“I can see tomorrow’s headlines:” said Prins Póló drummer Kristján after the band finished performing a song titled Spaghetti Bolognese. “A Bunch of Amateurs.” The foursome were all somewhat casually dressed—with the exception of a paper crown singer-guitarist Svavar Pétur was wearing, although I understand that that is usual concert-wear for him—looking as though this were just the sort of thing they did on a Friday night anyway: stand around and play songs about their favorite foods. It was their one year anniversary, but, comprised as they are of members of several other bands, active as well as dormant, it seemed that the members of Póló were celebrating a much more expansive employment; making music is clearly not just a job for these people—it’s a lifestyle.
Thus they joked about their self-consciousness—engaging in amusing small talk with the sizable crowd—bursting, it seemed, with a mixture of excitement and the inability to resist the compulsions of their own awkward charm. Like the prefatory banter between songs, the music and the band’s stage presence had the appearance of irreverence, but upon closer inspection revealed itself as the manifestation of supreme light-heartedness. It was the simplest, simplest kind of good. At one interlude, the band began to crouch in unison, reaching the ground such that they were barely visible behind their instruments. It was as though they were playing a game—a game in which the rules are simple and the stakes aren’t high, because in the end you always win. It’s the game of synchronized enjoyment, of simple pleasures, in which life is a hot plate of meaty spaghetti; in which life is always a beach.
Elín Ey affirmed my entire Airwaves experience. Materializing unostentatiously onstage, she began by thanking the audience for coming, “to hear what I have to say.” She started singing and I stopped writing. This was it—this is what is good about letting people with guitars get onstage and play host to our attention for awhile; this is what makes all the unfortunate consequences of said phenomenon in our society—have you ever walked past Hressó around dinner time on a weekend?—worthwhile. Elín is from a rare breed of troubadours in whose confidence one revels in being taken: intimate and intuitive—of the likes of Jens Lekman and Sindri Eldon. Her voice had vitality, sexual potency, and a sophistication beyond her years.
There was almost literally no-one in the audience, and yet things were only getting better as the set went on, Elín’s spandex-clad sisters taking the stage to accompany her on bass and keyboard, followed by a drummer and a harmonica player.
And where were you? Huddled inside NASA waiting for the tUnE-yArDs show? Sucker. This was officially the best-show-you-missed.
Sóley was another pleasant surprise, although I suspected I might enjoy her solo-project seeing as she is an active member of Sin Fang and Seabear. With the exception of her very unobtrusive drummer, she was alone onstage with a piano and a guitar. Not unlike her songs, her stage presence had an enchanted feel. With a self-amused twang, she sang as though she had a secret to tell—anecdotes about dreamscapes and birds and swimming in rivers, ending the songs without any pretence or elaboration, the spell suddenly being lifted, as though by a snap of the fingers. Effectively, Sóley’s set was like dreaming for a moment, but with more concision.
Lights on the Highway were like the inevitable hangover, the come-down from the inspired-intoxicating brilliance of the preceding acts. All good things must come to an end, so they say, and LOTH was as good as any to kill the mood. Not to say that there weren’t people there who enjoyed them. For this final set of the night, a new crowd—the biggest of the night—had arrived; somewhat suburban-looking if I dare speculate, but young, and energetic. They ate the band up and licked the bowl. And to be honest, the music wasn’t so bad as much as it was somewhat formulaic. LOTH is actually a really good bad-band, as far as bad-bands go. The sound was tight, it had purpose, method, rhythm, coherence. The vocal strategy, however, consisted mostly of elongating one syllable in each lyrical line, a phrase usually ending in a loud “aaaaaaaah” or “ooooooooh”. The most annoying thing about them was actually the singer who had wrapped the microphone cord around his cupped hands, looking upwards in ecstasy as though he were the musical messiah and not just the only guy in his band who doesn’t play an instrument.
Outside, the lights were less brazen, but pleasantly so. I just needed some light rain and stillness to try and reproduce a taste of the sweetness of the night, to let myself revel in the sensation of a love affair commencing.
Oh, yes! This is what this festival is about! What music is about. How can it be so bad when we’re all suffering together? Playing this game together. Exploding with creative energy, conquering the world with sincerity. We are always winning, as long as we keep each other on our toes.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article included a comment about LOTH that the author has since deemed inappropriate and retracted.