From Iceland — Airwaves 2022 Saturday Super Review: All-Powerful Go_A, Comfortable Axel Flóvent, And Arlo Parks Brings Us Home

Airwaves 2022 Saturday Super Review: All-Powerful Go_A, Comfortable Axel Flóvent, And Arlo Parks Brings Us Home

Published November 6, 2022

Photo by
Cat Gundry-Beck, Joana Fontinha

Shed a tear, Airwaves 2022 is all over. Across the city, sleepy humans are slowly waking up and trying to piece together what happened last night. Luckily, our journalists have written all about it, so you can jog your memory right here!

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.

A Beautiful Boy With Flower Pants

The last day of Airwaves has come! Feeling bittersweet, I started the night by heading to Fischersund, an off-off-venue if you will. There, an album release party for ‘Sounds of Fisher no. 7’ was taking place. As everything this family does, the release party was an immersive experience. Last night also marked the release of their new smell—NO. 101, inspired by the backyards of Reykjavík. The only drawback—Fischersund was so crowded, I found it a bit challenging to enjoy the music. ‘Sounds of Fisher no. 7’ is best to listen to at home, maybe even accompanied by a bath (if you have the luxury of owning a bathtub these days) and some scented candles. Without exaggeration, everything that Jónsi, his siblings and their partners touch turns into gold. Do check it out!

First on my official IA schedule on the third day was Ólafur Kram, the band that is certainly difficult to squeeze into the borders of just one specific genre. Members of Ólafur Kram look like highschool nerds met cool kids and decided to form a band together. Their music is a mixture of everything, and so are the band members. Some of them have a rather traditional musical education, while others have started to play an instrument not that long. Húrra was packed and the people were loving it. Me? I need more time to form an opinion, but Ólafur Kram were certainly fun to watch.

I’m neither a Eurovision nor a folk fan, so initially, I wasn’t planning to see Go_A. Seeing the Art Museum lit up with the colours of the Ukrainian flag and a line of people the same size as for Metronomy the night before queuing to get inside the show, I became curious. The crowd was absolutely wild about Go_A. They screamed, they danced, they swayed to the sounds of ‘sopilka’—a traditional Ukrainian flute. While electro folk might not exactly be my thing, Go_A did put on an amazing show and it was exactly what we needed last night. As a Ukrainian myself, observing Icelanders having the time of their lives to traditional Ukrainian songs, sung in Ukrainian, was hilarious. I think they enjoyed it a lot.

Next up—Axel Flóvent. At that point my mind was so tired, I ran to Fríkirkjan to only realise halfway that Axel was playing at Gamla Bíó. Luckily, I managed to catch half of his set. I did listen to Axel before—his dreamy indie-folk tunes are really hard to mix up with something else. However, for some reason, in my head Axel was a pianist. Imagine my surprise when I got into Gamla Bíó looking for a pianist, but instead found a five-piece band. Which one is Axel? When I finally located him, another thought crossed my mind: is he wearing pyjama pants? Whatever those pants were, they looked so comfy, I want them. Comfortable and good-looking pants are no joke, and yes, I’m going to cite David Lynch here: “I like comfortable pants and clothes I can work in, that I feel comfortable in. I don’t really like to get dressed up. I like to wear the same thing everyday and feel comfortable. It’s a fit, it’s a certain kind of feeling, and if they’re not right, which they never are, it’s a sadness. You know, it interrupts the flow of happiness.”

It seems like Axel definitely found ‘the pants’ and nothing can interrupt ‘the flow of happiness’ for him. Beautiful flower pants aside, I had a feeling that this was one of the shows Icelanders were really looking forward to as the reception was really warm. “You are so kind,” said Axel from the stage. “You don’t have to be so kind.” Axel, with the music so sincere it goes straight to your heart and THOSE pants, you don’t have to be so shy.

After Axel Flóvent I finally had time for a breather. The next band I’m here for was also playing at Gamla Bíó, which meant I had almost an hour before my next sprint to the Art Museum. I got a beer and as the venue was filling up, managed to secure a good spot closer to the stage. As the lights on stage turned on and the band appeared, someone in the audience screamed “She has no willy,” referring to the vocalist and reminding all of us once again that Iceland isn’t the feminist paradise it is often advertised as. Porridge Radio is a British indie band with notes of post-rock and sadcore. It was one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing last night, and I think it even exceeded my expectations. A moment of appreciation for their lyrics: “Don’t know where I’m going (I don’t want to go back). Don’t know how to get it back (I don’t want to go back).” The Guardian called them “slacker indie” so if you’re into that type of music, I highly recommend checking out their latest album “Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky.”

For the millionth time I thought “I wish I could stay longer” as I started my journey to the Art Museum, for the last time this festival year. The venue quickly got very crowded as it prepared for Arlo Parks. Arlo is one of my biggest musical discoveries this year. I won’t be surprised if she ends up in my top 5 listened artists when Spotify’s yearly statistics arrive. Ever since I watched her KEXP performance I was hooked. I can’t even tell exactly what it is about her that makes me really like her music: her voice, lyrics, constant attention to issues like mental health and depression present in her work, or her musical influences—Arlo Parks gets extra points just for loving King Krule. The show was awesome, it felt really intimate despite the room being absolutely packed and people bumping into you occasionally. You just had to be there. If the name Arlo Parks still means nothing to you, do check her out.

As I sat on the floor, waiting for my phone to charge, I looked around. A cowboy not from Kóboykex, an actual cowboy from Kóboykex, Marius DC looking like a normal teenager and not a rap king, a blond hottie in a flower sweatshirt, a sparkly knight… My people-watching meditation was soon interrupted. With 10% battery on both my phone and body, I headed to the DJ set by Röyksopp. For a moment, it felt like we were in a club in Berlin, not in an art museum in Reykjavík. The sounds were blasting, the lights were beaming and the people were raving. With this, I started to realise that Iceland Airwaves was coming to a close. Instead of giving in to my desire to go to bed and sleep for the next three days, another thought struck my mind: festivals take stamina. It’s not just running between venues, doubling or even tripling your daily step count, it’s also the small talk, the crowds, and the FOMO, last but not least. I wanted to see more bands, meet more new people, have more drinks, and go to more off-venue shows. Instead, at one point last night, I felt so tired that I decided to skip Kvikindi, whose latest album I genuinely like, only because the walk to KEX would take 10 min. I made a resolution—I’m gonna optimise myself for the festival next year. If you run into me at Iceland Airwaves 2023 and it hasn’t been achieved, I’ll buy you a beer. Iryna Zubenko

Tearing Up In Church And Turned On By Woollen Underwear

The evening started in a weird but pleasant way, that set the tone for what I have to say was a brilliant night. I went to Prikið for the off venue performance of Cyber, which was packed and buzzing at 6 pm. After watching this sensual duo sexing up the bar in their wool underwear (you heard me right—how Icelandic!) I sat down for some filthy fries and Christmas beer, re-charging under amazing tunes from the ever-great DJ Benni B Ruff, who switched between RnB tunes and House music in his well known style. Time flies when you are having fun, but I had to leave for Fríkirkjan where Valdimar, one of the best singers this country has ever produced, was about to start performing with his band Lón. I burst out laughing while walking there because of how big a contrast it would be to attend a concert in a church with beautiful slow music after sitting in a rocking, light swinging (if you know, you know) bar. But that thought quickly disappeared as Valdimar began to hug me with his sweet tones and very, very charismatic presence. Accompanied by two awesome guitar players, Valdimar produced one of the best performances I have seen from him, with one great song after another, and hilarious comments in between while his band members tuned their guitars. The melodies and the lyrics got me quite emotional and I found myself tearing up when he did a number about his father.

I stayed in the church and watched the Canadian based Alysha Brilla perform beautifully for a packed audience. The setting was great for her music and the message of her songs was really nice, but I felt there was something missing. Maybe the voice of Valdimar was too much in my body still for me to fully enjoy Alysha’s act. I swiftly moved across downtown to find myself in a very long queue outside the Art Museum. I had happily avoided queuing yesterday for some mysterious reason, but this was not the case tonight, I had jinxed it by thinking too much of my luck. After waiting and missing the Ukrainian act Go_A and the early part of Vök’s performance, I entered the museum very enthusiastic about seeing the British wonder woman Arlo Parks. I managed to get an amazing spot right next to the stage and was completely star struck by her presence. So much soul, so much groove and the voice! The way see moved across the stage, the way every word of her entered my body and made the core of me shake and move, wow, I was lost for words and kind of still am…Ms. Parks announced that she and her band had been touring for 14 months…yes, this is not a typo, 14, and this was the last gig of the year. Still all this energy, all this effort, put into every second of the show. No wonder I find myself singing her songs in my head well into this Sunday morning.

The grand finale was then the DJ set of Röyksopp, which inspired me to dance away the weekend, from bar to bar, well into the early hours, with a big smile on my face. Iceland Airwaves, hugs and kisses, I will not forget and I will be back! Aron Ingi

Electro-folk Dreams Fulfilled

Ah Saturday, you cruel bitch. Ignoring our own tried and tested Airwaves survival advice, I started the third day of the festival at the Iceland launch on two hours of sleep, no food, and no hair of the dog (yet). I had, on the plus side, showered! I did tell people that, a lot, and they nodded and backed away slowly (which is rude, because I had showered). But, I had made it out, and that was the most important thing, as the launch was for the new local chapter of the global organisation that promotes women and gender minorities in music, and it was amazing to stand in a room full of positive, engaged people who want to make a difference. You can read more about here!

After an hour of making small talk however, I began emanating a sort of disconcerting manic energy that was putting people on edge. “I don’t know what to think about you today,” a friend told me, concernedly. “Can you stop smiling like that?” Alas, I could not.

After being whisked off to get some sustenance by a steering committee of Friends Of Josie The Insane, I was feeling much better. Unfortunately, fellow writer Iryna Zubenko and myself were then faced by our first difficult decision of the evening: Ólafur Kram or round two with Marius (fucking) DC. To avoid FOMO, we decided to hedge our bets and do both. First we popped our heads into the Iceland Airwaves Center (which, in my opinion, was a fantastic addition to the festival landscape this year. I hope they develop the concept for the next edition and make it even better). Marius was there, running through the crowd like a lunatic. Ah, what a boy. I am obsessed. Unfortunately the sound and vibe were just not on par with the experience at IÐNÓ the previous night, so we skedaddled after one song. IÐNÓ is simply by far the best venue on the Airwaves roster, and I shan’t be told otherwise.

So, on to Húrra. Húrra is not a bad venue, but it takes some expertise. There is almost always a crush of people at the bottleneck between the bar and the main standing area, which might lead you to think the whole place is packed. But squeeze beyond this and you’ll often find that the area closer to the stage has far more room. Plus, then you possibly have a chance to see who’s on stage—in this case the undefinably brilliant Ólafur Kram. How does one even invent music like this? Part punk, part ska, part…circus? “The next song is crazy,” one of them introduced—as if the rest hadn’t been. Nevermind singing, the four female vocalists were screeching and howling, screaming and shouting, roaring and growling. Their last song of the night was “Aumingja Þuríður,” from their brand new album, ‘Ekki treysta fiskunum.’ “It’s about partying a bit too much and being a bit too hungover and doing it all over again,” they said. Well, cheers to that.

My next challenging decision of the evening was to turn down Axel Flóvent, but it’s not so often that Go_A are in town! The Art Museum was stowed out, I assume because people wanted to either see a Eurovision performer, or show support to Ukrainians. Both totally valid reasons, but I was predominantly there because I have a filthy secret: I am an electro-folk junkie. Yes, it’s true, this esteemed [editor’s note: Sure.] journalist is actually a trad musician at heart, and I was absolutely delighted to see the genre represented on a huge stage at Airwaves. Unfortunately, I had to spend most of the performance huddled against a wall, trying to charge my phone, but even that wasn’t enough to distract me from the incredible skill of the artists and the high quality performance Go_A delivered. They had the audience eating out the palm of their hands, and when they finished their set the crowd roared “MEIRA”—the only time I saw a demand for an encore.

After my phone had finally returned to life, I just had enough time to run to Fríkirkjan to catch the last few songs from young Árný Margrét. There was no queue outside this time, which was not a huge surprise, but I suspect that will change in coming years. When I first heard Árný’s music, I thought, sure, another nice singer-songwriter, what of it? But Árný’s a grower. Now I wouldn’t miss her for the world. Fríkirkjan is the perfect venue for her (it’s definitely sit-down music), and she is joined on stage by two other musicians on electric guitar and piano. It’s a nice addition to her normally stripped-back sound, and hints at the direction she is taking as an artist.

I had next intended to see Skoffín at Gaukurinn, but our Grapevine Whatsapp group was full of messages that the Art Museum was filling up fast for Arlo Parks. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the queue outside was huge, and Arlo was due on stage soon. But, as we rounded the corner, we spotted none other than her manager, who kindly snuck us in side-of stage. From there we had the perfect view of this amazing artist. She performed all the hits of her 2021 album, ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams,’ including the sing-along-inducing “Hope” and the Radiohead inspired “Eugene.” It was the perfect vibe for the end of the night, and the weekend, for me—laid back without lacking energy, just fantastic musicians on stage delighting in their craft, with a crowd supporting them every moment of the way. After all, isn’t that what this whole festival is all about? Josie Anne Gaitens

From Melancholic Heartstrings to Pounding Dirty Bass

First on the list last night was the opening event of Icelandat Loft by a group of some amazing women! is a global independent network of women & gender minorities in music, a community of support and peers to make the music industry more equal and transparent but also more accessible. Certainly a well-needed effort even in rather equal Iceland, so YAY!

Right around the corner at Gamla Bío, a queue had already formed way before the venue even opened. I was allowed in early and made sure I got the best balcony seat in the house for both Árstiðír and Axel Flóvent. As the venue slowly filled up, the members of Árstiðír calmly walked onto the stage casually dressed and started their set with the high energy song “Friðþægingin” and a solo by French violinist Jean-Samuel Bez, which set the tone for what was to come. This band has been playing for many years, are well known locally and clearly skilled musicians with around eight albums under their belt, showcasing lots of vocal harmonies and layered compositions. They popped onto many people’s radar when they spontaneously sang the Icelandic Hymn “Heyr himna smiður” acapella in a train station, a video of which went viral on Youtube nine years ago, and they are about to head on another European tour with some shows already sold out. Ragnar Ólafsson (vocals, keys), mentioned they played their first Airwaves show in 2008 and by the looks of the audience that sang along, applauding loudly before and after every song and stayed the whole set, it’s evident that Árstiðír have created a strong loyal fanbase from all over the globe. Their music is a mix of styles and each song therefore becomes its own story, making it maybe a bit harder to put them in any specific box and some styles resonate more with me than others. It is mainly the second half of the set that I chime with, with songs like the hit “Lover,” and my favourite “Bring back the feel.” The latter is sung by Daníel Áudunsson (vocals, guitar) who says “it’s always good to stay positive,” while Gunnar Már Jakobsson (vocals, guitar) jokes to him to keep it light, but then explains the song “Mute” is about “the feeling of being in another country and not speak the language and having all these inner emotions stirred up inside oneself”. Árstiðír is just that: a lot of emotions nicely stirred up that are trying to find their way out in an often grandiose way, with build up tension in the songs that is enthusiastically received by the audience. So the only thing I am missing is a proper light technician to capture this (despite a good try from Raggi creating shadows with a flashlight), as when the rotating spots go on, lighting them all up, things really fall into place and it lifts the whole experience to that next level.

The one person I definitely wanted to see live is the extraordinary phenomenon from the North of Iceland (I secretly thinks he comes from another magical planet far away, but okay), Axel Flóvent, who doesn’t need a lot of things (especially not fireworks) besides his deep, melancholic, heart-stirring voice and a guitar. He became pretty famous, pretty fast after releasing his ‘Forest Fires’ EP in 2016 and his debut album ‘You Stay By The Sea’ only last year, and he’s been busy touring all over Europe this year. A quick check on Spotify confirms this with a monthly 1 million listeners and a mere 63 million plays on his “Forest Fires” song. Surrounded by an incredibly smooth half Icelandic, half Dutch (hoooi!) band, Axel started off with the songs “Fall Asleep,” “Driving Hours,” and “Tourist” with plenty of power, letting us know this isn’t gonna be a gentle cleansing of the heart but rather ripping it out straight from the get go. But the audience were here precisely for these deep layers of emotional outpouring and want to be fully engulfed by it, and are encouraged by Axel saying, “It is important to feel good in your heart but it is also okay to not feel great in your heart—then music comes in handy.” There was simply nothing to fault in this whole set, the lyrics were gorgeous, the music perfectly composed and played, the lights created a candlelit atmosphere, and the mix from high energy to sad songs met our every need.
Axel jokes that it is impossible to dress correctly in Iceland with cold weather outside, so if we can please “let him sweat in peace,” as he was clearly overdressed. But even this fits the whole scenario. If it wasn’t inappropriate as a grown up to have a fan poster above our beds, many would be dreaming under one of this incomprehensible charming Icelandic boy in his way too warm woolly cosy sweater. Lucky for us he is about to write his next album!

Since I was in the mood for getting my heart tugged at now anyway, I walked over to Fríkirkjan to catch Arooj Aftab, the Grammy Award winning Pakistani singer from the US that many of my musician friends in Iceland were talking about but I hadn’t heard of before. It therefore came to no surprise that literally every musician in Iceland from Högni to Bríet was sat in the church to listen to this minimalist neo-Sufi music. Only joined by guitarist Gyan Riley and holding a red rose in her hand, she enchanted the entire audience within seconds of her otherworldly sounds. Her song “Mohabbat” was named one of the best songs of 2021 by Time Magazine and The New York Times and even former US president Barack Obama added it to his famous playlist. All three of her albums have been extremely well received, and I found myself added to the list of enthusiasts of her music. Definitely go check her out.

To end this Airwaves with a band, I decided to join my friends at the Art Museum for the DJ set of the Norwegian duo Röyksopp. There is not much to say besides I danced all my built-up tiredness, enthusiasm, love, sadness, and all other emotions away on the pounding, dirty, low-bass beats and flashing club lights in this turbine hall, with my eyes closed and a smile on my face. I don’t care if it was or wasn’t their best show, it was everything I needed and it ended my week in a perfect powerful explosion. We are on a volcanic island after all! Ylona Supèr

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