So we’re a few days after the event that ended all events (It certainly put Ragnarok to shame), and I am now trying to collect together some kind of cogent stream-of-thought down on this here battered keyboard. Well if you didn’t know it, this time last week, I was undertaking writing duties for the main soirée in Iceland’s musical Calender,
Frostrósir Iceland Airwaves.This year was certainly a bit of a slog, for reasons not really involved with the festival itself (One day kids when you’re older I’ll let you in on it all, and about how your uncle Bobby pretty much acted like an embittered prick to pretty much everyone he met). But enough of that! let’s get down to the reviewing business.
So this year’s (Cancel)Waves was when pretty much anything that could have gone wrong, more of less did. You had a whole stream of headlining acts cancelling on the festival at the last-minute for numerous reasons, ranging from whiny hipsters hedging their bets by blowing off the festival to be at the BBC (Poliça), to the drummer “having a sore thumb,” or something (Django Django), to the worst news of having (the real) headliners SWANS cancel because they couldn’t get out of New York due to hurricane Sandy.
Which leads us to the next foul aspect of this years Airwaves. While there has been some crappy weather in the past (The storm last year on Friday was a doozy!), this year was probably the worst weather I’ve ever experienced at Airwaves. Sub zero temperatures throughout nearly the whole festival, and hurricane storms on Thursday/Friday pretty much blew a lot of the spirits out of some festival goers. There were some actual moments of real fear from people going down Laugavegur on Thursday evening due to being knocked off their feet by the flying debris of hipsters being blown into the air.
Despite all of this, everything managed to sort of run smoothly. I have to tip my hat to the Airwaves organising team for seeing through so many FUBARS and not getting too flustered. Personally, I’m certain that if i was involved I would have had a near breakdown by Wednesday afternoon.
DARK DAYS OF THE LEGEND
So how was my Airwaves? Weeeeell, it was…. pretty good! I enjoyed a lot of the stuff I saw. Mind you, I also said this last year. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new, inevitable cycle of, “Oooh Airwaves is coming!/What fucking band is this they’ve booked?/I really can’t be fucked with it all this year/OK, I’ll review some gigs, but I’m going to complain the whole time, OK?/Wow, this is a lot better than it thought it was going to be!” With climate change now upon us, this is probably going to be a more reliable way to tell the time than the seasons.
Was it the best airwaves I’ve been to? No, of course not. But that’s not really the organisers fault to be honest. There was a lot of shit going on in this neck of the woods that meant that I was pretty much frayed and spent when Airwaves arrived. Some major writing hassles, problems at home, and the cancellation of SWANS basically caused me to almost walk away from the whole weekend. I remember that afternoon, sitting at home staring at the wall, thinking, “how can I get out of doing this?” God knows how i must have looked at the staff meeting that afternoon. But NEVER retreat, never surrender that’s my motto, and having Reykjavik!’s “Flybus,” and the Rocky 4 Training montage video on an endless loop managed to get me out of the slump.
THE LAPTOP (IN THE FACE) IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD!
So yes, we were all writing during the festival and stuff. This year we had a small army of foreign based writers from the likes of The Line Of Best Fit, Drowned In Sound, Rolling Stone, and numerous freelancers joining our small, hardened core of regular writers (Myself, Birkir, Paul, Ragnar, Bergrun Anna, Vala, Angela, Aðalsteinn), and our shiny interns.
Now, what follows is an apology of sorts to those writers who will be reading this. When I was first told about what publications would be coming up to write with us a couple of months before, I wasn’t completely over the moon about it. This wasn’t because i didn’t like the people who were writing (I hadn’t met them yet), but rather I was worried that we would be deluged by wide-eyed, elf obsessed Airwaves groupies who would fawn over everything Icelandic, and would exclaim that absolutely everything they saw was so “beautiful,” “natural,” and “cool”, etc, etc…
But not only did that not happen at all, I now feel like a total fucking arsehole for thinking this in the first place. Everyone who wrote for the Grapevine during Airwaves this were absolute pros. All. Of. Them. And the stuff they produced was top-notch. The stuff coming from Amy & John, Christian & Joel, Lauren & Francine, Gary & Chris D, and Al & Paul was probably the best stuff we’ve had for the Grapevine since… ever!! And they were all so friendly, really into what was happening, and were HONEST. This may sound silly, but it was nice to see stuff being written that didn’t have the lingering touch of our jaded cynicism on it. They wrote what they loved, what was OK, and what they didn’t like. Reading Christian’s piece about Retro Stefson & Gus Gus was great as I’m sure if it had come from someone like myself, I would have come down on it way much harsher, and therefore would receive a lot of dagger eyes from people in the street.
Out of all the other writers, a special shout out should go two groups. the first is Paul Fontaine, who ended up doing the whole of Faktorý on Saturday night (all 8 bands!) till past 3am in the morning, and didn’t complain once. It was a great review as well! The other shout-out goes to the 3 GV interns, Arit, Thomas, and Kirsten. They worked their arses off over the whole festival, and some of the reviews they turned in were entertaining (such as Kirsten’s on Wednesday), illuminating (Arit’s much-needed pointing out of the general crapness of The Vintage Caravan), and Thomas’ enthusiastic embracing of Iceland’s electronic music culture was also fine to cast your eyes upon. Well done everyone!
HEARING WITH MY EYES!
So what about myself? well I ended covering most nights in some form. And you can read ALL of it (As well as all those in-depth features I did in the run up) right HERE.
I have to say that many of the local acts across the board really upped their game this year in terms of show and performance, and if some of them get some success outside of Iceland, then it’s all to the greater good. As per last year, my covering of Airwaves meant my viewing patterns were slightly off the grid. I never once set foot in Iðno, or the Art Museum. And I only once set foot in Harpa (well with the prices they were charging for beer, I counted myself lucky!). This meant that a lot of the hype bands/big local headliners were missed. Not that I didn’t mind of course. It wasn’t that I hated them but I’ve seen many of the local bands so often that they don’t hold that much mystery for me any more. It was best to let other people experience them instead,
Nearly all my time was floating around the GaukurAmsterÞýski triangle with occasional journeys to Faktorý for the odd act. I also never saw/reviewed much electronic stuff, again mostly because I was reviewing other things, and it was also considered better to have some fresh ears check it out.
And yes, I also never went to see Sigur Rós at Laugurdalshöllin on Sunday. I mean, why the hell would I want to go and do that??
SO, WHAT NEXT?
Usually at this point, I would have posted an “Oh Airwaves failed in so many ways, I would have got THIS band, or that band, done it all differently, etc, etc,” similar to the rant that Ragnar posted on his Sunday night review. And while many of his words were understandable, I’m not going to go down that road. I mean, what’s the point? To be honest, the organisers can’t please everyone. Plus, my own increasingly divergent music tastes meant that I know some of the acts I would have wanted to appear would likely have completely bombed with the audience. I am forced to admit that would I have organised a better festival?…. No, I probably would not have. So let them get on with it I say, and I shall simply hope and pray that there will be someone on next year’s bill that will have me going “YESYESYES!! I am SO going to that!!”
What I am interested though is the directions that Airwaves will be taking in the next few years. This year saw Harpa take full command, front and centre, in the festival’s plans, and this did change the dynamic of the party somewhat. It wasn’t that perceptible, but you will notice it a bit more over the coming years. And will it alter the atmosphere of the festival itself? Remember that airwaves has often been promoted as this wonderful dirty, crazy, “organic” beast of a festival that’s so relaxed and off the cuff. But because now of its size, it’s had to move on and shape up. It’s not really a cute small party any more.
But the biggest changes over the next few years are likely to be completely outside the sphere of Airwaves control. By this I mean the city of Reykjavik itself. A comment by Vala on her Sunday night review – “Because this city and its music scene are one,” intrigued me, because this city is changing now before our eyes, and not necessarily for the better according to many. For example there were (unfounded) rumours floating around that Faktorý was closing down soon after the festival due to the issues with the Heart Garden developments, but with the closing of NASA, that sort of thing would have been a massive blow to the cultural landscape of the city. There is a real fear that 101 Reykjavik could end up being, in the near future, a soulless, hollowed out tourist trap. In the next 3 years, for example, there going to be a HUGE Marriott hotel built right next door to Harpa. How much would a building like that curb trade to local establishments during Airwaves in the future?
It’s also ironic that the upcoming Sonar festival is making a big nightclub in the car park of Harpa, (Like some kind of Nordic Blade movie or something), when there is not a single actual club space In Reykjavik itself. Along with bars such as Bakkus closing and not being replaced, along with shorter opening times, It will be really interesting to see how Airwaves is going to accommodate these changes that are likely to occur. Rather them than me!
OK! enough of the belly aching.So what was my final verdict you ask? Well read on for my glitzy Airwaves awards round-up special!!
BEST MUSIC ACT (Reviewed): This was a tough one, but I would have to say, LEGEND. If Minus release their latest album tomorrow, then announce their split for good, then I won’t be all that sad to hear it. This is because the new age of Krummi in Legend is so good to watch. The way he merged both sound and stage visuals/actions meant that he’s pretty much up there with being one of Iceland’s most arresting performers right now.
Runner Up: Angist – If they don’t get some proper international press/recognition in the next year, then we will all have failed them as a nation.
BEST MUSIC ACT (Not reviewed): This is a TIE between NOVA HEART… and REYKJAVIK! Yes, I acknowledge I am a slutty little fanboy for these guys, but seeing our guys Chris and Joel Hoard (and several friends of Iceland) go absolutely mental for them at Þyski Barinn was totally brilliant. Nova Heart were my stand-out foreign act discovery of airwaves for me, and I have to thank Rebecca Louder for planting the seed into my head to make the journey from Faktorý to Gaukurinn in the storm to see them. The day after, Paul Bridgewater and I were all wide-eyed with enthusiasm for them, going “Woah, how good were they last night??”
Runner Up: Sindri Eldon at Amsterdam. Fucker KILLED it!
BEST OFF VENUE GIG: The Crunchy Frog concert at Bakkus was simply great, Thee Attacks were fucking wild, spitting blood, and reminded me that classic rock needs to be seen in the moment (Thereby in one fell swoop, making Ég and The Vintage Caravan totally redundant in the process). Shiny Darkly were also the guys that Airwaves managed to let slip from their grasp. Why? They were totally awesomez! Oh yeah… and having 100 litres of free beer also helped the proceedings!
Runner Up: Ghostigital at KEX. Oww me ears…
The “Wow they were a lot better than I thought they were going to be,” Award for confounding expectations: This would have to be WOODPIGEON at Kaldalón. His sublime music was very much needed o Saturday. Though he would be so much better if he called himself RADIOACTIVE TIGERPANZERCORPS!! or something similar…
Runner Up: Thee Attacks.
The “They don’t pay me enough for this shit,” Award for worst performance at Airwaves: Without a doubt it was RETROBOT. Funnily enough, when mentioning them and their performance to numerous people and musicians during the festival, it was met with a pretty much unanimous, “I know, right??” Oh well, haters gonna hate…
Runner up: Lockerbie. Luckily I managed to see these guys on the first night, thereby getting all the rubbish music out of the way.
BEST VENUE: For the sound it was Kaldalón. For the Atmosphere it was… Amsterdam! Yeah, i know, right?
Runner Up: Bakkus. RIP guys, it was a great bar, and I had some wonderful moments there. Also, most of the infections I picked up at that place have cleared up thanks to Antibiotics.
WORST VENUE: Faktorý. There were some really good acts there, but there was this really uncomfortable, clammy, scuzzy feel to the place. The doormen didn’t help much either.
BEST CELEB SPOTTED: Björk. About 50,000 times. Including seeing her trying to get a kebab at 5am on Sunday morning.
MOST EXPENSIVE BEER: 1200kr for a beer at Harpa. We are now in the New Normal of bad times….
And that is it for me. After this, I’m taking a much needed break from music and writing till Christmas time probably. The only stuff you’re going to see will be up on this here blog (which no one reads anyway…). But again thanks to all those who did at least make the year go special – Hilmar and Palli at the GV, Cath Fulton, Elly, Veerle, the Doormen at Gaukurinn, the boys in Muck!, Palli and all the boys and girls at Bakkus, Halldór Ragnarsson & Dabbi Örn for the art, Nick, Adam, Mark, and all the other travellers whose names I may have forgotten (Please add them in the comments below!!)
But before I go, If you want some nice free music to get a feel of what Airwaves was all about, then I suggest you go HERE, to download the Grapevine’s great free airwaves 2K12 compilation (50-odd tracks of some great music!), and then go HERE, to download the special compilation compiled by the Crunchy Frog label for us for Airwaves. you know it makes sense!!
Peace out motherfuckas!!!