Iceland Airwaves I 10.14-18 I Reykjavik

Words by: Matt Newby | Images by: Rich Smith & Matt Newby

Iceland Airwaves Festival :: 10.14.09 – 10.18.09 :: Reykjavik, Iceland

DJ at Blue Lagoon :: Iceland Airwaves 2009
In the light of our global economic meltdown, it cannot go unnoticed that Iceland has, prior to this year's Iceland Airwaves Festival, taken some of its hardest knocks since the infamous Cod Wars of 1975. It's been a tough year for festival promoters Mr. Destiny, with drained economies, nationalized banks, and financial volatility making the future of this festival somewhat uncertain. But with burly local support and focused effort from the organizers to pull through these dark economic times, the old Icelandic saying "Þetta reddast" (loosely translated as "it'll work out") comes to mind as downtown Reykjavik prepares its venues, bars and fashionista outlets for the festival. Throughout, the organizers have maintained a strong grasp of this nation's rich musical and creative heritage while working to promote the growing interest in Icelandic arts.

Iceland's primary music festival, now in its eleventh year, has gone from good to great. Originating in an airplane hanger in the late '90s, the festival has departed from the former aircraft space and into 101 (downtown Reykjavik), where the capital generously transforms its public buildings and other establishments into a mix of venues for the five-day event.

Reykjavik is an ideal festival city. With a high ratio of artistic people and over a third of the population living within the capital, Reykjavik manages to house a multitude of bands while remaining small enough to create close-knit musical communities, allowing each creative brain plenty of opportunities for exposure. This fertile environment is the backbone to the individuality of music from Reykjavik and its annual festival. The breathtaking natural backdrop and Reykjavik's plentiful and vibrant nightlife provides the perfect locale to host this unique event, which has become an increasingly attractive invitation to an international audience with each passing year.

Wednesday, 10.14

12 Tónar :: Iceland Airwaves 2009
As the first set of festival flights arrive at Keflavik Airport and the international festival crowd find their feet around Reykjavik, Airwaves opens its doors early. For many, the night began at NASA for the local label Kimi Records' night. With the first band set up and dressed up (spandex attire) they gave the audience "45 seconds to prepare" before Retrön, who seemed very pleased to be playing, fired through a set full of playful Thin Lizzy-esque guitar riffs and stadium rock sounds. Following this, Morðingjarnir's screaming, fast paced punk set played to an increasingly full room as folks were pouring through the doors. A highlight of the evening's events came when Morðingjarnir were joined by the vocal delights of Mammút's frontwoman Kata. Her powerful vocals and driving, feminine force led their masculine rock sound, illustrating the flexible nature of this musical community and pointing towards things to come throughout the five-day event.

The sudden burst of energy needed to kick-start the festival came from local chaos kids proudly named Reykjavik!. This youthful bunch of wild cats - with quite the local reputation for destruction - knows how to get a beer swigging festival crowd going. With added screaming vocals from Arnór of Agent Fresco, their energetic set, involving multiple stage dives, ensured the Airwaves party got off to a fiery start.

Quite accurately named after Iceland's unpredictable climate, Sudden Weather Change closed the opening night at NASA. This young band has been making a name around the city, and they took the stage with confidence, displaying guitar pyrotechnics and thunderous bass that called to mind the freedom and energy of Sonic Youth washed with the lo-fi ethics of Pavement. The performance utilized everything they had and delivered a healthy concoction of amp-hugging feedback and winding rock riffs. Sudden Weather Change managed to demonstrate to the fresh faced festival crowd that they are an impressive, outward thinking alt-rock band and a first class addition to Iceland's music scene.

Thursday, 10.15

Off-site venues are a big part of this festival's experience, inviting fans to intimate shows in more unusual locations across the city. The second day of Airwaves started gently at Reykjavik's famous record store and label 12 Tónar for an early evening in-store performance by Rökkurró. With the CD racks put aside, the espresso sipping crowd gathered in deathly silence, the krútt (cute) quintet delivered a carefully arranged, cello led set of ethereal new material in a tender performance that intertwined the fragile, natural sounds often associated with Icelandic music.

Over at the A-framed attic of newly named venue Sódóma, festival favorites Mammút needed no introduction as they played songs from their most recent record, Karkari; a performance as successful as the new release. Fronted by Kata, whose vocals and stage presence are reminiscent of Sugarcubes-era Björk, their sterling performance was intense, with weighty rock riffs and bass-heavy undertones. This band is at the crest of the emerging talents this festival and country has to offer.

New Mexico four-piece Kid Crash packed the punch of nostalgia in a sweaty pit of chaos and facial hair. One of the first international acts on the bill, Kid Crash played a set full of high speed hardcore propelled by the irregular rhythmic complexities of math rock. Their performance was memorable and arguably the most physical festival performance thus far.

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