It’s no secret that I love Iceland Airwaves, the world’s coolest music festival held in October/November every year in Reykjavik, which not coincidentally is also the world’s coolest capital. Holly and I started going in 2009 and have never looked back, making it an annual pilgrimage that just keeps getting more and more fun.
A few years back I was doing some internet searches for articles and photos from the festival when I ran across a trailer for a documentary about Airwaves that was being produced by Don’t Panic Films, so on a lark I emailed the director Bowen Staines to find out more. And much to my surprise, he emailed right back… which, having gotten to know Bowen a bit and run into him in Reykjavik a few times, shouldn’t really be a surprise at all because he’s a cool guy who is very passionate about photography, film making, and all things Icelandic. And skateboarding. And beer.
Where’s The Snow?! is a collaboration of Stains and Icelandic director Gunnar B. Guðbjörnsson that was filmed at the 2009 Airwaves festival, one that holds a special place in my heart as it was the first one I attended. The film features 17 different live performances by 14 different bands, along with some beautiful scenery shots, band interviews, and insightful commentary by historical musicologist Dr. Donald Gislason (“The thing that distinguishes [Airwaves] is there’s no boundary between musical genres, there’s no boundaries between generations… it’s all here in Iceland, and it shouldn’t be” and “no band here would be caught dead being similar to any other band”). Bonus features include a commentary track with the two directors, some extended footage including a few more live songs, and yes, your own Where’s The Snow?! drinking game, which I have to admit I have not had the courage to try.
The first band featured is none other than fantasy metalheads Retrön, they of the infamously titled CD Swordplay & Guitarslay, which really excited me as we saw that opening night performance at NASA and it blew me away with its weirdness (one band member plays his electronics using an old Sony Playstation controller…). Amazingly that’s one of only shows we actually saw that appears in Where’s The Snow?!, which should give you some idea as to how broad Airwaves is – it’s not like everything is just in one venue or a couple of stages that you can go back and forth between; oh no. Airwaves is everywhere in Reykjavik. It isn’t just limited to the handful of official venues. It’s in every bar, coffee shop, clothing shop, and record store. Sometimes it’s even on the back of a semi truck driving through the city, as Dr. Spock proved with their “super secret” show that Staines and Guðbjörnsson were fortunate enough to stumble upon as the freak show made its way from stop to stop through downtown, clogging up traffic and delaying pizza deliveries throughout the 101 postal code. We lucked into it at exactly the same time and location, though despite my best efforts freeze framing the video with the remote I couldn’t find us in any of the crowd shots. I’ll have to talk to Bowen about that… But the film makes a point of capturing the bands in all these venues, from small performance spaces like NASA and Idno to bars like Dillon that are so small I’m not eve sure I can figure out how they got far enough back from the band to actually shoot the show and the now closed clothing store Naked Ape.
If I could only give you one reason to watch Where’s The Snow?! it would be Agent Fresco‘s “Eyes of a Cloud Catcher” played at the Nordic House, a venue where we were fortunate enough to see them perform two years ago in a show that literally brought tears to my eyes. Arnór Dan Arnarson’s introduction to the song, which is about his father passing away from cancer, puts a lump in my throat every time, all the more so when he starts to sing a capella… all perfectly captured for all of its intensity and power. Agent Fresco appears again later in the film, this time doing a full throttle version of the same song at the rock/metal club Sódóma (now known as Gamli Gaukurinn), which is a complete 180 from their Nordic House performance and which the crowd sings along to all the way through. But that’s Airwaves.
Retro Stefson… Mammút… Reykjavik!… Agent Fresco… Ólafur Arnalds… Where’s The Snow?! captures some of the most amazing bands in Iceland… and yet there are dozens more who could have made the cut but didn’t. There’s plenty of variety here musically, and the film doesn’t rely on just one or two angles, as the directors made the most their two cameras to capture different angles and close-ups, which keeps it fresh. At about 50 minutes in length it’s not too long, and not too short – it’s just right. If you’re on the fence about attending Airwaves, track a copy of this DVD down somewhere. You may as well just buy your airline tickets and festival pass at the same time, because as soon as you watch it once you’re going to want to head to Reykjavik.
Only 36 more weeks until Iceland Airwaves 2014…
Takk Bowen and Gunnar for such a great documentary!