After having safely returned to Flippist World Headquarters from my recent trip to Iceland, I’ll offer some reflections on the experience.
Despite the admonition in the graffiti in the above image, I can’t imagine a more hospitable travel destination than this lump of lava in the North Atlantic. Nearly everyone I dealt with was pleasant and friendly, starting with the Passport Control agents in KEF at 06:45. Because I came just before Halloween, my food choices at Kronan were wider than usual:
Halloween is an odd festival, a throw-back to ancient paganism, that manages to maintain its archetypal appeal to children of all ages. To see the decorations and the costumed children around Reykjavík is common ground to me; Flippist World Headquarters is located in The Halloween Capital of the World™
. Reykjavík, under a nearly full moon, found its iconic sights to be even more enchanting as shown in this view from my apartment window:
This trip was especially notable for my lodging
, part of a house overlooking Tjörnin, the pond in the center of town. My rooms were the opposite of often-sterile travel accomodations: filled with intriguing objet d’art, most of it original, quirky mementos, and even a guitar! Most hosts were warm and welcoming, two adjectives that would come to define this trip. My daily walks, my time spent in the the heated pools of Vesturbæjarlaug, interactions with service personnel and, of course, the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival experience.
The Iceland Airwaves has changed over the years; from an economic viewpoint it has always been marginally successful. This problem is clearly delineated in Jón Trausti Sigurðarson’s Reykjavík Grapevine article “Is Iceland Airwaves Past Its Prime?”
which paralleled my Airwaves experiences, and why I had stopped going for nine years. The festivals basic dilemma is that international fans want to see unique Iceland artists while Icelanders want to see foreign acts. The music business has, for a variety of reasons (including Covid) made it hard for up-and-coming acts to tour and, at the same time, mega-stars command a bigger slice of live performance revenues.
Another problem with modern music, and not just with Airwaves, is the dearth of original new acts. As social media has supplanted the older forms of music exposure, those groups that do get traction tend to be corporate-controlled re-hashes of existing styles, with an emphasis on visuals, rather than the music itself. Eurovision anyone? This has always been true to an extent, but the trend has gotten much more pronounced.
Iceland has always had an advantage here in that its educational system is very supportive of musical exploration, even to the point of subsidizing new acts, allowing them to compete on an international stage. Groups such as Retro Stefson
(2006), Pascal Pinon
(2009) and Samaris
(2011) were touring Europe and Asia while their members were still in their teens. Other teen acts such as Ateria
and Between Mountains
, both of whom I saw in 2018, were fully developed. While I did see a few teen-aged acts this year, they were still a year or two away from being ready for a broader stage. The most vibrant young act that I saw this year was Gróa
, who made their Airwaves debut five
All of this rumination about youth leads to a related phenomenon, the “graying” of the audience. I attended my first airwaves when I was 56 years old. I was usually the oldest person in the room. This year I was 73 and often found myself surrounded by other
seniors. This, in itself, is not a bad thing, but the vibrancy of youth is its greatest asset
, one that cannot be faked.
There were many subtle moments of joy I had this year while meeting and bonding with several people who were, like me, interested in all aspects of Icelandic culture, other “fellow travelers” in this quixotic adventure. Special mention must be made of Kevin Cole, program director of Seattle radio station KEXP and DJ par excellence. The way we kept running into each other was almost comical. While KEXP hasn’t been able to resume their remote Iceland broadcasts post-Covid, Kevin was here, faithfully connecting with and still supporting Icelandic music (and doing a killer DJ set at Smekkleysa that featured Icelandic artists.) I had first met Kevin in Seattle in 2011 but we were both veterans of the Minneapolis music scene of the 70s. In the 80s his stint at REV-105 introduced me (through my children) to a new generation of music.
Various highlights of this trip:
Look at the Music!
— signing poetry with choral compositions to match…
Hallgrímskirkja lit up in purple…
Chatting with Björk (not that
Björk), my Airbnb host…
Chatting with numerous folk in the hot-pots at Vesterbæjarlaug…
Living through an earthquake! Twice!
Seeing two great guitarists, Halli Guðmundsson
(Jazz) and Langiseli
(Rockabilly) in one afternoon, Lucky Records…
Icelandic rapper GKR
, extremely intense and
The mini-reunion of Pascal Pinon
in Yeoman, a fashion boutique…
, the thereminist, in her tour-de-force marathon performance in Fríkirkjan…
, whose teen-aged friendship grew into a delightful pop duo based on love and respect…
, an exceptional composer and keyboard performer followed by Gróa
, Punk Supreme, in Lucky Records. The crowd stayed for both acts! Tres cool…
All the conversations with many people between shows…
And, of course, JFDR
(Jófríður Ákadóttir), her sisters Ásthildur and Marta, and
their father Áki Ásgeirsson, each of whom I saw perform this weekend.
Search for a Dancer
is the memior of my 2022
Iceland Airwaves experience.