The decision to get a ticket for the next Airwaves didn’t take long. As soon as I had purchased it they announced that Sigur Rós would be headlining the 2012 festival. Their show would take place in the handball stadium up near the swimming pools.
It would be the only show not in the heart of downtown Reykjavík and it would be huge by Airwaves standards with a capacity of 5,500. Funnily enough it is within walking distance of where I would normally stay at the Cabin but this year I would be moving to a more central location to make those late night walks home a little less arduous.
As the festival neared, the schedule was released and I soon picked the highlights out to see what I would be doing each night. Having been burned out by the end of Friday night at the last festival I decided that where possible I would keep it to one band and one venue per night this time around. Wednesday would be Sykur who I missed last time because of the rain and simply staying too far away from the gig; Thursday would be old favourites Dikta and newcomers Noise at Harpa and Café Amsterdam respectively; Friday would be Endless Dark at Gaukurinn; Saturday would be the Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band who I also missed last time due to lethargy and the Sunday would be Sigur Rós.
The Off-Venue gigs would give me a chance to see some more bands and incorporate another couple of venues into the schedule including Hresso and a new hotel called the Reykjavík Marina which is down by the dry-dock for the fishing boats.
My shopping for this trip would be a nice pair of Icelandic leather gloves, some books including the new Yrsa Sigurðadóttir novel, DVDs, t-shirts, underwear and hopefully a name book which contains all the names that you are allowed to use to name your children in Iceland. It is amended every year by the Names Commission as people apply for new names to be added to the list.
It seems that every second trip to Iceland I am met with a travel disaster of some description that inevitably involves Terminal One at Heathrow. My flight to Heathrow was with British Airways even though it had originally been booked with BMI, and was on the last day that BMI would operate out of Belfast City Airport. The inbound aircraft from London was considerably delayed and by the time it got to Belfast and was cleaned and refuelled I ended up arriving in London an hour after my flight to Reykjavík had left rather than three hours before it was due to go. What started out as a supposedly short delay was lengthened by not having a slot to depart from and then not having a stand to disembark with when we finally got there.
The hour was late and I had a pressing need to find somewhere to stay for the night and to rebook my ticket, not to mention letting the Hotel Leifur Eiríksson know that I would be a day late. At this point I didn’t even know how late I would be so I left ringing them to be the last thing to cross off my list. I found that the hotels around the airport were rather full because of the Bank Holiday and the cheapest I could find was the Comfort Hotel (including transfer was £200). It was a great hotel though and I got the 12 pound upgrade for 24 hours Wi-Fi and a late check out the next day which let me lie around until 4pm).
Once I had checked in it was too late to get anything to eat except a sandwich but I had a bath in the room so I was saved. I rebooked my flight for the next day and was done with it. The only seats left were Saga Class and cost me £750 but the cheaper flight the day after would have been offset by the extra night at the hotel. I had always wanted to fly Icelandic First Class anyway!
A Day Late and a Dollar Short:
It would be late by the time I finally arrived at my destination next to the church but ultimately worth the effort, and the additional cost. This I was sure of. I had left Belfast with about five hundred pounds with nothing to do so the debacle had only actually cost me about five hundred. Not as bad as it could have been I suppose. When I did finally arrive at the Hotel Leifur Eiríksson, it was a great feeling to be back in the arms of the one I love. Brennivín in hand and with my eyelids slowly dropping I could no longer deny my love for the girl of dreams, her name is Reykjavík and I belong to her.
The next few days I spent unwinding from my tortuous trip. Once Wednesday came around I was ready for the bands all over again. I saw Skúli Mennski play again in Munnharpan while having dinner and awaiting the Sykur gig.
Sykur didn’t play a single song that I knew from the CD of theirs that I have and still managed to completely blow my mind. Agnes, the girl who fronts the band is one of the most exciting and energetic front-women I’ve ever seen. Every song had a beat or a keyboard sound in it that reminded me of some tune from the eighties but I could never quite put my finger on exactly which one it was.
On to Thursday; I went to Nordic House to see Dikta play an acoustic set along with a real piano and mandolin.
Later that night at Cafe Amsterdam The Foreign Resort was the first of the imports I would see, both Danish. Again there was a real eighties theme, this one owing more to the likes of Killing Joke and The Cure.
There were drum loops and heavy bass lines behind some very rocking guitars that sounded like Joy Division in a good mood or The Cure in a bad one. They were moody, rocky and very danceable in places. The last track in particular, Orange Glow was particularly reminiscent of New Order on some of their more rocky moments on Low Life. Definitely the highlight of the night, although local outfit Noise who came on after them were very good too. The lead singer had the whole Kurt Cobain thing down and that shit still sounds cool twenty years on.
Friday was back at Gamli Gaukurinn with another Danish import and local boys Endless Dark. This time around the Danes were Thee Attacks and they were all about rocking it old-school. Their album is called Dirty Sheets and has a chick dangling a microphone between her legs on the cover. That image alone should tell you what they’re all about. Leather jackets, big drums, hot chicks and lots and lots of guitars. The lead singer definitely got the award for most crazy front man of the festival, they were fucking great.
Saturday was much mellower, musically that is. Not the weather though. I only saw the one band and they were on first at Harpa in Silfurberg were I had seen Sykur do their thing three nights earlier. Samúel Jón Samúelsson and his Big Band were another bunch that I missed the year before but this time, like Sykur, they were not to slip through my fingers. They would be hard pressed to slip through anyone’s fingers, there were seventeen of them on stage. A drummer, percussionist, electric bass player, keyboardist and the rest were brass. Trumpets and saxophones of all sizes and tones with Samúel himself conducting the whole mess like a genius.
They had put years of work into the way that they sounded and the way that they looked. They sound was like Miles Davis meets the Gypsy Kings, part jazz, part mariachi and with a dash of funk just to make you want to shake it all over the place. And then there were the clothes; colourful, loose fitting and covered in sombrero designs and looking for the most part like a catalogue for Mexican pyjamas.
The weather on Saturday morning and afternoon left many buildings without roofs and brought every mountain rescue team from within about a two hour drive into the city centre. They had to close Laugavegur for hours while a huge crane was used to physically pin a loose piece of roofing onto the top of the building that it was threatening to fall from.
By Sunday it was hard to believe that another festival had come to a close. There was only one show left and I had no idea of what to expect. I had bought the ticket because I had sensed that to not go see Sigur Rós in Reykjavík would have been criminally insane. Once in town I had become curious to find out what this band was all about. In the end though I decided to starve myself off all information and let the show be my baptism.
It proved to be a great idea. When the show started I was completely unprepared for what I was about to experience. The immense soundscapes ranging from the picturesque to the most furiously powerful blew my mind. Their music and the accompanying visuals could only be compared to nature. I think that many bands have tried to achieve the great art that this band has produced but unlike Sigur Rós they have all failed. I will never look at music quite the same way again.
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.