Iceland Airwaves 2016 is starting. Everyone at What’s On is so excited and we wanted to share the excitement so we’re going to tell you about last night’s show. We’re giving you two different perspectives on Airwaves opening night this time. Gréta will give you the local’s view and Ian is representing fresher eyes because as the Icelandic proverb goes: “Keen is the guests eye.”
Acts we are excited about
If you’ve ever been to Iceland Airwaves, chances are you’ve either got a ticket for this year ready or you spend your evenings crying yourself to sleep over your lack of said ticket. If you haven’t been before, what are you waiting for? With Iceland Airwaves 2016 less than a month away, here are some of the artists you should be excited to see, in no particular order:
Agent Fresco (IS)
The music of this locally-grown progressive art rock band is both powerful and sophisticated. Their vocalist Arnór Dan hits every note of his extensive vocal range while the band’s collective energy will blow you a few steps backward.
Anna Meredith (UK)
Combining pop and contemporary classical influences, Anna Meredith’s music manages to be innovative and totally listenable at the same time!
An organic blend of folky and electronic, this Polish duo is just the ticket for those who like their music simple and sweet, with a tinge of melancholy.
A tight-knit rock group well-liked both locally and abroad, Mammút´s melodic sound puts vocals in the forefront.
Kronos Quartet (US)
A string quartet unlike any other. With over 50 recordings made in the past 40 years, this group continues to push the envelope.
The musical equivalent of an ice-cream sundae with sprinkles and a cherry on top, this pop songstress with an electronic sound hits the spot.
Bedroom Community (IS)
A collective of composers and musicians from around the world, the ambitious and quirky group will be joined by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra at their concert/conversation/10-year anniversary celebration. A little something for everyone!
A sixteen piece, all-female rap group from Reykjavík. Need we say more?
Surprise! Björk´s participation in Airwaves was just announced a couple of weeks ago. Originally only one show was scheduled, but it sold out so quickly that a second was added. Be warned: it requires a separate ticket apart from the festival pass.
Wednesday night at Iceland Airwaves 2016
Last night was Iceland Airwaves ‘16’s first night of the official schedule. For a Wednesday night, the schedule looked pretty good, so after a brief disco nap, I headed out for the first show of the night, Cryptochrome at Húrra. I knew nothing about the band or their music beforehand, only that my brother-in-law kind of wanted to see them. When they first started, I was even pretty sure I wasn’t going to like this but I’m happy to admit that I was wrong! Not only was the music of this Icelandic/English/German collaboration strangely hypnotising, pulling you into a slow groove as it went along, but their energetic stage presence also got you going. All in all, Cryptochrome was great as the first band of the night. Next up at Húrra was EinarIndra slowing it down again with his set of smooth indie electronic. After Cryptochrome’s energy, EinarIndra was a bit too smooth for us so we moved on to Pétur Ben in Gamla Bíó.
We caught the last half of Pétur’s set, which is of the dark and stormy rock variety. He was playing with a band this time, filling out his sound, although I must admit I think I prefer it when it’s just him and his guitar. My favourite was the last song when he brought out a whole choir to back him up. After Pétur we headed over to the Harpa concert hall to try to catch the last part of the Reykjavíkurdætur show. Reykjavíkurdætur is part hip-hop group, part performance art, and they’re always really fun to see live. They’re a group of sixteen women performing unapologetically feminist lyrics, ending and breaking most of society’s rules as they go along. Unfortunately, they were almost done by the time we got to Harpa, although we did catch the last song of their show.
Next up was Emmsjé Gauti and if non-Icelandic festival-goers weren’t already perplexed by Reykjavíkurdætur, I’m pretty sure Gauti was the last straw. As usual, he was dressed all in white and played some of his recent hits, all the while keeping the crowd dancing. His version of hip hop is definitely on the pop music end of the spectrum but he has some decent party hits and his live shows are always fun. Icelandic hip hop is a tight-knit group and some famous faces guest-starred in Gauti’s show. The guy love reached its zenith when Gauti closed his set with his hit, Strákarnir, an ode to “The Boys”, some of whom joined him onstage. The positive energy was shared by the crowd, which was dancing enthusiastically enough towards the end to make the floor sway.
Last but definitely not least was Dizzee Rascal! This was the grime legend’s first time in Iceland as he kept reminding the audience but I think both he and the audience were pretty satisfied. It definitely didn’t feel like a Wednesday night anymore as Dizzee kept the crowd going through all of his set before closing with the crowd pleasers, Hype and Bonkers.
Iceland Airwaves definitely opened with a bang this year!
This being my first time attending Iceland Airwaves, I had absolutely no expectations and really no idea what I was in for. I started my night by heading to an off-venue show at Loft Hostel, one of my favourite places to drink during the week, figuring it would be a nice warm up for the evening ahead. I was there to see the band Kælan Mikla, an all-female synth punk band that started getting attention after winning the City Library`s poetry slam competition in Reykjavík. With heavy bass and a sparseness in their music that allowed the gaps in between sounds to become a mood of their own, I found myself drawn into the dark atmosphere being created by this extremely talented group.
I made my way over to Harpa next to see one of my favourite Icelandic rappers, Kött Grá Pje. It was a different setting than I am used to seeing him in and the large stage at Harpa seemed slightly unfitting at first as I am used to cramming myself into a bar to watch him perform. As always he brought a lot of energy and has a way of connecting with the audience. This was actually the first time I have heard him speak to the crowd in English so it was great to finally be able to laugh at his jokes in between each song. Mid-set he took off his shirt to reveal a rather crude drawing of male genitals covering his entire back, he sure knows how to make a show just that much more interesting. It’s not all jokes with Kött Grá Pje though, I give him credit for introducing me to the Icelandic rap scene and allowing me to discover just how amazing it is.
After Kött Grá Pje the next act on the same stage was GKR, an Icelandic rapper/hip-hop artist. I had heard good things and knew nothing about him but I figured I would stick around being as I had some time to kill before Reykjavíkurdætur`s performance, the rap collective I was most excited to see. GKR turned out to be a really great show. As the venue slowly began to fill up more and more as the night progressed, you could feel the energy in the room. Partly due to the number of people now filling up the floor, the retro-inspired visuals playing behind the stage, and GKR himself running around the stage and into the audience. I must say, for such a young artist, the enthusiasm he displays for his music seems genuinely honest and I believe that is the main reason why it is so infectious for everybody who gets the chance to see him perform. I could tell that my decision to ride out this stage was a very good choice indeed!
I don’t know if it was the change from all the rap and hip-hop or my love of reggae music, but when I entered the other stage and found the Icelandic reggae trio AmabAdamA, I felt a wave of chill energy embrace me. The whole room had that vibe, everyone was bobbing around in a slow rhythmic way to the beat, and despite the large audience I felt connected with everyone there, even the band way up on stage. The performance was filled with dancing, trumpets, and a ton of positive energy. It was not just the type of music causing this feeling of peacefulness, you could tell that the band really embraced the attitude behind their songs, always smiling and telling jokes and talking to the audience with such a laid-back demeanor that one could easily feel as if they were friends from way back, and for that moment in time we all were friends. I could not believe how quickly my mood could change by just walking one room over, the power of airwaves is its diversity; if one set doesn’t suit your mood just go to another, there is a little bit of everything to please everyone.
Being totally chilled out I headed back over to the other stage just in time to be pumped back up by the 16 members all female rap collective Reykjavíkurdætur. I have seen them once before and had high expectations, and in no way did they disappoint. It was impossible not to be completely captivated by the show, with so many members there is always something visual going on onstage to keep you involved. One might think with so many members it would be difficult to give everyone a part or keep everyone busy, but with a seamless transition of rapping from one woman to the next, and with all others dancing and rapping along, the whole performance comes together and really seems like one single entity. Their rapping is tough and their looks are sharp and they put on one hell of a show!
The final performance I saw that night was the headlining rapper Dizzee Rascal from the UK. I had heard of him before but never heard his songs. His stage presence was powerful and with the entire venue full he had everyone under his control. He wanted everyone moving and that is what everyone did, the entire room was moving as one connected by the music. The performance continued like this on a fast incline of building energy with a momentum that wouldn’t stop. All in all, it was the perfect way to wrap up the night on day 01 of airwaves.
Thursday night at Iceland Airwaves 2016
I started day two at Harpa to see Austrian experimental/electronic pop formation Leyya. I’ve listened a little to their music, which is great, with catchy beats and interesting vocals. Although their performance yesterday was quite adequate, seeing them perform live really didn’t add much to the experience of listening to their music at home. When we realized this, we decided our festival time could be better spent elsewhere and headed over to the Reykjavík Art museum for Julia Holter’s show. Julia Holter is one of the artists I hadn’t heard of before this festival, which is one of the reasons why going to Iceland Airwaves is so fun. It’s a long weekend of a cool friend telling you what they’re listening to at the moment!
Okay, so the Harpa concert hall, with its many stages and rooms is a great place to hold concerts and it’s a really beautiful building and all that, but I must admit that I really like going to a concert at the Reykjavík Art Museum. Originally built as a warehouse and office building for the Reykjavík harbour, this former industrial building’s long and relatively narrow hall gives the stage a different kind of look than what you usually see. Of course, the stage’s look doesn’t really matter if the show isn’t good but this time, luckily, it really was.
After Julia’s show, we headed over to quite a different venue, Húrra, only to just miss the end of Doctor Spock’s show. Next up were Nap Eyes. They’re a Canadian group from Halifax which sounds exactly like the Velvet Underground. They were pretty good in a low-key sort of way so we actually used their show to take a little break, sit down and relax for a bit before moving on to the next act.
This next show was actually the high point of my night, Baloji at Nasa. According to the Airwaves promotional material, Baloji wears many hats; poet, composer-lyricist/beatmaker, scriptwriter, actor and performer, video artist and stylist. He wears them well, in my opinion, both the figurative ones and the literal one he was wearing that night while he was making the crowd go wild. It was impossible to stand still as soon as he and his band struck the first chords! His genre-bending music resonated with the audience, resulting in the best show of the night in my opinion.
With day one of airwaves in the past and the festival in full swing, I had the feeling entering day two that I would spend my remaining nights setting my sights on the end as I was brought through a haze of shows, music, and alcohol. Oh, how wrong I was! It began with an off-venue show that was so packed you couldn’t even get past the front door, so I decided to skip that and save my energy for the first official show at Húrra, my favourite Reykjavík watering hole.
The band playing was a 5 member punk band called Hórmónar (Whoremoans). I am continually blown away by the female artists that I see in Reykjavík and this band was no exception. As time goes on I realize that my true passion and taste in music is the punk scene. Having never fully experienced Icelandic punk before, This show made me determined to seek it out in the future. Not afraid to express emotions and go outside of the realm of normal comfort, they produce a show that is both delicate and over the top to create one continuous rise and fall of emotions, calming you down, just to bring you right back to the edge. For the final song, the lights got dim creating a contrast between the black shadows and the blood red lights silhouetting the members. It created a visual sensation that I can only describe as an elegant glow with a sense of destruction lurking in the shadows. That may just be the best way to describe this band as a whole, a warm embracing welcome with powerfully dark inner workings just waiting to explode in all directions. As an audience member, I could not have welcomed it more.
Next was over to the Reykjavík art museum to see Julia Holter. It was a great show but coming from a punk band my energy levels were not jiving with the pace, I needed something to match the pace at which my blood was pumping.
Returning back to Húrra with no idea of who was playing, I stumbled into a raging scene of rock created by the one and only Dr. Spock. With a stage presence that consisted of a humor and hard rock, it was tough to find a balance between laughing and rocking out, but I was happy to learn one does not have to choose between the two. The 6-member band had a way of transitioning between songs that formed one endless production that I want to describe as a mashup of energetic rock and cartoon-like antics that made it impossible to draw your attention away. Wearing sunglasses, a cowboy hat, and a yellow rubber glove on his right hand, the lead singer really pulled the whole image together creating an immortal image that made me feel like I was not just watching a band, but rather experiencing a surreal event. All in all, this was definitely a better surprise than I could have ever hoped for when starting my night.
Next on stage was the German 3-piece band, Die Nerven, playing noise rock/post-punk. I was told by a German native that this was a must see band and after having the intense pleasure of witnessing them perform, I can confirm one hundred percent. Creating a presence that exceeded all my expectations for a three-member band, I became lost in the sound that washed over the entire venue. I was reminded of my youth when I saw the first mosh pit I have ever seen open up in Reykjavík. There is really nothing like watching a mass of people thrash together in a rebellion the social norm, giving themselves over to the chaos and becoming a manifestation of noise. However, the artists had a way of pulling you through the chaos in a symbiotic mix of space and sound, giving you time to breathe before triggering a scream. They are definitely a band that is better felt than described. The last thing I will say besides being a must see performance is that their drummer was unbelievable, in both stage presence and talent, and he deserves much praise.
My final experience of the night was unlike anything I could have predicted, walking into a room at Harpa that was set up as a lecture hall, I chose a seat and doubted my decision to see Amnesia Scanner. I chose the word experience because I don’t know if I can call what happened a show, but when the entire room became filled with fog, depriving you of your visual senses, I knew it was the right decision. Despite being one of many to take part in this show, I felt isolated and separated from not only the others in the room but from the whole festival and reality as a whole. Their music is electronic but grows as an organic entity. I could not help but feel like I was a fly on a wall in another dimension, somehow transported into a reality I knew nothing about, alien in nature and completely surreal. Before I knew it, the hour had passed and I was hurled back into the reality of this world, leaving me in a daze filled with pleasure and confusion. It was not like any show I have experienced before and I am hoping it won’t be the last.
Saturday night at Iceland Airwaves 2016
After stopping by a jam-packed Bar Ananas for an off-venue show, a Finnish artist who calls herself the Hearing was the first of my official schedule. She’s a tiny person with an amazing voice and seemed genuinely excited that people had come to see her show, so I’d say the night was off to a good start.
Next up were Reykjavíkurdætur in Harpa and they are just so freaking cool. Their energy, their Microsoft paint graphics background, and their irreverent rapping about everything from fanbois to their disagreeing with economic theories to sexual violence was just so cool! Their live shows are always spectacular and last night was no exception.
After Reykjavíkurdætur’s crazy powerful energy, we headed over to quite a different atmosphere, US band Lake Street Dive’s show at Gamla Bíó. I just loved the singers deep and powerful voice and the jazzy, 60’s swing-tinged music as the perfect light-hearted palate cleanser we needed. I won’t be sporting a full-on side pony anytime soon but I definitely appreciate the mood.
Now it was on to Harpa again for the last half of Kiasmos’s set. I must admit, I haven’t really been a fan of their instrumental electro beats but they really got to me this time, as I felt almost hypnotised by the dreamy atmosphere they created, both audibly and visually.
With two days of Airwaves behind me and three left to go, I was finally beginning to slow down and show some signs of wear and tear. The night started with one of what would be many energy drinks as I headed to my first show at Nasa. I was there to watch The Hearing, a woman from Finland with a positively adorable stage presence. Her set was very minimalist, in both sound and visuals, instilling a calming aura within the venue that created a sense of peace among the crowd. Together we all floated over the waves she created and it comforted me in a way that I rarely get from shows. Her attitude between songs was sweet and her positivity was contagious. She was unconventional in the most perfect of ways, creating a unique stream of good vibes and smiles. I could not help but think that her grateful and polite attitude mixed with her non-imposing demeanor reminded me of a stereotypical Canadian and perhaps that is why I found so much joy in her performance, she reminded me of my home or at least all the things I miss about Canada.
I didn’t really plan my night with much knowledge of the type of music I was going to see, but jumping from such a peaceful act to the self-proclaimed goth sex/diva couture band Dolores Haze performing at Gaukurinn was an amazing juxtaposition of energy. They played a mix of indie/alternative rock bordering the edge of noise, which to me was just absolutely perfect. A group a femme fatales from Sweden who isn’t afraid to do whatever they want and doesn’t care what you think about it. The venue was live and the crowd was pushing and dancing all at once. Their appreciation for the fans was endearing and their carefree attitude was inspiring. I can say with joy that this is one bad ass group of women, ready to rock out and tear you apart at a moments notice, and it was a pleasure to witness and be a part of.
Next up was the much hyped War Paint performance at Harpa which I was extremely excited for, but as I entered Harpa to see what I can only describe as a Friday night surge of humans, it was hard to keep my excitement. It was the first show at Harpa where people were actually standing in the hall as the room itself was not big enough to accommodate everyone, and it was a huge room. The band was extremely talented and the drummer was absolutely amazing, but the music just wasn’t working for me. I guess going from a slow set to a noise/rock band is a nice progression, but going from noise to a slower performance seemed like a digression for my mood. I have never been a fan of stadium shows and with Harpa being the biggest venue at airwaves, I would not doubt that as the reason for my feelings. All in all the show was great, just not what I was hoping for.
With the bad taste of insanely packed large venue shows still in my mouth, I headed over to Húrra to wash it out with a vodka red bull. It may have been my love for that venue, the red bull, or the high energy trap music, but Alexander Jarl put on one hell of a show. He had the whole room pumped up from the very beginning of his set and never once let it ease down. It is difficult not enjoy a show when you feel like you are really a part of it, and with everyone, wall to wall, participating in the party, I was pulled back into the realm of excitement and it felt good, it felt like home.
Another red bull later and it was time for Herra Hnetusmjör to take the stage. His pace was fast and his performance was smooth. I am not the biggest fan of hip hop, but again, when you are part of a show with such high energy it is infectious and spreads to every part of your body. My favourite part of Airwaves is constantly being shocked by what I enjoy, never before having the desire to see a hip hop show it ended up being the perfect way to end my night, something I never would have experienced as solo show. The ability to jump around venue to venue and pick and choose your mood and vibe with such ease is such an amazing feature of this festival. That said, with two more days left I can’t even imagine what is in store for me, but I can tell you I cannot wait to find out.
What We Saw And What We Liked
Gréta: I think I’m going to have to go with an Icelandic hip hop act for this one, just because showmanship is so ingrained into the style and scene. Acts like Úlfur Úlfur or Emmsjé Gauti come to mind but they can’t hold a candle to Reykjavíkurdætur, whose shows are always energetic, inspiring, and awesome.
Ian: The best performance for me was Reykjavíkurdætur as it was unlike anything I have seen before. With the sixteen-member collective spanning over the whole stage and rapping with such intensity, they have a presence that is impossible to ignore.
Favourite Act You’d Never Heard Of Before
Gréta: My Airwaves were fairly planned out so I didn’t see a lot of bands I’d never heard of before. Those I did see mostly were because of recommendations from the people I attended the festival with. Of the things I hadn’t planned on seeing, Cryptochrome, the first band I saw, was the nicest surprise, recommended by my brother-in-law. Not only was their music captivating, their stage presence was also very entertaining.
Ian: I technically did not know anything about any band at airwaves, so you could say that the Icelandic band Hórmónar(Whoremoans) was really just my favourite band of them all. Playing an amazing set of experimental punk music, their show was eerily soothing, chaotic, and extremely powerful.
Gréta: I didn’t see many shows there but my favourite venue was actually the Reykjavík Art museum, maybe because of the rarity of it. I’ve definitely seen a lot more shows at Húrra than at the Art Museum’s long and narrow hall.
Ian: My favourite venue was Húrra, small enough to keep things intimate, yet big enough to hold quite a crowd. Constantly filling up wall to wall with fans, it was always live and always a party.
Dizzee Rascal Photo by Ian Funk
Gréta: It’s really hard to choose but I actually think I’m going to have to go with Wednesday night. It was the first night of the festival so my energy was still way up, I saw some solid artists play and ended the night at Dizzee Rascal’s show, which was great!
Ian: Definitely Thursday, November 3, mainly due to Húrra hosting a punk/rock themed night that had three of my favourite performances, Dr.Spock, Hórmónar, and Die Nerven.
Gréta: Kate Tempest, for sure. Her show, despite being much less involved a production than some of the other captured the audience, myself included, in a way I didn’t see with any other artist. She held us in the palm of our hands!
Ian: The best experience I had was Amnesia Scanner’s performance, as they filled the entire room with fog and visually isolated us from each other and the venue, they really went outside the box with what one can expect from a concert, allowing the audience to lose themselves in the unnatural music they produce. I felt at times that I was no longer watching a set but instead transported to another realm that was beautifully alien in its nature.
Favourite Icelandic Acts
Gréta: Living in Iceland, I’m lucky enough to have unlimited chances to see the amazing Icelandic bands perform so during the festival I focused my energies on seeing visiting bands perform. That said, I did see some great Icelandic artists perform, such as Reykjavíkurdætur, Pétur Ben, and RuGl.
Ian: It is so difficult to choose between all the Icelandic talent that I saw during this festival, but I would say the three that really stood out the most to me, and the ones I will probably see again if given the chance, are AmabAdamA for their extremely chill and uplifting reggae, Dr. Spock for their surreal stage presence that surpassed all normalcies, and finally Ayia for the pure talent they demonstrated in creating an atmosphere with their music that was entrancing.
Favourite Visiting Acts
Gréta: It’s really tough to limit my favourites to just three but I’m going to do it anyway. First up is Dizzee Rascal. Man, does that guy know how to put on a show! Second is Baloji, who I had not heard of before the festival but will definitely follow in the future. Of course, I must put Kate Tempest first, her show was astonishingly good. Seriously, so good!
Ian: One of the best bands I saw was a Die Nerven, a German post-punk/noise rock band with performance that felt like an unstoppable force of adrenaline, the Swedish band Dolores Haze for their bad ass attitude that manifested itself in their music, and finally Amnesia Scanner from Germany for their electronic music that took on a life of its own during a performance that transcended what a concert can be.
Gréta: I would like to mention all the bands I didn’t get to see for various reasons, including, but not limited to, scheduling clashes, venue capacities, my inability to get myself downtown early enough and, in some cases, disinterest. I’m sure you were all great.
Ian: This one goes to GKR for his genuine enthusiasm and love for what he does. A young rapper from Iceland who demonstrated his ability to be put on a show with such high energy and life that I would only expect from a veteran of the industry.
Our Thoughts On the Iceland Airwaves 2016
Gréta: I’ve lived in Reykjavík for just over a decade now, so of course I’ve been to Iceland Airwaves a couple of times before. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s the fact that I had to do my homework properly this year to be able to write about the festival, but this year I was a little more focused on the music rather than just partying, than I have been on the previous occasions I attended the festival. That’s not to say that I never paid any attention to the music before (or that I didn’t party at all this year) but it definitely felt like this year’s festival left a little more behind than it did in previous years.
Ian: As somebody who knew nothing about Iceland Airwaves before attending, I now understand why this festival has gained so much global attention. With a seemingly endless supply of bands playing at all hours during the day and into the night, there is something to please every type of concert-goer. I must admit though that I underestimated Airwaves, I knew it was going to be intense, but I was definitely not prepared in the slightest. One must train for an event of this calibre as a runner would train for a marathon, that is if they hope to make it through alive and well while taking full advantage of all that Airwaves has to offer. With so many new and talented bands making up the festival, one can discover so much music in such a concentrated amount of time that it boggles my mind. It may have only lasted for five days but the time I will need to process exactly what happened will take so much longer. The best thing about it all is that with so many unexpected bands now added to my arsenal of music, they will remain with me for a lifetime, making Airwaves a festival that just keeps on giving.