps I’m just getting old. I mean, who thinks like that at a concert?

At the festival, I took a vow. I decided to do all the lines (just the queue kind, calm down) and not use my press pass like the elitist I secretly am. Mostly because something unexpected always happens in these lines. And it paid off earlier than I thought: I met Una Torfa in the line in front of Iðnó, where she was supposed to play only an hour later. Of course, I promised to see her on the stage, but I still had some time.

When I finally got in (it took 15 minutes at most) I saw the rock hounds, The Vintage Caravan. The biggest hard rock band in Iceland that nobody has seen. Their international success has been quite something and they have a very strong base of followers loving every song they do. Now, although the performance was solid, there is something missing here. The structure of the songs was more or less around all of the guitar solos, and the voice of the lead singer is lost in the old-school rock and roll vibe, making this not as monumental as one would think from these incredibly talented musicians. Didn’t impress me, but was enjoyable.

Next, I headed to see the American indie band, Nation of Language from Brooklyn, New York at Gamla Bíó. The band emerged in 2020 with their album, ‘Introduction Presence,’ which they followed with ‘A way Forward’ in 2021. As you have probably already figured out from these titles and the name of the band, this is incredibly pretentious American nonsense that felt more like some weird polemic about the tackiness of the American indie scene. But when I realised that they weren’t joking, I just got annoyed and headed for Una Torfa at Iðnó.

Una was at least honest and warm in her folkie presentation and the songs, although far from being perfect, were enjoyable and delivered with heart.

But the goddamn stars of the night were Daughters of Reykjavík. I mean, where do I start? The hip-hop scene in Iceland is definitely enjoyable, although, like most hip-hop, it’s shallow idiotic nonsensical stuff about money and bitches. The Daughters of Reykjavík brought this up to a master level and reminded me that they are not only incredible performers but also strong activists. The set alone will automatically be banned in 147 countries just because of nudity and a message about breastfeeding. But also because they had strong support for the Iranian protests. They oozed with confidence, and incredible bangers were delivered like Molotov cocktails in the hands of a radical. These girls are like pagan goddesses with a steel sword in hand, and easily the best performance I saw that night. Valur Grettisson

A Night Of Healing The Soul

Juníus Meyvant, the stage persona of Unnar Gísli—and indisputable master of ceremony, enters a full Art Museum that eagerly awaits his presence. After multiple international tours and albums, this charismatic red-haired sheep farmer from Vestmannaeyjar has reached the souls of people far outside this little arctic island. Although the crowd feels a little cold when the band sets into “Love Child” and other songs from their newly released album ‘Guru’ (that was recorded in his garage at home), they quickly warmed up after he let us sing along in harmonies and jokes that he has “no time to talk” as they’ve only got 40 minutes to play their set. Classics like “Signals” and “Ain’t gonna let you drown,” confirm that no matter who stands in front of Juníus Meyvant, they will be won over effortlessly. It’s a perfect blend of indie, soul, bluegrass, folk, fluent guitar solos, a rock ‘n’ roll intermezzo, a brilliant band and his warm voice that lures you into distant memories of long winters by the fire, dancing in the rain, fresh cut grass and frolicking around in your summer dress while picking berries with friends, all together.

Next up was the name that has been ringing all over Iceland and America. I was not gonna miss out on Laufey playing in Fríkirkjan in between her US and Europe tour, as no place feels as good as home! Even though we had to queue outside in the freezing cold for way longer than expected, we got some extremely nice Northern Lights dancing above Tjörnin to keep us entertained. When we were finally allowed in, we realised half the church was still packed from Atli Övarsson’s show and we had to cram into leftover spots on church benches. Laufey entered in a silver sparkling outfit and started on guitar while the church went completely silent, hanging on every word that came out of this clearly extremely gifted girl. She brings us back to old school romanticism with gorgeous jazz and an insane vocal range and intonation that directly reminds you of the timing and phrasing of legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. But it is her lighthearted honesty and humour in between the songs that keep us in 2022. As smooth as she is on guitar, she even stuns more on the shiny black grand piano, where she continued her set. Stories of missed lovers and agony of the heart don’t leave anyone untouched. If every church would have a Laufey, they would never have to worry about filling up their benches.

Last but not least is the concert of JFDR and her band in Gamla Bíó. It had already started when I reached the rather full room, as the other concert ran over significantly. It took me a moment to acclimatise to this new space and vibe. Jófríður Ákadóttir is a well known presence in town and on Airwaves, where she has performed many times before, and it is clear that she has not only stolen the hearts of the international crowd but also those of the locals over the years. I see lots of Icelandic faces and with Jófriður’s partner and producer Josh Wilkinson, Unnur Jónsdóttir and Karl Pestka on strings (they often play with Ólafur Arnalds and everyone wants them on their album as they are simply more than great), and her sister on piano around her, it feels like a family affair in the best sense of the term. The sound downstairs is not ideal in this high building with stone walls, unless you stand right in the middle. Upstairs is full, but delivers a much more pleasant sound that fits JFDR’s cosy and modest set much better. There aren’t any extravagant visuals or flashy lights and I wonder if it needs something more in a big venue like this, but she can pull off this minimalistic style with her dreamy vocals perfectly fine and any fuss would just detract from the intention and care with which she obviously wrote these songs. Ylona Supèr

Piano God, Lo-fi Star, Pub Rock—And What My Editor Described As Shit

A church and a festival. Think of a less iconic duo. While I’m well-acquainted with Magnús Jóhann’s work, I was skeptical about the location. A security guard that stopped us saying “Drinks are not allowed. It’s a church,” making Grapevine’s team down their drinks in less than a minute [editor’s note: challenge us to a drinking competition, I dare you], wasn’t encouraging either. But despite this and the venue being absolutely crowded (believe it or not, but I never even caught a glimpse of Magnús), it was the music we were there after all. Magnús is a musical prodigy. When his fingers touch the keyboard, it’s not just Magnús anymore, it’s music. I think if god existed he would sound like this. After all, aren’t churches supposed to be a temple for the soul?

When I first discovered gugusar I was impressed. “Billie Eilish plus the moves,” I said to a friend that night. Naturally, I wanted to see her perform at Airwaves, and I was not disappointed—gugusar delivered. “My name is gugusar, I’m 18 years old and I’m releasing an album next week,” she said from the stage and continued to spin in a dance so fast, the audience had to catch up. From what I’ve heard, gugusar has a rather shy personality, but she puts on a totally different character while on stage. Also, she not only writes, but produces all of her music on her own. I wish at 18 I was at least nearly as cool as gugusar. She’s definitely one of the most aspiring Icelandic artists out there, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.

One thing that you get to really appreciate about Airwaves, is how close the venues are. Changing between the Art Museum and Gaukurinn, you literally just have to cross the street. Unfortunately, there I was faced with a giant line, and even a press pass didn’t get me a chance to get inside faster. When I was finally in, having settled in the crowd with a pint, I realised that once again, I couldn’t even see the artist. My personal Airwaves tip #1: don’t be short. The show was great though (at least the bits I managed to catch). I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about electronic music and artists from the North. These two just go so well together. I knew about Janus Rasmussen mainly through KIASMOS, his minimal / experimental / techno duo with Ólafur Arnalds, but it was my first time seeing Janus perform on his own. I just wish the gig was held at a different venue. Here’s my message for Airwaves organisers—Gaukurinn doesn’t make a good location for a rave party. The vibe I got from the audience was that they wanted exactly that. Janus, who has played Airwaves multiple times agrees: “There used to be NASA, it was a good venue. Now it’s a hotel.” And don’t get disappointed if you didn’t manage to catch Janus perform last night, he’s doing it again! Tonight at Iðnó, 00:00-00:40.

Before moving on to the next gig, I stopped by Mandi to recharge and grab a bite. Interestingly, even though technically you’re not at Airwaves anymore, the place is always packed with other festival goers, who also don’t mind a heavy pre-midnight snack. There, I met a guy who had been to the first Airwaves ever, and has been coming back ever since (he admits he missed maybe three editions, but swears not to do it ever again). He told me a story of how Airwaves started back in Akureyri and continued to speak about the people in charge back then (I was too interested in my falafel to remember their names), and then almost as fast as he emerged next to me, the guy left before I managed to ask his name. “I have to see a band,” he said and went out into the night. Oh well. Next on my list—Amyl and the Sniffers, the band I’d never heard of before, to be fair. The thing that caught my attention in the band’s description at the IA’s website was—“pub rock.” I like pub, and I like rock, so Amyl and the Sniffers, here I come. Once I was at the Art Museum again, my first thought was: “Loud.” And where’s the pub? For this type of music, I wish I was standing closer to the stage, and had a few more pints in me. Ok, I admit, it’s fun and it’s the closest thing to punk music you’ll see at Airwaves this time around, but last night, I gave it a pass.

As the night continued, I was off to see Nation of Language, Brooklyn-based new wave indie pop band. I’ve discovered this band through Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ just over a month ago, so imagine my surprise when I saw them on the Airwaves lineup. Seeing a band live shortly after finding out about them? And for work? That’s a rarity. Nation of Language’s gig at Gamla Bíó reminded me about concerts before the pandemic. Believe it or not, but we used to go to such things. Now, almost three years after Covid, being at a concert sometimes feels like you’ve never done it before. To my surprise, Nation of Language turned out to be one of these bands that are as good live as on record. Maybe it’s beer speaking, but I really liked the gig. And now, hearing my editor shit over it, I almost feel guilty about that. Yes, it’s another American indie band, but their 2020 album ‘A Way Forward’ was actually good. I decided to finish the night with this one, as for some reason I was confident I wasn’t going to see anything else that would top it. As I walked home, I listened to “Wounds of Love” again. Guilty, Valur! Iryna Zubenko

Winners And “Losets”

Oh joyous day, it’s finally here! After weeks, months, YEARS of waiting, Airwaves is back in our lives.

I started the evening a bit flustered, because the first day of Airwaves unfortunately coincided with our print deadline at the Grapevine. After frantically sending our November issue off to the printers (go read it please!), I threw some makeup in the general direction of my face and galloped off to Fríkirkjan to see Magnús Jóhann.

The place was already rammed when we arrived, but after hastily downing our beers (alcohol is not allowed inside—“It is a church after all,” a kind but stern staff member reminded us) we managed to squeeze in and find a spot on the floor to hunker down. Magnús was sat behind a beautiful grand piano, with a variety of other keys and synthy things sitting on top. No idea what they were, but they sure made lovely sounds. Also making lovely sounds were the cello and violin players that Magnús was joined by. The music was accompanied by mesmerising visuals projected on a screen behind the players. It was a beautiful, relaxed way to ease into a frantic night of Airwaves hopping. Fríkirkjan is one of my favourite venues and the absolute perfect location for the gorgeous brand of neo-classical piano goodness that Magnús peddles.

After Magnús’s set was done, it was time to race over to the Art Museum to catch the last 20 minutes of gugusar. “My name is gugusar, I’m 18 years old and next week I’m releasing my first album,” the artist, aka Guð­laug Sóley Hösk­ulds­dótt­ir, announced to the crowd, who roared back approving. Yes, she’s clearly Iceland’s equivalent to Billie Eilish, but to write her off as solely this diminishes the huge presence of this remarkably young performer. Dancing around the expansive stage at the Art Museum, I was blown away by her natural confidence, which makes her seem old beyond her years. My only quibbles were that the setting felt a bit sparse—I’d love to see her in a more immersive setting like Húrra.

After a couple of songs from Guð­laug I literally sprinted up Hverfisgata (4 minutes, if anybody wants to know) to Gamla Bío for CeaseTone. I liked CeaseTone. My companion, unfortunately, REALLY did not like CeaseTone. “This feels like any noughties bullshit band,” he complained. In his defence, the CeaseTone track that Airwaves had featured in their playlist felt quite different in vibe from the one that the band were serving up. That being said, I still had fun! It was rocky! It was loud! Someone was playing a keytar! Okay, that last bit was bad. Keytars should have died in the 80s. There, I said it. Don’t @ me.

I finally relented to my comrade’s incessant complaints, and we left early to catch a bit of Faroese Janus Rasmussen’s set in Gaukurinn. If you don’t know the name, maybe you’d recognise him as one half of Kiasmos, with Iceland’s prodigal son Ólafur Arnalds. Anyway, tonight Janus was performing Óli-less, although he was joined on stage by a violinist, which was fun. At the venue we ran into my renowned editor-in-chief, Valur Grettisson, who for the first time in his entire life, declined me buying him a drink—but only because he already had one in his hand. We exchanged notes on the acts we’d seen so far, while Janus gave it his all in the background. I mused that perhaps we were struggling to engage so much with the bands we’d seen due to the fact we were always at the back of gigs, ready to slip out to catch the next act. As vertically challenged people, shall we say, it essentially meant we saw fuck all of what was on stage. Something to bear in mind for tomorrow night—get those elbows out, and get to the front.

Valur left hastily, mumbling something about the next round being on him. Yeah right. Húrra was the next location on my agenda, for a set by recent Icelandic import, snny. snny was born in Ivory Coast, raised in Boston, spent years in New York and now lives in… Hafnarfjörður. Definitely an upgrade. For the town or the man? I’ll never say. Anyways, despite having moved here during Covid (a tricky time to emigrate, hard relate man), snny is doing exceptionally well at making a name for himself and tonight he excelled as a live performer as well, with a watertight band who had a real groove. A total standout for the evening. snny is blessed to have the extremely talented Tara Mobee as his backing singer, and, bless his heart, he actually made the space on stage for her to do a song of her own. And what a voice that girl has. The audience was blown away, and the round of applause she received was probably the most enthusiastic I heard all evening. Bonus tip! You can hear an interview with snny and a song from Tara on our GRAPEWAVES podcast!

After snny had thoroughly wowed us, it was time to go back to the Art Museum for Amyl and the Sniffers. Boy, I had forgotten how much running around this festival takes. On the plus side, I definitely got my 10,000 steps in, so hopefully that helps counteract all the drinking? Anyway, the Australian punk-rockers put on a predictably fun punk-rock experience: high octane, bouncing with energy, and of course, incredibly loud. It was a hoot, but about half way through, fatigue began to creep in. I texted Valur, who called me a loser for turning in early. Except he actually misspelt loser, so apparently I’m a “loset.” Well, “loset” or not, I had a blast at my first night at Airwaves. A bloody mary and several cups of coffee later and I’m ready to do it aaaaalll over again… Josie Anne Gaitens

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