The day is Wednesday, the place is Harpa Silfurberg, and the time is 20:00. Day one, let’s dig in!
At the end of each set I took to the crowd to see what their thoughts were about the band they just watched, more importantly, the energy the band was giving off to the horde of onlookers. Five people were questioned for each band, and the query was simple: Rate the band’s energy levels out of five, one being the lowest energy possible, five being of the highest amount of energy attainable. Bring it on Airwaves, I’ll talk to everyone! It was rad though, not a single person shied away from my question, in fact, they embraced it. To that I humbly say this, “takk fyrir!” and “party on Garth!” I’ll call it the NRG meter, cool?
Ahhh the job of the opener, a challenging one. The duty of the opening act is simple. Set the pace for the rest of the show, or at least get the ball rolling and build up some momentum. In a sense, especially at a festival like Airwaves, the odds are stacked against the opener, for they must swoon the crowd before they are fully doused in alcohol. Alcohol makes feet move, hips dip, and heads bang. This is science, don’t fucking argue it.
Tilbury step up to the plate, the attack plan was seemingly a simple one… win the crowd over through tight instrumentation swept in a myriad of dreamy pop. It’s the “snap,” “crackle” and “pop” in your Rice Krispies – but apparently it was not enough, not for this crowd. This being one of the first shows of the festival for most of the audience they yearn for interaction and search for any reason to let loose. You can almost punch the tension in the face. Adamant to get things rolling they shake off the remaining nerves and dig into their dreamy folk pop with much more “oomph” this time, an effort that is picked up on by the crowd, clearing away the funeral vibe and breathing some life into the venue. High-five! (NRG meter: 3 out of 5).
The ball is now rolling, and next up to the plate is Kiriyama Family, looking to entice the audience with their cavalry of synthesizers and bubbly electro pop. Flipping through the pages of my trustee Moleskin I find the words “Singer tells a joke about the weather. I chortle.” scribbled hastily. This snicker from the audience awarded them “+3 crowd swoon” according to another illegible notebook scrawl. As the music floats on in dreamlike fashion I find myself becoming enthralled by the drummer’s silky rhythms in unison with the rest of the instrumentation. Things are going well, not delicious Canadian poutine good, but pretty good – cue the secret weapon. The saxophone was a very welcomed addition for the crowd as a fury of whistles, claps and cheers filled the air. The people of Airwaves like saxophones apparently. (NRG meter: 4 out of 5).
What better way to get the energy brimming than some good ol’ fashioned reggae? Answer: There are a million better ways to get energy flowing than the chill, reefer caked vibes of reggae. Enter Ojba Rasta, Iceland’s proud dub-reggae act! To the band’s credit, none of the energy seemed to slip away, in fact I noted that the vibes succeeded in being both chill and energetic. Not sure how that works, but the notebook never lies. The addition of the brass instruments are both pleasing and essential to the driven sound, albeit hazed out when the other instruments were in full swing. The Track “Jolly Good” puts a smile on my face with its spritely attitude, plus it reminds me of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” I can’t hate this, and hating is what I do best. (NRG meter: 4 out of 5).
Next up we have Mammút, and I know exactly what to expect: A fearless performance by the ever eccentric frontwoman Kata over a droning hypnotic wall of sound summoned by both the guitars and bass, with the drums serving as the psychedelic dirge. Kata at one point says the crowd is “quiet” but notes: “that’s good.” Embracing the silence, how very kvlt. But silence quickly turns to shear chills and intensity once Kata unleashes her shrieks like a banshee filling the room with a shared “holy fuck” painted on everyones faces. Everybody I talked to after the set declared goosebumps, one girl going as far as saying “I came a little”… um… alright, moving on. If the crowd wasn’t fully engaged before, they sure as fuck are now. (NRG meter: 4 out of 5).
Ah ha, Iceland’s beloved atmospheric black metal band Sykur are next up. Djók! Sykur is actually an electro act synonymous in Iceland with partying and good times. Most of the crowd seems to know this (you guys are so smart), and they begin to form with bubbling elation. Sykur demand your attention, this isn’t background noise for you to timidly bob your head to, this is a vivacious assault requiring a full on death metal headbang! So don’t be shy, live a little, your neck will thank you in the morning. The energy is there, the music is there, the stage presence is there, so what does this equate to? That’s goddamn right, a responsive crowd! One bearded festivalgoer I talked with after said “They… struck a cord. Quite mechanically, and efficiently… and they won the crowd over. Because they meant to… And they did. That’s a quality that’s quite huge in a band.” (NRG meter: 4.5 out of 5).
Who’s on next? That right, mother fucking Retro Stefson, and they’re here to make you act a fool. Without Haraldur Ari Stefánsson, aka crowd surfer and pump-up guru, will the Stefson be able to work the crowd with their normal zeal? Of course, they’ll work you like puppets. The next thing you know you will be tossing your shirts on stage and sitting on the floors waving your hands in the air without any inclination as to why. To naysayers you may look a bit silly, but at least you’re having fun while the rest stand cross-armed wishing they knew how to let loose. Retro Stefson always bring on a tight and boisterous show with an atmosphere like a McDonalds PlayPlace (remember those?). Fun. Every bit engaging and enthusiastic as it’s always been, albeit less heavy. I would have enjoyed hearing more off of ‘Kimbabwe’ though, maybe “Kimba” or “Karamba”? Whatever, I don’t make the set list. It was smiles all around in the crowd, and jumping, lots of jumping. (NRG meter: 4.5 out of 5).
At the end of the concert I asked ten people who stole the show, and the Iceland Airwaves faithful deemed that was Sykur! Sweet as sugar.
Thank you for reading my words, If you see me, say hi, I like people. In the spirit of me being away from my homeland, Canada, I wish all you crazy people a Happy Halloween! Now go egg a house and eat copious amounts of candy. Actually, don’t.