Monday, November 19, 2018

Iceland Airwaves Recap

The Song Remains the Same

                      Jofriður Ákadóttir, 2009                                                      Jofriður Ákadóttir, 2018

After having had a week to process the experience of the 2018 Iceland Airwaves, it is still impossible to come to any definitive conclusions about such a multifarious event. The wide assortment of musical styles presented has always been a feature of this most diverse musical festival. That said, times change; there were certainly more rap and hop-hop acts this year as well as, for the lack of a better word, “Swedish Style” glossy and formulaic pop music. There were fewer guitar-rock groups (I didn’t see a single Stratocaster!) and not quite as many singer-songwriter-troubadours as there were when I was there was in 2009. Even EDM seemed to be down—there was no main venue devoting a whole night to it as there once was.

A significant difference in the Airwaves Festival this year is the number of female acts. It has reached parity over all styles, a most welcome development. There seemed to be more string sections in use as well, even some of the acts performing in the small off-venues utilized them. They were all very good, although the quality of the arrangements varied. One tradition which has been upheld is the inclusion of carefully chosen new acts doing original music. This isn’t American Idol, where carefully groomed acts reenact hits of the past, but rather young (in some cases very young) musicians create something new and unshaped by the crushing effects of mass marketing. There were also numerous established but quirky “only in Iceland” acts singing in Icelandic—always a joy to behold—and the over-all level of musicianship has increased since I last attended ten years ago.

The past few Airwaves have lost boatloads of money, mostly due to the importation of big and expensive foreign acts. This year, under new management, reversed that trend, giving the locals a better representation and, hopefully, financial solvency. The festival organization was excellent, with well-trained and friendly staff making sure things ran smoothly. No late start times (in one case even early!) and the scheduling was arranged that there were not too many long lines. There were fewer off-venues this year, but the ones we attended were uniformly excellent, even transcendent at times.

A big thank-you has to go to the Icelandic musicians themselves, a close-knit community that is supportive and used to collaborating in various ways. In a festival situation that can backfire, but when it works it is simply magical. Jofriður Ákadóttir (JFDR), pictured above, was a great example of this, performing in at least five different shows. She is the most creative act in Iceland right now; her musical imagination is seemingly unlimited and she even has her own candy bar! To see her growth from humble beginnings in 2009 to today is remarkable, even for Iceland. Not a “one-trick-pony,” she transcends genres while remaining true to her central vision. I saw her backing the astounding Nini Julia Bang with three other performers (Liva Mo, Sóley, Áslaug Magnusdóttir) at the Nordic House playing to an audience of 25. She was just as into it then as she was a few days later when she played to a crowd of a thousand at Harpa.

There isn’t any really good way to sum up Airwaves, but I’ll end this with a list of some of the acts that I saw, where they played, and why I found them memorable:

Skúli Sverrisson og Bára Gísladóttir, KEX Hostel: a two bass hit!

Sóley and her father, Grund: the emotional high point of Airwaves.

Gróa, Ten Tónar: Teen-age rockers with unlimited potential.

Grúska Babúska, Húrra: Icelandic gypsy band: absolutely over-the-top fun.

Ateria, Húrra: Spooky teen-age Folk-Goth girls..

Reykjavíkurdætur, Art Museum: polished Feminist Rap collective.

Nini Julia Bang, Nordic House: voice artist, best act of the festival.

Vicky, Gaukurinn: hard rockers with no compromises.

Hugar, National Theatre: extremely disciplined ambient guitar/synth duo.

Högni, National Theatre: music, poetry, and theatrics perfectly combined.

Ólafur Arnalds, Nation Theatre: ambient/classical from the master.

Liva Mo, Nordic House: delightful singer, even better raconteur.

Bláskjár, Nordic House: songs from the heart, very touching.

Between Mountains, Gamla Bíó: yin/yang duo with unlimited potential.

Sólstafir, National Theatre: highly evolved metal, great spectacle.

Sóley, National Theatre: evocative electronica, Lynchian.

Hekla, Hitt Húsið: more music from the heart, very poignant and sincere.

Jóhanna Elísa, Hitt Húsið: very smooth pop with classical overtones, delightful.

Eivør, Harpa Flói: Faroese Valkyrie with a great drummer (Høgni Lisberg).

JFDR, Harpa Flói: bad venue, bad crowd, bad sound, still electrifying.

Looking back at this list it becomes pretty obvious that The National Theatre (Þjóðleikhúsið) was the premiere main venue, while The Nordic House (Norræna Húsið) was the best off-venue. Húrra had the best sound and Floí the worst. The most charming performance? A children’s choir at Fríkirkjan on Sunday (not an Airwaves event, but so worth it.)

Will I go back?

Never say never.

NOTE: I’m off on a “secret government mission.” FITK will be back in December.

By Professor Batty


Blogger jono said...

Heck of a festival, Professor!
Which government??

Blogger Professor Batty said...

That’s a secret as well.

Blogger Shoshanah Marohn said...

Jono took the words out of my mouth. I’m going to guess you’re working on that new diversion ”country” floating in the Atlantic, “Muslamistan.” That should distract Dear Leader for a month, at least. It’s floating our way!!!

Blogger jono said...

The Mango Mussolini will only believe it if he saw it on Faux Noise.

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