I’m not going to lie. Getting myself into festival mode was a real exercise. Iceland Airwaves rolled around in the midst of print week here at the Grapevine, when the pocket-sized staff is all busy polishing their articles to file and I’m working late into the evening editing and organising so that it all turns into a complete magazine come Thursday afternoon.
What that means is that by time time it came time to stand up from my desk and hit the festival circuit I really had to convince myself my tired body was not actually on the verge of exhausted collapse.
And boy am I glad I dug deep and found the energy.
Kvikindi was a marvel. I strolled into the IA as the peppy and pregnant singer was belting out her cover of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights.” And she was doing it absolute justice to boot. The bar just kept rising from there, as she kept the crowd energised with her upbeat dance punk power, jumping into the crowd at one point to scream her lyrics into joyful faces. That ended with her singing in supine position on stage as the track petered out and the singer caught her breath enough to jest “Everyone is like ‘is she going to give birth right here?!’”
Next up for me was the long walk – JK, I took a Hopp – to KEX. Even after 15 years living in Reykjavík, I never remember the most direct route to KEX. It’s placement in this city forever resides in a black hole in my brain. Which is why I took a scooter there after opening Google Maps and exclaiming out loud to absolutely nobody “What? A 16 minute walk!?”
It was worth the 280 kr. scooter ride and it would have been worth the 16-minute walk to see Wallgrin. The Canadian singer – performing with Nate on bass, Jasper on keys and Graham on drums – was a joy. I was racking my brain trying to think of someone I could compare her to the sake of reference in this little diary, but the closest I could think was Florence Welch — maybe? Not really, though. Maybe more Merrill Garbus?
Tegan Wahlgren’s control over her vocals was impressive, and the layered and rich combination of her voice through a clean mic and a second connected to her Roland VT-4 added layers of goosebump-inducing sound that had me in tears by the time her set was drawing to a close. I wanted more and more and more.
Deciding at the last minute to book it to KEX to see a musician I was previously unaware of and had no expectations for and then being absolutely bowled over with awe and emotion is just the Airwaves magic I needed.
Next, I was on my way back toward Grapevine HQ and then to Hafnarhús for for Yard Act. Looking back at my notes, the first thing I wrote was “Park Life.” Solid Brit Pop with a few dirty licks folded in for flavour. I probably would have been more into it if I wasn’t standing in a sea of immoveable statues. Glances left and right had me convinced I was the only one in the room with mobile joints.
My disappointment with the crowd dynamics continued later in the night when Icelandic pop goddess Bríet took the stage to loud cheers, but little else to express excitement. Like a smile that doesn’t reach the eyes. Like everyone in my my general vicinity bought an Airwaves wristband because “it’s something to do” and attending was just something to check off their to-do list.
Which is all a shame, because Bríet was wonderful, with her wildly long braided and gilded ponytail trailing behind her or being held aloft with all the badassery of someone holding the leash of a big cat. She put on a high-energy show, ending with a gorgeous rendition of “Rólegur Kúreki” that gave me an excuse to belt out one of the few Icelandic lyrics I know with confidence: “Þú ert ekki James Dean því miður.”
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