Sat beside Sigtryggur Baldursson eating poached eggs and avocado at Melhagi’s Kaffihús Vesturbæjar – an Icelandic brunch spot that lives up to multiple Nordic fantasies – is no doubt one of the better ways to conclude a music festival. Given the buzz still active upon Clash’s 3am departure time the night before, presumably it’s one of Reykjavik’s rarer ways too.
Late bed times aside, the chance to talk shop with a founding member of The Sugarcubes (by which we mean swap bad drummer jokes and discuss “the so-called Icelandic music exportation phenomenon” – Baldursson now has a post at Iceland Music Export), is an event most attendees of Iceland Airwaves’ 18th edition won’t have been privy too, despite what you might have heard about the country’s compact population size.
Clash’s invite to the breakfast table is a result of Icelandair's new ‘Celebration Stopover Buddies’ service – stick with us – a seasonal venture that pairs those using the airline with the people flying the plane, or working in the IT department, or the finance office, or the staff canteen, as the case may be.
If you’re lucky you’ll get to break bread with a real life pilot who’s also a drummer who’s also got a sibling in a famous Icelandic band (shoutout to new pal Sverrir): at the very least you’ll have a temporary BFF who can direct you to the place nearest your hotel to pick up tampons, or tell you which bar you’ll want to find yourself in when the music stops and loneliness sets in…
Rewind 48 hours to a time when Clash wasn’t au fait with the smell of fermented shark – a wonderful, innocent time – and our first taste of Airwaves 2K16 arrives through a dull coach window: there’s a record store, an excited crowd and a couple of guys playing guitars in wrestling masks. We haven’t even reached the hotel.
The first audible experience of the weekend then, is delivered by local band Vök at the Reykjavik Art Museum. Two of our new posse are friends with the frontwoman, which offers both an indication of the aforementioned population size as well as a hint of that high school battle of the bands vibe, when you knew everyone in all the bands because all the band members were in your year at school. While Wikipedia suggests the band did get together on account of a music contest, we’re relieved and excited in equal measure as tracks like ‘Waiting’ and ‘Before’ convince us the hype around Margrét Rán and co isn’t the result of any high school hangover but in fact completely justified.
Later at Harpa – the city’s first purpose built concert hall and the festival’s main site – it feels like a one in one out situation at Warpaint until Clash shimmies into the bosom of the crowd and finds enough space to wave our arms and cautiously shake our hips. A mix of songs old, new and very new are met with a keen reception, while a nod to the room’s native tongue from Emily Kokal – who like Clash has picked up ‘skál’ (look it up) with considerable eagerness – is greeted with the respective volume of cheer.
Shortly after is Kiasmos, boasting an entertaining laser show they offer enough punch to keep the dancefloor occupied and its inhabitants in motion, followed by the metaphorical rolling out of the red carpet for Santigold, who spends the next hour gloriously asserting the presence of a queen: a pinstripe suit of Stop Making Sense proportions is swapped for a translucent raincoat with pockets full of corner shop supplies is swapped for a satin party frock; two dancers decked out in sharp black sunglasses make striking shapes, and all the while we’re reminded of what a great time the late noughties was for music. More recent tracks such as ‘Can’t Get Enough of Myself’ are similarly embraced with a powerful vigour, and the whole thing ends with a stage invasion soundtracked by ‘Creator’.
Come Saturday afternoon we’ve swapped Harpa’s Olafur Eliasson designed shell for something of a similar grandeur, in magnitude at least, as two members of Valdimar serenade us in an elaborate tomato greenhouse: it’s the right kind of fun to keep all in attendance in conversation over lunch, which, naturally, is tomato soup. We’ll later learn that Kim and Kanye also sampled said produce on their last time in town.
Back in more conservative surroundings, the city’s proposed star attraction is Björk’s 5pm show in Harpa’s Eldborg hall; on the official schedule but billed as a separate event, the sit down gig is accompanied by a full orchestra, as a costume change and an interval steer a set list filled exclusively with songs from 2015’s Vulnicura. The Internet’s half nine slot is a different beast altogether, as sports hall-cum-music venue Valshöllin makes its festival debut and the age of most audience members slides south of 27. The upshot of such parts, plus Syd tha Kid’s stage presence, a surprise Outkast cover and a fiercely animated mood, is a set that gives good feels to performers and observers alike.
The jolliest of them all title is reserved for our final visit to Harpa and FM Belfast’s 10th festival anniversary. Initial post-show notes recall references to Dananananaykroyd, Sink The Pink, Architecture in Helsinki, Arrested Development, Wes Anderson, and perhaps the most telling, floor shaking, while unaccounted for in our immediate review is any mention of the sweat, the masses of metallic streamers, the calls for crowd participation, and the cover of ‘Wonderwall’. It’s the ultimate party to wrap up the weekend’s new gang mentality, and by the time brunch comes round the following day we’re all certain they’d be our outfit of choice should a career change come knocking.
Words: Zoe Whitfield
To learn more about booking your own free Stopover service with Icelandair head here.