Airwaves Saturday is always a pleasure. And after an incredibly great Airwaves Friday, a lot to match up to. The afternoon session with a quick look in at a couple of off venue gigs. Firstly was Of Monsters & Men (below, right), the winners of this year’s battle of the bands competition.
They played in the lovely bookshop, Bókabúð Máls og Menningar, and had drawn a decent crowd. I really enjoyed their tunes which sound really different (better) than the MP3s I had managed to download pre-Airwaves. I was really impressed; I hope they will be playing again next year. Next, I quickly popped across Laugavegur to Hemmi Og Valdi (such a lovely hangout) to see Eliza Newman play a few songs. My only complaint was that the store was so full I couldn’t get to the coffee bar, but Eliza’s gorgeous acoustic, and mostly new, tunes combined with the atmosphere and coziness to make it the perfect place to be on a windy, wet afternoon.
Which is why I left to head to a couple of outdoor gigs down the road at the Nikita skate shop, or in their back garden to be more accurate. I arrived in good time to see British band Yunioshi (above) who I had made internet friends (!) with but had yet totally failed to see (sorry). Firstly, this venue was pretty cool. There was a wooden shack-like stage in the grassy back yard of the shop. The stage was covered but the audience were mostly huddled under a tarpaulin suspended between two tall trees, one of which had a bicycle on top of it. A few small children were running around, clambering up the muddy slopes at the rear of the yard and generally being entertaining. The atmosphere was fun. Yunioshi were as good as I thought they would be from the E.P. I had heard. Keyboards, sometimes guitar, good vocals, great bets and a fun stage presence combined to make this a lot of fun. This is certainly a band to keep an eye on back in the UK. Just occasionally their sound reminded me of an old band very dear to my heart, Collapsed Lung. The mighty fine Yunioshi were followed by, yep you guessed it – another set from Reykjavik! (below) Possibly the first time I’ve seen them outdoors? What can I say – I loved them again. If I love them in the pouring rain of a chilly Icelandic back yard, I’m always going to love them. They didn’t play my new favourite “Cats” this time but there will be another chance (oh yes). Haukur and Boas both ended up in the audience and in the mud as we could all have predicted. The whole crowd were involved by the end, except for those small children who – for the first time – sat motionless, staring at the stage. I can’t explain that.
At that Reykajvik! gig, they were missing one guitarist, who was sound-checking with his other, new band, Lazy Blood (below) for their show opening the night at Factorý – so that is where I started. Factorý had about 20 people in it when they came on stage, a massive shame as this was a full-on assault on the senses. This duo were giving it everything vocally over a wall of electronic sound, they were visibly shattered a few songs in, emotionally drained. There were veins popping out all over the place and some audience members didn’t quite know how to act as they writhed around the floor at their feet. I’m really glad I saw this, an unexpected, dizzying high. I then raced down to the Art Museum where I wanted to catch Danish electro dudes Spleen United who had been highly recommended. The venue was again running late so I actually arrived before they even took to the stage. That turned out to be a good thing; I enjoyed their set and the members of the remarkably large early evening crowd (already taking their positions for Robyn several hours later) were all feeling pretty much the same way judging by the nodding heads.
There followed a whistle-stop tour of venues before the next main event etched into my planning. I saw a bit of the wonderfully named, but underwhelming Just Another Snake Cult in Sódóma. Then I popped into Nasa where Factory Floor were playing a set that got mostly great reviews but just didn’t do it for me. Finally, off to Iðno where I saw the end of a set by Codes In The Clouds at the Erased Tapes night. I really did just see the last couple of minutes, which sounded good and judging by the ecstatic applause as they left the stage they had just done a fine job.
I was at Iðno to see Olafur Arnalds (photo above from Iceland Airwaves flickr) – the venue was actually less full than last year’s show in the same venue. This time the audience were seated on the floor which created a relaxed and hushed atmosphere (apart from when I knocked over that bottle, sorry) which was such a pleasant contrast from last year’s sweatbox. The show itself was wonderful. This is classical music for the new generation, it wasn’t stuffy or elitist but it was charming. Everyone on stage was relaxed and dressed down. A brief pause for technical issues was field by relaxed small talk and a happy birthday to a violinist. Plus, the music is gorgeous. Everyone in that room was transfixed by the sounds coming from Olafur’s machinery, four violins and one of Bloodgroup at the back making beats (I think I have that right). I apologetically don’t know the names of these songs – the only two I could name weren’t in this set but it doesn’t matter one bit. The whole thing was a beautiful experience, professional yet relaxed, classical yet completely modern and relevant to me. A complete triumph.
I left Iðno happy and headed to Nasa to await the triumphant return of Icelandic legends Apparat Organ Quartet (above). Before that I was fortunate to catch the last part of Mount Kimbie’s great sounding set. I had just kind of assumed their stuff wouldn’t work live but I was happy to be proved wrong. The crowd swelled afterwards though, and I’d bet that it was Icelander heavy and Nasa was full despite the rumours of a very full Art Museum and insanely long queue snaking around the harbour all trying to see Swedish pop uber-star Robyn. Apparat were greeted in the traditional way, hundreds of people making their logo with two hands above their heads, it made the venue look pretty. The set was fantastic – a mixture of old and new, with the new easily standing up to the standard of time-worn classics. Once again, an Iceland Airwaves set finished, the lights came up to reveal a sweaty, exhausted crowd. But the show must go on, out into the streets again.
This time the target was new venue, Tjarnarbío, for the last 2 acts of a Ghostigital curated evening. Firstly, I love this venue. And old cinema I believe, and of just the right size with a floor downstairs big enough for a few hundred and seats up above. Oh, and a quiet bar (at least when I needed it). I was here to see the mighty Ghostigital, headlining their own curated night. I was also here for the most intriguing event of the week – Icelandic band Sudden Weather Change (indie, guitars) performing a set made up only of Ghostigital covers. A very courageous undertaking indeed, not only taking on another band’s body of work but also a band so singular, as unusual as Ghostigital. I just did not know what to expect.
They were brilliant (above). I can’t imagine how many hours and days they dedicated to getting this show to state of excellence it was performed in. This was dedication and musicianship of the highest order mixed with Sudden Weather Change’s usual sense of fun and Ghostigital’s sense of humour. Their take on the classic “Not Clean” was absolutely superb and ridiculously enjoyable. I was close to Einar and Curver from Ghostigital in the crowd and I’m happy to report that they were smiling and nodding throughout. This idea worked wonderfully.
The real Ghostigital (above) followed this onto the stage of Tjarnarbío. They were as excellent as ever, Einar was the brilliantly engaging front man that he always is. Half story-teller, half madman, he rules his stage and has his audience engrosses and transfixed. This year the band was bigger, with most of The Sugarcubes on stage (plus the most famous one of all in the audience) and a good part of Reykjavik’s latest political rulers in attendance. The gig was utterly compelling – the most carried away with the music that I was at any of my 55 shows. The let down of the show ending was replaced by the entire venue demanding an encore, and Ghostigital obliged (I think this was genuinely unplanned) and the dancers amongst us (not me) got up on stage and joined in (below). Magic.
And that wasn't even the end. There was still time to hotfoot it (wrong word in Reykjavik) back to Nasa for another chance to see Retro Stefson (below). After seeing them play in the marquee outside of Hresso it was good to see them play their main show of the festival to a packed and sweaty Nasa. The set was similar to a couple of days ago, and that's totally not a complaint. Retro Stefson area good-time party band, with each performance they seem to grow in confidence and know how to work, and please, a crowd. They were wonderful in London a few months ago, but have improved further since then. With a good second album now out with great tracks like Kimba and Mama Angola to prove they have some staying power, the future looks bright indeed.