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Tips for Iceland Airwaves 2014

Entire Harpa audience on the ground

Entire Harpa audience on their knees at FM Belfast

Another year, another Iceland Airwaves.  It’s time again for one of my favorite music festivals of the year.   Me, you, and approximately 9,000 other festival ticket holders will be invading the city of Reykjavik for 5 days of non-stop music, art and beauty surrounded by amazing scenery and  unique culture.  I’ve revised my list of pointers I’ve gathered over the years, and here they be:

The first and probably best tip I can give you is that Positivity and awareness of the people around you goes a long way.  Iceland can be quite laid back, and while there typically is no rush, its people will do their best to help you in most any situation. It’s a small island, and there really isn’t room for ego’s or entitlements so do your best not to be rude or condescending.  if something is taking longer than usual or needs a little tinkering to be just right, just breathe and remember that 9,000+ of us just landed on the island and the folks helping us out are most likely doing their best. Getting cross or yelling at people will get you absolutely nowhere.

Prepare! Prepare! Prepare!, there are over 200 bands playing in a matter of 5 days. Learn you stuff before you even land, make primary plans as well as back up plans in the event you can’t get into the primary gigs you want to see. Spotify has an Airwaves playlist, the Iceland Airwaves website has details on all the bands with links to their music, as well as an app where you can browse bands, create schedules, and let your friends know where you are.

I have a page dedicated to the Iceland Artists loosely sorted by genres. There is going to be a lot of new music you haven’t heard, and getting a head start on previewing it will make for a broader, more musically expanding experience.   There is a free English newspaper in Iceland called the Grapevine.  They always put out a detailed Airwaves issue, and I suggest you get that as well.

Pétur Ben at an off-venue gig at Kex Hostel

Pétur Ben at an off-venue gig at Kex Hostel

There are a lot of Off-venue gigs as well, over 600 of them this year at 44 different spots around the city. Off-venues are shorter daytime gigs the bands put on in coffee houses, hostels, and other gathering places around the city. You don’t need a festival wristband to get into them, so if you are planning on seeing someone, it’s always a good idea to get there early as it’s first come first serve for the whole city.

 

Be Social, chances are you will find yourself waiting in a queue for a gig, or standing around waiting for a band to begin. Use that time to talk to the people around you. We all have our love for music in common and talking with someone near you may lead to discoveries of bands you would have never thought to go and hear. It took me a few years to get used to this, and a few of my Icelandic friends are always commenting that I need to be more social. The key advantage to being social is that there are quite a few after-parties and unplanned sets that happen around Reykjavik, being social will make attending these much easier for you.

If you really like a band, buy their merch at the festival. A lot of times you won’t be able to purchase it, or have to pay huge shipping costs otherwise.  Reykjavik is home to two of my favorite record shops, 12 Tónar and Lucky Records.  So make sure to include browsing these shops in your itinerary for the festival.  And be on the lookout for small-ish merch booths at the different gigs you attend.

It looks like a wabbit

It looks like a wabbit

Be a tourist, at least for a day. Iceland is gorgeous, there is a reason everyone freaks out about the volcanic valleys and waterfalls. Make sure to take some time to tour around. The Golden circle tour may seem to be too “touristy” but it’s not. It spans a great deal of distance, and the guides are chock-full of information.  It can all be done during the day so you can return in time for the night festivities no problem. One of my favorite new Icelandic travel blogs is I heart Reykjavik.  She has a very sweet and informative online presence, her Facebook page is entertaining and informative, and she offers daily walking tours around Reykjavik.  Be quick to reserve as she sells out rather quickly, I’ve yet to work one of her tours into my schedule when I’m there, but I’ve had plenty of people tell me how much they loved her.

And finally, It’s possible you may run into some of your favorite mythical Icelandic band members.  While telling the band thank you is typically appreciated, or casually chatting about this or that while in a queue, nobody likes a stalker.  Chasing them down the street screaming, or camping out waiting to catch a glimpse of avocados being peeled or coffee being consumed is just creepy and not the norm in Iceland.  It will make for really awkward situations, chances are if these guys are around, they want to listen and see the bands playing as well. It’s an island, not a zoo; and they are your concert going peers, not monkeys.

So, show up relaxed and ready to mingle, do your homework on what you want to see, and explore, this is the gist of it. It’s a fantastic festival put on by awesome folks.  I’ve yet to hear anyone ever say they won’t be trying their hardest to return the next year.

You can read about my previous re-caps of Iceland Airwaves here.  And you can see my photos from Last year’s festival here.  See you there!

 

 

Iceland Airwaves recap part 3- the rest

So now that I’ve covered the new bands I was excited to see, and the bands I always look forward to seeing,  I can discuss the rest of the festival. This year there was a lot of Pylsa eating, beer and vodka consumption, and Northern lights!  until this last trip, I have never seen the Northern lights, so this definitely was a treat, and one I actually just enjoyed, without snapping a pic.

Really, there were only two non-Icelandic must sees for me, Anna Von Hausswolff and Zola Jesus.  I went out of my way to make sure I was going to see both, and with the packed crowd I lucked out that Samaris was right before the Anna Von Hausswolff show at Gamla Bíó.  micsingAnna Von Hausswollf, put on an incredibly haunting performance.   she and the band with their intense harmonization and emotional drumming was just as amazing as I expected.  The venue was so packed I was surprised NOT to see people hanging from the rafters, but I may have missed them from not being able to look up for fear of stepping on someone below.  It certainly was packed, and the onslaught of photographers in the beginning did not help with the crowded situation.

And this brings up one of the few issues I had with Airwaves this year, the aggressive photographers.  Not all were this aggressive, but there were a few who went completely overboard to get a pretty picture.  Boom goes the camera flashI applaud the quick and stern email Airwaves sent out after this reminding photographers that the festival is for all people attending, not just the press, and that it was absolutely not OK to use a flash directly into the face of performers, but until this email, it was common to see this happening to artists and the crowd:

This picture was the beginning of the Show, as you can see, even the artist is flinching away from the insanely close use of a flash, and the amount of people using it.  And unfortunately, if you were in the first couple of rows, a line of photog-ass was your view.   The lighting made for a tough show to shoot, But as this picture shows, these guys were insane with trying and they continued through almost two complete songs. Stopping only after a certain fan of Anna’s, out of awe of her music I’m sure, climbed on stage and proclaimed her love for the music by laying down right next to Anna’s keys and flashing metal signs.

Kimono at Bar 11

Kimono at Bar 11

AlisonK

Alison from Kimono at Gamli Gaukurinn

Kimono, oh dear sweet Kimono.  I admit, I saw them three times in total.  First show was Bar 11 before Metz, second at Gamli Gaukurinn, and I saw half of their final set at Lucky Records the next day.  Kimono are an old staple in Iceland, one could argue they’ve influenced a lot of music in their time, so it was great to see them live again.

Their gigs certified  they still have it.  Heavy instrumentation, with just ever-so-slightly aggressive vocals trudging through the the set.   The band was kind enough to play my favorite song, The Wire (I’m sure it was all for me) at all three gigs,  and someone paid tribute to Alison’s paying tribute at Anna Von Haussenwolffs performance at Gamli Gaukurinn by laying down center stage and flashing metal signs while soaking in Kimono’s heavy beats.

They also introduced a few new tracks that they have been working on, including a dance number, well as dance number as Kimono can get,  Think a modern Les Savy Fav.  It excites me that they are working on new stuff.  These guys are another band that personifies the Icelandic music culture.  They’ve been playing for well over a decade, and as dedicated and serious as they are about their task, they still take the time to have fun on stage, and they also display that natural ability to include the audience in that fun, cracking jokes, heckling back and just overall having a good time playing music they love.  And they have no fear about working on new stuff that may differ from the old.  It’s an epic work ethic they have, and I’m all the more excited about it.

zolaAnd of course, Zola Jesus.  She came to Iceland with a brand new band.  If she hadn’t told the audience they were new, I don’t think we would have noticed as they played a wonderful set at Gamla Bíó.  Zola was full of her typical energy and after jumping off stage barefoot, she spent a good time serenading audience members, jumping on chairs, and whipping her mic chord around barriers like a seasoned cowboy lassoing a bull.  As I’m a bit biased when it comes to Zola concerts, it was good to read that not just I was impressed with her set.  I’m glad Iceland got to see her.

Really, there is so much more one could write about, and there are so many more pics that I could share.  Iceland Airwaves yet again delivered a fantastic festival and Iceland proved to be the ever amazingly Martha Stewart of sovereign hosts.

If you want to know about how a band you dug did, the Grapevine blogged about EVERY on-venue show this year on their Airwaves dedicated blog space.  Their presence and that blog were an amazing thing this year and a great addition to the festival experience, maybe I’m just partial because they flattered me by publishing my blog/article on supporting the local Icelandic musicians, but no, it’s an extremely well put together blog about the festival over all, and you have to give Grapevine major props for the hard work they put into it.  You can see all my photos from Iceland Airwaves here, or by clicking on one of the pictures above.

It’s weird to end a blog post without my four weird questions, so I leave you with one of them, answered while some mocking was being done about the questions I ask, by Kjartan from For a Minor Reflection:

What animal would you be, and what song would you sing? A raccoon, because raccoons are the coolest animal.. And Total eclipse of the heart, because that would be the coolest song for a raccoon to sing…..

Golly gee, I’m in the Grapevine Ma

I had suggested to Grapevine that they write an article encouraging us as the festival attendees to support Icelandic bands playing Airwaves.  They then suggested that I, a non writer, write the article.  I replied, what the hell I’ll give it a go.

Historically, Icelandic bands were not paid to play Airwaves, doing it for the exposure and because they love their craft, and I felt someone should talk about it.  This year’s festival has been running smoothly, and for the first time, all Icelandic bands were paid for their performances.  This is an awesome development by Airwaves that I’m very pleased with.

I think it’s still key to support our local musician hosts so they can continue doing what they do.

You can read my article here on the Airwaves Grapevine blog:

http://airwaves.grapevine.is/grapevine-airwaves-2013/support-the-ones-who-host-you/