From Iceland — Iryna's Thursday Night Iceland Airwaves Diary: The One Where I See Them All

Iryna’s Thursday Night Iceland Airwaves Diary: The One Where I See Them All

Published November 3, 2023

Photo by
Joana Fontinha
Hafsteinn Snær Þorsteinsson

My first night of the official Iceland Airwaves program this year starts with me being confused. 

I wanted to begin with the screening of the Of Monsters And Men film TÍU – something more chill than music pounding in my ears. It’s print day at the Grapevine, after all, and I want some rest. Around 17:30, I realise that the screening has already started, and no, it’s not happening at 19:00 as I tried to convince myself. I scan the program again and don’t find anything I’d really like to see. I decide to try my luck and make it to the performance after the screening. After all, Bíó Paradís is my favourite place in town, so even if the screening is full, I’ll get a beer, I think.

The one where I learned OMAM are fun bunch of people

I make it in time for exactly one song, and it’s fun. The screening room is crowded, and there are people who flew to Iceland specifically for this. It’s not often these days that the band is performing, so it’s a rare occasion. It’s my first time seeing OMAM live, and I can’t form an over-the-moon impression from just one song. But I stay for the Q&A; my friend is moderating, so that’s an extra bonus. Music aside (and we all know OMAM is loved by millions, just take a look at Spotify figures if you’re not sure), they are amazing people. Fun, sarcastic, and good friends.

There’s one thing guitarist Raggi says that sticks with me for the rest of the night. It’s something I’ve been discussing a lot with friends and colleagues recently. Speaking of how the music industry changed this year, Raggi says that a while ago, if you wanted to know the band, you most certainly couldn’t. Their image sort of existed in your mind. Whereas now, you’d have a particular musician telling you what their life’s like on Instagram, in your face, and you wouldn’t be interested. Because you’ve seen so much of it already. 

The band also talks about sneaking into Airwaves as teenagers and things they are excited to see this year.

None of the questions I submitted were asked, so I’ll try my luck in here.

Dear OMAM,

At this point in time, are you sick of the The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty movie?



The one where I don’t drink in the church

Next, I head to Iðnó for a networking event, talking to a bunch of locals and visitors. Suddenly, I realise that my next act for tonight has already started, and I need to hurry up.

Luckily, Fríkirkjan is just a short walk away. I remember how last year I wasn’t allowed in with a beer and had to down it in the freezing cold while the security guard watched. This time, I come prepared. I finish my drink at Iðnó and then head to the church. It’s an amazing venue for a gig, but I always feel a bit out of place here. I’m pretty sure many people tonight feel the same way. The artist on stage, Elín Hall, has just dropped a new album at midnight. Check it out below.

Her single “Bankastræti,” written in collaboration with another talented Icelandic musician, Una Torfa, has been at the top of the radio charts in Iceland. Elín admits that she thought no one cared about lyrics anymore, but it turned out to be a radio favourite.

The artist has recently starred in and written a soundtrack for a film called Kuldi. Juggling how many jobs is enough?

The one where a tombstone in the form of a song was performed

I have a short break between the concerts and spend it chatting with friends and getting some snacks. The next artist on the lineup is one I’m mostly looking forward to — Hugar. Having just interviewed one of the two musicians on stage and knowing more about the band’s story, I’m intrigued. Imagine just making music and then accidentally dropping an album that brings you over 50 million streams on Spotify? This is exactly what happened to Hugar. Curious about what happens when an architect and sound engineer start making music together? Look no further. I wish everyone with side hustles would be as successful as Hugar.

In short, the audience loves Hugar. Everyone’s ecstatic when Bergur announces a “synthetic” encore. They beg for more. Interestingly, in addition to their old releases, Hugar plays a few versions of old Icelandic songs. This one is very sad, Bergur explains. “It’s actually a tombstone. They didn’t have money for one, so they wrote a song.”

Hugar probably has the most instruments on stage that you’ll see tonight — you have a grand piano, trombone, flute, guitar, keys and something that I can’t even make sense of from afar.

You might think it’s not festival music, per se, but don’t say it out loud. The audience that was at Iðnó for Hugar would boo you instantly.

The one where we confirm who’s the Icelandic pop diva

Again, I have a break in my schedule, so I head to the Art Museum this time. I’m proud of myself that this year I’m thinking strategically. My absolute no-gos: Gaukurinn (the worst lines) and KEX (too far).

“What’s going on? Which festival is it?” I hear as I’m approaching the venue. Man, do you live in a cave? 

At the venue, Bríet is about to go on stage, and there’s a certain type of audience who came to see her – loud groups of girls and boys who can no longer tell their friends apart. 

Bríet puts on a classy pop show, not that we expected anything else from her. As I stand behind a group that knows every single line to her songs, I’m actually worried for Bríet on stage, her hair is extra long tonight. But no need to fret, Bríet navigates the hair as smoothly as she does her set.

A friend stops by to say hi afterwards and says, “I didn’t know she’s that much of a diva! And have you seen the hair? She’s the queen.”

The one where no one gets glassed

I rush back to Iðnó (is it already the third time tonight?) for Konx-Om-Pax, a Scottish musician and visual artist from Glasgow. Tom Scholefield is sincere and fun, admitting from the stage that he’s already cried twice tonight. With just one tear shed by me, I raise a glass of beer to Tom. Cheers, mate.

There’s obviously some technical glitch going on onstage, and Tom is definitely nervous, but the audience is extremely supportive. Just give them some electronic beats to dance to.

At least no one is getting glassed tonight (Google “getting glassed in Glasgow” or “Glasgow smile” for context).

The one where I finally see Hatari live

At this point in the night, I admit I’m tired. I want to teleport home and have some food, but I drag myself back to the Art Museum. I’m here for Hatari. The Reykjavík Grapevine named Hatari the Best Live Band for two consecutive years, and I’ve never seen them live before. My internal energy battery is low, and so is my phone’s.

Hatari is amazing — weird and powerful and they certainly live up to their own description of themselves as “a multimedia project that unveils the relentless scam that is everyday life.” This is the act the audience has been waiting for. The IA staff and the people at the food and drink stalls are excited too. Everyone’s screaming and dancing, while I… charge my phone. Everyday life is indeed a scam.

The one where I pretend I’m okay

As I arrive at Gamla Bíó, I’m stopped at the entrance by a security guard checking my bag and asking, “Are you okay?” I know that my face doesn’t scream excitement right now (or ever), but I answer, “I’m OK,” and head in for a beer. One thing I notice tonight is how drink prices differ depending on the venue. What is IA trying to tell me with this? Being a social drinker who basically just wants to have a drink in her hand, I opt for a non-alcoholic beer this time. But why do I have to pay 900 ISK for it at Gamla Bíó compared to 600 ISK at the Art Museum? It’s definitely some conspiracy theory against non-drinkers.

I arrive while gugusar is still on stage. “What’s going on with her hair?” I text my friend immediately before even asking her if she’s still at this gig. In the past two years that I’ve been following gugusar’s career, you can definitely see the confidence boost she’s gotten. From dancing quietly on stage, she’s giving the audience small tasks and behaving like she owns this stage. And she does, in fact.

The last band I’m seeing tonight is Whispering Sons, a Belgian post-punk band that everybody in this room seems to know, except me. “Oh, I’m loving this,” says someone next to me, jumping so hard that I spill my beer. At times, it feels like the singer Fenne Kuppen is in the process of some otherworldly transformation. Is she a werewolf? The music is lyrically intense and at times, reminds me of Dry Cleaning, The Velvet Underground, and The Horrors.

I skip my Icelandic class for this. No regrets.

Follow along with our Iceland Airwaves 2023 coverage right here.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!