Iceland Airwaves 2017 Recap
It’s the end of yet another Iceland Airwaves festival and despite the weather and the queues (this is Airwaves, after all) the festival was a success. Airwaves went back to its roots this time as Harpa, the music hall, was removed as a venue. Smaller venues was the way to go this year and it worked, in a way, as shows definitely got more personal. Less is more, they say! Icelandic artists were more in focus than often, with many artists working overtime – putting on shows all over the city (and the country!) – The festival was held for the first time in Akureyri, in the North of Iceland. Let’s get to it!
BEST PERFORMANCES/SHOWS (NOT NECESSARILY FAVOURITE BAND OR BEST MUSIC)
Jóhann – FM Belfast. Alright, I think pretty much every Icelander knows what they bring to the table – an all-out party. I knew what was coming my way but I really enjoyed witnessing the international crowd losing themselves (and losing myself a bit at the same time!) Confetti, crowd-surfing, glitter, and a party. What more can you ask for really?
Jelena – Lido Pimienta is part musician, part storyteller, part comedian. Not afraid to speak out on what’s important, this artist has some serious ovaries. She even invited the concert goers to make space for women, particularly trans women, at the front.
Best band we’d never heard of before
Jóhann – Icelandic R’n’B singer GDRN was the revelation of Airwaves for me. Her performance completely caught me and I’ve been humming her songs for the last couple of days
Jelena – Songhoy Blues. This desert blues group from Mali was an unexpected highlight of the festival for me. They had a different sound from anything else I heard all weekend and played with so much joy, which is all the more impactful when you learn the band was formed in the wake of civil conflict in their home country.
Jóhann – I have to say Wednesday night as the music was at the forefront. It was less of a frenetic, party vibe, where the focus was on Icelandic artists. Birnir, CYBER, Jói Pé and Króli, as well as Joey Christ all put on great shows.
Jelena – Friday. From the melodic, melancholy sound of RuGl, to the raw power yet sensitivity of Vagabon, the catchy sounds of Sigrid and Daði Freyr, and Lido Pimienta’s whirlwind performance, Friday had a bit of everything.
Jóhann – Gents! They managed to transform Hard Rock Café, the lynchpin of capitalism in the country, into a scene straight out of an 80s movie. I managed to completely get lost in the moment during their performance. Coming out I had no idea what year it was. Fantastic performance!
Jelena – RuGl: this young duo is so astounding, not only because they’re creating beautiful music and performing widely while still in their teens, but because their music has a sophistication and maturity well beyond their years. Also, their show was in Fríkirkjan church: beauty layered on beauty. I definitely didn’t tear up, must have been some onions somewhere…
The top three Icelandic acts we saw
Jóhann – Jói Pé and Króli, CYBER, Sturla Atlas
Jelena – RuGl, Emilíana Torrini and the Colorist, Daði Freyr
The top three visiting acts we saw
Jóhann – Mura Masa, Gents, Lord Pusswhip (Lord Pusswhip is cheating a bit… but he’s been in Berlin for a couple of years and I hadn’t seen his shows for a while. He killed it this Airwaves).
Jelena – Vagabon, Songhoy Blues, Sigrid
Jóhann – CYBER: The girls in Cyber put on an amazing show. They arrived on stage in a coffin carried by drag queens! An experience from A-Z.
Jelena – HAM: it was fun to experience this local punk group with all of the Icelanders who were there, singing along in nostalgic reverie.
What we thought of the festival as a whole
Jóhann – This year’s edition was solid. No more, no less. The line-up was decent and the venues worked well. However, it seems clear that a second, larger, venue is needed to accompany the Reykjavík Art Museum. Having said that, Airwaves always provides a good time. Kudos for actually having decent beer this time! I’m looking forward to next year!
Jelena – Great energy, great variety, and hip hip hooray for a good gender balance.