Live Report: Iceland Airwaves 2022

Reykjavík bursts at the seams with talent...

As a non Iceland native, the excitement of touching down on this island of natural wonders and supreme hotdogs sends me into a bit of a frenzy and I have to stifle a small scream as the wheels hit the runway. Not that you ever need an excuse to hop on a plane, but renowned four day music extravaganza Iceland Airwaves provides the perfect motivation to pack your fluffiest coat and rush posts-haste to the culture packed capital. 

After two COVID ridden years, the return of the yearly showcase festival is widely anticipated and Reykjavík is practically bubbling with creative energy and new music dying to be shared with our eager ears.

The onslaught of music begins each day around 8pm, giving attendees plenty of time to explore the quietly bustling Reykjavík by day, its kitschy colourful high street packed with bars, coffee shops, vintage stores and food spots all lit by winter sun. 

As the evening sets in, the city becomes something entirely new, lights twinkle in cosy doorways and pumping music drifts from windows of bars lining the streets. When you pay for a beer, do yourself a favour and don’t google the conversion rate and you’ll have a whale of a time!

In spite of some high prices, Reykjavík is a perfect city for such a festival, the majority of the venues are a two to ten minute walk from each other and a well devised program provides a wealth of genres all within walking distance each evening. 

Among the first to open the festival, Amyl and the Sniffers take to the stage with clear purpose and within seconds the immobile crowd come alive, imbued with the unmistakably Aussie punk spirit that drips off of each member of the mullet-clad Sniffers. Amyl, all chainmail bra and attitude, takes control of the stage as they move through their well known roster, with crowd favourites such as ‘Security’, ‘Guided By Angels’ and ‘Got You’ causing the jostling onlookers to spit their lyrics back at them ferociously. 

The band slam their respective instruments in perfect chaotic time with one another and in the middle of it all, tongue flailing, muscle flexing, eyes blazing Amyl is a powerfully poignant figure of alternative femininity. “This is for my ladies, this is for my trans and non binary friends.”  She shouts, the crowd cheering enthusiastically back as the band launches into ‘Knifey’, a hard hitting anthem against assault. “All I ever wanted was to walk by the park, all I ever wanted was to walk by the river, see the stars.” 

Photo by Julie Van Den Bergh 

Carrying through the theme of the powerful feminine, Daughters of Reykjavik emerge to their headline spot at Reykjavík’s Art Museum stage to a clearly adoring fanbase. A group formed of eight hip-hop artists, you might be sceptical on how they might deliver a cohesive show. Sure enough however, their nine years performing together has created an incredible synergy between the group and each song is punctuated with choreographed pop excellence. 

Accompanied by driving bass hooks, the Daughters take turns in delivering a mix of light-hearted and deeply politicised verses, pumping up the already ecstatic crowd.

In support of the women of Iran, the group each cut a lock of hair and have the hundreds of onlookers chanting “Woman, Life, Freedom”, a powerful sight. 

It’s already apparent the festival harbour a focus on gender diversity, with over 50% of artists involved identifying as female, and while much more can be done on the fronts of venue accessibility and racial diversity, the atmosphere in each show and venue is consistently welcoming of all. 

Photo by Keira Lindgren 

Vancouver-based collective Crack Cloud round off the evening with truly a performance to behold, propelling such impassioned chaos with their energetic art-punk that most of us are glued to the spot wide-eyed throughout. The band seem to almost forget the crowd are there, lost in their pursuit, screeching saxophone collides with erratic drums and barking, David Byrne like vocals creating a vacuum of sound centre stage. 

An explosive first day for sure; many crawl back to their beds while the enthusiastic few party into the morning hours. 

Photo by Alexander Matukhno 

Friday rolls through with a sense of excitement hanging in the icy air as punters gear up for another evening of music. By Friday, we all know our way around a little better and to combat the hangovers many people headed out the city’s various public pools for a steam, bubble and dip, emerging back into the afternoon like swaddled babies ready to soak up more musical discovery. 

While the big names on the lineup are of course worth the watch, Airwaves prides itself on showcasing fresh talent, so make sure to scour the list for smaller or off venue shows spanned across the afternoon as well as the official evening shows.  Many bands play two or even three sets across the weekend, giving festival-goers plenty of opportunity to catch them. 

Photo by Florian Trykowski 

Supersport! are one such band, delivering a heartwarming roster at a student union bar just outside of town. It’s instantly clear why Supersport! are a crowd favourite, a sweet artsy bunch who’s no frills indie-pop performance is driven by an honest love of music and each other. Weaving their way through Beatle-esque sing-song vocals to heavier instrumentals, the sound rings satisfyingly full with the calculated vocal and instrumental harmonies, the subject matter covering everything from platonic love and radical community to “leaving your iPhone charger in a house you have no business going back for”. 

A few other favourites of the evening come in the form of Kóboykex, a Faroese rootin-tootin cowboy themed five piece, Chiiild with their experimental soul soothing the crowd of Gamla Bíó and Gróa, a young Icelandic punk band who bring a uniquely defiant energy to the murky upstairs at Gaukurrin, flashing their ‘granny pants’ and smashing their instruments with reckless skill. 

As the last day of the festival dawns, many seize their last chance for excursions outside of town, strolls along the waterfront, soaks in the steaming blue lagoon, or maybe just inhaling a few more hotdogs from the famous stand downtown. 

A far cry from the delicious chaos of Amyl and the Sniffers, more intimate sets can be found in Fríkirkjan, a small church just off the beaten path of the main street. Quiet onlookers fill the pews as the sweeping acoustics and candlelit altar bare witness to some incredible performances. 

Rounding off the Saturday, Arooj Aftab and accompanying guitarist Gyan Riley are the perfect choice for this cinematic setting. Described as a marriage of jazz and neo-Sufi styles, Aftab lulls the crowd into a trance with her powerfully lilting notes and compelling presence. The symbiosis between Aftab and Riley is astounding, jaws drop as he plucks the electro acoustic strings with staggering skill, weaving notes in tandem with Arooj’s reverb soaked voice. As she performs, Aftab plucks roses from a vase and hands them out to the crowd. The sombre atmosphere is offset by Aftab’s dry humour, as she tells us “People think this music is a very sad lament and about the tragedies of the eastern world but actually it’s about getting drunk and failing at love.” 

Headliner Arlo Parks delivers a sweetly sun-soaked set, with the smoothest voice you’re ever likely to hear echoing through the museum’s hall. The band groove along to each song with a familial synchronicity and it’s impossible not to be swept up in the infectious emotion radiating from the stage as she sings “Won’t hurt so much forever..”.

Last special mention goes to Inspector Spacetime, a groove ridden electronic three-piece who had the late night crowd bouncing off Hurra’s sweaty walls.

Don’t fret, the fun doesn’t end with the last act; DJ’s, pubs, bars and even kebab shops pumping with hits wait to greet you on the outside and it’s many hours before Reykjavík’s streets empty of music lovers.

Photo by Alexander Matukhno 

Now that you’ve been bombarded with all that, hopefully you’d like to see for yourself! Early Bird Tickets for Iceland Airwaves are already on sale here, grab yourself one now.

Words by: Oshen Douglas-McCormick 

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