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…
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 releaseIs 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.
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!
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 Colewas 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.