Airwaves Saturday Night
Night four was beginning and I had yet to venture into Iðnó, the gorgeous small theatre beside the pond, so I headed there to hear UK act Tusks. Tusks is the solo act of Emily Underhill, whose simultaneous percussion, keyboard, and vocal stylings were dreamily atmospheric. The songs she performed with only voice and guitar, however, didn’t quite pack the same punch. It was early in the night, and I wish the artist had tried to connect a bit more with the crowd, but it seems that nerves got in the way.
I stuck around for the beginning of the next act, Lost Horizons, a new group headed by seasoned musicians Simon Raymonde (of Cocteau Twins) and drummer Richie Thomas. With a big, dramatic, and futuristic sound, this is one to look out for.
I peeked into TORRES, who had packed Gamla Bíó with her groovy, raw electro-pop sound. TORRES is the “creative alter ego” of Mackenzie Scott, and though she has made some stunning music videos, her live performance seemed somewhat bland in comparison.
I headed to the monumental Airwaves venue next: the Reykjavík Art Museum for an act that is nostalgic to many Icelanders: punk group HAM. The group is fronted by Óttarr Proppé, a musician turned politician who is currently Iceland’s minister of health. As my Icelandic companion reported feeling “14 again,” a nerdy couple next to us sang along with every word. Óttarr told us “We are HAM! You are HAM!” I took the message to heart and danced like a dork.
I was pumped to see this bluesy four-piece from Mali which was up next at the Reykjavík Art Museum. Their approach to groove is completely different from the hip-hop and electronic acts that make up most of the Airwaves line-up, reflecting instead their northern Mali origin (Songhoy is their ethnic group). The group was formed in Bamako after being forced to leave their homes during a civil conflict and their performance and music were full of dancing, joy, and positive messages. Locals, including the mayor of Reykjavík, seemed to love both the message and music.
Our first stop of the night was at Hverfisbarinn, where KÁ-AKÁ was finishing up his set. He’s a young rapper from Akureyri and although the crowd was small, he kept the energy up the whole time.
Next up at Hverfisbarinn was Elli Grill, of Shades of Reykjavík fame. His look was hard to ignore, he was dressed like a teenager from the nineties who’s way too much into Prodigy and accompanying him was a DJ dressed like a gangster priest. Elli’s got a distinctively squeaky voice but in the context of his music, it somehow works. His set was fine, and I actually quite like Ísbjarnatrap, the Alvia Islandia collaboration, but it was still pretty early in the evening and this felt like a show for a darker, dirtier, and most importantly, fuller venue.
We took a short break at Loft to catch up with some friends before heading off to Hressó for Special K. We’d missed her show at Húrra the day before, which was a shame since I’m certain her music, with its unique brand of dreamy sincerity, was much better at home there. We elbowed our way to the front of the crowd, where we could actually see and hear the music. Katrín and her troupe of extremely talented musicians performed well but I still look forward to seeing them again under better conditions.
We were off to Hard Rock for Fai Baba. I always appreciate the chance the Airwaves festival gives you to discover new music and hear something unexpected. It often leads to some great discoveries and new favourite artists but unfortunately, they can’t all be winners. I didn’t particularly like what Fai Baba was doing, so we headed off to Gamla Bíó instead.
I was getting a little tired at this point, even started entertaining the idea to just stop by Mandi for something to eat and go to bed early. That all faded away as soon as Michael Kiwanuka started playing. That voice! It’s the sort of raspy, soulful and emotive voice that dreams are made of. I only intended to stay for a little while since my friends were already headed off for Gus Gus at the Art Museum but I ended up staying for the whole set and I don’t regret a minute of it. Also, I hate to sound like a grumpy grandma but seeing a band play actual instruments was refreshing.
My spirit was renewed after Kiwanuka so I got myself to the Reykjavík Art Museum where Gus Gus, emperors of the dance music scene, were playing. Gus Gus has been around for more than two decades and has gone through several singers and line-up changes. Recently, they’ve been performing in their simplest form, just a duo of founding members but their shows still don’t feel pared down. By this point, they simply know how to put on a show. They played some hits, as well as some new material but through all of it, I was dancing like there was no tomorrow.
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!