Happy New Year! I finally sliced my wristbands off yesterday, and I finally managed to resolve all my internal arguments and settle on the 10 finest things I saw at Iceland Airwaves 2015. I've changed my mind several times since of course, but 8 weeks is probably long enough to make some decisions. So with huge regret towards the excellent Fufanu, Kælan Mikla, Kimono, Milkywhale, Þórir Georg and We$en here's my list...
What a show on the first night. They have the tunes, the set was a good mix of the familiar old and the new record. But what they have in even more abundance is charisma and showmanship. More specifically they have glitter, nudity, a horse’s head and nappies. By the time they played set closer “Love The Honey” in the early hours of Thursday morning all four of those things were on show and on the stage. The undisputed highlight of the first night.
I love this band. Two years after I first saw them at Airwaves 2013 I show absolutely no sign of getting bored of watching Grísalappalísa. I saw them three times this year. Twice I tweeted, “First rule of Iceland Airwaves – always see Grísalappalísa”. It is good advice, and anyone who likes seeing great tunes, performed with huge spoonfuls of energy, attitude and panache should place them top of a ‘to-see’ list. They are, like many others, possibly better in the smaller venues but their celebratory big show, in Harpa, came in between the Reykjavik! and Sin Fang shows that also make this list. It was some Friday night out.
It was SO nice to have NASA back as an Airwaves venue this year. It kind of thrilled me every time I walked in. The best show in there, and one of the best of the whole week, was by legendary metal band HAM. They filled that place with noise and atmosphere, it was a room full of people nodding (or banging) their heads in synch with each other from start – they started with the mighty Dauð Hóra, which set a pace that never let up. We are HAM. You are HAM.
Wait, what? A band that isn’t from Iceland! I’ve loved Hinds sound and attitude since I first heard them so they were a certainty to make it onto that very short list of international bands I really, really didn’t want to miss at Airwaves. Actually, I’m pretty sure they were the only name on it this year. They played in a mid-to-late night slot in a packed and familiarly sticky Gaukurinn. The venue suited them, as it suits so many every year, and their delicious guitar licks and clever vocal interplays and harmonies were spot on.
Pink Street Boys
I saw these boys three times at Iceland Airwaves 2015 (and one more time in London since, more on that soon). They put on a great show and have some brilliant songs, they’re kind of unique (yes – glib phrase used all too often about Icelandic bands). It was very telling how much more atmosphere there was at the show in Gaukurrin compared to the larger and much more open space of Gamla Bíó. For some bands, this is just how it works. It’s so important that Iceland Airwaves and the City of Reykjavík find a way to keep enough small sweatbox bars and venues to allow this type of show to happen in the right places.
This was special. After a gentle campaign, during which I like to think I stayed just on the right side of online bullying, those nice boys of Reykjavik! agreed that getting together, and dusting off their instruments around Airwaves time, might be fun. It had been three (or four?) years since they had last been spotted at Airwaves. So off we excitedly went to that cramped front bit of trendy Kaffibarinn, we wondered how on earth the band would fit into the space, let alone how Boas would satisfy his need to move through an audience. The reward was a long show, around 75 minutes. It was hot, sweaty, occasionally bloody and always emotional. All that, and I met their parents – they are NICE BOYS. The setlist was perfect – I guess you can’t call it a greatest hit set, but it sure did contain all of their best stuff form all albums, my highlight amongst many was Repticon, partly because I sang a bit of it. I can’t do it justice; it was magical to see this band play again. Same again soon boys?
Músíktilraunir (the annual music experiments competition for new bands) has a hell of a track record in finding talent. I was impressed by this years’ winners, Rythmatik. They are a straightforward 4 piece band, they write good guitar/pop songs and perform them well and with that shy, modest and slightly awkward charm that we’ve seen in a lot of young Icelandic acts. Their performances were good and they are only going to get better, they were definitely shifting a pleasing number of CDs after the shows I saw. Rythmatik area super-engaging band, and they’re very obviously having fun. Bonus points for showing up at the Reykjavik! Kaffibarinn show too.
There was a rumour going round the day before this Harpa show (this is the sort of rumour that goes around at Airwaves) that Sin Fang was going to play the old fashioned way, with a full band – guitars and drums and that sort of thing. I love watching Sin Fang with any configuration of machines and instruments but I think the songs are shown off best with a full live band. The set at Harpa was great, although it did seem to be quite short – I don’t know if that was planned or that there was something wrong technically that was beyond my unsophisticated ears. There is always a song or two that is being hummed in my head for weeks after Airwaves – this time, “Walk With You” was very much that song.
What a treat to see this band, rarely seen these days at Iceland Airwaves, and I had to miss their London show a few months back. There was just one chance, and it was in the small, cramped but perfectly appropriate setting of the 12 Tónar record store. It was also daytime, possibly twilight, which doesn’t seem like Singapore Sling’s natural habitat but this show was great. It was loud; there was a ferociously brilliant version of their best track of recent years, “You Drive Me Insane”. On top of all of that, a week later the world was treated to a brand new album. No wonder there was a song or two in the set I didn’t recognise.
I reckon these guys are the best of a very good bunch in Icelandic hip hop right now. It has clearly been a big year for the genre and for this band, there’s been a breakthrough into mainstream, it is arguably the biggest genre and got a lot of attention before, during and after Airwaves. I saw Úlfur Úlfur three times and they all felt like celebration shows, all were to packed audiences who knew seemingly every word of every song. They were never better than the first time I saw them, upstairs in the Loft Hostel where you could not have fitted a single extra body. I say I saw them, but it was pretty hard to see the stage through the constant forest of raised arms and leaping fans. They also got my favourite review comment, in this article from a guy named Sean (hi Sean!), “I'm not sure if you saw Ulfur Ulfur, but the only words I understood were "mother fucker". I still absolutely loved their set and I don't even like rap. That's kind of what Airwaves was for me, something that I didn't really understand, but still enjoyed because the general vibe was so positive.”
Same again next year then, Iceland Airwaves 2016 will go from November 2nd to 6th.