Five “Must-Not-Miss” Local Artists

There are concerts and there are compulsory concerts. There are musical events and there are mandatory musical events. There are notes to take note of—and there are non-elective notes to take note of. What we’re talking about here is the latter, i.e. local artists that guests of the Iceland Airwaves 2019 music festival should not miss. They’re unmissable. Nonmissable. Amissable.

1. GDRN

GDRN has the voice of an angel … investor, whispering dollar signs into the ears of a despairing entrepreneur. She looks like a million buckaroos. Trendy. Stylish. Suave. She’s got a song called Af og til that hasn’t been officially released, but it’s the bee’s knees: a soulful, g-funk-ish, pop masterpiece. GDRN hails from Mosfellsbær and released her debut album, Hvað ef, in 2018. A year later, she came away from the Icelandic Music Awards with four awards: best pop album, best pop song, best female singer, and music video of the year. She’s sometimes called “Queen G.”

2. Moses Hightower

Named after Police Academy’s famed florist-turned-police-officer, Moses Hightower is capable of leading any philistine out of … whatever the philistine-equivalent of Egypt is – and to the promised land of soul, psychedelia, and yacht rock. (“Yacht rock” is such a fun word.) Formed in 2007 and based out of Reykjavík, Moses Hightower comprises drummer Magnús Trygvason Eliassen, bassist and singer Andri Ólafsson, and keyboard player and singer Steingrímur Karl Teague. The band has released three critically-acclaimed full-length albums: Búum til börn (Let’s Make Babies), Önnur Mósebók (The Second Book of Moses), and Fjallaloft (Mountain Air). Háa C (High C) – a bittersweet, feel-good slam dunk – may rank as our favourite Moses’ song. Also, they’re an absolute treat live.

3. Vök

Vök released its sophomore album In the Dark in March of this year. According to Everything is Noise’s mysteriously mononymic Adam (no full name available on the web site), with In the Dark Vök, “have crafted a piece of work that perfectly captures and confidently meets the huge potential that their debut promised.” And that’s nice. All of us hope to live up to our potential. Vök was formed in 2013 by singer Margrét Magnúsdóttir and saxophonist Andri Enoksson. The band released its debut album, Figure, in 2017. As of March 2019, the band’s line-up consists of Margrét, Einar Stefánsson and Bergur Dagbjartsson. What’s On recommends the song Autopilot. 

4. Hatari

Part performance art, part political satire, Iceland’s favourite bondage-pop trio Hatari stirred up controversy at this year’s Eurovision by waving Palestinian scarves during the contest. Before Hatari reached a popular audience, their live performances were commonly broached during water-cooler conversations at local offices (superlatives galore). Hatari was formed in mid-2015 by cousins Klemens Hannigan and Matthías Haraldsson. Hannigan later played the songs for Einar Stefánsson (Vök), who subsequently became Hatari’s drummer. The band released its debut EP album Neysluavara (Consumer Product) in 2017. What’s On recommends the song Hatrið mun sigra (the band’s Eurovision entry). It may be a tad trite, but it’s still relevant. Contributors for Hatari include Sólbjört Sigurðardóttir, Sigurður Andrean Sigurgeirsson, and Ástrós Guðjónsdóttir, all of whom are considered part of Hatari, and act as choreographers and dancers for the group (Sólbjört and Ástrós also provide backing vocals).

5. Aron Can

Like most everyone else, we’ve been mildly captivated by the young Auto-Tune crooner ever since Enginn mórall—a sparse and somewhat spooky Trap earworm—was released in 2016. Three years, and loads of impersonators, later, the Can-man remains one of Iceland’s most popular rappers. And he’s only just recently turned consenting adult. (Actually, he’s like 21 or something.) Aron Can has released three albums: Þekkir stráginn (You know that boy) in 2016, ÍNÓTT (TONIGHT) in 2017, and Trúpíter in 2018. Fullir vasar remains Aron Can’s most popular song with almost 2.5 million streams on Spotify.

The Iceland Airwaves Music Festival will be held between November 6th and November 9th at various venues in Reykjavík.

Five “Must-Not-Miss” Visiting Artists

Ever since the first festival in 1999, Iceland Airwaves has become one of the premier showcases for new music in Iceland, whether in terms of local or international acts. Famous for its intimacy and debauchery, the festival sees a slew of artists performing at various venues around downtown Reykjavík. This year, local artists include Eurovision bad boys Hatari, dream-pop trio Vök, and trapper Aron Can. As far as visiting artists are concerned, What’s On has culled a handful of notable acts, which are definitely worth seeing, below.

Iceland Airwaves will be held between November 6th and November 9th, 2019.

Mac DeMarco

The 29-year old Canadian singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco has released six full-length albums. His first album, Rock and Roll Night Club, released in 2012, was recorded in his Montreal-based studio Jizz Jazz and received generally favourable reviews. It was DeMarco’s junior album, Salad Days, however, which won the hearts of critics and listeners alike. Iceland Review recommends Chamber of Reflection, the ninth song on Salad Days, which is smooth, dreamy, hypnotic (coincidentally DeMarco’s most popular song on Spotify). The Canadian is inspired by the likes of Shuggie Otis, Genesis, Sting, and Weezer (his favourite artist is Haruomi Hosono). DeMarco generally appears alongside four backing band members and is known for his charming on-stage persona.

Anna of the North

While Iceland Airwaves usually showcases up-and-coming talent, established acts are also a mainstay of the festival. This year, Anna of the North is without a doubt one of the biggest names to grace the festival’s marquee. Born Anna Lotterud, in 1991, AOTN is an Oslo-based Norwegian singer-songwriter from Gjøvik. She released her debut single Sway in 2014. The song became an immediate internet hit and subsequently landed her a record deal with the US label Honeymoon. AOTN released her debut album, Lovers, in 2017 (the eponymous title track is lovely). Dream Girl is a good song, as well.

Cautious Clay

Cautious Clay is the alias of American singer, songwriter, and record producer Joshua Karpeh. Born in 1993 in Cleveland, Ohio, Cautious Clay graduated with a degree in International Affairs from George Washington University and was employed as a real-estate agent in New York City (he also worked in advertising) for two years before pursuing music full-time. A multi-instrumentalist, Clay plays the saxophone, flute, guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums. His debut EP, Blood Type, was released on February 21st. The album contains Clay’s most popular song to date, Cold War, which Taylor Swift samples on her seventh studio album, Lover.

Alexandra Stréliski

Stréliski is a Canadian neoclassical composer who released her debut album, Pianoscope, in 2010. Her songs have appeared in several films and TV shows, most notably by Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée: Dallas Buyers Club, Demolition, Big Little Lies, Sharp Objects, e.g. Stréliski’s sophomore album, Inscape, was released last year and was the number one classical album on Apple Music at the end of 2018. Iceland Review recommends the songs Plus tôt and Berceuse. They’re hauntingly beautiful.

Amanda Tenfjord

Tenfjord is a 22-year old Greek-Norwegian singer-songwriter. Punning on the title of her debut single, Andrew Hannah of The Line of Best Fit, said that she had made a “huge first impression” in 2018. Her foray into music began in early childhood, starting with piano and vocal lessons. At 16, she started writing her own music. Tenfjord has yet to release an album, but the singles that she has released are catchy. It may be too facile of a comparison, but Tenfjord’s music bears some semblance to the synth-driven pop music of her compatriot Sigrid.

For more information on the 2019 Iceland Airwaves festival, click here.

Wednesday night

I have a confession to make. It’s quite embarrassing actually. I am a born and raised Icelander, about to turn thirty next year and have lived my entire life in the Reykjavik area. Still, this is the first time I’m attending Icelandic Airwaves. Judge me all you like, because I deserve it. But here it goes, Wednesday night at Iceland Airwaves 2019.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Photography by Berglind Jóhanns

So here I am, finally attending and I’m looking through the schedule and I hardly know any of the artists. But that’s part of the whole charm, isn’t it? This is a festival of discovering new artist from here in Iceland or just any other place in the world. 

So I excitedly started to look through the schedule and plan my weekend. It was harder than anticipated because every time I thought I found the perfect artist to see, another one in the same time slot but different venue caught my eye. It’s going to be a weekend full of hard decisions and it might take quite a bit of beer to wash down any regret I might have about the choices I come to make. 

Iceland Airwaves 2019

The first choice was easy though. At 2:00 pm Madame Ghandi was playing at Kex Hostel and was pretty much the only artist playing at that time. For some reason I thought the show was starting at 2:30 pm and therefore only caught the last 1.5 song. Let’s put that down as a rookie mistake. So excited for my first Airwaves show that I arrived to Kex 25 minutes late to a packed venue. 

If you’ve ever been to Kex Hostel then you’ll know the entrance is just this small doorway that wouldn’t be out of place at just about anybody’s regular home. Madame Ghandi was performing just to the left of said door so basically I come in and right away I’m at the front of the crowd and in everybody’s lane who’s either coming or going. Slightly uncomfortable but kinda charming at the same time. Lucky for me, the show was recorded so future me and readers who aren’t lucky enough to be attending the festival can see Madame Ghandi’s full show here. 

Orville Pack at Wednesday Night at Iceland Airwaves
The masked Orville Peck

Now life intervened so I was a bit preoccupied and busy until about 10pm which is when I made my way to the always masked and mysterious figure Orville Peck. He was once described by Vice as: “Presumably older than 20 and younger than 40” and that’s about it in terms of what anybody knows about the guy. I did know he was a country musician which generally is not my cup of tea but his whole persona had me intrigued. 

He was playing at one of the bigger venues, the Reykjavik Art Museum, and like Kex it was loaded with people so I ended up standing in the back and sadly not really blown away by his music. He was cool as moose (get it? Cause he’s from Canada) and the crowd in front of me seemed to be really into it and he had some cool moments for sure but again, country music isn’t really my thing.

But that’s not a problem. There is always another show just around the corner. And literally just around the corner from Reykjavik Art Museum is another Airwaves venue: Gaukurinn. I went there and saw the Icelandic band Flekar whom I had never heard about before yesterday. They have this low-key indie sound that I really enjoyed but unfortunately their music style is so calm and soothing that the crowd at the bar talking loudly became very distracting. That’s not in any way a fault on the musician’s part but it was a factor in my experience nonetheless. Check them out though. They deserve more listens.

Hipsumhaps at Wednesday Night at Iceland Airwaves
Jökull and Fannar from Hipsumhaps

My final stop for the night was Hard Rock Cafe where one of the giants of the Icelandic rap scene, Úlfur Úlfur, was performing. I used to love Úlfur Úlfur but I’ve listened to them so much over the years that I’ve become quite indifferent towards them, skipping songs and removing them from said playlists. BUT….man are they good live. They have so many hit songs and bangers and they pull of every line on stage just as well as they do on a record. Don’t let my apathetic attitude towards them stop you from checking them out if you haven’t already. 

Final act of the night was Hipsumhaps which have been creating a lot of noise recently in Iceland and they also are just really, really, good. I know. Surprise, right? 

They have, similar to Flekar, this low key sound that sounds really mellow and if you are Icelandic and understand the lyrics it’s a bit like having a conversation with your friend. I don’t want to sound overly poetic but that’s how I felt while at the show. They are honest and genuine and something most people can easily relate to.

So all in all, Wednesday night at Iceland Airwaves was a great night to start to the festival. 
May tonight be just as good or even better. 

Have a great Airwaves weekend! 

Thursday Night

Throw on a layer or two. We’re heading out, Iceland Airwaves is here again. This time around, while setting up my schedule, I tried to throw a curveball or two my way – actively looking for something which I normally wouldn’t go to see. This Thursday night, it proved to be a fantastic decision as I went from Milwaukee to Ireland with some stops in between.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Photography by Berglind Jóhanns

First up was Milwaukeean (doesn’t really pass the eye test) Brett Newski at Kornhlaðan. Having the first gig of the night in the funky V-shaped building can be a tough mission, but Brett completed it with aplomb. Turns out, you don’t need a whole lot to charm people, other than good sounds and a fantastic stage presence. Dressed in a white V-shaped tee, he got the crowd going with a little bit of a comedy routine in between his stripped bare acoustic songs.

“The first time I heard about Icelandic was in Super Mario Bros 3 where you put in the cheat code and end up in Ice Land. Up up, down down, left left, right right. And I’m here now. Weird”

Kornhlaðan works surprisingly well as a venue. It made me feel like I was in a summer cabin. Less snug than in the real thing, but still very cozy. Icelandic drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson, a legend in the game, backed Brett up in a couple of songs. The duo hadn’t practised together but the camaraderie was there and they had a nice connection, getting the crowd ever more into it. By the end, Brett was walking through the crowd giving out high-fives. His song ‘Only You Can Grow Your Garden’ especially caught me. Bottom line – go see this guy if you can.

“I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The home of Wayne’s World, Miller Lite, Schlitz Brewing, pretty much all of the worst beers you can find”

Iceland Airwaves 2019

Next up was Between Mountains at beautiful Fríkirkjan (The Free Church in Reykjavík). The queue was immense, as a whopping 1024 festival goers had scheduled the twosome from the Westfjords of Iceland.

“I was following the app and there were a lot of people scheduled and I was like ‘nooo’, but now you’re all here so I’m happy” – Katla

Katla’s singing took over the fitting setting, altar looming over her in the background. Every eye and ear in the hall was completely fixated on her, as the intimate performance soothed minds and bodies.  Ásrós backed up Katla with vocals while also playing the xylophone. Although Mary J. Blige wasn’t there, it was a bit of a family affair as Katla’s brother played the drums and her father the bass.

“And, of course, the one guy who didn’t get the memo about wearing all-black – my father, Venni on the bass!” – Katla.

Katla feels like the kind of girl who would be just as home working in kebab shop as she is jumping on stones crossing a natural stream. A great performance, which duly received a standing ovation. On to the next one.

I jumped in for the last 15 minutes of Axel Flóvent’s show at Hard Rock Café. His music is not quite hard rock, but rather smooth indie folk. The venue was packed. Folk lovers certainly love his folk. I got lost in his singing and Axel did as well! When starting ‘Lighthouse’, his final song of the set, Axel completely forgot the lyrics. “It always happens on this one. I think my brain is blank. What a way to end the show.” The crowd didn’t give him any stick for it though, rather embracing it and laughing. It was all very cute, and in the end, Axel switched to a different tune. Axel is quite big abroad, racking up streams online and playing concerts all across the globe. This particular show was not exactly my cup of tea, but you can’t hit every shot at Iceland Airwaves.

I’m off. Walking between venues through downtown Reykjavik evokes memories. Ingólfstorg was where the ‘cardigan square’ event of 2011 took place, where us Icelanders squared up against a group of Americans, in a cardigan competition organized the night before. Alas, the American squad won – a consortium of bypassing voters deciding that the American cardigans were way, way nicer. They were.

But enough of that, on to Georgia at the Reykjavík Art Museum. Walking into the art museum, which always reminds me of a prison hall, is the first time I see hands up in the air. The beats-per-minute of the night is rising, as Georgia is doing her best to get the night started. Apparently, she was on the books of football teams Queens Park Rangers and Arsenal in her younger years. She’s handy with more than her feet, as she won the crowd over, banging on the drums, repeatedly telling the crowd they were ‘wicked’. To be honest, I loved it – and especially her cover of ‘Running Up That Hill’.

The hall was beginning to fill, with a long line outside, as Icelandic darlings Hjaltalín were up next. Högni walks in wearing a white suit, a Hjaltalín forever symbol beaming on the stage. It may be a sobering realisation but looking on the stage I’m witnessing THE band of my generation. In 30 years’ time a lot of the locals here will attend a Hjaltalín concert in the Harpa music hall. Icelanders love Hjaltalín, and you can feel it from the crowd. Hips sway, shoulders dip, and folks get lost in the music. It’s Hjaltalín’s first time at the festival for five years, a much welcomed comeback. They’re a fantastic band for foreigners to get introduced to. Hjaltalín are tight, as they always are. ‘Love From 99’ received a lot of love from the crowd, rightly so.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Mac DeMacro

Keeping in line with curveball-mantra of the night, I bail on Mac DeMarco and head to Gaukurinn with a friend. In the queue we meet a Wallonian couple from Belgium who’re attending their sixth straight Iceland Airwaves. Impressive. It’s a huge part of the allure of Iceland Airwaves, meeting new people in the queues in between the various venues. Other than a little bit of cold, the weather gods have blessed us. After a 30 minute wait, we’re in.

Gaukurinn. Now that’s a venue. Why do I always forget how fantastic it is? All blacked out, packed to the rims with folks. The roof threatens to touch people’s heads. Even the stage is packed. The intimacy the venue provides is unmatched. The scene is set for The Holy from Finland. I can honestly say I was blown away. Armed with two drummers, synths, and riffs, the Holy have an incredible sound. The drummers provided the punch to drive the set on, each song crescendoing to a climax. Frontman Eetu had a nostalgic feel and I found myself getting lost in his singing. The Holy weaved together melodic synths with hard-hitting instrumental parts. At one point, a strobe effect lit up the stage with each member completely devouring the song, giving it their all. It was surreal. The Holy left it all on the stage. Bartender Tommi, who’s seen one or two shows in his lifetime, said it was the best show he’s seen in Gaukurinn since Haim performed there at Iceland Airwaves 2012.

I caught bass-keyboardist Laura and frontman Eetu after the show. Both seemed to take really well to Gaukurinn. “The venue was really nice. We heard some people didn’t get in, which is unfortunate. But the venue was fantastic, and we had a really nice atmosphere from the crowd,” said Laura while gathering her equipment afterwards. “The venue was fantastic. I couldn’t see anything other than heads bopping. We’ve really enjoyed being here, both at Kex Hostel yesterday and Gaukurinn today. It’s such a beautiful city. We’ve had walks all over and tried to get out of the city a bit as well. The views here are amazing,” is what the frontman had to say.

For the last gig of the night, I caught a short glimpse of Irish three-piece Æ MAK at Hard Rock Café. The crowd were heavily into it, even though most had a long day behind them. Their stuff has a somewhat primitive undertone, involving ambient notes, tribal rhythms, and singer’s Aoife silky otherworldly voice. At one point I had almost tricked my mind into believing they were singing in Gaelic. It’s music which can make folks lose sense of time and place. Æ MAK is high level pop music, well worth a listen and a watch. And they’ve got nothing to  do with the iMac.

Take off the layers, it’s a wrap. Up next, Friday night.

Photography : Berglind Jóhanns


Friday Night

Every Friday, the glorious green-lit word ‘Ja’ appears when I open my browser. Ja is the answer to the question ‘Er det fredag?’, the Danish version of ‘Is it Friday?’ Yes, it is. There’s a reason Fridays are so loved, and that feeling could be felt in the air on the Friday night at Iceland Airwaves. It was a blast.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Photography by Berglind Jóhanns

First stop was Anna of the North in the Reykjavík Art Museum. A decent crowd had gathered here. Are there always people here, no matter what? Did they stay here overnight? One thing’s for sure, they were here to get the party started. My night started as far away from the party as possible, as I napped for two hours after dinner. We can’t let that ruin the night though, and I came out on the other side as energetic as ever.

Is Anna of the North ‘festival pop’? It’s very curated and finetuned. The melodies play very nicely off her voice. But I’m looking for some extra kick to start off the night. I caught 20 minutes of her, and I tell myself it’s alright to be fickle at a music festival.

Time for a completely different tune as I caught the Finnish Detalji at Hard Rock Café. Damn! The bass is absolutely thumping when I step inside, the stage covered in dark visuals – the only thing I can make out of it is a burning subterranean tunnel. Dressed in all black, Detalji was going at it with beats which were somewhere in between a hellish landscape and club music. Club music is hell for some people. There are elements in her music which sounds like Kraftwerk if they were from East Germany and didn’t have a cosy middle class upbringing. The crowd got really into it as the show gained momentum – her take on IDM getting a grip on the folks in front. Her hair looks quite like the hair of the girl in the well in the Ring. I think of the Floridian family in the Hard Rock restaurant above, ordering a strawberry milkshake, oblivious to the mayhem taking place two floors below them. Detalji says nothing, letting her music do the talking, even walking off the stage without a word. Impressive.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Mammút’s singer Katrína Mogensen

Onto some Icelandic music as Mammút await in the Reykjavík Art Museum. This was one of the most anticipated shows at this year’s Iceland Airwaves and a huge line has formed outside. Let’s jump to a scene from the priority line:

Woman 1: “Who’s playing right now?” Woman 2: “Oooh, I have no idea”. Woman 1: “I wish I was in the long queue. That’s where the real fun is.” Woman 2: “I’m just happy that I got a good parking spot.” I wonder how these women would have fared at the Detalji concert.

Anyways, Mammút begin to a raucous ovation, singer Katrína Mogensen stepping on stage heavily pregnant. It makes no matter as she hits the stage with vigour, her voice never failing to impress. This is quality rock, and the crowd are into it. A special shout out to the light man as well, as the show featured a very nice installation which added to the spectacle. You can feel the synergy in the band, as they’ve been playing together for long. The two girls playing bass and guitar, Alexandra and Vilborg, have a new challenger when it comes to hair length in guitarist Arnar – all of them sporting long locks. We’ll at least call it a draw.

It’s always a bit of fun to take a look around at your fellow festival goers. Some very powerful French kissing in front of me didn’t distract me too much from the spectacle on stage, it only added to it. To the left of me, an Icelandic bloke is fuming as three blonde girls had stepped on him on their way to the bar. They laugh it off. Good times. One of our fellow festival goers decided to for the classic resting-on-your-partner’s-shoulders thing. Always a classic. Fun for the guy on top, but bad for the 200 or so people behind them. But I’m just nitpicking at this point. It was all in good fun, as he jumps down after one song. Loosen up, it’s a festival after all, goddamnit. 

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Hatari at the Reykjavík Art Museum

I left the art museum to head back to Hard Rock Café as I was excited to see Ukrainan rapper Alyona Alyona. She didn’t fail to impress, proving that even if you don’t understand the lyrics, emotion and flow is universal. Now, this is stage presence. She’s a don, dressed in a black and gold silk Japanese gown, gold chain hanging from her neck. The outfit reminds me of Rakim – the Ukrainian Rakim?  UkRakim? It’s a stretch, but her flow is more in your face than Rakim’s languid flow, and she’s got plenty of it. The DJ’s name is DJ Expert – I love it. And, of course, her hypewoman has a bucket hat. “So I want you – are you ready to dance?!”, Alyona said in the thickest Ukrainian accent I’ve ever heard. And dance, the people did. Her song Рибки 3 (Fishes 3) especially got the crowd going. A good show all around.

“I love going to live shows wherever I am in the world. So often I hear music which is so nice but the lyrics are heavily misogynistic. It’s so unfair we have to turn up to our own oppression. I’m not telling others how to make their music, but I’m providing an alternative.”

We stay at Hard Rock for Madame Gandhi’s performance. It’s worth a mention that one of the bartender’s had one of the weirdest haircuts I’ve ever seen. It was like Guy Fieri meets a reversed Batman logo. The show itself started with one of the best pronunciation’s of Reykjavík I’ve heard from a foreigner’s mouth. Madame Gandhi’s performance was powerful, with female empowerment at the forefront. Her voice is so clear, you can hear every single word. It’s almost a poetry slam performance, draped with lots of hard-hitting trap beats. The thing is, her lyrics matter immensely to her as each song carriers a powerful message.  The beat in Topknot Turnup especially got me. Each song was introed with a message, and Madame Gandhi even gave Icelandic DJ Sigrún Skafta the chance to raise the issue of the deportation of a pregnant Albanian woman. The show was a truly global act, featuring Caribbean steel drums, English lyrics, international crowd, Indian menstruation social issues, and on, and on. You could feel that the crowd took it all in like a sponge and that the message meant a whole lot for many in the audience.

“This is for the folks inside this building tonight who have been overlooked for jobs, overlooked for opportunities, and overlooked in life. This is about us creating our own damn opportunities.”

I needed to break out from the Art Museum – Hard Rock switcheroo I had going on, and I found the perfect answer at Murkage Dave’s show. I stepped in and saw a shaved head, massive beard, smooth voice and an incredibly confident performer. A show full of feeling, Murkage got a lot of love from the crowd as he went back and forth with garage and R’n’b bangers.

“Nice to see a couple of the garage crew here!”, after a sing-along broke out to one his garage tunes. The show took a soulful turn after that. “I really enjoy singing so much. I’m not young (laughs). I never thought I would be doing this. But I’m in Iceland. Man, I’m from London. So, I’m really grateful for you being here.”

Hressingarskálinn is a nice venue, very tight and compact. It’s quite peculiar that the toilets are to each side of the stage but hey, you work with what you got, right? And often, the smaller venues provide the best vibes. Such was the case tonight for Murkage, as he received one of the most raucous and longest ovations I’d seen at the festival. His last song, ‘Keep Up the Bad Work’, with a sample of the Clipse’s ‘Grindin”, got the crowd going in the end. “If the man that I was, met the man who I am” was a true earworm. Bottom line, Murkage put on a fantastic show. Go see him if you ever get the chance.

I grabbed him for quick chat after the show. “It was an honour to perform here in front of this crowd, and I really felt the love from them. It’s my first time in Iceland and I’m just trying to soak it all in and enjoy it.” When asked about his age, mentioned by himself earlier, he laughed it off. “He’s trying to get the exclusive!”. Cheers for that Murkage, as I head off to industrial techno magnates Booka Shade.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
The scene at the Reykjavík Art Museum

On my way there I see the Arnar from hip hop band Úlfur Úlfur posing in front of jacked up car, the vehicle waiting to get its tire switched. Gangsta. The crowd at the art museum had cleared out following Hatari’s performance so I was met with a wasteland of sorts, filled only with Heineken cans and techno heads. Hatari were surely amazing, but I’ve enjoyed them before – and I know the crowd at the art museum did too this time around. Regarding Booka Shade, I get it. They’ve performed multiple times in Iceland, and their set was one and a half hours long, allowing folks to get to enjoy other artists and come back to the show. The art museum slowly filled up as they went through their repertoire. Bass banging, heads swinging, kaleidoscope visuals up on stage. Damn, it sounded good and the steady thump won the crowd over.

It’s time to call it a night. Friday night was a blast, with music coming at me from all directions. The wide spectrum of Airwaves is where the magic is. I saw two 40-year-old women wearing fur coats, clueless to which show they were heading to, right after witnessing a group of 20 year olds headbanging to Finnish experimental techno. Small venues, big venues. Good music, good vibes, good night.

Photography : Berglind Jóhanns


What’s On in Iceland is covering Iceland Airwaves. Follow this site for further recaps, as well as following our Instagram for on-the-go stories.

Saturday Night

Before yesterday came along, I had planned to spend the whole day visiting different venues and listening to whatever they had to offer. That didn‘t really work out since three nights of doing exactly that had taken it’s toll. 

 I ended up having a Bruno Mars-esque lazy day where I didn‘t do anything and it was great. But this was the final night of the festival so naturally I had to make my way out at some point. Before I did though, I looked at the schedule and I was literally getting cold sweats just trying to piece together seeing everything I wanted to see. I would‘ve had to be at about three different places at the same time so it was pretty impossible but I was ready to give it a go.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Auður at the Art Museum // Photography by Berglind Jóhanns

When I did finally get out of the house the first stop was the Art Museum where Auður was about to go on stage.

Auður released an album last year called Afsakanir (Excuses) that was filled with upbeat catchy songs that all delt with heavy subjects such as drug abuse, depression and psychopathy. 

Auður has a great stage presence and wore these glorious, tight, disco pants. If you‘ve ever been to one of his shows before you know that it was only a matter of time before he took his shirt off. Which is absolutely fair as I freely admit I would probably never wear a shirt either if I had a chest like that. Now geared up and ready for the night I made my way to Iðnó where I saw the Rap/R&B artist Aron Can

Iceland Airwaves 2019
The crowd at Valshöllin

Aron Can is a hit machine. He‘s thrown out number one singles in Iceland for fun ever since he stormed onto the scene in 2016 with his EP Þekkir Stráginn. The atmosphere in Iðnó was good and Aron Can did well for the most part. I had one issue though with the show as some of the songs had the entire vocals and verses on playback.  It just seemed unnecessary as when there was none he did perfectly fine. I get having the chorus on playback but entire verses is overkill. 

Before going to the Valshöllin to get ready for Of Monsters And Men I had one more stop to make. John Grant was playing in Fríkirkjan which looked to me on paper as the perfect show. John Grant performing in an old and beautiful church? Sign me up. 

I arrived a few minutes late so all the seats were taken but there was plenty of space to sit on the floor. This was the most calming show of them all and I almost felt like I was tucked in a blanket in front of a fireplace. Naturally in the church the sound was beautiful and complimented his voice perfectly. Also everyone kept absolutely quiet. We all understood now was the time to shut up and just listen. 

From there it was time to get to Valshöllin. Of Monsters And Men were literally stepping up on the stage and I had to get there as fast as possible. Thankfully Iceland Airwaves had shuttles running from the City Hall to there every few minutes and before going any further I want to commend the festival for all around great planning. Everything ran smoothly, almost every show started right on time and the shuttle worked perfectly and was a neat solution.

But then we get to the grand finale, Of Monsters And Men. I don‘t know any of the members personally but me and OMAM go way back. I used to go to classes with some of them in school, I saw them perform on street corners and on stage in front of a “crowd” of maybe four people. And then in a blink of an eye they were this gigantic powerhouse performing at the biggest festivals in the world and going on sold out world tours. Things changed really quickly.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Members of Of Monsters And Men

They were so very good last night. Their performance last night was pretty much flawless. Every member gave it their all and it felt tangible that they really enjoyed performing in Iceland again. I think we in Iceland have often taken them for granted and not really given them the credit they deserve. Because after seeing their show last night I can safely say they deserve a lot of it.

So to close. Thank you everyone for a great weekend! My first time wont be my last. 

I‘ll be back. Hasta la vista, baby.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Of Monsters and Men on stage at Valshöllin – the start of their world tour

PHOTOGRAPHY : BERGLIND JÓHANNS


What’s On in Iceland has been covering Iceland Airwaves. Follow this site for recaps, as well as following our Instagram for on-the-go stories that we have added to our ‘Highlights’.

Iceland Airwaves 2019 – The Best Of the Best

Iceland Airwaves 2019 is over. It’s a festival unlike others, turning downtown Reykjavík into one big venue. Attendees can camp out in one venue, where the musical menu best fits their appetite – but Airwaves is best enjoyed hopping between different venues dotted all over town. The spread really is something, from the packed Gaukurinn, to the prison-style big hall of the Reykjavík Art Museum. In Hressingarskálinn, the toilets are to the left and right of the stage, protecting it like bodyguards. 

Some of us attendees are snug under a blanket right now, recovering after a weekend of boozing, not-brawling, and nodding our heads a whole damn lot. Others have hopped across the ocean back to their homes, their minds wandering back to the festivals. This recap will hopefully have you begging to relive the weekend. Don’t worry though, you’ll get a chance to do it all again next year!

Best performances/shows (not necessarily favourite band or best music) of Iceland Airwaves 2019

Jói: The Holy at Gaukurinn was a ride, and I never wanted to get off. I managed to catch their show without any prior knowledge of them, following my friend Stefán who said they were worth a watch. Letting the flow of Airwaves grip you always ends well as we didn’t regret it – they completely blew us away. The sound was so tight, driven by two drummers in the back. Strobe lights flashed as the band gave it their all. The crowd at Gaukurinn was heavily into it and one of the bartenders said it was the best show he had seen in years. My hat goes off to the Holy, they gained many new fans that night.

Berglind: My vote for best performance goes to Of Monsters and Men, they knew the crowd 100%! It’s really common for Icelanders to call the band back on stage after their last song, shouting “meira”, which means “more”, including loud clapping and stamping. Of course, they knew that would happen so it was a part of their performance. After all the shouting they came back on stage and put on an amazing end to the show with confetti and big balloons, and everyone sang along with the songs. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps! 

Þór: I really enjoyed Úlfur Úlfur at Hard Rock and thought they were great. Mac DeMarco was great fun, as well as Hatari on Friday night. Of Monsters and Men probably take the cake though for the best performance. They really nailed being the band that basically closed the festival.

Of Monsters and Men at Iceland Airwaves 2019
Of Monsters and Men at Valshöllin // Photography by Berglind Jóhannsdóttir

Best band we‘d never heard of before

Jói: Murkage Dave at Hressingarskálinn really caught me off guard. I loved his repertoire of songs, mixing garage and R’n’B together. He’s my most played artist post-festival, as I’ve been blasting his songs whenever I can. I also have to mention the Holy again, as they weren’t even on my schedule beforehand. I should have caught more off venue shows as they can be quite intimate, offering the audience a truer view of the artist. 

Berglind: Girl in Red was definitely the band that really surprised me. I didn’t listen to their music before going to the concerts so I didn’t know what to expect. I ended up being amazed. I’ve already added their songs to my daily playlist. There was so much power in the performance, the members in their 20s jumping with their guitars like they had endless energy and could do this all night long! 

Þór: I was out of the loop with Hipsumhaps. I hadn’t even heard their main song “Lífið sem mig langar í” until I checked them out on Spotify ahead of the show on Wednesday. I’ve had their album on repeat ever since.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
The masked and mysterious Orville Peck

Best venue

Jói: Gaukurinn is such a fantastic venue. It feels incredibly small, yet you can pack a bunch in there. It was packed to the rims, and painted in all-black it’s a spectacle. The stage itself feels very small as well, built into the wall. When Gaukurinn is in full swing, it’s a lovely place to be. Perfect for rock bands, with it’s gritty vibes, and I’ll admit it, weird smell at times. There’s a pretty nice vegan restaurant in Veganæs there now as well. Although I hate cigarettes, there’s also a huge smoking area. What more do you want?

Berglind: The Reykjavík Art Museum and Gamla Bíó are for sure my favorite venues. They can hold plenty of people but still feel not too crowded. I would say they’re also the best venues to photograph, especially when it comes to spacing and lights. 

Þór: One of my favorite shows was probably John Grant at Fríkirkjan. I wish I had managed to go to more shows there than just the one. Especially bummed out that I didn’t manage to see Pétur Ben when he played there. Reykjavík Art Museum was very good as well. The lines to get beer were shorter there than at basically any other venue except maybe Valshöllinn. That’s a big plus in my book.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Reykjavík Art Museum

Favourite Night

Jói: Friday night, goddamn! Detalji’s experimental club set started off the night for me, warming me up for the Ukranian Alyona Alyona’s hard-hitting hip-hop set. Next, Murkage Dave at Hressó before the night got lost in the Booka Shade haze. Good vibes all around, and you could feel there was a real buzz about at the festival. 

Berglind: That’s a tough choice. I really enjoyed every evening, there was always something special about each one. But if I really need to choose I think I’ll have to say Friday. That was the evening I was able to go to more venues than other days. 

Þór: Probably Saturday night as I felt the pressure to see as much as possible and caught four shows in the evening at four different venues. I had to keep moving fast but squeezing Auður, Aron Can, John Grant, and Of Monsters and Men into one single night is great success if you ask me.

Best experience

Jói: Between Mountains at Fríkirkjan church is a strong contender for this one. Fríkirkjan (The Free Church of Iceland) was the perfect venue for the serenading songs of the Between Mountains crew. The building itself is beautiful, situated right next to the downtown Tjörnin pond, with its white and green exterior and wooden insides. It created a beautiful moment, as Katla Vigdís sang her heart out with an altar in the background. It was one of the more anticipated performances of the festival, and they didn’t fail to impress.

Berglind: The first thing that comes to mind is experiencing Hatari, Vök and Of Monsters and Men perform. Both of them put on a strong show and it definitely stays on top of my mind. But I think my favourite experience is to be able to go between venues, be indoors, and to experience different music fitting your taste.

Þór: John Grant was probably my favourite experience of the week. Seeing him perform in Fríkirkjan, this old iconic church, was pretty magical. The sound in there was lovely and it complimented his vocals perfectly. Also, unlike a lot of other venues, the crowd was calm and silent ass they all knew better than to talk or make noises during a song. Everyone was there just to enjoy the moment.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Vök performing at Valshöllin

The top three best Icelandic bands we saw

Jói: Mammút at Reykjavík Art Museum killed it. Singer Katrína Mogensen is heavily pregnant but you never would have known with the performance she put on. The aforementioned Between Mountains were fantastic as well. It’s incredible to think that singer Katla is only 16, while her compatriot Ásrós is 18. Bright things ahead for them! Finally, I have to give a shout out to comeback performance from Hjaltalín. This was their first time at Iceland Airwaves for five years, and it was a bang. 

Berglind: I think it’s hard to put them in some particular order, but the three best Icelandic bands that I saw are Vök, Mammút and Of Monsters and Men. All three are just so good and deserve all the attention they get, and more.

Þór: Of Monsters and Men were fantastic but I want to give a big shout out to Úlfur Úlfur for a great performance on the first night, where they nailed every single on of their verses. A shout-out also goes out to Jói P and Króli for putting on probably the most energetic performance I saw this week. Their energy was infectious and lifted everyone lucky enough to get in.

Hjaltalín at Iceland Airwaves 2019
Hjaltalín
Iceland Airwaves 2019
Mammút

The top three best visiting Acts we saw

Jói: Madame Gandhi’s performance was really powerful, and it’s probably the one that has stayed with me the most after the festival. Not really for her music, but rather for her message. There was a great energy in Hard Rock that Friday night, as the crowd hung onto her every word. Murkage Dave’s performance is definitely up there while The Holy rounds up the three. Three very different performances, each of them very strong. Madame Gandhi for the message. Murkage for the vibes and the crowd love. The Holy for the sheer power in the performance itself, where they gave it their all.

Berglind: Girl in Red and Mac DeMarco are competing for first place here, they’re two totally different performers but both so good! Third is Anna of the North, I really like her music and she’s amazing live! All of them put on a great show and I have already added their songs to my playlists. I’ll be keeping an eye on all of them in the future, thanks to Iceland Airwaves 2019.  

Þór: Mac DeMarco tops the list for me. He was every bit as good as his reputation made him out to be. Playing this soothing and calm music, while sometimes making silly jokes and screaming at the crowd to make some “f***ing noise.” The perfect contrast. Madame Ghandi was also a highlight even if I just caught the end of her show and then of course John Grant (although he practically feels like an Icelander at this point, him living here and all.)

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Hipsumhaps’s singer Jökull at Iceland Airwaves 2019

Special mention

Jói: Georgia’s show at the Reykjavík Art Museum is definitely worth a mention. Warming up for Hjaltalín is no small ask, and she shattered it. ‘Wicked’ was the word of the performance, as she repeatedly shouted it to the crowd. 

Berglind: I always had the feeling that everyone’s in a good mood. The festival staff that I communicated with was really polite and professional which I thought was a big plus. Shout out to the security guy for the photo pit at the Reykjavík Art Museum, he gets all my respect! 

Þór: Everything, and I mean everything, about the festival ran so smoothly. I got my ticket immediately without any fuss, which may not seem like a big deal, but trust me, it is. Almost every act started right on time and if not it was like a 5-10 minutes delay max. The lines ran like clockwork so every time someone left they let the next one in line inside. Finally, the two buses running from the City Hall to Valshöll worked perfectly. I’ve been to many festivals in Iceland and Iceland Airwaves 2019 definitely takes the cake in terms of its efficiency and planning.

What we thought of the festival as a whole

Jói: This year’s edition was decent. I liked the selection quite well, and especially the fact that organizers looked eastwards more than ever before. Alyona Alyona from Ukraine as well as Russia’s Ivan Dorn, for example. Last year, they experimented with having Icelandic artists performing on back-to-back nights which I really like. It allows for attendees to catch all of the artists they want to see, removing any sacrifices for festival-goers. Airwaves is a showcase festival for Icelandic artists so it matters a lot for them to have more opportunities to have their music heard by the right people. The way I see it, Valshöllin shouldn’t be a part of the festivities, rather focusing on venues downtown. Finally, we were blessed with decent weather and good vibes all around. Bring on next year!

Berglind: It was my first time attending the festival and I’m already excited for the next one! I think the festival as a whole was well organized and everything went smoothly. Even though I didn’t manage to see all the artists I wanted to see, I’m satisfied with what I saw and it’s definitely a part of it to be organized and active in going between places. 

During the festival I was mostly busy photographing, focusing on the surroundings rather than the whole performance and sinking into the festival vibe, but I really enjoyed myself and had so much fun experiencing Iceland Airwaves 2019! 

Þór: I enjoyed it immensely. The main beef I had was that sometimes there were too many good shows starting at the same time, but that’s like the greatest problem you could possibly have. The more, the merrier, so please make this an even bigger problem next year. Kex and Valshöllin were a bit too far away for my taste though so I skipped some shows there mainly because of the distances. But these are nitpicks really. Overall I got a lot out of this week, discovered a lot of new music and am excited to see what kind of a lineup we’ll see next year.

Iceland Airwaves 2019
Mac DeMarco at the Reykjavík Art Museum for Iceland Airwaves 2019
Iceland Airwaves 2019
aYia performing at the Reykjavík Art museum
Iceland Airwaves 2019
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