Inside Iceland Airwaves 2022, the coolest music festival on the planet, returns in spectacular fashion

There aren’t many music festivals that offer ticket holders the chance to start their evening of entertainment sitting at the altar of one of Europe’s finest churches watching a classically trained composer play the Daft Punk’s debut album. Discovery on a 15-meter-high pipe organ, then take a ten-minute stroll down the main street of the host country’s capital to see a Luxembourgish teenager play the kind of fabulously gritty melodic alternative rock that might have landed her a cleft from the Lollapalooza main stage in 1992.

But not all music festivals are Icelandic waves.

Launched in 1999 as a one-off concert in an empty airplane hangar at Reykjavík Airport, the event has become an internationally renowned showcase for local talent. And while the festival has been graced by a number of British and American bands who have become arena fillers – Biffy ClyroFlorence and the Machine and Kaiser Chiefs among them – its main focus has always been to promote local artists, giving a platform, over the past two decades, to more Louder-friendly bands such as Sigur Rós, We Made God, Sign, Gavin Portland, Agent Fresco, Vicky, Sólstafir, Reykjavik!, Mínus and many more.

Tour guides in Iceland will tell you that because of its central volcanic plateau, the country is constantly changing, always “alive”, always in a state of flux, and the same can be said of its thriving music scene, which makes Airwaves, back in physical form for the first time since 2019, and sold out for the first time in a decade, such a pleasantly unpredictable festival.

In truth, with the exception of local psych/stoner heroes The Vintage Caravan, heavy rock isn’t exactly overrepresented in the Airwaves 2022 lineup, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a multitude incredible music to discover.

Here are our highlights from an action-packed weekend in Europe’s northernmost capital.

Stronger line break

Post-hardcore heroes Mínus, signed to independent Sugarcubes label Smekkleysa, were the first Icelandic band this writer had ever seen live, when they shot their jesus christ bobby album in the UK alongside Charger and Matter in 2002, and went on to “treat” London’s Camden Underworld to what was surely the loudest gig in its history.

Five years later, in Reykjavik, I saw a charismatic singer Krummi Björgvinsson give an equally compelling performance as uh, Jesus Christ Krummi in an Icelandic production by Andrew Lloyd Webber Jesus Christ Superstarand in 2022, the singer has mutated again, and can be found leading a casual black-clad American country/outlaw quartet at the IA Center on the evening of November 3 and Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar l afternoon of November 4.

“He’s from Höfuðborgarsvæðið, like you,” a man sitting at Jörgensen’s bar informs the woman sipping happy hour beer beside him. “Ah, no wonder he’s good,” comes the instant response.

Krummi on Iceland Airwaves

Krummi on Iceland Airwaves (Image credit: Yael BC)

The real joy of Airwaves, however, is bumping into artists you’ve never heard of before, like 18-year-old Icelandic wunderkind/producer alt.pop Gugusar (alias Guðlaug Sóley Höskuldsdóttir) and the aforementioned persons Francis of Delirium from Luxembourg, led by Vancouver-born 19-year-old singer/guitarist Jana Bahrich.

Compared, unnecessarily, to Billie Eilish when she started releasing music at 15, Gugusar no longer sounds like anyone but herself, and her captivating Thursday night performance, solo on stage in front of a large audience at the cavernous art museum, is notable for its poise. Mesmerizing and ethereal new single *traust is a teaser for an upcoming 2020s sequel Listen to this twicewe are told: Iceland’s best kept secret may not be hidden from the world for too long.

Gugusar on Iceland Airwaves

Gugusar on Iceland Airwaves (Image credit: Alexander Matukhno)

Performing in Gamla Bió the following evening, Francis of Delirium also impresses. Stronger elected to discover the trio after hearing the 2021 single stop messing around on the festival’s cleverly curated Spotify playlist, and it’s a highlight, alongside the 2020 single Circles, in a charmingly ragged ensemble reminiscent of ’90s indie rockers Pavement, Belly and Arlington, Virginia’s Tsunami. When TikTok discovers Bahrich’s perfectly pitched teen angst anthems, she will fly.


Back to Thursday, and after brief stops to catch the throat-singing accordionist Siberian Finnish techno Antti Paalanen in Iðnó – if Rammstein playing woozy Gypsy-Folk tunes is a sound you’ve always wanted to hear, look no further – and the commitment Kaktus Einarssonson of Sugarcubes singer/trumpeter Einar Örn, to Gamla Bió – fans of Damon Albarn’s post-fall out work will find plenty to love – it’s back to the art museum for the ever-entertaining Amyl and the sniffers.

Not everyone present is immediately swept away by Amy Taylor’s band’s yob-rock baton – at one point guitarist Dec Mehrtens calls out three men in the front row for looking “bored as shit” – but as the quartet unfolds Knifea daredevil I don’t need a pussy (like you to love me) and a fierce Some Mutts (cannot be muzzled), the effervescent swimsuit in chain mail Taylor eats the coin out of the palms of her hands, and Hertz brings a raucous set to a thrilling conclusion.

Somehow, Reykjavik girls manage to increase the heat even more, which takes time. The feminist hip-hop collective of eight musicians is an absolute riot, mixing choreographed dance moves with punk rock energy, plunging into the crowd, flooding the audience with beer, nursing on stage for hot summer milf and – a first, surely – inviting a young man from the audience to offer himself for a ritual sacrifice that ends with his “guts” spilling out.

More seriously, the group expresses its solidarity with “the women of Iran who are fighting for a better world”, cutting strands of hair in front of a screen displaying “We, the people of Iran, are the victims of the regime of the Islamic Republic and we will never forget, and we will never forgive those who appeased and cooperated with our oppressors.It is a powerful moment that seems to stop time and suck the air out of the room.

Amyl and the sniffers

Amyl and the Sniffers on Iceland Airwaves (Image credit: Julie Van Den Bergh)

The first night of the festival ends intensely and breathtakingly with Vancouver’s crack cloud, perhaps the only avant-garde post-punk multimedia collective in the world to feature a screaming harpist and lead vocalist drummer, but don’t quote us on that. At the risk of disrupting the healthy dynamic of the group, here we award the MVP award to blanket-clad Mohammad Sharar, whose energetic leaps from the keyboard-pounding bongo – stop us if we’re getting too technical here, non-musos – are a joy to see. He will sleep well tonight.

The undisputed star of Friday night’s program is a classically trained pianist and post-classical composer Eydis Evensenwho performs with a string section at Fríkirkjan, a beautiful Lutheran church, consecrated in 1903, on the edge of Tjörnin (‘The pond’). Evensen’s Live at Home session for KEXP has been the influential Seattle radio station’s most-watched session during the pandemic, racking up more than 3.2 million views since its June 2021 post, and its performance at Fríkirkjan , only her second gig in Reykjavik, is nothing short of spellbinding.

Eydis Evensen

(Image credit: Sabrina Smith)

The works of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, Hildur Guðnadóttir and Biggi Hilmars have placed Icelandic composers at the forefront of the global film/television music community, and as she shares themes from her 2021 album Bylur (“Snowstorm”) & EP 2022 Freezeit’s easy to imagine Evensen’s stunningly beautiful compositions on future Oscar shortlists.

As she opens her ten-song set with Dagdraumur (“Daydream”), a reverent, breathless silence falls over the congregation inside Fríkirkjan, as if simply exhaling could break the magic of the moment. In a set consisting only of locks, special mention must be given to the breathtaking beauty midnight moonwith the voice of jazz-pop singer Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð Jóhannesdóttir aka GDRN, and the closing set The light i of Freezewhich seems to evoke the pure joy of a born-again world tentatively waking up from the stasis caused by the pandemic.

It is a composition that also gives the impression that Evensen’s journey has only just begun. The following afternoon, at Greenhouse Studios, an upscale yet charming and warm facility in a quiet suburb of Reykjavik, Evensen and his producer Valgeir Sigurðsson offer a world premiere of a newly recorded transcendent track from the second album. to come from the pianist, provoking a room full of experienced international music journalists, including legendary rolling stone writer David Fricke, to fall into amazed silence. An exceptional, enchanting, world-class talent.

Strongerthe plan for, following this climax of the festival, was to end the weekend on Saturday night embracing the opposite end of the Airwaves sonic spectrum, in the form of four guitar/two Irish noise-punk drummers Thumper at the famous Gaukurinn rock venue where, according to local legend, Iceland’s first legal draft beer was sold, in 1989.

Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, after previously recommending the group as a “must see” attraction to Icelandic friends, this writer finds himself unable to enter the venue, which is packed with a queue all around. of the building long before the Dubliners. scheduled stage time at 11:20 p.m.

According to everyone, or more precisely according to the account of our friend Karlotta Laufey, formerly guitarist of Vicky, who arrives in the early morning at the bar Ölstofa clutching a vinyl copy of the excellent sextet Megalomania album, the band absolutely killed it, so we can’t even be mad we missed something since we’ve already seen Thumper twice in London.

Ultimately, the last musical act this writer sees in Reykjavik is a local busker wearing chain mail and a helmet, performing Lynyrd Skynyrd. Free Bird in front of a Vietnamese restaurant. If I leave here tomorrow Reykjavik, will you still remember me? Probably not, in all honesty, but we won’t forget you or Iceland Airwaves 2022 anytime soon.

Tack!

horns

(Image credit: Sabrina Smith)

Gerald R. Schneider