For us, the lead up to the Iceland Airwaves festival is a couple of whirlwind weeks of trying to talk to as many performers as we can, especially the international acts setting foot on this rocky clump of land for the first time.
They usually tell us the same thing: they really want to get out of town and see some real Icelandic shit but don’t have a lot of time and aren’t sure how or where to go. And for all the guaranteed fun that the festival provides though, there is always a sense that we could have done something else, something new.
We finally came to the logical conclusion that it was time we organise a road trip. After all, we know music, we know travel and we get a lot of free booze. So we grabbed a Reykjavík Excursions bus, rounded up a bunch of foreign and local bands, a couple of industry folk and a whole lotta Reyka Vodka and set off to have a real Icelandic rock’n’roll adventure!
Wake up and smell the vodka
We trucked off at the ungodly hour of noon, before anyone’s coffee had kicked in or their hangover had worn off, and headed off towards the Golden Circle region. Our official Reykjavík Excursions guide Níels provided occasional geographical and historical tidbits for our first-time visitors while Jóndi, our day’s official MC and Grapevine co-founder, shook things up with saucy anecdotes.
After a quick detour to check out Sigur Rós’ studio (from the outside only—it’s that grey building next to the grey building) we arrived at our first stop, Þingvellir. In true Icelandic form, the instant we stepped off the bus the weather went from sunny and cool to a torrential hail storm accompanied by the winds of death, which made it fairly difficult to properly pass around our baptismal bottle of vodka and sent Rich Aucoin running back to the bus in his improper outdoor attire. Of course within five minutes we were staring at a fucking rainbow. Typical.
This bakery is so underground, you guys
By the time we were working on bottle number two of Reyka we were pulling up to the newly opened Fontana Steam Baths in lovely Laugarvatn. The facilities were sleek and the super friendly staff hooked up our whole gang with the swimsuits many of them did not realise they should bring to this country. Once we hit the hot tub, Kolli from RETRÖN took the ice-breaking to the next level with a rousing game of Guess-the-Marine-Animal. (How was THAT an octopus, dude?) Fontana also boasts an awesome complex of Finnish style saunas which honestly felt more like microwave ovens.
After leaving our insta-bake experience we were joined by Jóel Friðrik Jónsson, owner of local craft-work shop and café Gallerí, who came around to show us some real slow-baking—underground bread baking, to be exact! After repeating a few times to our disbelieving guests that yes, they bake bread underground, it quickly turned to hipster jokes. “We were baking bread before it was cool, man!” “Our ingredients are all real, organic, analog!” Etcetera.
Their excitement over the hipster-bread was visibly abated when Jóel reached into his ground-oven and pulled out a filthy plastic bag full of milk cartons which contained the bread, prompting Rich Aucoin’s manager Jason to bet me there would be a hand inside.
Food! Booze! Sheep poop!
We hopped over to Jóel’s establishment (which he has run with his wife Þuríður Steinþórsdóttir since 2003) to sample the bread and some damn fine smoked trout. Our guests got a bit apprehensive again when Þuríður told us that one kind of trout was smoked in sheep’s dung, but they all inevitably preferred it to the birch-smoked trout.
Patricia of Pop Montreal even said it might be better than Vancouver smoked salmon. Those are fighting words!
Then we cracked open another bottle of vodka, chilled out and passed it around while Markús (minus the Diversion Sessions) played us a song appropriately named ‘Decent Times.’ Yes, they were.
More sheep! More poop!
Our last stop was over at Eyvindartunga farm, which belongs to Jóndi’s uncle Snæbjörn Þorkelsson, to hang out with a bunch of sheep who were meeting their maker on the morrow. Jóndi told us a jolly grim tale of his uncle casually shooting a sheep in the exact location we were standing for a cover-shoot for this fine publication you’re reading, and then stumbled into the barn.
The result of how much free-flowing alcohol, hot tub relaxation and minimal amounts of food we had all had resulted in delusions of grandeur of sheep-taming abilities. Jason, Kolli and our photographer Skari all hopped into the pen after Jóndi who showed them the technique of hopping over a sheep’s back, picking it up by the horns and showing it who’s the boss. Pretty soon we all hopped in too to get our shoes all poopy and to get as close to Iceland’s real majority population as possible.
And with a ceremonial vodka shot to commemorate our grand adventure, we loaded back onto our bus. Åse and Linn from Deathcrush practiced synchronised handclaps, always resulting in a fit of giggles, and Kolli pointed out holes in the cliffs to wish upon until we were back in the city, back in the party, already partying hard but not even close to partied out.
This trip was provided by Reykjavík Excursions. The trip with a complete Golden Circle tour can be booked at www.re.is (but the vodka and sheep are not included). The spa portion of this trip was provided by Fontana Baths. It can be booked at www.fontana.is.