Words by: Matt Newby | Images by: Rich Smith
Iceland Airwaves Festival :: 10.17.07 – 10.21.07 :: Reykjavík, Iceland
Downtown Reykjavik is a petite place with one main street. A daily population of 117,598 means people are few and far between. It feels like no other festival backdrop. A semi naked male portrait by an artist for Naked Ape (a local street wear design company) is pasted to walls around the city advertising the week ahead, just one example of the many local talents Iceland Airwaves has to offer. Reykjavik has kindly given up its museums, churches and many other public establishments across the city for the festival and provides a plethora of performance spaces to showcase Iceland's weird and wonderful music scene to the world.
| Grizzly Bear :: Iceland Airwaves 2007|
Wednesday: Heads In The Clouds
When the Icelandic weather took a turn for the worse, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to head inside and see the Airwaves early birds kick off the festival. The Wednesday night schedule was pretty minimal with only a third of the venues open. To ease us in gently were charming indie popsters Seabear playing in an A-frame attic at Airwaves newest venue, Organ. The performance was dreamy and the fragile sounds coming from what looked to be "instruments for all ages" provided a sweet start to the festival. There was no room at the Gaukurinn venue, and the fallback option was to advance to NASA. The local acts were ready and waiting. After missing Lights On The Highway and Smoosh, the evening concluded with Icelandic indie six-piece Shadow Parade. The name says it all, they delivered a confident but gloomy set full of melancholic, warm sounds reminiscent of Bends-era Radiohead. Clearly, their previous days as an electronic outfit far were behind them.
Thursday: Sitting Beneath CD Racks
Off venue shows are pretty popular at the Airwaves festival. It gives the performance an "up close and personal" feel in a venue more accustomed to people purchasing sounds and browsing literature than hosting miniature live sets. The 12 Tonar store is Reykjavik's delightful independent music hut, a presentable place with a welcoming staff where no conversation is ever too long. Playing in front of portraits of Icelandic presidents and busts of Icelandic composers, Khonner opened up on the shop floor, treating the audience to extended noise landscapes, transfixing us into a tranquil state. With most seated on the glossy timber floor, a small space beneath the classical CD rack and a heavily graffiti covered guitar case, we were able to observe Ólöf Arnolds (Múm's latest addition as of 2003) as she showcased her troubadour ways. A chair and guitar was all she needed. Her "Krútt" (cute) presence resembled a crooning Joanna Newsom, sensitive and bitter with an excessively sharp voice that became quite a scary affair.
| Khonner :: Iceland Airwaves 2007|
Over at Iðnó, Bjork's right hand man (now with a solo project), Valgier Sigurðsson, demonstrated his electronic craftsmanship in a live spectacle with sensitive piano melodies and a musically layered, windswept narrative. Sigurðsson's creativity and showmanship became an emotional highlight of the day. Following the display of electronic expertise from Bjork's producer, the sunken ground floor of Lido was the place to end the evening's musical schedule. Stepping through a collection of smokers outside the Lido bar, the tail end of British hipsters The Duke Spirit's set proved to be a suitable nightcap to the evening.
Friday: From Singapore to Montreal
The main body of the festival began in the afternoon with a build up of in-stores and impromptu shows to whet the appetites of festivalgoers. The 12 Tonar store was filled with people pouring down the spiral staircase past Sigur Ros stained windows and out into the cold. Singapore Sling, a local psychedelic noise rock band with a Silversun Pickups flavour, provided the first musical experience of the day. Set up in the corner of the store, they still managed to fill most of the retail space. Singapore Sling rifled through their intimate set with ear piercing moments of Sonic Youth style noise and proved to be 12 Tonar's loudest band all weekend.
| Of Montreal :: Iceland Airwaves 2007|
In typical Airwaves style, this was followed by a last minute special announcement that Of Montreal would play a "stripped down" acoustic session at the Mail Mog Manning bookstore. Any who were lucky enough to find a comfy spot between the piles of coffee table literature were treated to an assortment of covers including Bowie's "Starman" as well as the band's own material. The comic exchanges between Kevin Barnes and Brian Poole about adapting to Icelandic culture proved to be entertainment in itself. After the in-stores, the program for the day moved from downtown Reykjavik to the semi-filled, wedding style estate of Iðnó presenting former Gus Gus and Mínus members, Esja. The Iðnó venue had enough rooms for an Icelandic murder mystery weekend (if such a thing exists). With singer Daniel Agust draped in a Musketeer robe, Esja unleashed their glam-electronic-folk on a crowd curious to see how this newly formed partnership compared to their previous bands. It may seem an unlikely union but the electronic and metal collaboration proved to be somewhat of a success.
Crowds started to return again to the Iðnó wedding hall where Montreal three-piece Plants and Animals showcased their bluegrass style. The evening continued with the first visit to the Reykjavik Art Museum for the second helping of headliners, Of Montreal. The show was a playful electro-pop fueled affair with an array of costumes so flamboyant and glamorous they could only have come from an old Bowie tour. Dolled up in exotic angel wings and white rave glasses, Kevin Barnes took to the stage for an hour of colorful, energetic entertainment whilst never straying from the friendly pop melodies they do so well. The set was thoroughly fun and questionably "indie" at times, with various costume changes that would have been more conventional at a pop concert. The night oozed with glam, a particular highlight being a '70s disco take on the Fiery Furnaces' "Tropical Island."
Saturday: Church On Saturday
The festivities never stopped in Reykjavik. Rain, sleet or a hideous hangover could not stop anyone from attending the most unique party in Iceland. It's an early Saturday morning. With the sour taste of the previous night's Brennevin still fresh on one's palate and a headache hanging around like a bad smell, the hip Airwaves crowd take the opportunity to revitalize themselves in the geothermal paradise at the Blue Lagoon. Situated in serene volcanic surroundings a 50-minute bus ride out of Reykjavik, this was an event not to be missed. In the hope of curing the self-inflicted aches with massaging waterfalls and facial treatments, the event's hosts Les Eurockéennes De Belfort, showcased mysterious electronic beats from Detect and Fluokids to the floating crowd.
| Amiina :: Iceland Airwaves 2007|
The pinnacle of the weekend's performances was yet to come. Sigur Ros's innovative string quartet Amiina returned for a one-off Airwaves exclusive at the Frikirkjan Church, a tranquil venue overlooking Reykjavik's elegant "pond." Expectations were high and the show turned out to be more than memorable. Amiina took to the altar where they performed with an avant-garde selection of instruments. The songs from Kurr and AminaminA perfectly suited the Icelandic surroundings. With a deathly silent congregation captivated by the quartet, the classical arrangements and changes provided layers of achingly beautiful melodies from a table of saws, toy boxes propelled by breath and wine glasses that screeched to the rafters. However, Amiina proved to be the proverbial calm before the storm.
The storm arrived at the Gaukurinn in the form of Ultra Mega Technobandið Stefán. UMTBS began as they left off from their 2006 Airwaves performance. The hormone fuelled techno terriers did not disappoint. Singing primarily in Icelandic, the destructive four-piece, led by an erratic Sigurdur Arnason, roared through a deranged set amidst a scrum of photographers, violent gestures towards band members and stage dives that pummeled the pit of adoring fans. The crowd that gathered for this Sex Pistols-meets-Kraftwerk spectacle was truly absorbed in the "Fuck off" attitude in a sweaty sea of chaos.
If good things really come to those who wait, this was not the case at the Reykjavik Art Museum. Running well past midnight, Bloc Party half-heartedly took the stage with a somewhat amusing attempt to wow the crowd with their poor Icelandic language skills. Making it abundantly clear that this was their debut show in Reykjavik, Kele and company ran through a mediocre set. However, there were a few crowd pleasers including synth-based new offering "Flux" and an up-close and very personal stage dive during set closer "Pioneers."
Sunday : A Gig and a Goodbye
Sunday came around quickly and the majority of the bands were already thousands of miles away from Reykjavik. NASA, Organ and Gaukarinn stayed open for the low key ending to Airwaves 2007. No festival would be complete without its rumors and surprises. Last minute additions to the program, The Magic Numbers, jetted in to play at NASA and proved to be better than expected live. The humble quartet rounded off the festival with a heart-warming set whose highlights included the tender, lonesome vocals on "I See You See Me" and spotless crowd pleaser "Love Me Like You." The evening came to a close with a run-of-the-mill show from New Zealand's Cut Off Your Hands! at Gaukarinn. Across the road, Canadian Buck 65 played out the Icelandic experience to a tired crowd at the oversold Organ.
As a city, Reykjavik is like no other and the same can be said for the Airwaves Music Festival. Despite being significantly poorer for the flight home from Keflavik Airport, the experience was priceless. The opportunity to see an all-star cast of international bands debuting live to the local crowd, as well as the diverse showcase of domestic talents, is what draws international visitors to this unique exchange of musical ideas.
JamBase | Worldwide
Go See Live Music!