Standort: / Meldung: "When the fjords come alive with the sound of music"

Johnny Bliss

Disorderly artist, journalist, and late night moderator, with a fetish for microphone-based hooliganism.

20. 10. 2009 - 18:23

When the fjords come alive with the sound of music

What a festival: Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavik
Iceland Airwaves festival in Reykjavik, Oct.14-18
feat. performances from Gus Gus, FM Belfast, Trentemöller, Metronomy, and Kings of Convenience

Despite having a solid reputation in the world of music festivals, the mood building up to this year's Airwaves Festival was dampened by rumours flying around of potential cancellation, and financial troubles.

I was pleased to find the somber mood of a city in the throes of a massive depression comfortably lacking. Nearly every person I interviewed over the five days of the festival (October 14th-18th) was extremely enthusiastic, if not about the line-up then certainly about the venues and the scene.

Airwaves Enthusiasm

Tobias Bolzern, 2009

10 Years of Airwaves

The Iceland Airwaves festival began in 1999, and has continued yearly ever since. In previous years, international artists like Fatboy Slim, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Crystal Castles, and the Flaming Lips have performed alongside locals like Sigur Ros and múm, just to name a few.

The festival doesn't just take place in one enclosed space, but rather in a good 11 "official" venues spread across downtown Reykjavik, and many other unofficial ones to boot - often all simultaneously. Deciding where to actually go can be a little intimidating, but in a good way.

Some of my favorite performances were actually so-called "off venue" ...

One of the first best shows I saw was in a book store, from a guy dressed unassumingly in a Wu-Tang t-shirt. He had a guitar, and electronic looping equipment, and proceeded over the next half hour to make a crowd of extremely talkative coffee-drinking people go completely speechless.

CJ Boyd live, Airwaves

Johnny Bliss, 2009

C.J. Boyd, out of the USA, drone-singing in a very hypnotic way over his own live-looped bass and rhythm. Decidedly not Wu-Tang, but you gotta dig the t-shirt.

The other great "off-venue" show I saw was pretty much the opposite of the ambient trance sound of C.J. Boyd (above). This was from an Icelandic metal group called Retrön (below).

Although Retrön also performed before a large crowd at a major venue, when I got to see them it was by accident, in a tiny (but very charming) hole-in-the-wall joint you'd never find on purpose.

Retrön, Icelandic Metal Group at Airwaves Iceland

Tobias Bolzern, 2009

Although you can't see it here, the guy on the right actually played a whole song using only a "Guitar Hero" guitar. You have to admit that's pretty cool.

Friday night was also really special. I spent a lot of the evening in the art museum (one of the major "official" venues). I kept trying to leave, but each time I did, the band playing at the time charmed me into submission.

It all started with the not-especially-percussive Drums, out of Brooklyn.

The singer, Jonathan Pierce (below), was singing about heartbreak, but he did it in such a way that it made me want to dance, go figure.

the Drums, Airwaves Iceland

Tobias Bolzern, 2009

The Drums, being not especially drumlike
Casio Kids, Airwaves

Tobias Bolzern, 2009

The Casio Kids, in awe at their own music
Metronomy, Airwaves

Tobias Bolzern, 2009

Metronomy were the highlight of the evening, and they were actually wearing lights!

Metronomy (out of the UK) were perhaps the best concert. They stole the show with their blinking lights, IDM-spiced electro, and catchy guitar riffs.

Metronomy sound like what would happen if you mashed Aphex Twin with Aretha Franklin, gave them a backing rock band, and had it remixed by the Chemical Bros. (Or maybe that would just be a mess, but in the case of Metronomy it sounds damn good. They got soul.)

crowd, airwaves

Tobias Bolzern, 2009

The Obligatory Canadian Band

And if all that wasn't enough, Airwaves more than put icing on the cake the next night with Vancouver-based group the Brasstronauts.

The place was jam-packed with people - even more than usual. But it can be no surprise that the same country which delivered us Björk would be able to get down with a funky jazz-glockenspiel-indie-jam-rock group.

Some surprises: the Brasstronauts did not play alone. At one point an Icelandic girl with a lovely voice guested, and then later on, if the people gasping around me were to be believed, a member of Sigur Ros (on horns).

Brasstronauts, Airwaves

Tobias Bolzern, 2009

Burning down the house

Saturday night came with many surprises. Although I knew I would get to see Iceland's Retro Stefson and then FM Belfast, little did I know that they would actually perform together in the end.

Some bands sound live exactly as they do on CD, and others... don't. Having heard a lot from FM Belfast, you could say I thought I knew what to expect. But they blew out all expectations.

FM Belfast, Airwaves

Johnny Bliss, 2009

FM Belfast killing in the name of, with the full backing band of Retro Stefson at the NASA

I will always remember the two groups playing together to open the set - a radical re-interpretation of FM Belfast's own 'Lotus (Killing in the Name Of)'.

But where the original was gentle and almost fluffy in positive bounciness, the version on stage was loud, and aggressive, with one half of the duo (Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson) sounding eerily like Zack de la Rocha, screaming over and over "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!"

Brilliant. The only problem with opening your set like that, is how do you top it? And indeed, after Retro Stefson exited the stage, FM Belfast started playing less-known and less-catchy tracks, and the energy went down.

Gus Gus, Airwaves

Tobias Bolzern, 2009

Daniel Ágúst Haraldsson from Gus Gus likes to gyrate those hips

Speaking of energy going down, Sunday night saw the sub-Gothic techno of a Gus Gus concert - as the closing act for the entire festival, they were appropriately low-key. Or maybe that's reading too much into it.

Actually, they seemed pretty exhausted. No big surprise when you consider that Gus Gus was just concluding a three-week European tour.

But no matter. After five days and nearly two hundred DJs and bands, I think we were all moreorless right there with them.

Most of the photos courtesy of Tobias Bolzern.