Words by Shain Shapiro :: Images by Rich Smith

The Iceland Airwaves Festival :: 10.18 - 10.23 :: Reykjavik, Iceland

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

I am utterly exhausted. My plane is delayed and consequently, my cuticles are being crunched down to a fraction of their usual size because missing my connecting flight to Reykjavik is becoming more plausible by the moment. The plane is glued to the tarmac, still, dull; the clock ticks. Seventy-five minutes ago I should have taken off to London Stansted, and my cough has worsened considerably as the scratchy air on board has taken to lubricating my larynx like sandpaper on glass. The profuse sweating begins. I feel soaked, even though I could easily have been hallucinating. The three layers I put on to prepare myself for Iceland, the land of ice, was fluctuating my internal temperature like a tetherball. Ninety minutes now. I give up. I blacked out.

Reykjavik, Iceland
Eyes open. I must have fallen asleep and woken in a considerable daze as the plane landed. I am filling out a landing card in the immigration line in Stansted. The line is buttressed by a flight from Nigeria, and I can see my lonely knapsack rotating along the baggage carousel in the distance. Brilliantly, I was the last person off the plane, seemingly asleep and only woken once everyone else had departed. They are all ahead of me in the passport line. My flight departs to Reykjavik in one hour.

Pacify the authorities, grab my bag, and hustle towards the exit. Make a hard right and bolt towards the Icelandic check-in desk. Just as I notice the desk twenty feet away, the clerk begins to close up, as the rest of the passengers were more responsible than me. Passport out, bag checked, last ticket printed. I am finally on my way to Reykjavik and the ensuing Iceland Airwaves Festival, yet British security, recently tightened because of another terrorist scare, stood in my path. The line was enormous, and I was helpless. I made it to the gate with three minutes to spare, stumbled onto the plane, found my seat, and moments later, I opened my eyes in Iceland.

This crazed, jugular theme that developed throughout my travels - spontaneous, exciting, surreal - permeated the entire weekend in Reykjavik, soaking up its eighth Airwaves Festival. The mix of International and North American talent, all lasciviously exoticized by location, created an experience worthy of the word "unique." Every moment was dipped in a pool of icy surrealism, from sitting atop a hill floating in the Northern Lights after a date with Islands to loosening the grip of a massive hangover at the Blue Lagoon, a lunar hot spring difficult to verbalize. Add on countless intimate in-store appearances from local and global artists, a dozen live music and DJ venues scattered throughout the cramped city centre, and the feeling shared by everyone - artist and fan alike - that we were some of the luckiest folks in the Arctic. Even though I had a nasty cold chipping my already bruised shoulder throughout the festival, the temperatures were well below zero in the dead of night, and I lost my scarf on day three, it did not matter. Come to think of it, nothing truly mattered except laboriously basking in every moment available.

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

You are my blue sky, you are my sunny day.

Not a cloud in the sky; perfect for pictures. After a day of strolling around town snapping up as many visual footprints as possible, I made it to Reykjavik's venerable 12 Tonar Music Store for a few early evening in-store performances. 12 Tonar is Iceland's best independent record label, operating out of a quaint shop on the main drag, a street that foreigners cannot pronounce. A relic of how things once were, 12 Tonar still operates in true indie fashion, putting the music before the money. As the weekend whisked by, the importance and reputation of 12 Tonar become ever apparent as I delved further into the innards of Icelandic music.

12 Tonar :: Iceland
Opening up the weekend was Liverpool's Hot Club de Paris, a comedic trio that mixes Rush's chops with Moxy Fruvous' barbershop jocularity. Another recipient of the British music press' famously hyperbolic acclaim machine, Hot Club de Paris blended scouser (Liverpool slang for shit disturber) fuelled punk ethos with humorous, inebriated libretto alongside complex song structures as intensely coagulated as Ornette Coleman. Song titles like "Everyeveryeverything" and "Sometimes It Is Not Good To Stick Bits Of Each Other, In Each Other, for Each Other" provided cogent examples of the aforementioned. After proclaiming their affinity for the British supermarket chain that shares the name of our host, the Liverpool trio ran through six songs in the packed makeshift venue as plastic cups of red wine and homemade moonshine enveloped the contingent. A definite talent, albeit overly capricious melodically, Hot Club de Paris provided an eclectic introduction to the art rock and hipsterism methodology that scoured the idioms permeating the event.

Following the in-store, I made haste for the largest venue, the gorgeous Reykjavik Art Museum. Opening the barrage of talent was Barsuk's Mates of State, the cuddly married duo from San Francisco. Alternating older material from Team Boo and newer jaunts from this year's Bring it Back, the duo exemplified that strength does not always come in numbers, as the two of them expelled music complex enough to warrant a quartet. Combining polysexual harmonies alongside a bevy of backbeat keyboards, Mates of State ignited Thursday night in perfectly coifed style, a coif that retained its muster throughout the chilly night. After Mates of State, Hot Club de Paris returned for a rehashing of their 12 Tonar performance, albeit on a grander scale, before giving way to Omaha's Tilly and the Wall. Tilly and the Wall perform relatively ordinary, yet sweetly catchy pop, and the manner in which they do so is piercingly inventive. Instead of a drummer, the band uses a tap dancer. Rolling through a dozen originals amidst their recital-come-concert, Tilly and the Wall coiled together power pop, folk, and incestuous sing-a-long to ignite the capacity crowd in song, one tap at a time. A glittering metaphor for the entire festival, Tilly and the Wall creatively took the ordinary, major-toned, choral pop music, to a brighter acme. Much like the outfits worn by fans and artists alike, noticeably anachronistic and devilishly ironic, the entire festival ran on a sense of uniqueness that consistently elevated the ordinary. No drummer? Fine, throw a tap dancer in there instead.

Metric :: Iceland
The night capped off with a stunning set from Metric. After switching venues from the Art Museum to the smaller Nasa, I bought a few Vikings – the name of Iceland's main brew – just in time for Emily Haines and company to rip into "Monster Hospital." Other than an extended, highly experimental ten-minute foray into the depths of "Dead Disco" to close the hour-long set, Metric focused on new material, including single "Poster of a Girl" and others off 2006's Live it Out. Salaciously commanding and forceful, Metric's cloudy disco rock brought the crowd to frenzy, leaving me – and everyone else - caked in sweat, exhausted, and ready for so much more.

The night did not end there. While the music took a breather for twelve hours, Reykjavik continued to bellow with nightlife as the clubs and DJ sets drowned the city in sound. Reykjavik is famous for late nights, and after stumbling in just as the sun was rising on Friday morning after a night of bar-hopping, I can confirm that affirmation. There was still a line to get into some clubs at 7am! There must be something in the air.

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