REYKJAVIK, Iceland (VIP) — The ninth Airwaves festival in Reykjavik, was always going to be a mixed affair, and this year certainly disappoint.
It’s a festival of stark differences: the arctic frost versus the warm hospitality, the somewhat haphazard feel to the event versus an enviable pedigree in presenting new and exciting talent, and the fact that just hours after partying hard with tomorrow’s darlings, you can be de-toxing in delightful geo-thermal hot springs. In short, you never quite know what to expect next.
As part of her new role as ambassador of all things Icelandic and musical, new export office boss Anna Hildur staged a one day digital music seminar, Who is In Control?, which took place before Airwaves cranked up (and while delegates could still think straight). During what proved to be an immensely insightful and well-planned event, was a panel concerning the possibility of using Iceland as a test territory for a national music subscription model, and a number of case studies including Jane Pollard of the Beggars Group revealing that the marketing campaign for Thom Yorke’s ‘Eraser’ album had spread from 20 targeted text messages to generate over 2 million views of his web site, and at a total cost of under £5,000! Other subjects covered included alternative marketing campaigns, ecommerce sales and shopping digital, and a futuristic look ahead into future mobile nirvana.
But for the vast majority of visitors – and almost every European nation seemed represented, alongside a healthy dose of Americans and Japanese – Airwaves was all about the music. By spreading its line up throughout the bars and clubs of Reykjavik (there were nine official venues, but a multitude more of off-festival events), Airwaves doesn’t have a headliner per se, although familiar names included Bloc Party, !!!, Buck 65 and local heroes GusGus. However, it’s in the earlier spots that the event shines, and this year was no exception.
For imported acts, the UK’s Slow Club showcased some compelling melody with their White Stripes-style set up, and the acoustic lo-fi splendour of Sweden’s Loney, Dear was of similar standard. The Jeff Buckley-esque sounds of Californian three-piece Plants & Animals were melancholic, distraught and altogether beautiful, and hot tip Friendly Fires (UK) also didn’t disappoint.
Perhaps it’s that puffin watching and whaling is seasonal, thus leaving time for more introspective pursuits, but head to head with the international competition, for a country of just 300,000, Iceland punches well above its weight in just about every style imaginable. From best-selling local act Lay Low, to established names such as múm, techno-faves GisGus and heavy rockers Minus, there’s much for Icelanders to be proud of. Ampop showcased a maturing, more developed ambient sound, and Valgeir Sigurosson’s breakbeats seemed to drip with glacial cool like a Massive Attack on a mountain.
Part of the event’s draw is that you never know quite what you’re going to stumble across next, and across the four nights of Airwaves, music echoes from every bar and side street, long into the night. With its tenth anniversary in 2008, it’s hard to see how this now established event can improve upon such a successful formula. At least without growing its international presence substantially, and thus risking losing its charm. Sure, there are few places where a half decent sweater will set you back £200, and the phrase “My round?” is liable to initiate a full-blown panic attack, but if you can weather the high prices, and some super-sharp temperatures, Airwaves is a hard act to follow.