Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Reflections

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Day 2

Day 2 didn’t know if it wanted to be rainy or sunny in Reykjavik, so instead it decided to be both at the same time.

But a little rain couldn’t stop us and after sleeping in we hit the streets just after Noon.  Our first stop was the retail space/office of FM Belfast‘s Lóa, who posted on Facebook yesterday that she’d have some pre-release copies of the band’s new album Island Broadcast available.  The vinyl copies were still in transit, but I picked up a signed copy of the CD as well as a signed print drawing she did of the entire band (Lóa is an accomplished artist across multiple mediums).  After that it was off to Bíó Paradís to catch the electronica set by one of our favorite Lady Boy Records alumni, Andi, who as usual did not disappoint with a fun mid-tempo set.  From there we popped over to Íslenski Barinn for some lunch, and while there heard one of the most unusual live performances we’ve ever experienced at Airwaves.

When people ask me “what kind of music do they play at Airwaves” my canned response is “everything but country and jazz”.  Well, the opening song by this female duo in matching dresses who go by Bergmál seemed to effectively cross country off the list with a somewhat comical song about how not remembering someone’s name is about the meanest thing you can do.  But then things took a turn for the surreally weird with a song literally about women farting.  And then came the pièce de résistance, a song called “Your Anus Is Not of Uranus”, which helps clarify the fact that the planet is not the same thing as, well, you know… your anus.  A song that includes the lyrically incredible Biology… and astronomy bitches… the four of us were laughing so hard that we were all in tears.  That was followed by songs about necrophilia and menstruation, because of course it was.  Just check out their video.  You’re welcome.

Later in the afternoon we headed over to KEX Hostel to catch the Russian new wave/punk band ГШ/Glintshake (below/left), a show that was being broadcast live back to Seattle (and across airwaves17Day21the planet via the black magic of the internet).  And man did they hit it out of the park.  With a funky rhythm section and sometimes jangly, sometimes disjointed guitars, they maintained a old-school punk rock edge with a pop aesthetic.  We scored a spot right in the front and as always at the KEX shows the sound and lighting was perfect.  As soon as the show ended I get a text from my buddy Travis in Seattle telling me he’d just heard this band live on KEXP and that I had to check them out… and it was the show we literally just saw.  I’ll definitely be trying to track down some of their albums.

After a couple of beers at the KEX bar it was out to the beautiful theater Gamla Bíó for some metal and industrial.  Godchilla opened up the on-venue evening and delivered a heavy sludge metal set that was thick and driving.  Next up was Une Misère (right), a airwaves17day22relatively new Icelandic hardcore band that provided an unexpected shot in the arm that hit me like a dose of meth. (♣)  With three guitars this six-man outfit came out in straight aggro style, got in our faces, yelled at us, and drove nails into our skills with the sheer wall of power they produced.  Une Misère came, saw, and conquered all before them and left us all impressed.

And then shit got weird.

Like, really, really weird.

The band I was most interested in seeing tonight was Hatari (below), (♠) who have built a reputation not only for their music but for the extremeness of their visual performance.  Some folks who saw their show at KEX earlier in the festival were uncertain about the whole thing but the high stage and dark room of Gamla Bíó was the perfect setting for their brand of harsh IDM.  The place was packed and the mood just right when the guys came out dressed in their best bondage gear and proceeded to tear our faces off.  The sheer performance was impressive, with all three members staying within their on-stage personaes throughout flanked by a pair of female dancers who looked like they walked off the set of one of the Road Warrior movies… at least until they opened up their black fanny packs (yes, fanny packs) and started throwing suckers into the crowd.  It was pure, controlled insanity and the crowd lapped up every last drop of it.  Their new album just dropped and you know damn well I picked it up.  While the CD will lack the stunning visuals of the live performance, the music in and of itself was outstanding and I have a feeling it’s going to be in regular rotation upon our return.  We ran into the guys later in the evening, and they couldn’t have been nicer and more reserved.  Holly and I agree that this was definitely one of the Top 5 shows (out of 300 or so…) we’ve ever seen at Airwaves… and might just be #1.

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Following that we bounced out to Gaukurinn where we saw an interesting trio of performances.  First up we caught the tail end of the set by CeaseTone, a sort of modern new wavy group.  Next was the enjoyable singer-songwriter tunes of Soffía Björg who held the audience in the palm of her hand throughout her 30+ minute performance.  Then it was Hong Kong’s A New World If You Can Take It (ANWIYCTI), a band featuring three bass players and a drummer.  Their low beats were intriguing, though might have benefitted from higher pitched vocals to offset the chest-pounding low end.

That brought us to our last stop of the night as we popped next door to Húrra.  There we caught the tail-end of dj. flugvél og geimskip who absolutely packed the house and had requested in advance of the show that people vape during the performance, all the better for all her crazy lighting.  But we were there because we had an appointment with the good doctor.  And by good I mean bad.  And by doctor I mean the yellow rubber-glove-wearing Dr. Spock (below).  It didn’t take long from the start of the set for a fairly substantial mosh pit to break out in the small confines of the Húrra performance space, and the crowd and band fed off of each other’s energy throughout the blistering punk/metal set.  The “Sons of Ecuador” killed it, as did their insane Beach Boys cover and interlude featuring Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer”.  Horns and raised fists all around.

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After a late-night hot dog, interrupted by three dudes not wearing any shirts screeching around in a BMW convertible with the top down at 1:00AM, it was time to call it a night.

Two days down, three to go!

(♣) Disclaimer:  I’ve never done meth.  I enjoy having my teeth too much for that.

(♠) Not to be confused with the 1962 John Wayne movie about big-game hunting called Hatari!, because that would have been even weirder.