How we’ve missed this Icelandic fire!

“If the volcano blows then you could be stuck here till May!” These were the words that ushered in Clash’s return to Reykjavik for our sixth year of supporting this exquisite, intense and always epic musical journey. Stuck? We’d class such chaos as a blessing!

And as we taxied along under the spectre of another flight frying lava eruption it was hard to not to feel that Volcano Katla was feeling like a party too. The rumbles were aligning our pulse to that of this warming race of people, who’ve been so resilient to weather and the elements, and who’ve recently led the world in rejecting archaic notions of economy. The future revolution may just have started here – but for this weekend the people dance. How we’ve missed this Icelandic fire!

Proffered the honour of presenting a sixth year of music from this most northern of sonic outposts we’d leapt at the chance. And we were as equally tickled to be once again dancing to aquatic techno in the Blue Lagoon as we were thrilled to be presenting a showcase with SBTRKT, Glasser, Nedry, Random Recipe and Team Me who lined up with the Icelandic bands Kiriyama Family, Bernsen and Sykur. And our venue is the legendary NASA, a place where one performance quickly melts into an entire evening and 10 new friends.

The concept of Airwaves is simple. Reykjavik goes nuts for four days thanks to the organisers exporting the best in Icelandic music into the visitors ears whilst simultaneously importing the ascendant stars from Europe and America into the lugs of the locals. We stand in the middle smiling in confusion. And the backdrop is 30 varied venues around tiny Reykjavik, a place that bustles with just 180,000 people and might just be the friendliest capital in the world.

Whilst many observers of Europe’s whimsy may blink into the void at names like Ham, Vicky, Retro Stefson or Snorri Helgason it’s obvious that nearly all these Icelanders can hold their own as they rub shoulders against the more familiar names of Yoko Ono, Beach House, tUnE-YaRds and Owen Palette. All this was played out before the final destination of Bjork’s Sunday night closer of her ‘Biophilia’ show, hosted in the stunning new opera house in the harbour. Rarely have we’ve been to a festival where the last dance was so involved and progressive as Biophilia. Bjork’s fusion of her love of nature with a rabid hunger for technology and music made you contemplate the epic beauty of this land with refreshed thought. We urge you to delve into her interactive, naturalistic new album.

But Friday’s delights were launched by For A Minor Reflection whose post rock was an epic match for the nations frozen vistas. Taking hints from Explosions in the Sky and Gasgow’s Mogwai these youngsters tip their barrel of celestial sounds on the floor in order to more clearly daub their heavenly scrawl across our eardrums. We wonder how big this band could be if they were from the safe confines of the British music industry. Other acts fully on flex were the ever evolving tUnE-YaRds, and where once Merrill Garbus brooded over a tangled mess of ideas, she now peddles a honed post-colonial explosion of African music. The massive queue to get into the club mimicked her massive increase in delivery.

Straight after we were into Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs whose sound and vision of dance music is as translucent as it is dangerous. Orlando Higginbottom excavates the spirit of rave, techno, 2-step, house and breakbeat across individual tracks to evoke monster levels of partying. At its peak the seven photographers in the pit preferred the challenge of photographing the crowd rather than the young producer who dances in a real life stegosaurus outfit.

Saturday saw the Clash party enjoy capacity crowds. The bubble gum machine gun pop of Kiriyama Family unleashed our jaunt before London’s Nedry deployed their dark and dystopian half step bass. Tackling bass culture with a band aesthetic is beginning to place them high and Reykjavik didn’t disaapoint with their reception. By now the venue was full, largely the allure of Glasser’s abstract vocal flips but it was producer-du-jour SBTRKT that many were here to see. With a new album out and lauded single ‘Wildfire’ the crowds were more than sated meaning it was rich pickings for the more fun sounds of Norway’s Team Me and local party gang Sykur to bring the evening to a suitably raucous close.

Musically Airwaves is an education. Skipping across styles, handed down carefully from different generations the whole scene feels happily conscious of its progression. Perhaps its because everyone knows everyone in Iceland, so bands don’t imitate each other here, they compete using the weapon called originality. 13 years of Airwaves has wrought some sweet moments and 2011 carried the success story. Here genres collide more intimately and intensely than anywhere else on the planet and whilst this may sound like hyperbole it’s in fact the noise of a music journalist who for half a decade has been steadily seduced by this land of ice, fire and life. We just hope that Katla doesn’t block the skies for our journey back in 12 months time. Or we’ll just have to take the boat.

Words by Matthew Bennett

View an accompanying photo gallery from Iceland Airwaves 2011 HERE.

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