Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 0

It’s finally here!  The time of the year that is like Christmas and birthdays and job promotions and raises and playing with puppies, all rolled into one and fueled with more than a little beer and some sleepless nights.  I speak, of course, of Iceland Airwaves.

We arrived in Reykjavik on Tuesday afternoon and headed straight down to Harpa to pick up our wristbands.  A quick stop at the merch table yielded a couple of DVD documentaries I’d never seen or heard of before – Punk in Iceland and Living Dead HAM, so I hadn’t even been in town an hour before starting to buy music related stuff.  I strongly suspect that was only the tip of the iceberg.

In the early evening we headed down to Lucky Records to visit with our friend Ingvar and catch some live music.  While the festival officially opens on Wednesday, for the last few years Lucky has gotten things started early, and 2015 was no exception – they were one of two locations holding shows on Monday, and one of only four today (Tuesday).  Unfortunately we just missed Vaginaboys, but we did get there in time to catch up with our friend Bryan from Theory of Whatever records, and he handed off to me a copy of the label’s newest release, the Icelandic comp CD Iceland Whatever Vol. 1, which literally just came out last Friday.  You can learn more about it on the label website and if you’re quick enough you might still get it for the early-bird pre-order price of $5.50.  If not, it only moves up to $6.50, which is still a bargain.  The comp has 14 songs on it, some of which like AMFJ’s “Esja” are originals created specifically for this CD.  Check it out HERE and don’t miss out on getting a copy.

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Lucky was fairly full for all three of the bands we saw there tonight, starting with the hard rockers Ottoman (left) who played a heavy Black Sabbath-esque style of music fronted by a more traditional hard rock/metal singer.  Atli Steinn Bjarnason was particularly impressive in the way he flat-out attacked that little drum kit and drove the band forward.  They were followed by the more chill, somewhat modern prog stylings of Stafrænn Hákon, who showed some real musical talent and were able to hold my attention through some fairly prolonged jams.  I had one of their records put aside for me, so I’m looking forward to hearing more of them upon our return home.  The night ended with the full-blown assault that is Iceland’s Endless Dark, a band that if anything reminds me a little of Linkin Park, except with a way heavier sound and instead of one of the guys having a hip hop type delivery, you’re getting straight up hardcore.  The new stage area at Lucky is great because it puts the band a bit above crowd level, but for a seven-man operation like Endless Dark it was way too small to contain them, so some of the action spilled out onto the floor, which was absolutely fine with the hometown crowd who rocked out pretty hard.  We’d seen the band previously at Airwaves, and once again they rocked the house.

As an added bonus, we got a pretty incredible show from the northern lights despite there being a few clouds in the sky.  It was by far the longest and most robust event we’ve ever seen, and unfortunately it’s impossible for the photos we took to do it justice.  If you’ve ever seen it firsthand, you know exactly what I mean.

I can’t wait to see what the official opening day of Airwaves has in store for us tomorrow!

Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 2 (“…and a cassette”)

For the first time during Airwaves 2013 I’m writing with most of my brain working – not hallucinating from lack of sleep on our travel day nor at 2:30 AM after a complete day of concerts.  So hopefully I’m more coherent, because if not I’ve got real problems.

We went over to Lucky Records today to pay for and pick up all the stuff that I’ve had on hold, and even I was surprised at the volume, which is what happens when you ask to have  a few things put aside, but spread out those requests over the course of weeks.  That being said, I was stoked about what I had waiting for me, both the stuff I picked out as well as a few nuggets Gestur and Ingvar put aside, like a super limited edition múm picture disc, a couple of 45s, some random CDs, and yes, my dear readers, even a cassette.  Let that last part sink in for a minute.  This wasn’t a vintage cassette like the Snarl II compilation I wrote about recently.  Oh no.  This is brand spanking new industrial insanity dual effort from Iceland’s own AMFJ and Auxpan, and I’m looking forward to checking it out… assuming, of course, I still have a tape player floating around in my garage somewhere.  Either that or I’ll have to sit in my wife’s car.

I have a stack of cool stuff to listen to when I get home, including new material from The Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band and Emilíana Torrini, plus used stuff by Björk, Purrkur Pillnikk, and some almost completely unknown Icelandic bands (well, at least unknown to anyone not from Iceland!).  As near as I can tell I got about 27 records and 21 CDs (and one cassette!) so far… and frankly I don’t have room for much more – though I still need to hit up the flea market on Saturday.  I can’t wait to get home and start listening!  I’m not as much looking forward to cleaning all these records and having to reorganize my shelves… but that’s the price you pay.

We weren’t too inspired by the off-venue program today, but we had one band we wanted to catch – the industrial duo known as Ghostigital.  Not too many bands can be as intense and weird as Ghostigital while still being awesome.  This marked the fifth time we’ve seen them at Airwaves and as usual they did not disappoint, this time playing a small stage on the top floor of Reykjavik’s opera house Harpa, with the setting sun coming in through the angular windows on two sides and a crowd who was ready to get after it.  And they brought it.  There were a couple of songs from their latest album, Division of Culture and Tourism, plus a few I didn’t recognize.  The small crowd (maybe 75 people?) was way into it and some people were seriously rocking out.  This moved solidly into second place in my personal list of best shows this year, behind only Legend.  We also caught part of Good Moon Deer’s set, some nice experimental electronic played by one guy on the controls and the other on the drums.

[BREAK…]

OK, while earlier I told you how amazing this post was going to be because I wasn’t sleep deprived… well… it’s now about 2 AM and we just got back from our second night of shows, so bear with me.

We spent most of the evening back at Harpa catching heavy metal and punk type shows.  Momentum opened with their brand of psych metal, though it wore on me a bit as there wasn’t a lot that differentiated the songs in their set.  Dimma, however, looked, acted, and sounded like rock stars, like metal gods from the bygone age of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.  The lead singer knew how to strike the poses and flat out hit the notes all the way through.  These guys are a new favorite, and I’ll be looking for some of their stuff before we leave.  Endless Dark followed with their own brand of quasi post-hardcore, a relatively large band with not one by two vocalists – though to be fair one was more a shouter/growler and the other a singer.  Regardless, they were hard, fast, and awesome.  Muck was next, and we saw them live when we were last in Reykjavik back in April.  Some decent punk, but while I didn’t think it was anything terribly special, they probably had the largest crowd in that room tonight.  Sólstafir was the band we really came to see, and while they were good their sound was a bit droning, sort of Icelandic cowboys (based on how they were dressed) singing like old Alice in Chains.  Their style is a difficult one to pin down – I think their music takes a conscious effort to truly appreciate.  A lot of people are way into them, and I feel like this is the kind of band I should totally love, but I just don’t quite get them.  We snuck out of there a bit early to head over to another room within Harpa to listen to a few songs by Yo La Tengo, who were decent in a kind of folk rock way.

After that it was off to the waffle truck for some amazing waffles before taking a chance and strolling to Dolly Bar downtown to see if our friend Ingvar, aka DJ Lucky, was still spinning his Afro-beat dance set there.  We’d only found out about this earlier in the evening, but we were able to catch the last 10 minutes or so in a packed sweat-box full of dancers, drinkers, and people snorting unknown substances.  At one point I saw a guy in a police uniform walking through and thought some folks were going to get busted, but Holly pointed out that his shirt was unbuttoned pretty much down to his pants, so… probably off duty?  Tough to say.

Oh yeah, and we saw the northern lights tonight just up the street from our apartment.  So check that one off the list of things to see.

God I need some sleep…