Iceland Airwaves Festival: Notes from Bjork Island
By Jonah Flicker
Photos by Leó Stefánsson
The most immediate thing that separates the Iceland Airwaves Festival from its European and American siblings is its somewhat exotic locale. But there’s so much more that stands out about this five-day extravaganza. The entire city of Reykjavik is taken over by the proceedings, most venues filled to capacity, the streets flooded with drunken natives and foreigners alike until the bars close at six in the morning. The $10 price tag for a beer here doesn’t seem to put a damper on things at all, although many people have the foresight to save some money and begin their road to inebriation at home or in their hotels.
This year’s line-up brought popular indie-rock and electronic acts like Bloc Party, Annuals, Of Montreal, Chromeo, and Ms. John Soda to the Airwaves stages, but it’s the smaller Icelandic bands that are really what one should seek out while here. Some of the highlights in this category were O.N.E. and Poetrix, Icelandic versions of ‘90s golden-era hip-hop, the calypso and Brazilian-influenced Retro Stefson (a group of kids still in high school), and the indie-pop girl group sounds of Dyrdin. The Pavement-influenced Sudden Weather Change, a furiously messy and glorious group that rocked the packed venue Gaukurinn on Friday night, practically stole the show from headliners Deerhoof. Reykjavik! is a popular local hardcore stalwart, whose chaotic live show teetered on the brink of insanity, while the laptop jockey, Raychem, gave Boards of Canada a run for their money with his ambient broken jungle.
Many of the bands play off-venue locations like cafes and bookstores during the day in addition to their nighttime headlining spots, which is where I caught the annoyingly electro-twee American duo, Best Fwends. The weather this year was milder than last, but even if there had been blizzard conditions, it wouldn’t have stopped the folks gathered outside the famous 12 Tónar record store to catch Denmark’s garage-y Snake and Jet’s Amazing Bullit Band. But it’s the main venues that offer the standout shows. LA’s The Bronx spewed forth their cock-rock frenzy to appreciative crowds on the second night of the fest, while !!! astounded the hyper-enthusiastic Icelanders on a Saturday night that had plenty of competing shows. Another fascinating local group was Jakobínarína, whose herky-jerky new-wave rhythms were augmented by their bowl haircuts and the lead singer’s spastic onstage dance maneuvers. The Airwaves publicity material makes sure to point out that Rolling Stone’s David Fricke digs this band, and I could understand why after seeing them live.
The final night of Airwaves fell on a relatively quiet Sunday night that offered some special “surprise” performances from The Magic Numbers, Buck 65, and the aforementioned Sudden Weather Change. Overall, Iceland Airwaves 2007 felt like a hectic, exciting, hedonistic success, which is exactly the way it should be. Sure, there were as many misses as hits in terms of the quality of the numerous participating acts, but that’s part of the unpredictable atmosphere that makes this festival so unique.