Páll Oskar and Hjaltalín, Iceland Airwaves, 2009
Is the internet sufficiently developed to allow an immersive virtual experience? Writing about the Iceland Airwaves festival last week, I posted some links and expanded them as the festival went on and as I discovered more sites and blogs covering the event. I've been a fan of Iceland Airwaves for years, its mix of funky and cozy (sometimes very cozy) venues all within a short walk of each other may be unique- adding to that attribute the dozens of really new and innovative groups made it really special and... it is in Iceland!
There are some major differences this year. The scale of the event has probably doubled since I first covered it in 2006. This appears to be a mixed blessing. There is a lot of talent in Iceland, but not that much, and having the big new concert venue Harpa added to the mix may have thrown the event out of balance. Many of the reports from the festival have mentioned the lack of intimacy at the various auditoria within Harpa itself, perhaps they are only birthing pains; it may run smoother next year. I'm afraid that Harpa's need for revenue will dictate much of the festival's scheduling from now on. I'd love to see the basement of the National Theatre along with the old opera house (Gamla Bío) used as venues. There is a lot to be said for unique performance spaces, especially ones without formal seating. The elegance of Iðno and the quirkiness of the Art Museum (Listasafn) really add something to the experience.
One thing which has changed for the better for the most part is the blog and video coverage of the events. There are many more blogs covering the shows, some of which are well written, although the plague of cell-phone pictures has actually diminished the quality of the average photo. There are good photographers, of course, but it seems strange that overall image quality has gone backwards! Video quality, on the other hand, is better than ever, with some HD vids so intimate and clear that it might almost be better than being there. Almost.
I must mention Sindrí Eldon's wonderful creative and strange reviews for the Rekjavík Grapevine. Music criticism is a thankless job, but Sindrí has made me laugh out loud on several occasions over the last few years. I'm sure he rankles a few feathers but he does deliver an entertaining, informative and innovative read.
Speaking of the Reykjavík Grapevine's website, I know they are trying to update their layout, but why couldn't they simplify it a bit? Or a least kill the animations- it's like trying to shoot a moving target just to click on a link. Maybe it is supposed to be a web game. A lot of the blogs (usually Wordpress) have trouble with formatting as well, it really doesn't have to be that complicated!
Next year I hope to be back at the Airwaves, blogging in almost real time, with photos uploaded the same night- there's definitely an interest (my single post this year has been accessed dozens of times from festival goers) both during the festival and long afterwards- my posts, pictures and videos have been read or viewed tens of thousands of times in the last five years. I try not to be a jerk about it, I usually hug the wall or hide in a corner when taking pictures. I don't know what it all means in the long run, but to see two* groups of 15-year-olds go from small showcase performances to touring the world and releasing great music makes me think that in some tiny way my efforts are worthwhile.
*Retro Stefson in 2006, Pascal Pinon in 2009