This year’s ‘Airwaves’ really started with a bang and a wallop. The first night alone was so good it was hard to believe although my feet sure had no trouble believing it the next day.
On my way down to the Media Centre at Harpa on Wednesday to pick up my wristband I stopped in at Bíó Paradís on Hverfisgata to listen to the off-venue performance of Rythmatik. I had never heard of these guys before but was really pleased I took the time to check them out. They formed in 2012 but things have only just started happening for them much more recently. They were the winners of the Icelandic Music Experiments 2015 which is a competition that promotes young and up and coming local talent that many consider will be the ‘next thing to erupt’ on the Icelandic scene.
Check out the I.M.E website here: http://www.musiktilraunir.is/english
One of the reason there are so many super-talented bands here in Iceland is because of the level of support that musicians receive here compared to many other places I’ve lived. That also applies to writers and artists of all types. If you want a thriving cultural scene you need to put in the hard work to nurture the talent you have available within the community.
Not only do Rythmatik play cool and highly enjoyable indie rock but the lead singer is one of the funniest guys you will see on stage here or in any other country for that matter. Seriously, the guy should do stand-up. On the way back from Harpa with my funky purple wristband now firmly around my wrist I dropped into the foyer at Hlemmur Square to catch Börn play their intense style of feminist punk. I had been reading about these girls for quite a few years now and was seriously happy that I finally got around to seeing them. With the huge number of bands that play Airwaves every year it can be a struggle to see every one you want to see first time around. ‘Bara hrós’ by Börn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCqsABla8r8
The first night of the official programme started for me at Gaukurinn with Sinmara, a local death-metal band followed by the almighty Icelandic punk phenomenon, Muck. It was Muck’s first performance with their new drummer Gylfi Freeland Sigurðsson and their last before heading to the UK and hitting the road with Superheaven and Every Time I Die. Getting some exposure in the UK will be fantastic for these punk rock heavyweights. Each time I see them it’s staggering how good they are. I would defy any band in the country to better them on any given night. They are ridiculously fast, unbelievably tight and write great raw energetic punk rock songs. Anyone catching them in the UK won’t forget them in a big hurry. ‘Provoke Me’ by Muck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYGFCPH71Yg
That awesome performance was followed by two brilliant shows in quick succession at Harpa that were almost worth the price of the festival ticket on their own. First up was Airwaves perennials Dikta with their friend Tóti playing bass for them just for the night before he had to run to the room next door to play guitar and keyboards for his ‘other band’ Agent Fresco. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Dikta now but they are one of the most enjoyable bands in Iceland to watch and a lot of that comes down to the fact that they always have such a good time on stage themselves. Their lead singer Haukur Heiðar Hauksson is a doctor at the Landspítali hospital in Reykjavík and their drummer Jón Þór Sigurðsson is a pilot and despite having such busy ‘day jobs’ these guys still find the time to be one of the most consistently entertaining bands in the country as well as releasing album after album of quality catchy-as-hell tunes. ‘Sink Or Swim’ by Dikta: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2c2I7G86kQ
Next door Agent Fresco were at their awesome best giving a performance of raw passionate energy. Some lead singers can seem closed off or to be simply going through the motions. Some wear their hearts of their sleeves but Arnór Dan takes his and throws it to the audience to see what they will do with it and they inevitably embrace it and give him all that love right back. Agent Fresco gigs are special events and the show at Harpa was no exception. The band played everything live including the many electronics that feature on their albums. They employed the talents of Styrmir who mixed their latest album, 'Destrier' to play synths and local wonder-boy Ceasetone to play rhythm guitar. All in all an amazing, amazing show.
Thursday night brought about one of the best Airwaves moments of any of the festivals so far for me with John Grant performing with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. Every Airwaves I’ve been too I’ve made a point of seeing whoever has been playing with the fantastic I.S.O and along the way I’ve seen Valgeir Sigurðsson perform his soundtrack to the movie, ‘Draumalandið -check out some of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp5n2vd8c9o
As well as that I’ve seen Ólafur Arnalds perform his album ‘For Now I Am Winter’ and Jóhann Jóhannsson performing ‘The Miners’ Hymns’ – check out some of that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_Rfkhg7s_M and they’ve all been outstanding but John Grant’s performance was one that took me completely by surprise.
Perhaps it was because I didn’t really know what to expect having never heard John’s music before but that turned out to be a bonus. His songs are quirky and brilliant and his voice is truly exceptional. His rapport with the crowd was heart-warming and there is obviously a lot of love for him here. He has certainly been embraced by the country he now calls home and it’s because he has embraced it and its people so openly himself. Definitely a serious highlight of the festival if not THE highlight. There were so many stand-out tracks but this was my pick off his songs. If you can just imagine this accompanied by a sixty-piece orchestra: ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNfckqekxY4
The other big highlight of the festival for me was another local band that has played almost every year at Airwaves since its inception in 1999. I caught kimono off-venue at Bar 11 on Friday and tonight is their official show at Gamla Bíó. I unfortunately missed their Thursday night gig with being at John Grant and all which was a shame but like I said before it’s just impossible to see everything you want to with such a wonderful glut of talent and shows on offer. These three gigs for Airwaves 2015 are the only ones that kimono have played all year apart from one for a local radio station at the beginning of the year and one they did in September at Húrra with their friend from Germany, Ari Russo. I was lucky enough to be at the radio interview and concert at Bar 11 but missed the gig at Húrra so it was definitely a case of making up for lost time this time around. The off-venue show at Bar 11 impressed the crowd, a lot of whom were foreign including the gentleman from Lithuania who Gylfi Blöndal, kimono’s affable bass player, engaged in conversation much to everyone’s delight suggesting that he was “possibly German”.
Many of the enthusiastic punters came up to the stage after the show to voice their appreciation to the band members. The highlights of the show for me were the recent single ‘Specters’, the painfully honest and wonderfully bleak ‘Less Than Zero’ and ‘Black’ from the album ‘Easy Music For Difficult People’. If you haven’t heard of them before you should check out ‘Specters’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KMEAwgB26g
And if you’ve never checked out Iceland Airwaves before or indeed Iceland in general for that matter then you should seriously consider doing both next year. As soon as this Airwaves is done we’ll be counting down the days until the next one comes around. It’s like Christmas for your ears.