Iceland Airwaves 2022 – Reflections

The theme of Iceland Airwaves for us this year was “friends”. After three years of COVID blocking us from travel we were ready to get back out into the world and see our friends again. While many of our Airwaves compatriots didn’t make it out to Reykjavik this year for various reasons (money… still not comfortable traveling… the festival only running three days…), quite a few did, plus after a dozen prior trips to Iceland we’ve established some local relationships too.

Reykjavik is in some ways like a second home – I’m more comfortable there than I am in anyplace other than where we live. We have our favorite restaurants and coffee houses and shops, and having been there so many times we never feel compelled to do anything in particular. It’s not as if I don’t have thousands upon thousands of photos of Iceland – so do I need another one of Hallgrímskirkja? Probably not. Do we need to stop by Harpa even though it isn’t a venue this year? Nope. It’s a much more relaxed experience.

That even extended to going to shows. In years past we’ve filled up most of every day with shows, and while that’s partly why we went, we didn’t feel compelled to hustle from venue to venue all day long. We were a bit more selective and didn’t push ourselves, relishing in a slower pace and the lack of the normal home distractions. There was time to read and relax and talk without feeling like we should be doing something else.

If my math is right, this year marked the 22nd Iceland Airwaves. We’ve attended 11 times – every year it was held between 2009 and 2022, with the exception of 2018. It’s hard to imagine not going. But if Airwaves remains a three day festival it will be harder to justify the expense of the trip. I’m sure we’ll be back, but it may not be an annual thing for us anymore. We’ll have to wait and see. But as long as we have friends in Reykjavik, and others who are making the trek, it will be hard to resist the pull…

Iceland Airwaves 2022 – Day 3

We were still fighting off colds, so that forced us into a more chill mindset going into the last day of Airwaves. I made a trip down to Lucky Records around lunchtime to grab all the stuff they were holding for me and spent an hour or so back at hour place removing price stickers and getting all my purchases boxed and arranged for the trip home the following day. Man, this is a lot of stuff! But more on that in the next post.

We were back at Lucky later in the afternoon to see hip hop artist Cell7. This was our third time seeing her, and by far the best. She gave off a relaxed vibe and had some fun with the crowd, who had fun in return. If you haven’t checked out her 2019 release Is Anybody Listening? you need to track it down and give it a go. Her soul-infused style is exactly what we needed on a cold afternoon. In talking about the show later my buddy Ingvar, who has seen her perform way more times than me, he also noted it was the best he’d heard her.

There were some last-minute additions announced to the schedule at the Iceland Airwaves Center and one looked intriguing. PPBB describe themselves as “electro-funk”, and their debut track was titled “Shitballs”. Seemingly in contrast, however, their full name is the Post Performance Blues Band. So what to expect? Who knows, so I’m in!

And… I certainly didn’t expect this. It’s hard to explain the PPBB set. It was a blend of electro beats and performance art and avant garde and lyrics about the sensation of drinking and screaming about loving sorbet and a gold lame outfit and a member zipping herself up in a black bodysuit which included a full face mask then crawling on the floor through the crowd… So in other words, epic. I have no idea how the music comes across without the performance, but they have a few tracks on Spotify and you can be damn sure I will be checking them out.

After a quite home-cooked dinner in our rental apartment, we mustered enough energy for one more foray, walking down to Sirkus to see our friends from Revenge of Calculon play an off-off-venue set. Strolling into the joint it was looking very, very dead, with the band and their friend DJ Sue comprising about half the people in the room. But a few more folks made it down by showtime, including a pair of very well-dressed and very drunk 60+ year old local ladies who seemed to take a particular shine to bassist JC9000, and the guys played as if it was a packed house.

Iceland Airwaves 2022 – Day 2

After a delicious breakfast of ham and cheese on some amazing rolls from Brauð & Co it was time to hit the mean streets of Reykjavik to do my part in contributing to the local economy by buying as much music as possible. I spent a good 90 minutes flipping through Icelandic titles at Lucky Records, coming away with a substantial stack to be put aside so I can true-up with them at the end of the festival. From there I popped over to Reykjavik Record Shop, where my man Reynir was holding an Icelandic pressing of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy for me, and I also grabbed some electronic weirdness by Pang, the vinyl version of Egill S’ Tonk of the Lawn, and a late 70s rocker by H.L.H. Flokkurinn that I bought exclusively for the motorcycle greaser cover.

My last stop of the afternoon was Pan Thorarensen’s label/store/venue Space Odyssey. Pan is best known for his electronic work as Stereo Hypnosis and as part of Beatmakin Troopa. With Space Odyssey he gives his fellow travellers in the realm of electro-weirdness a place to perform, and also records their live in-stores for super limited edition cassette releases. I picked up the first six in the series last year and since then he’s added another 20 or so titles. I grabbed another seven on this visit, as well as three new 7” lathe cut records and three Stereo Hypnosis CDs. Any time I can support the small label and independent artist, I’m in!

Our first show of the night was the dub reggae set of Omnipus over at Lucky Records. I have a copy of their new record in my stack of stuff to buy over there and I’m looking forward to giving it a listen when we get back home. Per one of the band members they only pressed 200 copies of this, so get it while you can.

Next up was the mighty Revenge of Calculon, the luchadors of electro-sleeze-funk, and I came prepared with my luchador mask and my custom lucha libre track jacket courtesy of Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane (see below, with me to the left giving Ingvar a fist bump while the band plays).

I also made my filmmaking debut, as lead luchador Rob asked me to shoot random footage of the show using his fisheye lens GoPro for use in a future music video. I’m confident there will be a Grammy in my future for this! As for the show, it was off the hook as one would expect.

After enjoying a well-earned pizza we headed out into the night, catching russian.girls over at Hurra. The last time we saw a russian.girls performance it was a solo gig at the Mengi art space, restrained and experimental. This time around it was a three-piece with more beats than you can shake a drum machine at. A top-notch show in front of a packed crowd.

The next two artists we saw shall, well, remain nameless. At a festival like Airwaves you often find yourself going into shows blind, and more often than not you see something cool. This time… not so much. So I’m not going to talk crap about performances I didn’t enjoy, because these folks clearly have talent (the were selected to play) and just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s bad.

We had a few bands we wanted to see late in the evening, but unfortunately both of us have been hobbled by colds and we simply ran out of steam around 11PM and called it an early night, returning to our apartment to eat the last of the pizza and hang out for a bit. We gotta be rested up for the festival’s final day tomorrow!

Iceland Airwaves 2022 – Day 1

Has it really been three years since our last trip to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves? COVID turned everything into a blur, the last 2.5 years seeming both impossibly long and short at the same time, the weeks, then the seasons, then the years moving along like a smear across the table of life. After returning home from Airwaves in November 2019 I didn’t step on an airplane again for over two years, which is certainly the longest flying drought I’ve had as an adult. So stepping aboard the Icelandair flight from Seattle to Reykjavik the other day was a little strange, but also incredibly comforting, as if a little bit of my life was coming back to me. As an added bonus we get a beautiful display of the northern lights as we passed over Canada, setting the mood and getting us into the right frame of mind.

After checking into our apartment we hit the streets, grabbing coffee and pastries at Reykjavik Roasters as we watched the light of day begin to touch the highest parts of the city, the sun sneaking its way up over the horizon. It was as if we’d never been gone. I was thinking about this the other day – excluding cities I’ve actually lived in, I’m confident I’ve spent more nights in Reykjavik than any other city in the world except Los Angeles, and that’s only because I used to travel to LA so much for business (one year I made 24 separate trips from Seattle to LA).

We caught up with our friend Rob of Revenge of Calculon fame and grabbed lunch, along with a handful of the band’s new 7” Battle-Atomic Disco-Wow! / L.S.P., then opened our festival at my favorite record store in the world, Lucky Records. There we caught up with our friends Oscar and Sarah and were treated to a bump-bump-bumping techno set by Andartak. So good! While there we got the hot tip that our friend and KEXP DJ Kevin Cole was spinning at set over at Smekkleysa, aka Bad Taste Records, serving at the opening for a surprise, intimate show by Apparat Organ Quartet in celebration of their 20-year-old self-titled debut receiving its first ever vinyl release.

We hustled across town to secure our spots. The show was set up in a relatively small room, and as we got closer to AOQ’s set it became clear that this was going to be another of those classic Airwaves Deathtrap™ scenarios – a tiny room packed to the gills, people filling both stairwells completely to the point where the one door that led outside could barely be opened due to the crush. But we’ve seen this movie before and the crowd was well behaved… and besides, we probably couldn’t have gotten out of there without actually climbing onto the table where all the keyboards were set up and using it as a platform from which to leap and grab the landing railing to climb our way to freedom. Which seemed a bit excessive, so I grabbed a can of beer from the table and rode with it. Regardless, the show was a blast.

Originally we planned on hitting our favorite pizza joint for dinner, but the AOQ show threw a wrench into our plans so we grabbed a street hot dog and high-tailed it over to Gaukurinn for a couple of shows. The opener was the Icelandic band Sameheads (below), who brought a youthful energy to a strong set of post-punk indie-rockers. Man I have missed seeing and hearing live shows in small venues! These guys were a lot of fun. Next up was the man we’d specifically come to Gaukurinn tonight to see, Janus Rasmussen. Probably best known for his work with Bloodgroup and, more recently, the ambient house duo Kiasmos, I was excited to see what the Faroe Islander had in store for us.

I knew we wanted to get to the Art Museum in time to see Amyl and the Sniffers, so I fully planned on leaving Janus’ set a little early. That is until it started. And I saw God.

For 40 minutes Janus, accompanied by a violin player, poured warm beats upon the crowd. Synaptic connections in my brain that had shrivelled away from disuse during the COVID malaise sparked with interest. The crowd moved. Heads and bodies bobbed as Janus held us in the palm of his hand like a caring and knowing father, leading us out of the darkness and into the light. I felt a connection to the entire crowd, our experience at the same time anonymous and shared, and gave up on any thoughts of leaving early. I’d stay in this room forever. Call my work, tell them I quit, and have my last paycheck sent to Gaukurinn. I’ll still be here dancing with my people.

Despite the near-religious experience of Janus’ show, there was no time to stop and reflect. We had more shows to catch! We popped across the street and were surprised to see no line at the Art Museum, so in we went. We caught the last half of Júníus Meyvant’s set and moved forward into the spaces left behind by his fans during the set change. Amyl did not disappoint, the Aussie punks blowing up the joint with their fast-paced blend of punk and garage rock. Amy Taylor dominated the stage, prancing, stomping, and strutting as if challenging anyone, and I do mean anyone, to try to come up there and just try to take that mic from her. No one dared take her up on it.

We had potential plans to see a few more bands to close out the evening, but with only two hours of sleep over the last 30+ hours, we decided to call it a night so we could be up-and-at-‘em for Day 2.

The Best of 2021

And so we reach the end of another year. The older I get the faster they fly by, the monotonous routine of COVID living adding to the Groundhog Day feel that is sometimes more like existing than living. Fortunately things are opening up a bit so we’ve been able to get out and enjoy some events like Seattle Kraken hockey games and meals with friends. A weekly Dungeons & Dragons game on Zoom gives us something to look forward to every week and our dog Evie won’t let us get too lazy, insisting on her morning walks and play sessions in the yard. Plus there’s the music. The music is always there, a way to be transported away for a while. There’s never enough time to listen to all the music I want to hear.

I didn’t blog much in 2021, only seven posts prior to today, and I’m not sure what the future holds for Life in the Vinyl Lane. We’ll just have to wait and see. Regardless, I listened to a ton of great music this year, and hopefully these lists may point you toward a band or artist that you will fall in love with.

Top 5 New Releases In 2021

1. Generation Loss – Steve Summers (US)
2. Mobile Home – GusGus (Iceland)
3. Ashamed – Mad Foxes (France)
4. Music Library 02 – Hvörf (Iceland)
5. Nightshade – NAOS (Iceland)

If you’ asked me at the start of December which album would top this list, I’d have said Mobile Home. But then a box of records I bought on a Bandcamp Friday from the L.I.E.S. label arrived and Steve Summers blew my mind. I’m not sure I can explain precisely why I love Generation Loss. I just know that when I put it on, I enjoy every single thing I hear, and if I play it on Spotify I also like almost everything the algorithm throws at me once the album is over. I suspect in 2022 I’ll be digging into his catalog and grabbing some of his earlier 12″ singles.

GusGus is one of my all-time favorite groups, and Mobile Home did not disappoint, the duo of Biggi and Daniél adding Vök vocalist Margrét Rán to the lineup to give an ethereal quality to the new album. This is the first time since I started doing these year-end lists that GusGus put out a new album and didn’t take the top spot on my Top 5. Don’t let that fool you – they’re hardly slipping, and GusGus remains a group I go back to time after time after time.

I first heard about Mad Foxes thanks to Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, who texted me when she heard one of their songs on KEXP and said I needed to check them out. By the time she got home a few hours later I had already ordered their new album Ashamed as well as their 2018 CD Desert Island Wish. A bit punk-ish, a bit post-punkish, their sound orbits a lot of styles and bands I like. Hvörf made my Top 5 “New To Me” list in 2019, and their electro-library music is great for just chilling out. NAOS rounds out the list with his edgy, techno Nightshade cassette. This one is tough to find, and I don’t think any of his stuff is on Spotify either, but it’s worth the effort to track down.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1. Jeno Void
2. Algebra Suicide
3. The Ruts
4. Hoodoo Fushimi
5. Laserdance

I could have easily included three artists from my Top 5 New Releases list here, but that seemed a bit too obvious.

I first heard about Jeno Void from, of all places, Instagram, when Seattle’s Selector Records posted about some old school Jeno cassettes that had just come in. I managed to snag three of these by mail, and later a fourth at the shop, and I have to say that I could play these sets over and over and over again. it’s like having a rave in your living room. Hoodoo Fushimi also came to me via Selector with the re-release of the funky ケンカおやじ.

I can’t remember how I learned about Algebra Suicide, but I got hooked on their quirky indie/post-punk/no wave weirdness. The Ruts came to my attention thanks to Henry Rollins’ Stay Fanatic books – with how much he raved about the band I figured I needed to check them out, and I’m glad I did. Laserdance was a shot in the dark – a rewards program at work was shutting down and I converted those points into an Amazon gift card, so I decided to look at some box sets. One that caught my eye was Laserdance’s The Ultimate Fan Box, because who doesn’t want some 1980s Euro synth-pop? I know I do. So I did. And it’s pretty great.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

1. B.Q. Wave – Vector
2. Realm of Chaos – Blot Thrower
3. Jeno Void Cassettes
4. L.I.E.S. Records
5. V 1/2 Performed Live In Seattle – Led Zeppelin

Vector’s B.Q. Wave was actually the least expensive item on this list, but it will always hold a special place in my collection as it was the 1,000th Icelandic release (across all formats) I acquired. Funny that it came to me not from Iceland, but instead from Seattle’s own Selector Records. It’s hard to believe I’ve amassed that many items from Iceland. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t slow down with my Icelandic purchases after picking this up – the count currently stands at 1,058 releases, with more already in the mail.

Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos has been in constant rotation on Spotify since I came upon it for the first time last year. Plus as a fan of Warhammer 40,000 fiction the idea of a Warhammer concept death metal album appeals to me. It also has quite an odd backstory. Games Workshop originally allowed the band to use the painting on the cover, but when the label approached GW about a later re-issue the company and it’s IP had grown much bigger and more valuable, meaning there were more lawyers, and ultimately they refused to extend the license. The band did not want the album re-released with a different cover, but the label went ahead and commissioned the same artist who did the original to do a similar-but-not-too-similar new work, which was then used on later releases, much to the disgust of Bolt Thrower who have told fans not to buy it. I’ve coveted copies with the original artwork, and I finally broke down and bought a gatefold original pressing.

Jeno Void and the L.I.E.S. label came into my orbit thanks to Sherman at Selector. Since then I’ve picked up 4-5 Jeno cassettes and at least a dozen L.I.E.S. releases, including my pick for the top album of 2021, Steve Summers’ Generation Loss. As for the live Led Zep, I love the band and have always had an interest in any of their stuff live from Seattle, so when I ran across this at a location that shall remain nameless I just had to pick it up. The sound quality isn’t the best, but it’s still a cool artifact.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

For the second consecutive year we didn’t see a single live show. Which sucks immeasurably. On a positive note, we have been to a few larger events, most notably a handful of NHL games to cheer on our new team, the Seattle Kraken, so at least we’re starting to feel comfortable enough to go out in group settings. We’re moderately optimistic about 2022, enough so that we already have tickets for the Swedish House Mafia show here in Seattle later in the year. Fingers crossed.

Top 5 Artists on Spotify

1. GusGus
2. The Ruts
3. Beastie Boys
4. F-Rontal
5. Space 92

A lot of folks post on Facebook and Instagram when Spotify produces its year-end listening summaries to each user. And like last year, there were a few surprises fon mine. First and foremost was the sheer amount of time Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane and I spent streaming – 134,469 minutes, which equates to 2,241 hours or 93.4 full days. With both of us working from home and streaming individually in different rooms, this kind of makes sense – a typical work day could involve 20+ hours of streaming. But it’s still a lot of listening.

As for the artists themselves, there were a few surprises. GusGus in the top spot was to be expected, especially with them releasing a new album in 2021. The Ruts raised an eyebrow, though I went through a pretty big Ruts phase earlier in the year. The Beastie Boys are an all-time favorite and never disappoint, so that makes sense. The last two artists, well… I don’t know that I could have named them prior to seeing them on this list. It turns out that both have tracks on a playlist called Techno Bunker that we listen to A LOT, so that’s clearly how they cracked into the Top 5.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

1. Bandcamp
2. Selector Records – Seattle
3. Lucky Records – Reykjavik
4. Easy Street Records – Seattle
5. Discogs

I tried to shop on as many Bandcamp Fridays as I could – I appreciate the platform’s commitment to artists, and knowing that the artists would receive all the proceeds from purchases on those days got me onto the site just looking for stuff. I ended up making a few decent sized purchases, most notably from the L.I.E.S. and Intellitronic Bubble. Discogs, as always, was also a great online source.

As for bricks-and-mortar, this year I “discovered” one of Seattle’s newer record ships, Selector Records. Selector specializes in electronic and DJ music and my man Sherman has curated a great inventory of labels, genres, and artists into a relatively small space. I don’t think I’ve walked out of there with less than 10 records (and a few tapes) in my bag after any of my visits this year. Easy Street continues to be a local favorite as well, though the closure of the West Seattle Bridge made it harder to get to. And while we didn’t travel to Iceland this year, I believe I had three boxes arrive from Reykjavik courtesy of my friends at Lucky Records, with another box being assembled for January shipment.

I bought a metric ton of music in 2021, and while space is stating to become an issue, I don’t expect to slow down in 2022.

Top 5 Music Books Read

1. Avant-Garde From Below: Transgressive Performance from Iggy Pop to Joe Coleman and GG Allin by Clemens Marschall
2. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin: The Untold Story of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Million-Dollar Secret Album, the Devaluation of Music, and America’s New Public Enemy No. 1 by Cyrus Bozorgmehr
3. Love In Vain – The Story Of The Ruts & Ruts D.C. by Roland Link
4. GusGus 25 Ára
5. A Pig’s Tale: The Underground Story of the Legendary Bootleg Record Label by Ralph Sutherland and Harold Sherrick

Only two of these books were newly released in 2021, but no matter. Avant-Garde From Below profiled a small number of musicians and performance artists and forced me to think a bit about the question of “what is art”. And now that I think about it, so too did Once Upon a Time In Shaolin; I always saw that one-off Wu-Tang album as a bit of a stunt, but it was actually much more than that, it was an artistic statement. Honorable mention to the crowdfunded GusGus 25 Ára photo book, an exquisite piece of publishing if there ever was one.

And that’s a wrap, folks. Hope to catch you here again in 2022.