Airwaves - Day 1

It would probably be more appropriate to label this “night one” since we actually saw the bare minimum of daylight on our first day in Iceland. Due to jet lag, a small child kicking the back of my seat all the way from Portland to NYC and my utter inability to get any sleep on the flight from NYC to Reykjavik, I was operating on about four hours of sleep over the day and a half leading up to our arrival. Sara had even less. 

But, I digress.

With a multitude of bands playing 30 minute sets in venues ranging from a art museum to an upstairs jazz club, Airwaves is like getting bite-sized pieces of music. It’s a sampler platter of deliciousness, with each band sounding drastically different from the one before it.

In our first night alone, we managed to catch the most popular rock band in Iceland (Ditka, yes, Ditka), a blues songstress (Elin Ey, also from Iceland), a dirt rock band from Brooklyn (the Vandelles), a Bjork-ish sugar pop band (Feldberg, again, from Iceland), a funk electro-pop band from South Carolina (Toro y Moi), an acoustic giants’ side project (Jose Gonzalez’s Junip) and Iceland’s answer to Arcade Fire (Nora).

Reykjavik already feels like a full-sized city squeezed into a small town footpint, and with Airwaves taking over most of the well-known venues, it feels even smaller. Even hopping around from venue to venue, you run into the same strangers. You pass the same people repeatedly on the street. It’s comforting, really. Like you’re in on something very local, when that’s anything but the case. 

Though a large chunk of the lineup features bands from Iceland, a multitude of other countries are well-represented here. Canada, the US, the UK, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, France, Germany and even Greenland are all here. But what is most stunning is the breadth of genres that inhabit Iceland’s own music scene. The creativity per capita is impressive. 

One of the odder things that struck me was the complete bilingualism of the Icelandic bands. Songs would usually be song in perfect English (except for Nora, who sang in their native Icelandic), but most of the between-song banter was in Icelandic, with only the occasional English translation after the fact. They cling fiercely to their mother tongue while striving for international appeal in their art. It’s kind of beautiful, actually. 

The highlights of the night, for me, would have to be three-fold. 

Ditka - like I said, they’re supposed to be the most popular rock band in Iceland, with good reason, too. Soaring, anthemic choruses and reach-for-the-sky lyrics make you immediately fall under their sway. The added fun for us was that every time they reminded us that they were called “Ditka” and the crowd roared, we exchanged a wry smile between us, because the only thing that came to mind for us was those early ‘90’s SNL skits where the virtues of Chicago Bears’ head coach Mike Ditka were discussed over piles of polish sausage. 

Elin Ey - Dressed like a nerdy hipster, she played classic acoustic blues songs, both originals and covers, to perfection. She has one of the most amazing voices, made even more jarring by her judicious use of it.

Toro y Moi - We squeezed our way into a packed Venue (actually the name of the club, clever) to hear these guys. Their set was half over by the time we got up the stairs, but that didn’t matter. The whole crowd was bouncing and sweating and having a great time. The place was so packed that it took me a few songs to realize that this was a three-piece, because despite sounding like they had a live drummer, I assumed that it was a drum machine, because the drummer and his kit were completely obscured by the crush of the crowd.

)I’ll post pictures from last night in a photo stream.)