If you haven't heard, Operators is Dan Boeckner's (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Divine Fits) brand new musical venture. Manifesting as a cross between an 80s-indebted analog endeavour and an electronic dance project, Operators feels like a natural progression from Boeckner's past with Wolf Parade's synthy debut EP and the overarching stark sounds of Handsome Furs.
Just the other week, attendees of Iceland Airwaves got to witness this deeply dance-driven act in the flesh. Operators dealt out two powerhouse sets throughout the festival, which each featured almost all unreleased tracks hailing off of their forthcoming full-length (due out early 2016). Gems off of EP1 (released back in Aug 2014) like "True" and "Start Again" were also tossed into the mix, both of which melted masterfully amongst their slick, digital counterparts.
Post-show, we caught up with Boeckner to talk retrospectively about why he thinks Iceland Airwaves is really one of the best music festivals in the world.
EARMILK: How does Iceland Airwaves differ from other international music festivals you've played at? What's so special about it from an artist's perspective?
DAN BOECKNER: I think the main difference is that Iceland Airwaves is a destination festival that showcases primarily Icelandic artists that are the furthest thing from pop. Airwaves embraces that underground spirit and is able to show off the natural talent they have there. It's almost like a bait and switch, right? Because Airwaves mixes local talent with high-profile and up-and-coming international acts, and then you get all the media and label people there. It's not a mainstream festival by any means. It's totally fucking weird and is fully backed by the entire country. I can't think of another festival on that scale that has that much national support.
EM: Why do you think such great music comes out of Reykjavic? Do you see it as a music-breeding microcosm of Iceland at large?
DB: I mean, Iceland itself is a socially democratic Nordic country that's isolated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with a population of people that are a lot of the time in bands. And not just one band, but four or five bands. Especially in a medium-sized town like Reykjavic where there's so much interconnectedness between everyone, it ends up breeding a lot of raw talent. I think its the collaboration aspect that really helps as well. Take Einar Örn Benediktsson's old band Purrkur Pillnikk as an example. That stuff was happening in the late 70s early 80s. There's no way that the Sugarcubes would have popped up in Canada in the early 80s, you know?
EM: How did your two Airwaves shows at KEX Hostel (with KEXP) and NASA go?
DB: For me, those two performances were the best Airwaves shows, and probably some of the best international festival performances that I've been a part of with any band. While I was there, I got thinking about one of the first times I played Airwaves with Wolf Parade because everyone knew the songs as the record was already out. But this year with Operators was different because the album isn't out yet and it was our first time playing any of these new songs live and in front of people. The bulk of the sets at NASA and KEX, apart from "Start Again" and "True" off EP1, were songs only we and the producer have heard, so to have people respond like that was totally fucking crazy. I still feel good about those shows.
EM: Can you tell us anything about the new album due out early 2016? It sounded killer live.
DB: Yeah, the new stuff is definitely a product of being a band for a year. The electronic side of it is better integrated with the drums and guitar and vocals. We're able to just go off on the songs live, which is always so much fun. I get to just go crazy overtop the rhythm section. It's liberating.
EM: There was quite a bit of buzz around a lot of the Canadian bands at Airwaves this year (i.e. Operators, Andy Shauf, Weaves, etc). Why do you think that is?
Canada is definitely a collaborative space that is easier to create in because of the available arts funding. You don't see the same amount of rabid competition as you see with US bands, but they have to do that because there's no funding there. If you live in LA and you're in a band, no one is going to pay for you to fly to Europe and play to an empty room. There either has to be a demand for your art or you're done (laughs). But that doesn't mean there aren't negative aspects to the Canadian scene too, because then you get bands that no one wants to listen to touring Europe and making money somehow. I think that's why Canada has a bigger presence abroad at festivals like Iceland Airwaves because for better or for worse, its nationally supported and there's a real sense of collaboration and freedom, at least in the underground scene. People are actively working together to musically push themselves.
For all you Montrealers out there, Operators is playing a NYE show at Bar Le Ritz. Come hang.