Iceland Airwaves, osa 1:
Wednesday 30.10.2013

"That night the Silfurberg hall is a place for such pure joy, that it almost makes me cry."

Sylvi lost her Iceland Airwaves virginity this autumn and did it with a wide smile on her face.

The Day I Decided To Come Back Next Year

As I entered Reykjavik Art Museum for my official start of Iceland Airwaves, annual festival of new and not so new music, the only thing I was worried about was beer. It’s a venue inside an art museum, would there only be overprized wine available?

Event (and evening) secured, I was holding a can of Gull in my hand in seconds, purchased from a girl sitting on a small stool in front of a single refrigerator. Talking about a proper festival bar.

So, there I was, at Iceland Airwaves for the very first time, grinning like a half-witted gnome. The decision to attend the 15th annual showcase of Icelandic and other music came quickly for me in July, and it was almost as quick as I was already standing there, watching Grísalappalísa perform.

Grisalappalisa 2 30102013 JS web
Grísalappalísa. Photo: Johanna Siik.

At first my goal had been to go through all the bands and artists I wasn’t familiar with, but when the schedule was released, I realised that I wanted to see FM Belfast and several other acts I already knew finally playing live. Also it came apparent during the week that unless you stopped socialising completely and ignored all the ex tempore impulses, which are many, your planned schedule won’t hold. At all.

I didn’t see Kraftwerk on Sunday or the much anticipated Ólafur Arnalds & the Iceland Symphony Orchestra co-operation on Thursday, because I was too lazy to queue for the tickets. Every night I missed three artists or bands, because I was stuck with the fourth one. Or talking to people. Or eating a great dinner. With great people.

But I did see or hear 27 bands or artists, out of which 6 were off venue or off-venuish (see part 2, the Friday bit). That can’t be a horrible score for a first-timer. Also I spend a ridiculous amount of time at 12 Tónar record store, listening through Icelandic pop and rock albums, drinking coffee, and deciding what I did and didn’t like. I don’t think I would have found my way to the Samaris gig on Wednesday without that record store.

Photo: Johanna Siik
Grísalappalísa. Photo: Johanna Siik.

So, it’s Wednesday, the first day of Airwaves, and I feel happy. Grísalappalísa is doing what they do best. They perform, they play easy songs, then more complicated songs, and all the time they are having FUN. One lead singer is wearing a suit with a bow tie. The other, for some reason, has chosen a rather horrible flame-decorated shirt to wear. No, wait, take that back: It’s not horrible. It’s very Grísalappalísa, it’s rock’n’roll. It’s not a fashion crime, because rock always wins fashion. Period.

The show is over too soon and I’m seriously thinking of moving on (which happens a lot during the week). But so it happens that I’m too comfortable there (which happens equally much during the week) chatting with friends, a freshly opened beer can in my hand, so I end up watching the next band at the same venue, still feeling so very happy about that suit coming off and only bow tie remaining.


Checking Out Harlem

On paper, there’s nothing wrong with Agent Fresco. They’re energetic live performers, their songs are not very original but still ok, and they are quite easy on the eye.

Photo: (c) Alexander Matukhno/Iceland Airwaves
Agent Fresco. Photo: (c) Alexander Matukhno/Iceland Airwaves.

But during the gig I become very irritated by that “not very original” part, and in my mind it spreads to everything I see and hear: their songs and the way Arnór Dan Arnarson sings and the way they perform and communicate with fans. The fact that they have so many fans amazes me. On the other hand, if I was 15 years younger, I would probably ignore all the heard-before-and-boring material and be very happy to just to look at the lead singer and the drummer with the crazy Redfoo hair.

But I’m too keen on that original material by Muse and other 2000’s British rock imperium artists, so before Agent Fresco is done I finally move on. I make it just before Tonik starts at Harlem on the other side of the street from the museum.

Photo: Johanna Siik
Tonik. Photo: Johanna Siik.

I’ve only heard one song from Tonik. I liked it which is why I have a little “x” next to their name on my paper program. I have no idea if it’s a single artist, a duo or a trio. It turns out to be a trio on this particular gig: a guy with synths and keyboard (who turns out to be the artist called Tonik himself), a singer and a cello player. The combo works fine and reminds me distantly of two Finnish electronic duos in which Juho Paalosmaa sings: villa nah and Sin Cos Tan. The gig is easy to listen to and, had it been ten minutes longer, it would have been easy to dance to as well.  It’s the kind of shoegazing-dance-electro that I greatly enjoy.


Getting Comfortable in Harpa

I already mentioned buying the Samaris album, so it’s no surprise that’s who I’m going to see next. Again, great timing, I catch their whole show at Harpa’s Silfurberg hall.

Photo: Johanna Siik
Samaris. Photo: Johanna Siik.

The girls of the trio are oh so very sweet, a bit artsy with their bare feet and white fantasy clothing. And it doesn’t irritate me at all. The combination of singer, clarinet player and computer programmer works, and I feel like I’m in the middle of a true concert experience. I also feel a bit proud for buying their album already the day before.

Photo: Johanna Siik
Samaris. Photo: Johanna Siik.

In any festival you go, there are always ups and downs. After seeing Samaris I feel lucky already and try not to expect too much from the rest of the evening, which for me means just waiting for FM Belfast.

So imagine how it feels to be mind-blown two more times that same night. I have some idea of what Bloodgroup might sound like thanks to 12 Tónar, but the act I see live takes me to another planet. I have a very popular taste in music, but just because of that I’m not easy to please. Bloodgroup hits the spot exactly. The singers have great voices, they keep the tune and they look good – hot even, in the electronic hipster kind of way.

Photo: (c) Alexander Matukhno/Iceland Airwaves
Bloodgroup. Photo: (c) Alexander Matukhno/Iceland Airwaves.

The band is excellent, professional without being boring. They make me move and feel like flying. It’s not easy to take your audience and carry them to another level, but Bloodgroup manages to do that. I want them to play a longer gig, because it feels like it’s over before it even starts. (Mental note: catch them again on Saturday. Meanwhile buy their albums tomorrow.)

Then there is only FM Belfast left, and if I was scared before that they wouldn’t meet my great expectations, I’m not anymore the minute they come on stage. They reach the expectations and go way, way beyond. There’s a lot of jumping and pogoing on and off stage. There’s something that looks like toiler paper, but is some general party-fun-paper instead, and it spreads all over. The band has nice graphics behind them as they just keep on banging. People are all over on and off stage, everybody’s dancing and singing to the songs they do and don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, because that night the Silfurberg hall is a place for such pure joy, that it almost makes me cry.

Photo: (c) Alexander Matukhno/Iceland Airwaves
FM Belfast. Photo: (c) Alexander Matukhno/Iceland Airwaves

I have no memory of how I finally got back to my guesthouse bed that night. Somehow I did and was already planning my forthcoming holidays around Airwaves 2014.


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