Our 9th consecutive Airwaves is in the books. Will we make it a nice round 10 next year? I’m not sure, but things are leaning towards “no” as I have some work commitments that all come to a head right when Airwaves 2018 starts. But that’s a big unknown at this point, and I’m still basking in the afterglow of a pretty solid festival.
On the surface this year’s lineup looked a bit soft – a lot of the big-name Icelandic acts that normally play Airwaves weren’t there this year, which was a bit of a bummer. But it also meant that we’d see a lot more new-to-us bands, and that’s always an exciting prospect. And those bands delivered, some of them in pretty massive ways.
The move away from Harpa was a good one, IMO, bringing the festival back to it’s small-club-hopping roots. I was bummed to walk past NASA last week only to see a crew literally in the process of demolishing it… I guess 2016 was truly the last hurrah of what I thought was Reykjavik’s best music venue. I should have tried to snag something as a memento, but honestly seeing it like that was just plain sad. The Hard Rock adds a nice new and suitably-sized location though, and Gamla Bíó is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues. And, as usual, KEX Hostel and KEXP put on a fantastic off-venue lineup (like Russia’s ГШ/Glintshake shown below). The only negative thing at all I can say about the KEX shows is that many of them are insanely packed; but that the way it is – they’re open to everyone, with or without a wristband. We just get there early, grab some beers, and stake out our spots.
I feel like I didn’t buy as much music this year as I have in years past, though in reality I still came home with a ton of stuff, including more than the normal amount of CDs as the flea market was VERY good for CD digging this year. Of the 20 or so 12″ and dozen 7″ records I brought back, at least half were new-ish releases, whereas the CDs were almost all used and 10+ years old. While we returned home on Monday evening, I also took Tuesday off from work and used that time, in part, to clean records and listen to CDs. I’ve got so much incredible music to get to and share with you that I’m actually slightly anxious about how much stuff is on my To-Listen-To shelf. But I know I’m up to the challenge!
So… on to my “Best of Airwaves 2017” list!
Best Venue: There was a fair amount of competition in this category. This was the first year we’d seen shows at the Hard Rock and the upstairs room of Dillon, and we saw some solid shows in each. KEX Hostel was great as always, as was Gamla Bíó, and the Dr. Spock show at Húrra was off the charts. But I have to pick one, so I’m going with Gamla Bíó. It’s a great space, the stage is high enough that you can see the musicians even if the floor is packed and you’re short, and the sound was near-perfect. Add to that the fact that we saw unquestionably the best show of the festival there (more on that below), I’m giving Gamla Bíó the crown for 2017 with an honorable mention to that tiny, crammed room at the top of Dillon (leaky roof and all…) where we saw some outstanding shows with a fun mix of locals and visitors. We’ll make sure Dillon is in the regular rotation in the future.
Best Show: There were a few legitimate contenders for this award, but I’m going with the freak-fest that Hatari (below) put on at Gamla Bíó on Thursday night. Bondage gear, spiked masks, dancers who came straight off the Road Warrior movie set… it was a feast for the eyes and flowed perfectly with Hatari’s brand of in-your-face IDM. The best one-word description I can provide is “captivating”; you simply couldn’t take your eyes off of what was happening on the stage. The room was completely packed and it was apparent that the band had everyone’s rapt attention. It’s easy to ride the emotional high of a recent show and say “that was the best show ever”, but I think the last five days has given me a bit of perspective and… that was the best show I’ve ever seen at Airwaves! Holy crap it was fantastic. Right up there with Gusgus at NASA in ’09 and FM Belfast at NASA in ’10. It was the kind of show that makes me re-think both music and performance.
Best New-To-Me Band: Given what I just wrote above the obvious answer here is Hatari. However, I’d like to recognize another band that absolutely crushed it, one that also put on a crazed live performance, and since it’s my blog, that’s what I’m gonna do.
We only saw three bands on Sunday. Frankly we almost came away only seeing one because a storm blew into town and the rain was coming down sideways in the early evening, but we decided to tough it out and head to Dillon in the late afternoon and it was there that we experienced the self-described “Lo-Fi Electro Funk Luchadors” that are Revenge of Calculon (right). This had lots of elements that I love – sampling from movie clips, synths, electronic weirdness, funky bass, and luchador masks. These dudes from the UK killed it, then brought it back to life with the power of funk. It was a great performance on every level and I bought a some 7″ singles from the band after the show… and they even threw in a luchador mask! Hail Calculon!
Coolest Music Purchase(s): From a rarity standpoint I was glad to get my hands on a copy of Drýsill’s 1985 metal record Welcome to the Show, which is legitimately tough to find. Same goes for The Magnetics’ 1981 synth record A Historical Glimpse of the Future. From a pure listening standpoint I was actually most excited about running across not one but two CDs from Bubbleflies and a comp by OG punks Fan Houtens Kókó called Gott Bít. I played all three today, and at a combined cost of about 20 bucks I couldn’t be happier/
Biggest Regret: I wanted to go see FM Belfast at the Art Museum on Friday night, but bottom line is I lacked the energy. Our friends Norberto and J went and said it was awesome, and I’m 100% sure it was. Fortunately we’ve seen them a number of times in the past, so I don’t feel too guilty about missing this set.
We’re not sure what next year has in store for us, and whether or not those plans include Reykjavik. One thing is for certain, though – 2017 won’t be our last Iceland Airwaves. With so many great friends in Iceland, and more joining the family every year, I just know that we’ll be back. So Reykjavik, keep the lights on for us, and keep pumping out all of that great music.