Every year, downtown Reykjavík is the stage of an all-over music festival: Iceland Airwaves. During Airwaves, both upcoming bands and established acts are performing on all kinds of stages throughout the city. This year, Airwaves is celebrating its 20th birthday, and to celebrate this, almost 200 acts from over 30 countries are hitting the stage.
Let’s start with Wednesday night, the opening night of the festival.
The What’s On team is attending all days of Iceland Airwaves 2018, so keep an eye on our website for articles and updates.
Jelena Ćirić at Petersen svítan
The night started out great with one of What’s On’s very own, Jelena Ćirić. For this concert, she brought two guest musicians with her, accordionist Margrét Arnar and violist Karl James Pestka. When I arrived, the cosy venue was already packed, with a lot of people sitting on the floor ready to listen to Jelena’s songs. She had no problem pulling the audience in with her intimate performance, tying her songs together with her beautiful voice and poetic lyrics. With a wonderful start like this, the tone for Airwaves was set.
Bagdad Brothers at Kex Hostel
After Jelena’s concert I had a quick bite to eat at Mandi (highly recommended for any food cravings during Airwaves) before walking down to Kex Hostel for Bagdad Brothers. I was pleasantly surprised by the live performance of this five-strong band. Even though they described their songs as rock ‘n’ roll, I would say quirky 90s pop is a better fit. They mix catchy guitar tunes with the lead singer’s soft and dreamy voice, resulting in a nostalgic yet warm sound. It was obvious that they felt at home on the stage, using the room to dance and encouraging the audience to join them. I really enjoyed their performance, and I was not the only one.
Kiriyama Family at Gamla Bíó
The next band played at Gamla Bíó, probably one of the most beautiful venues in downtown Reykjavík, built in the 1920s, and these days hosting film viewings, theatre performances, and concerts. Kiriyama Family is a six-piece electropop band made up of great singers and multi-instrumentalists. That band members play several instruments was also clear during this concert, with keyboardist and bassist swapping instruments several times. The female lead singer of the band is an eyecatcher with her amazing pop voice and charismatic persona, but even though the venue is great, and this band did everything “right,” I must admit I did not really feel their music.
Árstíðir at Gamla Bíó
I decided to stay at Gamla Bíó for Árstíðir, who became known to the public when a YouTube video of the band singing Heyr himna smiður in a train station went viral in 2013. They brought a cellist and violist on stage with them, and with three singers, a keyboard player, a drummer, and two guitarists, I expected to witness a bombastic live performance. Fans present at the concert will disagree with me, but I was somewhat disappointed by their modest live sound and decided not to stay till the end.
KLAKI at Hresso
I was on my way to Ateria at Húrra when I passed Hresso. People without Airwaves wristbands had gathered in front of Hresso’s windows and were looking in through the glass. This grabbed my attention, and in passing, I heard the catchiest saxophone tune. I retraced my steps and walked in. In an almost completely dark venue, an enthusiastic crowd was dancing to KLAKI, who was walking through the audience playing his saxophone like a maniac. The saxophone tunes were accompanied by steady electronic beats, resulting in a very danceable one-man show. So much fun!
Ateria at Húrra
Feeling energised and happy after KLAKI’s performance, I stepped into Húrra for Ateria, winners of the Icelandic Music Experiments 2018. Ateria consists of three teenage girls, two sisters and their cousin, who make music that has been described as folk goth, even though they don’t like to put a label on it themselves. Húrra was filled with a beer-drinking and loudly talking crowd, and I felt venue and act were a mismatch, as they use minimal drums, cello, and gentle voices. The band looked a bit uncomfortable on stage and even though I see a lot of potential, this performance did not do them justice.
GlerAkur at IÐNÓ
When I arrived at IÐNÓ 15 minutes before post-rock and drone band GlerAkur started, the venue was so crowded that I could hardly make my way in. I noticed that two drum kits were set up on stage, and my anticipation for this band started to grow. And not only did two drummers appear on stage, also as many as five guitarists. GlerAkur carefully and hypnotically built up to an explosion of sound that completely drew in me. You could feel the bass vibrate in the floor, and everyone inside IÐNÓ was engulfed in a wonderful soundscape. Definitely the highlight of the evening.