Airwaves Friday Night
I started off the night at Fríkirkjan church to hear two fresh, yet polished acts. The first one, RuGl, is an acoustic duo comprised of Ragnheiður María Benediktsdóttir on piano and percussion and Guðlaug Fríða Helgadóttir Folkmann on guitar, with both members singing. The two musicians won the Icelandic Music Experiments (IME) 2017 competition, likely the most important venue for up-and-coming Icelandic acts, and have been rising steadily ever since. Though their name means “chaos” in Icelandic, the duo’s sound is anything but. Their songs are soft and melodic, and their lyrics melancholy. Their vocal harmonies are alternately lush and dissonant and always in tune. These performers exude a quiet confidence in everything they do, which is all the more impressive considering they’re still teenagers. The church was full and the audience was rapt and appreciative.
One young, female power duo followed another at Fríkirkjan, and I decided to stick around. Between Mountains is another recent winner of the IME competition, and their sound is distinctly more electronic and hook-laden than RuGl. The two are also great singers and their layered harmonies add power to their sound. Though their songs were well performed, the duo showed an endearing awkwardness onstage. Thankfully their audience was supportive and encouraging and helped put them at ease.
At this point I had been sitting for too long, and after a quick pit stop at the city’s best hot dog stand (no line up – I couldn’t resist), I slipped into year-round party place Húrra to catch electronic wunderkind Daði Freyr. He recently caught Iceland’s attention when he vied to represent the country in Eurovision. Although his song was not chosen for the competition, his place in the hearts of the nation (and on its stages) was set. Daði’s beats are irresistibly danceable and his deep, rich voice is nostalgically reminiscent of 80s pop. It’s hard not to be “hress” while Daði is playing: which is basically Icelandic for having a good time. I even spotted Emiliana Torrini grooving along, and if that isn’t a stamp of approval, I don’t know what is.
I headed upstairs to Gaukurinn for Vagabon’s show. Gaukurinn (The Cuckoo) is Reykjavík’s gritty spot for the punk, metal, and queer scenes, and Vagabon’s music fit right in. Her sound is at turns approachably indie, heart-wrenchingly melodic, and powerfully punk. Basically it’s the perfect soundtrack to the life of a broke and disillusioned millennial, and it seemed to hit home for many in the audience.
Going from indie and angsty to peppy and dance-y, I headed to Sigrid next. Known for her hit song “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” which plays on repeat at a certain office, though I will not say which, the Norwegian pop starlet was performing at the Reykjavík Art Museum. This venue just exudes cool, and Sigrid owned the stage with her unselfconscious dancing and a tight backing band. It’s very hard to navigate the position of being known for one big hit: Sigrid intelligently saved it for last, while keeping the energy high from the get-go with equally catchy and hook-laden pop tunes. It’s difficult to compete with your polished, produced voice when you are singing live, and Sigrid fell just short of the task: perhaps tour fatigue was the reason.
I felt like washing down the bubblegum pop with something a little different, so I headed to Húrra for Lido Pimienta. Lido is as much a comedian as she is a musician, and between songs she told the audience her life story in condensed form, chastised a group who was chatting through her songs, and related anecdotes about her mother and her exes. Though some audience members laughed along, others were not so into her candid nature. Musically, Lido’s sound is incredibly varied: vocal acrobatics, electronic beats, and Afro-Columbian rhythms all underscore the overarching message of “do your thing and to hell with the rest of them,” which we all need to hear from time to time.
FM Belfast are an Airwaves mainstay and you can count on them for a great party. By the time I showed up the revelry was underway and the huge crowd was having a blast, as if the night was only getting started. After three great days of music, I was hardly fresh as a daisy but the atmosphere was hard to resist. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?
I started the night off with GDRN in the Hard Rock Café. GDRN has quietly been making waves with her emotional R’n’B and she drew quite a crowd for the first slot of the night. She came out in the most fire garment I’ve seen so far – a black denim jacket emblazoned with trucking logos, as well as sporting a Princess Leia haircut. Supported by a 4-piece band, she weaved effortlessly between songs. I could really feel her pouring all into her songs, as she captivated the audience. It looks like there are big things ahead for GDRN.
Next up was the big draw – Mura Masa, who was supported by Bonzai. Mura really got the crowd going as the full Art Museum venue was blasted by drop after drop. At one point, it felt like the bass was eating you alive as tremors were felt all through the body. The show had a bit of a lull as Mura Masa experienced new soundscapes a bit and went away from the heavy hitting songs. The crowd was ready to dance for the finale, and dance they did as he belted out his most famous tunes.
I hopped in between shows to Húrra to catch a sneak-peek of Jae Tyler. The show was playful as the band had great camaraderie – it was clear they enjoyed each other’s presence and being on-stage. It felt a bit like something was missing as the show was lacking that final oomph. There were definitely positives, though, as their ‘party-rock’ (No, not LMFAO) songs got the crowd going in the end.
Back to the Reykjavík Art Museums as Sturla Atlas were underway with their set when I showed up. They really do have a ‘stadium sound’ of sorts, as their music sounded ridiculously well in the big prison-like hall of the Art Museum. The show had bit of a goth-chic feel as Sturla donned an oversized leather jacket and Joey Christ wore a Rammstein T-shirt. They performed a tight set where the crowd seemed to know all of the songs. A lot of people I passed were still humming their songs after the show was over. A great set from the boys in Sturla Atlas.
Next up were Gents. They were fantastic! Their 80s throwback aesthetic is so refreshing and, actually, spot-on. Honestly, drop them in 1982 Brighton and they won’t look out of place. It is clear as well that this is out of passion rather than trying to gain some ‘coolness’. Talking about ‘cool’, I feel that Gents ooze it. The had an aura of effortless coolness as they went through their catalogue. The crowd was very receptive at the small venue. I got a bit of a surrealistic feel at one point as the frontman took aim at the audience with his microphone and ‘shot’ at them – at that moment I honestly didn’t know what year it was. All in all, a fantastic set where the somber soundscape of 80s ruled the seas – at least for the best part of an hour.
One thing is for sure – FM Belfast know how to put on a party. They put on enough confetti to create a three-headed confetti-glitter monster at one point. This show was sing-alongs and jumping – a full-on bonanza. The art museum was packed and people lost themselves in the moment. A classic FM Belfast show, where they even got the crowd to sing along to Wonderwall. Who would have that a hipster army would ever scream Wonderwall at Airwaves? It shows that FM Belfast can take you wherever they want to.
SHADES OF REYKJAVÍK
Time for a different tune. The underground hip-hop scene had a party going at Hressó. Shades of Reykjavík had a personal show where the crowd was in their faces. The crazy antics of Elli Grill were fun as the group threw out some crack-smoking lyrics. Their beats are bumpy and the crowd really got into it. Although there were some technical problems, the group handled it well as they got the crowd into some acapella sing-alongs. It appears the underground is alive and well.
Lord Pusswhip was up next and he performed a crazy set which was part DJ-set, part MC-ing. Accompanied by hypeman Alfreð Drexler, he blasted an experimental slish-slosh of sounds which the crowd was receptive to. He was all over the place with rave, trap, 90s, and trance sounds. All of them had a thumping beat to it as the crowd really got into it. A fitting end for a fun night.
Follow What’s On on Instagram for a taste of the Iceland Airwaves atmosphere!
A seemingly endless amount of exciting Icelandic artists will hit the stage at this year’s edition. Check out this playlist featuring some of the hottest talent we have on show this year. Aron Can, Sturla Atlas, FM Belfast and Young Karin are some of the names you have to check out. 50 artists, 50 songs. Enjoy!