Despite the fact that, come the fifth and last day of Airwaves each year, I make my way—kicking and screaming—to my last assignment, by the time it comes to writing the final review, I always feel a bit sentimental for Sunday.
Sunday is the perfect night of Airwaves because, just as there’s nothing more to look forward to, there’s nothing left to lose. No more chances to make up for botched evenings, to improve upon the indiscretions of the night before. Come Sunday—everything is now or never. And in that recognition of the end of the affair, knowing that you’re looking into your lover’s eyes for the last time—there’s a happy sadness that is incomparable to any drunken Saturday climax—however great that tUnE-yArDs show may have been (and for the record, it was pretty fucking great.)
Yes, Sunday is the day of no tomorrow, and every show I have seen on Airwaves Sunday has only served to bolster this theory. Tonight was no exception, and so it is with lugubrious delight that I detail the end of my affair with Airwaves 2011:
While reviewing NASA on Sunday of Airwaves last year, I made the mistake of preemtively crowning Dan Deacon the master of the electronic universe. After seeing Hermigervill bust out something called a theremin (it seems like I may be the last person on earth to hear about this), with which he expertly produced electronic beats with his bare hands—WITH HIS PHYSICAL ENERGY—it became clear that he is actually the closest thing to a musical mad scientist (shall we say, genius?) that one can imagine. Hermigervill is a national treasure, the proprietor of some of the best beats around—on his own albums as well as that of other artists—in addition to being the unofficial curator of a few Icelandic pop classics, which he has stripped down and rejuvenated for our modern digestive pleasure. The best thing about Hermigervill is how crystal clear—and perfectly simple!—his rhythms are; their effect on the audience being virtually hypnotic, the crowd appearing as a synchronized undulation of heads.
DISCLAIMER: Haukur Magnússon is my boss. When he’s not editing my copy or playing guitar for the band Reykjavík!, he is also my friend. So the rules say there is an inherent conflict of interest in my reviewing this next act here. However, over the five or so years I’ve known and worked with Haukur, he’s given me my fair share of professional criticism, and I appreciate that; so I hope you will trust me to do the same for him.
To be honest, I’ve avoided seeing Reykjavík! play live for the last few years. I saw them play a lot around 2006, when they released their first album, and mostly I remember them being really loud and being sort of put off by it. Too many guitars, I remember thinking; too much screaming. But I have to say, my reaction to seeing Reykjavík! this time around was almost entirely positive. I don’t know if it was me that has changed or if it was them, but something is definitely different for the better. The band’s shift in focus seems to be towards simpler, more structured melodies; the change being something like that from chaos to… ordered chaos. Perhaps it was just a question of coming into their style, but they seem to have become more cohesive and digestible; and yet encompassing an expanse of hard rhythm, raw energy. Less fuck-all, and more love-all. These guys play a really tight live show, although in this case not to the most responsive audience—who were interested but not enthusiastic.
What the crowd clearly wanted was Retro Stefson, who have also changed somewhat, but in the opposite way from Reykjavík!. Stefson’s style has become noticeably heavier since their debut album, with more emphasis on complex rhythms and instrumental work. They’ve also become more of a teenage sensation; when Logi came on stage a few minutes after the rest of the band, several girls in the audience literally squealed. And the boys were into it too. In fact the audience was more or less in the palm of the Stefson kids’s hands; the venue being just the right size for the band’s playful antics, allowing them to interact with the audience…to command them—making them dance, crouch, run in circles at will. Upon request, boys began throwing their shirts onstage. The dialogue created between music and audience was really a sight to behold, though; it was pure co-dependence, a fantasy of vibrancy and vitality, with just the most innocent insinuation of sex. And before you felt it had even begun, it was all over. The bittersweet moment descending upon you where you want more but you know you’ll just spoil it if you keep going. Sometimes it’s good to not get enough. Because there’s always next year.
[Excerpt from Valgerður’s review of NASA, Sunday night of Airwaves 2010:]
Dan Deacon is like a musical mad scientist, his laboratory set up in the middle of the dance floor, the stage and the idea of the stage having disappeared. Deacon is not the performer, he is the ringleader, and under his command self-conscious hipsters lose themselves in electronic noise. “Can we turn it up like 1.000% louder?” he asked. The pit at the front of the floor pulsed with light and movement in the otherwise dark crowd. Synthesized beats like a joyful apocalypse of sound, ever expanding, like the universe itself, finally collapsing in on itself in darkness as the set ended.
FM Belfast’s power to excite never ceases to be astounding. Perhaps what happened was to be expected, but that makes it no less spectacular: It was Sunday night, on the last and fifth day of a festival featuring nearly 300 shows, and NASA was filled to capacity. There’s really no criticism fitting for a band that shows this much joy on stage. Their music is buoyant, danceable, and the jubilance infectious. At the set’s climaxes, and there were several, the atmosphere inside NASA was nearly euphoric, a chaos of celebration on stage as well as in the audience.
“Things have been going really well tonight,” said Árni Vil, “but you know, life is not always like that.” And he was right. Tomorrow is not on the festival calendar. Tomorrow means back to the daily grind. But it ain’t over ’til FM Belfast takes off their pants and confetti rains from the ceiling, ’til the universe expands in exuberant festivity and collapses in on us—only then, ears ringing, feet throbbing, will we sleep.