After a one year absence, Holly and I and our intrepid friend Norberto made it back to Reykjavik for our 10th Iceland Airwaves together. Joined by Tristen (4th Airwaves) and Andy (3rd) we are rolling deep this year. And while I certainly missed the bands last year as a work project kept me confined state-side, what I missed most was seeing the friends we’ve made over the years attending the festival, be they folks who live in Iceland or those who, like us, make annual or sometimes sporadic visits to this rock in the Atlantic.
But first, Holly and I spent a few days in London at the start of the trip. We did so specifically to see A-Ha perform at Royal Albert Hall (below), a two-set performance that featured all of Hunting High and Low in order, an intermission, then another dozen or so songs from the band’s catalog. To see such a great band perform at such a seminal venue was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we enjoyed every minute of it. A-Ha still has it, that’s for sure. If they ever make it stateside again, we’ll definitely consider a trip to go see them.
After seeing A-Ha on a Tuesday night, it was off to Reykjavik for the start of Airwaves the very next day. By time we got into the city, dropped off our bags, and made our way down to get our wristbands it was getting close to 6PM. At the media center we got to say hi to our friends Bob and Ingvar from Lucky Records before dashing into the night in search of food followed by the first band at 8PM. It wasn’t relaxing, but it’s why we’re here. Some nights we bounce around from venue to venue, others we camp out in one spot all night. For Day 1 we opted for the latter and headed to the Reykjavik Art Museum because we really wanted to see the opening and closing bands there, plus as an added benefit sandwiched in the middle was up-and-comer and recently signed Sub Pop artist Orville Peck.
And away we go! First up was the trio Kælan Mikla. We first saw them live at Airwaves back in 2015 and I for one was blown away by the sheer emotion their songs were drenched in, all angst and doom and beauty wrapped into one. Since then we’ve seen them two more times at Airwaves, and again a couple of months ago in Seattle opening for Test Dept. That Seattle show revealed a more refined and intentional band, one confident in their abilities but one that also felt like it lost a little of that raw edge, that slightly open wound that you just can’t help but pick at. However, they brought that back at Airwaves, especially in the vocals. They owned the big room with both their music and their presences and it was definitely the best all-around show of theirs I’ve seen. Next up was aYia, an intriguing trio about who not a lot is known and who have not yet released any material in a physical format, though they do have some stuff on Bandcamp HERE. This was our second time seeing them and they delivered a dreamy set comprised of fluid electronics and almost mystical vocals.
That brought us to Orville Peck (below), the country-styled masked crooner who seems to be taking the online world by storm at the moment. And it’s easy to understand why, with his (and his band’s) unique style of dress, easy presence on stage, and songs about transvestites who work in country bars. They played ’em fast and they played ’em hard, and while this generally isn’t my thing, Peck is a great performer and it was a fun set, one I’m glad we got to see.
Last, but definitely far from least, we arrived at the promised land – Une Misère (below). With a new album, Sermon, due on the shelves any day now, they found themselves in top form, a five-man hardcore and metal attack that will tear your spine from your body. They flat out attacked the audience, which responded with a series of mosh pits and a fair amount of head-banging. As if that wasn’t enough, one of my all time favorite Icelandic vocalists joined them on stage for a song – Arnór Dan Arnarson of Agent Fresco fame. Never one to shy away from screaming into the mic, Arnór and Une Misère vocalist Jón Már Ásbjörnsson battled it out to see who could shred their vocal cords first, ending in a tie as neither broke down nor gave in. I’m very much looking forward to their new album.
As an added bonus, we were able to connect with some of our friends as well. “Scotland Paul” (♠) and members of his crew caught up with us earlier in the evening, followed by “Vancouver Matt” (♣) and Tanya. Catching up with old friends and making new ones is one of the best parts of Airwaves, and we can’t wait to hook up with more of them as the festival continues.
(♠) As we refer to him at home, as in “did you see what Scotland Paul posted on Instagram today?”
(♣) See above