Standort: / Meldung: "Iceland Airwaves 2011: I got to see Björk "

Johnny Bliss

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

24. 10. 2011 - 11:50

Iceland Airwaves 2011: I got to see Björk

Whatever festival you want it to be: Ten on-venue locations and roughly twenty off-venue free concert spaces

Last weekend I was in Reykjavik, enjoying well over a hundred international and Icelandic acts including Björk, Sinead O'Connor, Owen Pallett, and Gus Gus. Meanwhile, my colleague Christian Pausch (below) was in Vienna, because he had to work and study.

Lukas Tagwerker

Here's Christian Pausch reading this web story.

Johnny Bliss, 2010

Here, meanwhile, I am living it up at the Blue Lagoon.

The dilemma I found myself with, at this year's Airwaves festival, was an unexpected one. Nearly a year had gone by since my last visit to Iceland, and frankly speaking there were a lot of things I'd missed intensely about the place - things which had little to nothing to do with the local music scene or the Airwaves festival. During the five days of the festival, I found myself constantly torn between going to see awesome Bands, or going to a dinner party with good friends; barhopping all afternoon to check out the early off-venue gigs, or going swimming in a geothermal pool all afternoon and then lounging in a hot tub*. Because I was only in town for a little less than two weeks, every hour became increasingly precious, and I ended up missing a lot of great experiences whilst trying to juggle my time.

* - as, elsewhere, the headliner took the stage and the crowd cheered.

That said, at least I was there. Not like Christian Pausch, my colleague from FM4. He really wanted to go to the festival, but in the end was simply too poor to fund the flight, and too busy with his job and studies to come this year. Poor guy: some people really get the short end of the stick.

Lukas Tagwerker

Where was I? Oh yes, the best alternative music festival in the best alternative little island in the world.

A lot has changed about the festival since Airwaves 2009, which coincided with my virgin journey to Reykjavik. For one thing, the line-up itself seemed to me, to have become ... hmm ... a lot more "grown-up", more the sort of event I could take my mother to, and she would be keen, seriously.


Behold: Wednesday night was dominated by an eccentric (obviously) but really awesome, practically life-changing show from Björk, featuring a Tyrolean avant-garde drummer, a crazy bunch of new instruments including a musical tesla coil, and an entire Icelandic girls' choir.

Bjork Biophilia

Carsten Windhorst

Carsten Windhorst, 2011

Thursday night featured hours of classical concerts from Icelandic and international composers, and included an entire symphony orchestra. This was followed on Friday night by Sinead O'Connor playing live in a small church downtown. And Saturday? Saturday had DJs all afternoon at the magnificent (albeit massively touristic) geothermal “Blue Lagoon”, so you could spend the afternoon in a bathing suit, sitting there covered in white mud and listening to mellow electronica.

* - I missed Miss O'Connor.

And so on. My point is that you could be actively attending this festival every single day, and never feel like you were too old for the festival. In previous years I would go out and partAY every night, watching loud bands with guitars in claustrophobic beer-soaked bars. I am not saying this element was non-existent at this year's episode - my Friday night, for example, was simply insane* - but because there were so many "mature" concerts and events on offer, this yielded a comparative atmosphere of restraint to the entire festival affair.

Valgeir Sigurðsson, Daníel Bjarnason, and Steve Reich

Because I'm getting old, I opted to pass up on nine other venues full of bands to go see some original compositions from Valgeir Sigurðsson, Daníel Bjarnason, and Steve Reich, conducted by Daníel Bjarnason, and played by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra (ISO). The sets took them form of three consecutive one hour concerts; the first two were very intense and dramatic, and one of them belonged to the soundtrack from the movie Dreamland, but in the context of a classical concert did not really seem to lead anywhere.

Johnny Bliss, 2011

Johnny Bliss, 2011

Much more interesting was the closing act, played by a lonely string quartet (the International Contemporary Ensemble). Sounding very reminiscent of David Byrne & Brian Eno's 1981 opus, "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts", the piece ("Different Trains") was effectively just the four instrumentalists with a guy on a laptop somewhere in the shadows adding train noises and voices stating the names of different train stations. Like trains do, that piece actually went somewhere, making it the highlight of the classical evening.

Johnny Bliss, 2011

Johnny Bliss, 2011

Yoko Ono

Later on, I went to see Yoko Ono with the Plastic Ono band, which was, well, "interesting". Actually her band, which featured Sean Lennon and this totally pretty pouting girl on guitar, was fantastic, but her own compositions seemed to consist mainly of Yoko screaming and howling unmelodically into the microphone. The room was full at the beginning of the show, and pretty empty toward the end. I only stuck around as long as I did because I'd developed a crush on the mysterious girl guitarist.

Yoko Ono Iceland Airwaves 2011-1

Johnny Bliss, 2011

sean lennon

Johnny Bliss, 2011

Sean Lennon with Yoko, just one of his three band projects playing at this year's Airwaves.
Yoko Ono, Iceland Airwaves 2011

Johnny Bliss, 2011

HAM, Final Fantasy

Friday night was the point where Airwaves became the festival I recognized from the last two years; I found myself at bare minimum 8-10 different concerts, from both groups I had never heard of before (Icelandic metal band HAM being a highlight), and medium-famous artists I was really keen on seeing (for example, Owen Pallet aka Final Fantasy).

Johnny Bliss, 2011


Johnny Bliss, 2011

Owen Pallet

Unfortunately I cannot remember most of the night because I attempted to keep pace whilst drinking with Icelandic people- a mistake badly compounded by the fact that spirits and other hard liquors have NEVER been a good idea for me, because the physical reaction can be just so unpredictable. I'd started already at eleven or so drinking spirits and cocktails with some friends, and from a couple of hours later I completely blacked out most of the night - as in I have no idea whatsoever what happened. Apparently I was out there, getting into fights and sending drunken text messages to Christian Pausch, but of how it all ended, I have literally no memory - none whatsoever - which is pretty scary, when you think about it. I guess I can just be thankful I woke up in my own bed, relatively intact, alone.

Of Monsters and Men

Saturday night was a hardcore concert night like Friday, but owing to the previous night's action, I passed on most of it. One thing I did not pass on was an absolutely fantastic set from Reykjavik's own Of Monsters and Men. Sounding sort of like Mumford & Sons if they didn't suck, OMAM are composed of like six people on stage playing folky instruments and singing as if around a bonfire. Apparently they're the next big thing from Iceland, and probably in the next year or two you will start hearing them regularly on the FM4 playlist, if the experiences of other Icelandic bands like FM Belfast and Retro Stefson are anything to go by.

Of Monsters and Men, Iceland Airwaves 2011

Johnny Bliss, 2011

Of Monsters and Men, Iceland Airwaves 2011

Johnny Bliss, 2011


Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavik, with ten on-venue locations and roughly twenty off-venue free concert spaces, can be just about whatever festival you want it to be. If you want to experiment with disgusting alcoholism, lose your shit, and wake up in some bed with a complete stranger, you can totally do that. If, on the other hand, you want to listen to, and learn to appreciate, contemporary classical music as played by a live Icelandic symphony orchestra, you can totally do that too.

You don't even need to buy a ticket to have a good time; many of my friends had a perfectly fun time seeing the likes of Gus Gus, FM Belfast, Reykjavik!, and so many others, all without ever purchasing a wristband. That said, you probably should get a ticket if you're coming all the way there, because it's annoying to have to say goodbye to friends right outside of a great concert venue.

The whole city just comes alive with this crazy energy during the festival. As awesome as Reykjavik usually is, it is just that much more lively for the 4-5 days duration of the festival. I'm exhausted but will probably come back for more.

See you next year, Iceland.

Lukas Tagwerker

To send letters of consolation to my colleague Christian Pausch, who missed out on everything because he had work to do, write me here and I'll forward the message on to him.