I’ve worn plenty of wristbands in my day, but this one I wear with MOST PRIDE. Having been accepted to my second Iceland Airwaves Music Festival as a media pass holder is an opportunity that I do NOT take lightly, and I tried my best to capture the highlights of this magical, musical mystery tour. Not only does this “land of Ice” know know to shatter glass ceilings and defy the odds of artistic potential and possibility, but it does so in a way that is warm (“land of fire”) and welcoming, and so in the least bit pretentious. The sky is definitely the limit for this innovative, ingenious, impressive Island. The music, people, and scenery is uncharacteristic of anywhere else. ❤
Here are some of the bands that left a lasting impression in my mind and made me question the boundaries of human creativity (click on names or links below to see the full reviews): Hatari, Hogni, Hormonar, Kiriyama Family, We Made God, Omotrack, Rythmatik, Captain Syrup, Arstidir, Between Mountains, Axel Flovent, Mani Orrason, One Week Wonder, GDJYB (non-Icelandic), and Mammut (a personal favorite). Since my review for Mammut was taking a very long to write (I often find it most difficult to write about bands that move me the most), I decided to write a combined review on their 2017 & 2018 Airwaves shows. Other Icelandic bands I have written about in the past are Asgeir, VAR, Vok, Kaleo, For a Minor Reflection, Sin Fang, Agent Fresco, Lay Low, Rokvva, Samaris, etc. See my reviews on Asgeir and Low Roar. See videos below from Airwaves 2017 when Mammut performed ‘Kinder Versions,’ ‘Pray for Air in the Water,’ ‘The Moon Will Never Turn on Me,’ ‘Walls,’ and ‘What’s Your Secret‘ (these absolutely SLAY):
Meeting the AMAZING ICELANDIC BAND who I hope will ALWAYS BE FAMILY, Kiriyama Family. I was hooked HARD ever since I saw them at Secret Solstice Festival in June 2017 and could not WAIT to see them again at Iceland Airwaves Music Festival that same year. They dropped my jaw to the ground once again at Airwaves and had me flailing my hands in the air like a madwoman. Formed back in 2012 by core members Karl Bjarnarson (vocals, guitar, bass and keys), Guđmudur Jónsson (guitar, bass and keys), Viđir Björnsson (guitar, bass and keys) and Bassi Ólafsson (drums and percussion), keyboarder Bjarni Ævar Árnason and vocalist Hulda Kristín were added in 2014 to complete this phenomenal six-piece family we see today. All six are fantastic musicians in their own right, but know how to play their instruments and each others (known for several swapping during the set), proving they really do have that THE CHEMISTRY that they sing so proud and loud in their hit track track ‘Chemistry‘: “I’m not imagining this chemistry… so why don’t you just come with me.” We are surely not imagining it either. This chemistry is as real as it gets. You also don’t have to imagine the euphoria that they are feeling up there on stage, the pure joy that they have connecting with one another (they are all very close friends) and connecting with the audience who they welcome so comfortable with their down-to-earth demeanor and effortless, engaging charm.
Combining nostalgic 1980s synth pop with late 1970’s yacht/jazz rock and modern-day atmospheric, progressive rock, the band serves up a tasty experimental genre courtesy of their own “family recipe.” Armed with an array of synthesizers, guitar, and bass, Kiriyama Family combines influences of Steely Dan, Arcade Fire, Tame Impala, and M83, into a sounds that makes them stand out from many other bands I have seen (and I have seen THOUSANDS). They are a band where I am truly at a lost to find any sort of comparison (which is ALWAYS a good thing). Even more impressive are the gorgeous vocal harmonies of Hulda and Karl that will lather you in chills the instant you hear them. These harmonies are especially strong in ‘Innocence,’ one of their stand-out tracks that was #1 on Icelandic Music charts when it was first released. Check out a video below, where you can hear me shout “This one is the shit.” 🙂
Hulda’s powerhouse pipes will make you impulsively WAIL OUT LOUD to the catchy chorus as if no one was watching (at least I did, with carotid’s bulging out of my neck): “You’re looking for an answer, and try to dig deeper But you can’t always get higher lord … oh, my innocence is gold, I’ve got to wake up from this silliness, I’m not right for this. ” What’s interesting is that this catchy chorus follows a particularly pensive intro (some of my favorite Kiriyama Family lyrics) that really embody the contant self-talk most of us battle: “I was deluded to say that, you could never find your preferable self. Seeing as it’s just a matter of perspective and you are the observer of own point of view. But just remember to relax, nothing is for certain and you will never pass as anything worth mentioning if you never step out of your comfort zone.” Stepping out of your comfort zone is my main modus operandi, and I often try and remind myself that “you are only as good as your boldest experiment.” I always do appreciate the reminder, especially when sung by such soothing vocals. Other beautiful vocals can be heard in their lovely (#1 on their Spotify) love song ‘About You‘ (video below): “But now i only focus on one thing to help me set the pain aside, just a little something that’s more beautiful then i dear to describe… oh, there’s something about you.. I wanna be the one who sets fire to your heart.” My heart! ❤
Then there’s ‘Weekend,’ a funky, chill track showcasing Bassi’s perky percussion and Karl’s once again thought-provoking lyrics: “And all of my friends got lost in the sands of time and doubts, as soon as the waves crashed down.” ‘Bassi’s tight rhythmic drumming also kicks off ‘Lightyears Away,’ a track that starts off slow but picks up speed in stride with the urgency of Hulda’ eager impatience for her love: “There is nothing I would rather do than sit here with you… but I’m a million light-years away from you.” Another favorite is ‘Apart,’ (video below) featuring a happy hypnotic keyboard intro (courtesy of Guðmundur) and deep, funky bass (thank you Viđir) that does in fact “catch you off guard” when you learn the lyrics are not so happy: “All I can say is that we’re meant to be apart… And all I can do is hope that you don’t catch my heart off guard.” A final favorite (though I love them all) from the collection is ‘Anywhere But Here,’ which takes us on a exhilarating journey of groovy twists and turns that pair perfectly with the capricious call-and-response vocals between Karl (“sometimes you feel like all of our dreams are drifting away while we’re blinking, but I won’t let that happen on my watch…”) and Hulda (“don’t say that”). One of the most intriguing parts is when Karl responds to Hulda’s (don’t say that”) with “It’s Oh darling don’t get me started, I’m a changed man.”
It’s true that “We could be anywhere by here,” but do we really want to be? I think not. In fact, there is no where I would rather be than at their Saturday night Iceland Airwaves set. This is the family moment I have been “Waiting for,” and such a perfect name to their upcoming sophomore album to be release this spring. Mad props to their awesome manager Jeff Rude who keeps me up to speed with this fantastic family. 🙂
HATARI was BY FAR my favorite, unexpected discovery of Iceland Airwaves 2017. Their name, which translates to “hater” in Icelandic, suits the venomous vibe of their “experimental bondage dark ambient darkwave goth punk synth” (check out their Bandcamp). Formed back in 2015, this transfixing trio — Klemens Hannigan (vocals), Matthías Tryggvi Haraldson (vocals), and Einar Stéfansson (drums, also the drummer for the amazing band Vok!) — have already earned themselves Reykjavik’s Grapvine‘s “Best Live Band” pick of 2016 and 2017 (check out their comical interview). Their BDSM garb and bizarre masks (worn mainly by Einar) perfectly compliment the cult-like atmosphere that they create with their dark, enigmatic electronic-punk and their eccentric, bizarre behavior (crawling on the bar, swinging around poles, and screaming like the devil). What’s most compelling about Hatari is their discerning dichotomies: devilish, primal screams delivered with a stolid, poker face… disturbing, suicide lyrics shouted to happy techno beats… fearful, yet amused. They exude a mystery and allure that is truly magnetic, and I had such a hard time pulling myself away. Mad props to Hatari for helping the crowd unleash our inner demons and making us “haters” against all the rampant hypocrisy that exists in this world. AND, I later learned that Bjork was one of the unexpected crowd members that Matthías locked eyes when he swung down from the pole that show. ONLY IN ICELAND. ❤️ Can’t WAIT to see them again at Airwaves this year!
“I’m in love I’m in love I’m in love can’t you tell?”… I’M IN LOVE with this song ‘Moon pitcher‘ that Hogni wrote for his fiance in his debut album, Two Trains, released Oct 2017 by Erased Tapes record label. Hogni quotes: “I feel I tried my best to create an honest and passionate piece of musical work and I hope you will find the time and space to enjoy it as well as finding that connection. As a musician you aspire to create that other world, that sense of hypnosis.” I def entered that other world, “CAN’T YOU TELL.” 🙂 ❤
Hogni was one of my top new discoveries at Secret Solstice 2017, and I could not wait to see him again at Iceland Airwaves 6 months later. His deep vocals and ethereal, experimental electronic arrangements simply SLAY, and I was so happy to hear the new gems from Two Trains, an album that he describes in the following words:
“The music on Two Trains is a blue-print of a period in my life where I collided with my own self, and at that point I felt the indifference between the personal and the universal, the absolute consciousness of life’s unconsciousness. Perhaps it’s a feeling that cannot be conveyed, like watercolours that just seem to wash off into the sea. But also a flashing mirage that you can enjoy before you arrive at your last destination.”
Hogni also alludes to this album as a personal expression of the tugging dichotomies he faces while living with bipolar disorder: “I’m bipolar. I got very sick and it has affected my life drastically. This album bears witness to it… (In) the last few years, the swings have decreased in size. When I was the most ill a few years ago, I felt terrible, even if you couldn’t see it. There was just so much going on, lots of fun, and even excitement about going to the psych ward for the first time. Like I was going down a new path for myself. But I haven’t seen it as exciting since then.”
Maybe this phenomena is what he was describing in his song (video below) where he sings: “Wonderful dreams that were uncomfortable scenes out of nowhere… Wonderful scenes that were uncomfortable schemes out of nowhere.”
Previously known as frontman of the well-known indie rock band Hjaltalin and former member of ambient-techno group GusGus), Hogni proves that “Two Trains”, “change and metamorphosis” are his preferred method of transportation in this journey we call life. His “I can do whatever I dream” (lyrics in one of the videos below) is infectious and his tenacity for movement and exploration are an inspiration to us all: “My life is untethered, in many ways,” Högni says. “I try to focus on making good music and seeking inspiration, chasing experiences, travelling and finding adventures.
Aside from fronting two touring bands, Hogni has made time to score numerous theatre pieces, most notably The Heart of Robin Hood (dir. Gísli Gardarsson), staged by The Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 and Angels of the Universe (dir. Thorleifur Örn Arnarsson), the Icelandic National Theatre’s 2013 adaptation of a well-known and loved novel and film of the same title.mHe has also written music for film and television, including a well-received score for short film Víkingar (dir. Magali Magistry, 2013) which won the Golden Rail award and was nominated for the Discovery award, both at the Cannes Film Festival. There really is no telling where his “Two Trains” will take us next. I don’t know about you , but I am surely ALL ABOARD. ❤
Hórmónar (Whoremoans) definitely roused plenty of hormones at Iceland Airwaves this year, and it is no surprise that their fan base is multiplying rapidly. They were one of my top new discoveries at Secret Solstice 2017, and their liberating (shirts off at the ed), sexually-charged punk rock performance had both men and women in a tizzy. It therefore was no surprise to later find out that these 5 friends (Brynhildur Karlsdóttir-Vocals, Urður Bergsdóttir-Bass/Vocals, Katrín Guðbjartsdóttir-Guitar, Hjalti Torfason-Saxophone, Örn Gauti Jóhannsson-Drums) won the 2016 Icelandic Music Experiment. Brynhildur’s vocals were unpredictable, edgy, and hot, and plenty of men shouted “are you offering?!” in response to her asking the audience, “Are you HORNY?!!” In a previous interview with the Rekyavik Grapevine, Brynhildur said: “Our songs are like a female orgasm; there’s no one big explosion, but many high points.” Their smoking hot, super-seductive, “drive-you-wild” energy sparked some serious attention at Iceland Airwaves this year, earning them the “Peoples’ Choice Award” at the Grapevine Music Awards. I am so glad I was able to see them up close without getting burned. 😛 Can’t wait to see my three favorite songs (videos below) from their album ‘Nananana Búbú” once more at Iceland Airwaves 2018. ❤
I remember nearly suffering a mild stroke the first time I saw Iceland’s own We Made God at Iceland Airwaves Music Festival back in 2014. At one point the lead guitarist Arnór Jónasson jumped off stage and started swinging his guitar back and forth in front of my friend Jensyn Lynn Hallett and I as he furiously strummed the strings, smirking a bit as we began squealing with joy. It was as if We Made God (Arnór – Guitar, Biggi – Drums, Maggi – Vox/ Guitar, Stúni – Bass) were all about making violent, cathartic, adrenaline-ridden performances and that spin you into another orbit. I’m just glad this epic encore didn’t spin me face-first into the table of guys below me! We Made God’s brain-bending live performances of math/progressive rock have been recognized by both domestic and foreign media, and their devout fans orbiting around the world can’t wait for the release of their third album next year. As of late 2018, Arnór decided to leave We Made God to focus more time on his role as lead guitarist in VAR (love their sound, see videos below) as well as supporting Maggi’s solo project, Mighty Bear. With his talent, creativity, and breadth of experience, I’m pretty stoked to see what new direction Arnór is pointing his compass. 🙂 Be sure to check out We Made God, VAR, and Mighty Bear at this year’s Airwaves 2018!
It was so awesome to have run into the talented brother duo (Markús and Birkir Bjarnason) front-men of Omotrackat Songhoy Blues(at Reykjavík art museum) only a few hours after catching their last set of Airwaves at the bookstore on Laugavegi. They’ve got such an infectious indie/pop/electro sound that kinda remind me of a funkier version of two Bombay Bicycle Club and Two Door Cinema Club. It’s pretty rare to see synths and brass (trombone, trumpet, saxophone) battling for the spotlight! The trumpet and sax were nailing their harmony parts! I loved all of the tracks in the set, especially the 4 below that I got on video: Hippo Trip (new), Imaginary Mountains, Old Habits, and Blind Spots. I especially love ‘Blind Spots,’ and assume that the lyrics were inspired by their experience of growing up as two Icelandic toddlers in remote village in Ethiopia called “Omo Rate” (which inspired the band name), witnessing disparities between people of different ethnicity and social class:
“People treated differently, due to their ethnicity.. Who can tell wrong from right, and sit back watch people fight… Why is life equalized, some people just can’t see… Life can’t be overpriced… Everyone has blind spots except for me.”
Not able to speak the local dialect of Daasanach or easily blend in, Markús and Birkir relied on each other for friendship, fun and musical entertainment and started creating music together as early as 5 and 3 years old. Now, in their early twenties, the band has put down some strong roots into the Icelandic music scene and recently placed third in Músiktilraunir, Iceland’s annual “Battle of the Bands” for young and emerging talent who are hoping to take their careers to the next level. “We tried to enter two years ago, but we only had two songs,” says lead singer and guitarist Markús. “We had been a band for maybe ten days. Now we have more music, and we feel more comfortable, so we just thought: let’s try this.” I’m so glad they did. Their bronze finish not only earned them a spot at Iceland Airwaves, but also a supporting slot with the contest’s winners, Between Mountains. Can’t wait to see them again at Airwaves this year!