Ever since the first festival in 1999, Iceland Airwaves has become one of the premier showcases for new music, Icelandic as well as international. Known for its intimacy and party spirit, Airwaves features several local and visiting artists playing venues all around the Reykjavík city centre. Local artists include the very young and incredibly successful duo of Jói Pjé x Króli, the electro ensemble GusGus and the synth-fuelled FM Belfast. Among the visiting artists this year is Scandinavian pop-queen Sigrid, the soothing Seattle-band Fleet Foxes and Irish sensation Bonzai.

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TIPS & TRICKS

Tag Your Photos
There are 2 key hashtags you’ll want to use during your stay in Iceland. The first one being #WhatsOnRvk, which is us right here, the second is of course #airwaves17, which is Iceland Airwaves!

Dress Accordingly
The festival is held in ICELAND at the beginning of November so no doubt it will be cold. But keep in mind that the venues are usually packed and you’ll be hot and sweaty after dancing. The key here is layers!

Use the App
The official Iceland Airwaves app is your best friend during the festival. Check out info on the bands, follow recent news, discover new artists and most importantly plan ahead and make your own schedule.

Plan Ahead!
Most of the artists playing at the festival are not big names but rather up-and-coming artists. We recommend checking out the line-up before to know which ones you want to see.

Do something during the day!
Nobody’s saying you have to wake up to go wormhunting with the early bird, but when you do manage to roll out of bed, go see a museum, the Blue Lagoon or the Golden Circle. They’re worth it, I promise!

Don’t Plan Too Much
The great thing about a festival like Iceland Airwaves is the experience of seeing something new and unexpected. That band you’ve never heard of that is playing next could be awesome. Remember that Of Monsters and Men were discovered at this festival!

Don’t Miss the Off-Venues
Don’t have a ticket? Off-venues are open to everyone. Are two of your favourite acts playing at the same time? Check out if either one of them is playing an off-venue gig as well and go see them both!

VISITING ARTISTS YOU MUST SEE

SIGRID

This Norwegian starlet is the undisputed synth-pop queen of Scandinavia. Recently signed to Island Records, her hit single ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ has received rave reviews. Sigrid Solbakk Raabe is only 21 years old but it sounds like she’ll be around for some time yet.

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FLEET FOXES

The soothing indie folk sounds of this Seattle band have enthralled listeners ever since they first started out in 2006. They are back after a three-year hiatus and of course they came to Reykjavík. There is no better way to get cozy after standing in a rainy queue than with the soothing voices of the Fleet Foxes squad.

MURA MASA

Mura Masa is quite possible the best thing to come out of Guernsey (No offence, Guernsey!). His trap-style electropop gets your hips moving in ways you didn’t know were possible. His banger ‘Love$ick’, featuring A$AP Rocky, sits at a cool 111 million plays on Spotify. Yup. Get your dancing boots on, punters!

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BONZAI

This Irish native’s music has been described as a mix of Destiny’s Child, club sounds, rave attitude, and indie hooks. She lists her influences as MIA, Santigold, FKA Twigs, and Sade. Alright, I think we all know who we are going to see at Airwaves… Show up, turn up!

GENTS

Drum machines and synths galore! This Copenhagen based duo is a throwback to the 80s as Niels Juhl’s vocals and Theis Vesterløkke’s synths will have you asking what decade it is. Their soundscape really is something to behold so close your eyes and dance to their soothing beats.

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MICHAEL KIWANUKA

Michael Kiwanuka is a North London native and a heartbreaker. Since first stepping on the scene in 2012 he has charmed audiences all over the world with his smooth and soulful voice. His soul style has been compared to artists such as Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and Otis Redding. Not bad company!

ICELANDIC ARTISTS YOU MUST SEE

JÓI PÉ & KRÓLI

Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this show. This young duo (born in ’99 and ’00) have taken the hip hop scene by storm in the last couple of months. Their sound is a refreshing 90’s boom-bap throwback while pop and trap hits are also in their repertoire.

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GUS GUS

If you didn’t go and see GusGus – can you really say you went to Iceland Airwaves? The electro ensemble will close out the Saturday night at the Reykjavík Art Museum. Active since 1995, they are known worldwide for their electro hits. GusGus always puts on a fantastic show – expect fantastic vocals, crisp synths, and a visceral experience.

CYBER

The girls in Cyber have promised the wildest show that Airwaves has ever seen. Fresh off the release of their first full length album ‘Horror’ – Cyber is as fierce and ready as ever. Expect spandex, alter-egos, breakneck rap, crazy visuals, and lots of Aktu Taktu burgers. Yes… You have to be there.

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FM BELFAST

FM Belfast is practically an institution in the Reykjavík party scene by this point. The Iceland Airwaves regulars always put on a synth-fuelled, crazed performance which gets the crowd going. One of the best live bands in Iceland, it’s impossible to stand still at an FM Belfast show!

ALEXANDER JARL

Palestinian-Icelandic rapper Alexander Jarl has an unmatched sound in the Icelandic hip hop game. He spurts out spitfire lyrics and is supported by one the best beatmakers in Iceland, Helgi Ársæll. The duo has been kicking butts and taking names since 2015 and their shows are always energetic. Check out the banger ‘Láttu Í Friði’.

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VÖK

The members of Vök have been busy creating the finest indie-electronic in the country since 2013. The group lists Portishead, Air, and Massive Attack as their main influences. They are fresh off a European tour to support the release of their highly anticipated debut LP ‘Figure’. If you are into indie then Vök is a must see.

Wednesday night

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Photo by Sigurður Ástgeirsson

Gréta

I won’t say I’m more excited for the Iceland Airwaves festival than Christmas but it’s a close call. A harvest festival of Icelandic music, Iceland Airwaves showcase a cross section of the Reykjavík music scene, so whether you’re at the festival to see your favourite band in action or get to know the next big thing, You’ll come away satisfied. If you can’t be here for the festival, the What’s on writers are at your service, ready to inform you of what you’re missing!

MISS NAIVETY

Eager to get the festival started, I headed to an off-venue show at Lucky Records straight from work. Well, straight from post-work happy hour, to be honest.  Miss Naivety was playing at Lucky Records by the Hlemmur food hall. The Russian musician instantly got me in the airwaves mood, playing a tiny keyboard set on an even tinier flower-decorated desk, surrounded by record covers and musically inspired graffiti.

TÓFA

Next up at Lucky Records were Tófa, a relatively new group that has been generating quite the buzz in Iceland. They play actual instruments, loudly, making them one of a handful of interesting new bands heralding a shift from the hyperfocus on the Icelandic hiphop in the past few years. Their set also opened with a spoken-word song, which was immediately intriguing. Although I was curious to hear more, I was getting hungry at this point and with the Hlemmur food hall so tantalizingly close it was getting hard to stave off the hunger. Since this wasn’t going to be Tófa’s last gig at the festival, I decided to sacrifice the rest of their show for a Bahn Mi sandwich.

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Photo by Ásta Sif Árnadóttir

ALVIA ISLANDIA

By the time I finished my sandwich, the official program was getting started, so I headed to the Reykjavík Art Museum to catch the first show of the night, Alvia Islandia, the bubblegum bitch. She had the unenvious task of opening the show at one of the largest venues at the festival, the main hall of the Reykjavík Arts Museum, formerly an industrial building for the fishing industry. Undaunted at the prospect, Alvia came on stage along with a hypewoman, dressed in a set of pyjamalike clothes with a lollipop print. Her show featured the appearance of pink My Little Pony horses, a pink inflatable chair and graphics with more lollipops and bubblegum. It’s not exactly my cup of tea but she was having fun with it and Bubblegum Bitch is always a fun song.

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Photo by Júnía Líf Maríuerla

CYBER

Next up were Cyber. I have no idea how Cyber ended up as the second act on Wednesday night when the crowd was barely getting warmed up because they’re show was awesome. Fresh off the release of their first full-length album, HORROR, Cyber are making some seriously cool experimental hip-hop and they’re live shows are amazing. They entered the stage in a coffin carried by queens in full drag, wearing black latex and crowns, and onstage were burning white candles and some attention-grabbing graphics. If you have a chance to see Cyber, at Akureyri or an off-venue show, go check them out, seriously.  

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Photo by Júnía Líf Maríuerla

HOLY HRAFN

I hadn’t even heard of the next act at the Art museum so we decided to check out some smaller venues. We headed over to Gaukurinn where we caught the last few songs of Holy Hrafn. To be fair, his official description is pretty weird – a space cowboy that makes that weirdcore-hiphop and speaks cool gibberish or sumerian or something – but it didn’t really speak to me.

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Photo by Ásta Sif Árnadóttir

GUNNAR JÓNSSON COLL
IDER

Gunnar Jónsson Collider however, the next act at Gaukurinn, brought my hopes up again. I saw Gunnar Jónsson perform at last Airwaves when GJC was a solo project but this time he brought a full band. Playing a patented blend of electro, prog and experimental rock, at times going full dream pop/shoegaze, Gunnar’s musical turn was a pleasant surprise.

HALLDÓR ELDJÁRN

It’s a Wednesday night and unlike vacationing visitors I had work in the morning. After Gunnar’s show we were ready to head home. Before we left, however, we decided to check out Halldór Eldjárn at Húrra. According to the Iceland Airwaves website, “his live show consists of live performing robotic instruments which he has built, his brother Úlfur Eldjárn on the MIDI-based saxophone, synthesizers and all nicely tied together with Halldór’s live drumming.” That’s pretty cool, but to be honest, standing at the back of the packed venue was probably not the best spot to appreciate the instruments from. I did enjoy the music, though.

Jóhann

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Photo by Sigurður Ástgeirsson

BIRNIR

The crowd at the Reykjavík Art museum was more than ready for Birnir when he set on stage. Accompanied by low-key visuals of fangs, he started churning out his hits. His sort-of-shy stage persona was actually quite charming, as he got the audience on his side quickly. Fellow rapper Herra Hnetusmjör (Mr. Peanut Butter. Yes.) proved to be the spark that the chilled, laid-back show needed as his energy brought everything up a whole level. The duo killed it with their newly-released single ‘Já ég veit’ (Yeah I Know). All in all, a solid set by one of the darlings of the hip-hop scene.

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Photo by Sigurður Ástgeirsson

JÓI PÉ AND KRÓLI

As soon ar Jói Pé and Króli stepped on stage, it was obvious who the crowd was here to see. The duo proved that if you are good enough – age doesn’t matter, as the young rappers were the stars of the Wednesday night. The rappers complemented each other perfectly as Króli led the show and got the crowd going, while Jói Pé was more like a musical hitman – silent throughout the show yet bombarding the crowd confidently with bars and hooks. They performed like seasoned veterans of Airwaves. In a refreshing move, they went old-school with no visuals, letting their music do the talking. Festival-goers were only reminded of their age when everyone gathered to sing a birthday song for Króli, who just turned eighteen. Good times all around!

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Photo by Florian Trykowski

JOEY CHRIST

The hall at the Reykjavík Art Museum cleared out after Jói Pé and Króli. I feel for Joey as his set was ambitious, lyric-matching visuals and all, and he performed well, despite the lack of audience. This proves, to some extent, that a Wednesday night for Airwaves might be an overextension. Joey stepped on stage at the late hour of 00:20. Some people have work in the morning? Who would have thought! Joey went for it, though, as he came decked out in a Cam’ron-style furry pink outfit and had a constant stream of guests accompanying him on stage (Final guest count: 11!). Jóhanna of Cyber and Joey had great chemistry on the stage but Herra Hnetusmjör was the spark again, as he went all-in on ‘Joey Cypher, the finale. Joey’s set would have been a perfect end to the night an hour earlier.

Playlist time

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!

Airwaves Thursday Night

Jelena

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Photo by Ásta Sif Árnadóttir

BÁRA GÍSLADÓTTIR

I started off the night at Fríkirkjan church for Bára Gísladóttir’s show. Bára was performing her solo work for electronics, double bass, and voice called “Mass for some”. It’s always a thrill to see a solo performer multitask, and Bára’s skills were downright impressive. The piece was at turns creepy, meditative, and dark: basically the hippest music for nerds I’ve heard lately. Fríkirkjan was the perfect venue: it has great acoustics and is dripping with atmosphere.

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Photo by Sigurður Ástgeirsson

NEW VENUES

After Bára’s show, I peeked into two venues that are new to Airwaves this year, the recently revived Hard Rock Café and Hverfisbarinn. The energy was barely building up at Hard Rock as local punk band Mosi frændi took the stage. I stayed long enough to hear the singer scream “Reykjavík! Reykjavík!” a few times and went on my way. I peeked into Tilbury’s show at Hverfisbarinn next. This place has recently undergone renovations and they put a lot of work into making it a great live music venue: I wasn’t surprised to see it packed with locals for this show. I had another kind of music in mind, though, and headed out to catch Emiliana Torrini and The Colorist at the National Theatre. It was a long, arduous walk. Across a single street. Airwaves really makes you appreciate Reykjavík’s small size.

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Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

EMILIANA TORRINI AND THE COLORIST

There was already a long queue outside for Emiliana, which my handy press pass allowed me to skip. I guess the pen is mightier than the line, or something. The National Theatre is my favourite building in Reykjavík and its quaint yet beautiful architecture set off Emiliana’s songs well, as did The Colorist Orchestra’s arrangements. Emiliana herself was charming and funny. Can we make an award for most endearing Icelander and give it to her? Icelanders of all generations were dancing in their seats at this show. An added bonus: spotting the President of Iceland.

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Photo by Golli

GRÍSALAPPALÍSA

There seems to be a movement lately among Icelandic bands of all genres to put as much energy into their performances as their music. I had never seen Grísalappalísa live, and was swept up in their tight sound, their overall energy, and the lead singer’s performance. He vogued, crowd-surfed, hugged and sang to audience members, jumped on tables and rolled on the floor. My favourite moment was when he ripped his shirt open… to reveal an identical shirt underneath. This is not a band for the faint of heart, and though some audience members were feeling it, others were definitely turned off. Luckily they were performing at Gamla Bíó, where their true fans could rock out on the open dance floor, while shy observers could stick to the balcony.

HOLY HRAFN

I hadn’t even heard of the next act at the Art museum so we decided to check out some smaller venues. We headed over to Gaukurinn where we caught the last few songs of Holy Hrafn. To be fair, his official description is pretty weird – a space cowboy that makes that weirdcore-hiphop and speaks cool gibberish or sumerian or something – but it didn’t really speak to me.

aYia

Next, I was headed to see aYia at Bíó Paradís, a band who I think is making very interesting electronic music. Bíó Paradís is actually a movie theatre, and me and my late-night hunger were very happy to find there was popcorn for sale: yum. The show was marred by some technical difficulties before it could get started, which seemed to throw the performers off somewhat. It featured simple yet bold video, and other than the screen the band performed in total darknes
s. I’m interested to see how this group’s sound develops.

Gréta

I arrived downtown when the official program was starting and the first thing that greeted me was a long line stretching out of the National Theatre, where JFDR, Emilíana Torrini and Benjamin Clementine were scheduled to play. My friends weren’t keen on spending a lot of time waiting in line so we decided to change our plans, heading for Gamla Bíó instead. A tip for all you Airwaves attendees out there, keeping plans flexible is the key to enjoying the festival to the fullest.

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Photo by Ásta Sif Árnadóttir

UNE MISÉRE

When we arrived in Gamla Bíó, Une Misére were finishing up their set. I know they have some fans out there but their music is far from being my cup of tea. I’ll leave it to writers more appreciative of their music style to dissect their performance.

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Photo by Ásta Sif Árnadóttir

HATARI

Next up were Hatari, one of the most interesting groups on the Reykjavík music scene, known for their impressive live shows, costumes and high-concept performances. For a group that dresses up as bondage-loving fascists from a post-apocalyptic future for every concert, Hatari plays a surprisingly danceable mixture of electro rock, dance and punk music. Hatari performances have a healthy dose of artificiality to them, which draws me to them and bothers me at the same time. Their screamed lyrics of how we’re all weak maggots, slaves to capitalist overlords, is constantly subverted by the exaggerations of their on-stage personas, and one singer’s projected image of power is overruled by the other’s sensuality and softness. The theatricality is overt and while it’s impressive, it also puts a certain distance between the musicians and the audience.

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Photo by Golli

GRÍSALAPPALÍSA

After Hatari’s performance, Grísalappalísa felt incredibly joyful and light-hearted. Grísalappalísa shows are always fun and energetic and the lead singer usually spends as much time among the crowd, crowd surfing or creating his own mosh pit, as he does on stage. The music, I suppose, is of the marmite variety, you either love it or hate it, but I’m firmly in the love camp myself. I don’t think that the Gamla Bíó stage is the best setting for a Grísalappalísa concert, they feel more at home in slightly less grand venues, where the audience is tightly packed and the stage is closer to them.

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Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

ÚLFUR ÚLFUR

Next, we headed to Úlfur Úlfur’s show at the Reykjavík Art Museum. They were putting on a solid show as they’re wont to do, these veterans of the Icelandic hip hop scene, but the shift in atmosphere from the scene at Gamla Bíó was a little to severe for me. I’ll just have to get into the party gear sooner for tomorrow’s concerts!
Follow What’s On on Instagram for a taste of the Iceland Airwaves atmosphere!

Playlist time

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!

Airwaves Saturday Night

Jelena

Tusks

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.

Lost Horizons

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.

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Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

Torres

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.

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Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

HAM

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.

Songhoy Blues

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.

Gréta

KÁ-AKÁ

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. 

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Photo by Ásta Sif Árnadóttir

Elli Grill

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.

Special K

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.

Fai Baba

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.

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Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

Michael Kiwanuka

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.

Gus Gus

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.

Playlist time

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!

Airwaves Friday Night

Jelena

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Photo by Ásta Sif Árnadóttir

RuGL

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.

BETWEEN MOUNTAINS

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.

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Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

DAÐI FREYR

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.

VAGABON

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.

SIGRID

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.

LIDO PIMIENTA

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.

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FM BELFAST

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?

Jóhann

GDRN

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.

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Photo by Ásta Sif Árnadóttir

MURA MASA

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.

JAE TYLER

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.

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Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

STURLA ATLAS

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.

GENTS

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.

FM BELFAST

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.

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Photo by Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson

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

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.

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The Best Of the Best

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.

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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.

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Favourite night

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.

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Best experience

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…

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The top three Icelandic acts we saw

Jóhann – Jói Pé and Króli, CYBER, Sturla Atlas

Jelena – RuGl, Emilíana Torrini and the Colorist, Daði Freyr

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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

Special mention

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.

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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.

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