I start the day with Hildur. Again. I’ll pretend that it is because hers is the first concert of the day on the off-venue schedule, but it’s actually because I’m really loving her solo stuff. Catchy and touching, with her voice cutting like a knife, I could watch her over and over. I catch myself secretly checking the schedule to see where I can see her again.
Vil provide a dreamy, and introspective sound that goes well with the books and coffee at Ida Ziemsen, whilst Jónína Aradóttir is a softly spoken singer/songwriter from Southeast Iceland. ‘The land of black sand and beautiful nature’ she says, ‘you should really go there,’ before delivering an intimate folk set.
Instead of the black sand beaches, I’m back to Harpa to see a surprise set from Axel Flóvent at the Nordic Playlist area. It’s a wonderful surprise; well delivered and accomplished modern folk. Axel has been on the cusp of ‘breaking through’ for a couple of years now. With his music being used in ‘Vampire Diaries’ and advertising, it’s only a matter of time before he does an ‘Ásgeir.’ Forest Fires fills the gigantic voids of Harpa with a stirring loveliness.
Svavar Knútur is a perennial favorite of mine. Like a modern day troubadour, his act is not just his fine plucked songs, but the banter, too. His story about the tiger and the bear had the crowd grinning from ear to ear.
At the other end of the scale, SXSXSX at the American Bar is an interesting proposition. Essentially the duo of Helgi and Björn from Úlfur Úlfur, this electronic set is as intriguing as it is danceable with surprising samples of panpipes (no, really) and harmonica against hip-hop inspired beats.
Ghosts of Greenland are actually from Iceland, and are nice enough, if not a little middle of the road. All vocal harmonies and jazzy keys, they make a suitable accomplishment to the first beer of the day.
Airwaves sometimes throws a curveball, and forces you to reconsider your choices. I was going to see Bedroom Community’s Sam Amidon, but Kaffibarinn was heaving, with the only available space in the gents toilet, just southwest of the cistern. I gave up and headed for 12 Tónar to see Sigrún. Sigrún has toured with Sigur Rós and Florence + the Machine, so should know her stuff. What followed was as challenging as it was enjoyable, an experiment where Sigrún seldom sings but howls and keens into the mic, against alternating beautiful moments of harmony with bursts of industrial noise.
Glowie is taking things very seriously during an acoustic set at Laundromat. Iceland’s newest young R’n’B star was all over the radio this summer with ‘No More,’ and she is clearly going places. East of my Youth are playing the outdoor stage at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur but the temperature has plummeted and I realize quickly why there isn’t usually an outdoor stage at Airwaves. It’s too bloody cold. I get one with everything and head for somewhere warm.
Múm & Kronos Quartet
I settle down in Eldborg for Múm and Kronos Quartet. This is obviously one of the biggest shows of the festival. Múm arrives on stage and plays some unbelievably beautiful music. At one point there is a full choir - Kórus - and Kristín and Sigurlaug alternate to increase the loveliness.
Then they go, and the Kronos Quartet takes the stage. The Quartet is undoubtedly very talented musicians, but their interjection of six pieces of unrelated music was unexpected and left me cold. I lacked the patience to wait until the second half, which I’m sure was amazing, but I had a nagging feeling that I was missing out on something else.
Turns out, I would have been. Mugison was holding a good, old fashioned rock and roll gig at Fríkirkjan. It’s at times loud and brash, with Mugison growling like a bear, whilst at other times – ‘Lazing On’ – it’s gentle and touching. He announces a new song as a ‘rockabilly’ number and seems to channel the spirits of rock and roll itself; the whole place is dancing to the dirty tune whilst the man bellows the lyrics. It feels like a party. The man from the West Fjords might just be the loudest and best thing the old church has heard for a while.
Ólöf Arnalds is in sharp contrast to Mugison, with her gentle, sweet songs over acoustic guitar. It feels like a goodnight lullaby, but it’s much too early for that.
Lake Street Dive
Over at Gamla Bíó, all the way from Boston is Lake Street Dive. They sound much better live than on record, giving their 70s inspired soul and pop a rougher edge. They play like they’ve played every back street bar in the States; I’ve never seen double bass played with such ferocity. Rachel Price has a husky, alluring voice and an ability to charm the crowd; no more so than on the closing disco fuelled ‘Call Off Your Dogs.’
Things go wrong from here on. More curveballs. The queue for Of Monsters and Men in NASA is so long it has snaked back on to Pósthússtræti. There is no way I’ll be getting in, so I head to Minor Victories at the Art Museum.
Minor Victories is loud. Very loud. It fills the half empty Art Museum with ease. I’ve seen both Editors and Mogwai live, and Minor Victories, perhaps unsurprisingly, is what you’d get mixing the two. Add vocals from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and you have a supergroup, if supergroups weren’t always just rubbish. Minor Victories is so much more than a sum of its parts.
It’s then that I realize that the timings have changed, with Kiasmos coming on early, meaning I have to forego the second half of the Minor Victories set - probably saving my hearing in the process - and leg it to Harpa Silfurberg.
Kiasmos are earth-shatteringly good. Ólafur and Janus are on good form, and the crowd is soon dancing to the intelligent, experimental techno. Thrown gets an early outing, and a stunning light show complements the duo.
The switching of bands means that I miss Samaris and it seems that last year’s favorite Lily The Kid has cancelled altogether, meaning a frustrating end to the day. I also think I might have to invest in some earplugs. Between Sigrún and Minor Victories my ears have started to ring, and there are two days left yet.
Edward Hancox - edhancox(at)live.co.uk
Edward Hancox lives in in the United Kingdom with his wife and two small, noisy children but spends as much time as he can in Iceland. Music—especially contemporary Icelandic music—is his other passion. He writes about both subjects for Iceland Review and in his debut book, Iceland, Defrosted. He does not consider himself an expert on anything.