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Iceland Airwaves 2019 – The Best Of the Best

iceland airwaves friday 2019

Iceland Airwaves 2019 - Recap

Iceland Airwaves is over. It’s a festival unlike others, turning downtown Reykjavík into one big venue. Attendees can camp out in one venue, where the musical menu best fits their appetite – but Airwaves is best enjoyed hopping between different venues dotted all over town. The spread really is something, from the packed Gaukurinn, to the prison-style big hall of the Reykjavík Art Museum. In Hressingarskálinn, the toilets are to the left and right of the stage, protecting it like bodyguards. 

Some of us attendees are snug under a blanket right now, recovering after a weekend of boozing, not-brawling, and nodding our heads a whole damn lot. Others have hopped across the ocean back to their homes, their minds wandering back to the festivals. This recap will hopefully have you begging to relive the weekend. Don’t worry though, you’ll get a chance to do it all again next year!

Best performances/shows (not necessarily favourite band or best music)

Jói: The Holy at Gaukurinn was a ride, and I never wanted to get off. I managed to catch their show without any prior knowledge of them, following my friend Stefán who said they were worth a watch. Letting the flow of Airwaves grip you always ends well as we didn’t regret it – they completely blew us away. The sound was so tight, driven by two drummers in the back. Strobe lights flashed as the band gave it their all. The crowd at Gaukurinn was heavily into it and one of the bartenders said it was the best show he had seen in years. My hat goes off to the Holy, they gained many new fans that night.

Berglind: My vote for best performance goes to Of Monsters and Men, they knew the crowd 100%! It’s really common for Icelanders to call the band back on stage after their last song, shouting “meira”, which means “more”, including loud clapping and stamping. Of course, they knew that would happen so it was a part of their performance. After all the shouting they came back on stage and put on an amazing end to the show with confetti and big balloons, and everyone sang along with the songs. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps! 

Þór: I really enjoyed Úlfur Úlfur at Hard Rock and thought they were great. Mac DeMarco was great fun, as well as Hatari on Friday night. Of Monsters and Men probably take the cake though for the best performance. They really nailed being the band that basically closed the festival.

Of Monsters and Men at Valshöllin

Best band we‘d never heard of before

Jói: Murkage Dave at Hressingarskálinn really caught me off guard. I loved his repertoire of songs, mixing garage and R’n’B together. He’s my most played artist post-festival, as I’ve been blasting his songs whenever I can. I also have to mention the Holy again, as they weren’t even on my schedule beforehand. I should have caught more off venue shows as they can be quite intimate, offering the audience a truer view of the artist. 

Berglind: Girl in Red was definitely the band that really surprised me. I didn’t listen to their music before going to the concerts so I didn’t know what to expect. I ended up being amazed. I’ve already added their songs to my daily playlist. There was so much power in the performance, the members in their 20s jumping with their guitars like they had endless energy and could do this all night long! 

Þór: I was out of the loop with Hipsumhaps. I hadn’t even heard their main song “Lífið sem mig langar í” until I checked them out on Spotify ahead of the show on Wednesday. I’ve had their album on repeat ever since.

The masked and mysterious Orville Peck

Best venue

Jói: Gaukurinn is such a fantastic venue. It feels incredibly small, yet you can pack a bunch in there. It was packed to the rims, and painted in all-black it’s a spectacle. The stage itself feels very small as well, built into the wall. When Gaukurinn is in full swing, it’s a lovely place to be. Perfect for rock bands, with it’s gritty vibes, and I’ll admit it, weird smell at times. There’s a pretty nice vegan restaurant in Veganæs there now as well. Although I hate cigarettes, there’s also a huge smoking area. What more do you want?

Berglind: The Reykjavík Art Museum and Gamla Bíó are for sure my favorite venues. They can hold plenty of people but still feel not too crowded. I would say they’re also the best venues to photograph, especially when it comes to spacing and lights. 

Þór: One of my favorite shows was probably John Grant at Fríkirkjan. I wish I had managed to go to more shows there than just the one. Especially bummed out that I didn’t manage to see Pétur Ben when he played there. Reykjavík Art Museum was very good as well. The lines to get beer were shorter there than at basically any other venue except maybe Valshöllinn. That’s a big plus in my book.

Reykjavík Art Museum

Favourite Night

Jói: Friday night, goddamn! Detalji’s experimental club set started off the night for me, warming me up for the Ukranian Alyona Alyona’s hard-hitting hip-hop set. Next, Murkage Dave at Hressó before the night got lost in the Booka Shade haze. Good vibes all around, and you could feel there was a real buzz about at the festival. 

Berglind: That’s a tough choice. I really enjoyed every evening, there was always something special about each one. But if I really need to choose I think I’ll have to say Friday. That was the evening I was able to go to more venues than other days. 

Þór: Probably Saturday night as I felt the pressure to see as much as possible and caught four shows in the evening at four different venues. I had to keep moving fast but squeezing Auður, Aron Can, John Grant, and Of Monsters and Men into one single night is great success if you ask me.

Hatari performing at the Reykjavík Art Museum

Best experience

Jói: Between Mountains at Fríkirkjan church is a strong contender for this one. Fríkirkjan (The Free Church of Iceland) was the perfect venue for the serenading songs of the Between Mountains crew. The building itself is beautiful, situated right next to the downtown Tjörnin pond, with its white and green exterior and wooden insides. It created a beautiful moment, as Katla Vigdís sang her heart out with an altar in the background. It was one of the more anticipated performances of the festival, and they didn’t fail to impress.

Berglind: The first thing that comes to mind is experiencing Hatari, Vök and Of Monsters and Men perform. Both of them put on a strong show and it definitely stays on top of my mind. But I think my favourite experience is to be able to go between venues, be indoors, and to experience different music fitting your taste.

Þór: John Grant was probably my favourite experience of the week. Seeing him perform in Fríkirkjan, this old iconic church, was pretty magical. The sound in there was lovely and it complimented his vocals perfectly. Also, unlike a lot of other venues, the crowd was calm and silent ass they all knew better than to talk or make noises during a song. Everyone was there just to enjoy the moment.

Vök performing at Valshöllin

The top three best Icelandic bands we saw

Jói: Mammút at Reykjavík Art Museum killed it. Singer Katrína Mogensen is heavily pregnant but you never would have known with the performance she put on. The aforementioned Between Mountains were fantastic as well. It’s incredible to think that singer Katla is only 16, while her compatriot Ásrós is 18. Bright things ahead for them! Finally, I have to give a shout out to comeback performance from Hjaltalín. This was their first time at Airwaves for five years, and it was a bang. 

Berglind: I think it’s hard to put them in some particular order, but the three best Icelandic bands that I saw are Vök, Mammút and Of Monsters and Men. All three are just so good and deserve all the attention they get, and more.

Þór: Of Monsters and Men were fantastic but I want to give a big shout out to Úlfur Úlfur for a great performance on the first night, where they nailed every single on of their verses. A shout-out also goes out to Jói P and Króli for putting on probably the most energetic performance I saw this week. Their energy was infectious and lifted everyone lucky enough to get in.

Hjaltalín
Mammút

The top three best visiting Acts we saw

Jói: Madame Gandhi’s performance was really powerful, and it’s probably the one that has stayed with me the most after the festival. Not really for her music, but rather for her message. There was a great energy in Hard Rock that Friday night, as the crowd hung onto her every word. Murkage Dave’s performance is definitely up there while The Holy rounds up the three. Three very different performances, each of them very strong. Madame Gandhi for the message. Murkage for the vibes and the crowd love. The Holy for the sheer power in the performance itself, where they gave it their all.

Berglind: Girl in Red and Mac DeMarco are competing for first place here, they’re two totally different performers but both so good! Third is Anna of the North, I really like her music and she’s amazing live! All of them put on a great show and I have already added their songs to my playlists. I’ll be keeping an eye on all of them in the future, thanks to Airwaves.  

Þór: Mac DeMarco tops the list for me. He was every bit as good as his reputation made him out to be. Playing this soothing and calm music, while sometimes making silly jokes and screaming at the crowd to make some “f***ing noise.” The perfect contrast. Madame Ghandi was also a highlight even if I just caught the end of her show and then of course John Grant (although he practically feels like an Icelander at this point, him living here and all.)

Hipsumhaps's singer Jökull

Special mention

Jói: Georgia’s show at the Reykjavík Art Museum is definitely worth a mention. Warming up for Hjaltalín is no small ask, and she shattered it. ‘Wicked’ was the word of the performance, as she repeatedly shouted it to the crowd. 

Berglind: I always had the feeling that everyone’s in a good mood. The festival staff that I communicated with was really polite and professional which I thought was a big plus. Shout out to the security guy for the photo pit at the Reykjavík Art Museum, he gets all my respect! 

Þór: Everything, and I mean everything, about the festival ran so smoothly. I got my ticket immediately without any fuss, which may not seem like a big deal, but trust me, it is. Almost every act started right on time and if not it was like a 5-10 minutes delay max. The lines ran like clockwork so every time someone left they let the next one in line inside. Finally, the two buses running from the City Hall to Valshöll worked perfectly. I’ve been to many festivals in Iceland and Icelandic Airwaves definitely takes the cake in terms of its efficiency and planning.

What we thought of the festival as a whole

Jói: This year’s edition was decent. I liked the selection quite well, and especially the fact that organizers looked eastwards more than ever before. Alyona Alyona from Ukraine as well as Russia’s Ivan Dorn, for example. Last year, they experimented with having Icelandic artists performing on back-to-back nights which I really like. It allows for attendees to catch all of the artists they want to see, removing any sacrifices for festival-goers. Airwaves is a showcase festival for Icelandic artists so it matters a lot for them to have more opportunities to have their music heard by the right people. The way I see it, Valshöllin shouldn’t be a part of the festivities, rather focusing on venues downtown. Finally, we were blessed with decent weather and good vibes all around. Bring on next year!

Berglind: It was my first time attending the festival and I’m already excited for the next one! I think the festival as a whole was well organized and everything went smoothly. Even though I didn’t manage to see all the artists I wanted to see, I’m satisfied with what I saw and it’s definitely a part of it to be organized and active in going between places. 

During the festival I was mostly busy photographing, focusing on the surroundings rather than the whole performance and sinking into the festival vibe, but I really enjoyed myself and had so much fun experiencing Iceland Airwaves! 

Þór: I enjoyed it immensely. The main beef I had was that sometimes there were too many good shows starting at the same time, but that’s like the greatest problem you could possibly have. The more, the merrier, so please make this an even bigger problem next year. Kex and Valshöllin were a bit too far away for my taste though so I skipped some shows there mainly because of the distances. But these are nitpicks really. Overall I got a lot out of this week, discovered a lot of new music and am excited to see what kind of a lineup we’ll see next year.

Mac DeMarco at the Reykjavík Art Museum
aYia performing at the Reykjavík Art museum

PHOTOGRAPHY : BERGLIND JÓHANNS