Adventures in Iceland: Airwaves music festivalOctober 30, 2007
Iceland Airwaves is a four-day music festival in Reykjavík featuring over 200 bands. The city splits wide in the evenings, with the most intense, impassioned partying I’ve never imagined could exist. Though some of the more popular venues and acts would, at times, demand up to half an hour waiting in lines, I managed to see every band I’d hoped to see, and without missing any seconds (yes, copious knocking on wood while there). Here’s a list of what I saw; if you’re unfamiliar with these groups, do follow the links and give a listen.
THURSDAY… without much plan, I stumbled into a dinner with members of Hraun, then wandered to Iðnó for drinks with Hildur and Linda, where the gentle tones of most bands had us entranced…
Kira Kira: airy and warm, Kira Kira’s tinkles and beats wrapped my eardrums in an aural embrace, the perfect introduction to the festival. A little spooky, a lot expansive, with instrumentation ranging from xylophone and music box to drums and sundries.
My Summer as a Salvation Soldier: half an hour of ultra slow guitar, lyrics, and drums à la Songs: Ohia summons the sleepies, so when this Icelandic band kicked three power chords into their last song, I was theirs. I’m awake! I’m with you! Sweet!
Grizzly Bear: for a brief interlude, I wandered with Örvar Smárason and his sister, Vala, to the Reykjavík Art Museum for this American outfit that featured sweeping hipster folk and stunning harmony.
Ben Frost: returning to Iðnó, I caught the latter half of Ben Frost’s experimental composition, a driving computer-created soundscape with seven or eight live electric guitarists playing one chord for half an hour. The guitarists rocked their solo chord hard; both the sound and schtick proved mesmerizing. Also neat to see Reykjavík!‘s Gummi and Haukur participate.
Sam Amidon: the closing act of the night was oneiric. Sam Amidon’s southern-folk aesthetic, paired with Nico Muhly‘s orchestral talents, delighted. Favourite moment was Sam’s teetering dance with fall that closed the show.
FRIDAY… this was the highlight of my festival, as I got to see the band I’d stayed in Iceland to see, hang out backstage, start what I hope will become an influential dialogue with Birgitta Birgirsdóttir, plus indulge in further Reykjavík!ian hedonism as I witnessed Erna Ómarsdóttir’s incredible pipes.
Reykjavík!: see my earlier post on these phenoms. Better still, watch the video from this performance.
múm: aaahhhh, múm. I’ve been devoted to their ambient quorks and pips for several years, so it was a pleasure to see them live and hang out with them post-show. As serendipity would have it, I arrived just prior to their start, wound my way to front stage-right (random snapshot of my audience position here), and was greeted by Birgitta shortly after. While the Reykjavík Art Museum wasn’t the ideal venue for this group, it was nevertheless wonderful to hear so much from the new album and to see Örvar, Mr. Silla, and the crew weave magic. Truly a treat, and I got to hang out backstage afterwards (which is my excuse for only seeing two bands this night, though there was much more to see). Speaking of the new album, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy has become my anthemic nostalgia for the trip — instant time portal. For my Montreal and Toronto friends, if you have a spare evening this week, I heavily encourage you to go to the múm concert in your city! They’re touring all over the States and Europe, too, so do make sure you see them if they come your way.
SATURDAY… hungover (a.k.a. feeling like a bag of smashed assholes), I dragged myself from bed around 3pm, dressed for the evening, and met Hildur for a pizza-breakfast…
Reykjavík! x2: 12 Tonar, a small music store downtown, cleared displays out of the way to pack the band and audience into the space. The band chased this energetic performance with an invitation to their studio space where they continued the music. Video clip of studio performance here.
Mugison: home-grown indie rock, Mugison came highly recommended to me by, well, everybody I encountered. The audience response to the unveiling of his new songs was overwhelmingly positive. Fun atmosphere.
Seabear: caught the end of their set, and it intrigued. Looking forward to further listening.
Benni Hemm Hemm: gotta love a music festival that features brass on so many stages. Benni Hemm Hemm blared enchanting songs. I peeked in and out of their set, as the venue was crowded and behind schedule. Met with Vala, and we wandered to Gaukurinn for…
FM Belfast: what started as a musically energetic, pizza-fueled day ended similarly. Vala and I snagged front-row spots for FM Belfast (of which Örvar is also a member), a geeky electronic team roaring with catchy one-liners and blazing beats. For their final number, the frontman introduced the song in Icelandic, though I caught the English words “Killing in the name of.” That caught my attention, as I was immediately transported to a 1997 concert I saw at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens where Rage Against the Machine closed with that song. Flashforward to Airwaves. FM Belfast. The beat kicks in, multiple band members with microphones kick into their cult hit “Lotus,” which is, in fact, an unreal cover of Rage’s song. It was, simply, wowsville. Haukur even jumped onstage to scream along with them. I’m still processing how FM Belfast’s physicality and musicality contextually shifts the lyrics. Do check out their site, where you can hear their version (though, I’ve gotta say, it’s not in the same goodly realm as the wild live incarnation).
SUNDAY… after a rejuvenating splash with Hildur in Laugardalslaug — one of Reykjavík’s spas complete with hot pots, saunas, and Olympic-sized swimming pools — and a restorative Italian dinner, we had drinks with Australian group Winterpark and Haukur before taking in the last night of the festival.
Skakkamanage: though the packed houses of the night before at Nasa were a distant memory, Skakkamanage played a good set. This band also touts Örvar as a member (playing shakers and harmonica one-handed), so my Icelandic adventures came full-circle as I had the pleasure of seeing him perform one last time.
The festival included a couple of Canadian acts, so it was fitting that my final shows of the weekend were by names I know: Buck 65 and Plants and Animals. Thus concluded one hell of a memorable weekend in the Bay of Smoke.