Iceland Airwaves 2022 - Day 1

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 Cole was 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.

Amyl and the Sniffers - “Amyl And The Sniffers” (2019)

When you name your band after “poppers” you’re making a statement of sorts, that’s for sure. As lead singer Amy Taylor explained in a BBC interview last year, “In Australia we call poppers Amyl. So you sniff it, it lasts for 30 seconds and then you have a headache - and that’s what we’re like!” And with only three of the 11 songs on their eponymous full-length clocking in at over four minutes that’s pretty close to the truth.

Punk in attitude, garage in sensibility, the Sniffers jump in, hit hard, and jump out. Is this punk rock for the new generation? It’s not exactly new, though Taylor’s Tank Girl-ish attitude brings an intriguing combination of charm and snottiness to the songs, all brash and in-your-face, yelled but not screamed, the chip on her shoulder big enough to be seen from outer space.

The occasional lightning-fast guitar solo separates Amyl from the punks, while their velocity sets them apart from most of their garage contemporaries. So whether you’re into poppers or whippets, you finally have your band.