Iceland Airwaves is all about exceeding thresholds. Thresholds of the usual ‘music festival experience’, thresholds of just how much fun one can have in Reykjavík in four days time, and most importantly, thresholds of bands that are on the verge of breaking. In all three instances, Airwaves pushes the boundaries and simultaneously transcends them in an artful way, year after year after year.
Airwaves is best known for multi-faceted line-ups that manage to intermingle local Icelandic darlings with international names. The experience in full is reflective of this variety of musical performance, where concertgoers alike can cater their days and nights to exact moods and tastes, whether that be dark electronica or minimal folk. 2015's line-up allowed one to just as easily zone-out to the soft soundscapes of UK’s Flo Morrissey as they can flail around to the rhythmic techno thrum of Battles. Variety of genre isn’t hard to come by.
What is hard to come by at Airwaves is underwhelming live shows. Not once did I find myself disappointed with whatever I ended up seeing, despite if it was my ‘thing’ or not. That’s what is so special about this festival: you discover more amazing music than you bargained for, and all of these bands/artists are still relatively off-the-map. Remember what I was saying about thresholds? Airwaves showcases all of the soon-to-be big names before they takeoff, and that’s priceless. Airwaves is truly a music fanatic's wet dream.
This year, moments of notable value were seemingly endless. Naturally, it was next to impossible to narrow it down to just ten standout musical moments, but I managed to do it. Check them out below.
- John Grant and The Iceland Symphony Orchestra @ Harpa Eldborg: Existing as one of the most anticipated shows of Airwaves this year, John Grant was accompanied by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra to perform favourites from both 2010’s Queen Of Denmark and 2012’s Pale Green Ghosts. Just as the show unraveled, so did the darker side of experimental electronica. It all lead to a crescendo of vocal and orchestral power that can't be recreated.
- Tonik Ensemble @ Sundhöll Reykjavikur: A select few of us got to experience Reykjavík’s oldest art deco swimming pool in the rarest of capacities: as a venue for Tonik Ensenble’s soothing electronic beats. The underwater concert, hosted by IMX, featured special underwater speakers so that even when submerged, one could fully take in the highly indexical moment.
- Operators @ NASA: This standout ‘moment’ was much more than just a moment; it lasted the entirety of Operators’ forty-minute dance-driven show. Fronted by none other than Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, and Divine Fits), Operators served up an aggressively melodic, synth-driven set that should have never ended.
- Andy Shauf @ Harpa Kaldalón: Canada’s newest buzz band Andy Shauf’s unassuming stage presence was almost as charming as the haunting music itself. The theatre-like room in Harpa was over-capacity, and a majority of us were (happily) sitting at the band’s feet. It felt a bit like a living room gathering of sorts, where the shared experience of Shauf’s heartbreaking storytelling felt that much more intimate.
- Sea Change @ Tjarnarbíó: Sea Change brought us chilling electronic pop all the way from Norway on the Thursday evening of Airwaves. The loop-based vocal harmonies and 80s-esque choruses á la Ellen Sunde carved out a niched sonic space of mysterious ambience that in turn made her especially noteworthy.
- Björk @ Gambla Bio Rooftop Conference: No, Björk didn’t perform at Airwaves, but instead hosted an impromptu press conference on behalf of Gætum Garösins (translation: “Protect The Park”). Björk, along with renowned writer/environmentalist Andri Snær Magnason, called for global action to prevent the destruction of Iceland’s Highlands and asked “for the world to support us against our Government”. Show your support by following their efforts via Facebook here.
- Flo Morrissey @ Fríkirkjan: Twenty-year-old Flo Morrissey was an absolute vision to witness. Polka-dot dress and all, the songstress’ musical beauty exceeded her very surroundings, which just so happened to be the breathtaking interior of a Reykjavík church.
- Beach House @ Harpa Silfurberg: During a beautifully lush set, Beach House's Victoria Legrand thanked Iceland Airwaves for “allowing her pussy to be on this stage”. She continued by reminding all women in the crowd to stand their ground against males standing near them. Girl power was alive and well.
- Sóley @ KEX Hostel: Iceland’s very own Sóley offered audience members (and Seattle's KEXP) the equivalent of what dark, surrealist fairytales might sound like. Her nocturnal soundscapes crafted an experience like no other, where every single body in the room was induced with an affective contagion of sorts.
- Weaves @ Gaukurinn: Weaves captivated with their off-kilter pop/punk/soul etiquette, or lack thereof. The Canada-based foursome presented a violent collision of the fun, the arty, and the noisy, most notably during “Buttercup”.