Iceland Airwaves 2011

From October 12-16, 2011 Columbia College Radio, Journalism, Arts, Entertainment And Media Management and Audio Arts And Acoustics students will venture to Reykjavík, Iceland, to cover Iceland Airwaves Music Festival for the first time. Here is a collection of their live reviews, artist interviews, podcasts, daily blogs, on-air segments and more from the directed study trip.

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Audio Interviews: Iceland Airwaves

Colin Lazorka speaks with Ólafur Arnalds @ Iceland Airwaves

3:58 p.m., I sat on a bus, without my recording gear, fidgeting in my seat as the returning

Cover art from Living Room Songs

group from the Blue Lagoon drove through the back streets of Reykjavík, Iceland. I was late for my 4:00 p.m. interview with composer Ólafur Arnalds at Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center. So naturally, I was freaking out. I needed to get this interview, and didn’t want to seem unprofessional by running behind. It wasn’t until I grabbed a cab back to my hotel to grab my gear that I was shaken out of my panic by the cabbie, who informed me that Icelandic artists and people are on their own time and won’t mind you running late for anything. My kind of people.

4:30 p.m., I made my way to the first floor bar at Harpa where I met Ólafur after his soundcheck for that evening’s performance in the Norðurljós Hall on the second level. As he finished his lunch, I set up my equipment, began to think about my questions and then let the tape roll.

Ólafur Arnalds’ brand new record Living Room Songs is available now to download free at livingroomsongs.olafurarnalds.com and will be physically released on December 23rdon Vinyl, CD, and DVD formats.

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Sarah Zwinklis speaks with Orlando Higginbottom aka Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs @ Iceland Airwaves

Step aside Barney – there’s a new singing dinosaur in town. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs is an electronic act involving dancing Dino-clad women and some sick apparel. Grab your headdress, strap on a tail, and get down to the beats of Orlando Higginbottom.

TEED newest dino suit creation
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs Native American HeaddressTEED newest dino suit creation

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Daily Blog: Day Three, Iceland Airwaves

Final Night: James Murphy DJ Set @ Faktory, Dance Yourself Clean by Nicki Butler

Like the saying goes, when one door closes another one opens. That’s just what former front man and founder of LCD Soundsystem James Murphy has been doing. Since the headline-grabbing end of LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden in April, Murphy hasn’t skipped up beat – trading in the mic for a pair of headphones and some vinyl.

I had the pleasure of catching Murphy’s DJ set lift off at exactly 00:00 in the packed Faktory house. It was clear the crowd had a jones for more LCD, no matter what the form might be.  Murphy teased partygoers with samples of ’70s disco laced in between hard-hitting house beats. The vinyl ripped, BMPs peaked, and fell again and again as Murphy took the dance-floor warriors on a journey through dance music history.

I appreciated the muddy quality of Murphy’s set after what seemed to be such calibrated robotic sets before him. Doesn’t matter if he’s the front man or in the booth, Murphy is a pro. It’s safe to say my ears as well as the rest of my dance partners won’t being hearing the fresh disco cuts married flawlessly with house stompers until the next Murphy set.

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Iceland Airwaves: A Trip to Remember, by David Sparacio

My last full day in Iceland began with a trip to the Blue Lagoon.  My friends and I got on the bus from the hotel, and it took about 45 minutes to get the lagoon.  Once we got there, we had to wait in a long line outside to get into the lagoon.  I wasn’t expecting to be outside for long, so this was the only time I didn’t wear my heavy winter coat.  That was a bad decision.  After being outside for some time, I started to feel pretty cold.  On top of that, while we were waiting in line it started to hail these little round bee bees of ice.  It hurt!  However, it was all worth it because what was in store for us behind those doors was spectacular.  As soon as I got in, I went straight to the locker room and then into the lagoon.  I have never experienced anything quite like it before.  There were some spots in the lagoon that were much hotter than others.  Every time I came across those hot pockets, it was a pleasant surprise.  The Blue Lagoon did something to me that made me feel extremely relaxed and tranquil.  On that bus ride back to the hotel, I was in such a peaceful state of mind.

Later in the evening, I went to the Harpa venue to see Ólafur Arnalds once again. After his performance I stayed for the next band, and I’m very glad I did.  The name of the band is Treefight For Sunlight.  According to allmusic.com, the Treefight For Sunlight band is from Copenhagen, Denmark, “where childhood friends Mathias Sørensen (drums, vocals), Morten Winther Nielsen (guitar, vocals), Christian Rohde Lindinger (bass, vocals), and Niels Kirk (piano, vocals) formed sunshine pop outfit Treefight for Sunlight in 2007.  The four-piece blends together a rich mixture of lush vocals and twinkling hooks, resulting in a modern baroque pop reincarnation. Amassing no less than three vocalists, the band manages to whip each song into an ecstatic crescendo of jubilation, while at times mirrored MGMT in its almost psychedelic tendencies.  The influences of late-’60s California outfits the Association and the Turtles can be found in the layered harmonies and intrinsic melodies nestling within Treefight for Sunlight’s sunny disposition.”-Allmusic.com

I was completely blown away by the sound of their music.  It was very catchy and easy to dance to.  Personally, I think if a band can do those two things, then that is what classifies them as a great band.  Overall, they were one of the best bands that I have seen at the Iceland Airwaves Festival.

This trip is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.  The people in Iceland are so incredibly nice.  On numerous occasions, when I asked for directions they took the time to explain to me where to go.  In this country, everyone is so much more relaxed.  They really know how to enjoy life.  If the rest of the world were more like Iceland, we would be much better off.

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Ólafur Arnalds @ Harpa review and interview, by Colin Lazorka

So three days of little sleep have begun to take a physical and mental toll on me.  We started the day off by heading out to the otherworldly Blue Lagoon for a bit of “relaxation.” Believe you me, those were the best 20 minutes of relaxation I’ve had in a very, very long time, but while the rest of the group stayed and enjoyed this geothermal wonder, I was back on the bus heading for the beautiful new venue Harpa, in Downtown Reykjavík, for an interview with Composer Ólafur Arnalds after his sound check for that night’s performance.

Sitting down with this mastermind of classical and electronica was exactly what I hoped itwould be. He was very friendly and at points very soft-spoken for someone whose music is powerful and loud in its own unique way. We discussed everything from his start in music; his life as a rock and punk drummer as well as his brand new record “Living Room Songs” released just a week before the Airwaves festival kicked off.

After we concluded the interview, I began to wander the streets of Reykjavík like I had done for the previous two days and made my way back to the hotel to rest up for a few hours before heading back out to the show.

Harpa in itself is a place of immense modern beauty, and to see the performance Ólafur gave in this new building really fit quite well. Arnalds took control of the audience from the very first note by starting his set with “Þú Ert Sólin,” “Þú Ert Jörðin,” and “Tunglið” from his last LP …And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness, moving from one beautiful arrangement to the next in seamless succession, and using stunning light flashes that would sink up with the electronics, and beautiful projected backdrops of birds, fishing ships and a mobile with whales, birds and other things that were uniquely Icelandic. Arnalds fit in songs like “Fok” and “Haust” from his 2008 release Variations of Static, along with closing the show with “3055” from his 2007 debut Eulogy for Evolution.

The only problem I had with the set was it wasn’t long enough. I know, I know, it’s a festival and you need to fit all the artists in. But when you give Ólafur Arnalds more than a 40-minute time frame to show you every trick up his sleeve, he will destroy you – in a good way! Well his music will at least, but you get the idea.

Ólafur Arnalds at Harpa in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland was the highlight of my trip toIceland Airwaves. He’s an amazing performer and composer, and an extremely nice human being. You need to experience Iceland and all the amazing music that comes from this tiny island country in the Northern Atlantic because it will change you in more ways than you can count.

Here’s a sneak peek into my interview with Ólafur from Harpa on 10/15/2011. Stay tuned for a produced interview with Ólafur Arnalds.

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Day Three: Berndsen, Glasser reviews, by Emily Harbaugh

With the sun really visiting Reykjavík for the first time since Wednesday, there was a feeling today was going to be different than the rest. After our tiring trip to the Blue Lagoon and dinner at The Noodle Station, it was off to spend my night at NASA. Unlike the U.S. name equivalent, there were no spaceships, astronauts, or scientists hard at work. The performances, however, were the only thing out of this world (every pun is intended).

Described as an ‘80s throwback, Berndsen (real name David Berndsen), arrived on stage with the ultimate swagger as well as with his backing band: The Young Boys. Decked out in a hot pink blazer, black T-shirt, and black pants, he proceeded to channel his inner Michael Jackson complete with pelvic thrusting, twirling, and raunchy moves. This was 100% a show. Heavy on the synth and rhythmic drum beats, Berndsen never let the crowd stop dancing.

Leaving the stage for a minute, Berndsen soon came back out now donning a knee-length fur coat, no shirt, and black pants, causing the crowd to go wild. Most of the show for Berndsen was spent at the edge of the stage with one foot propped on the barrier. Consistently engaging with the crowd, Berndsen made sure the fans were as much part of the set as he was.

Up next was U.S. artist, Glasser, the alias of California- native Cameron Meisrow. After much critical acclaim from publications such as Pitchfork, NME, and Spin, I had to see what exactly

they were talking about. Sauntering slowly on stage in what looked like a sheet wrapped with a karate belt and lime green and black pin-striped pants, Glasser gave no introduction and immediately went into her first song. With her dreamy, layered vocals combined with looping drum beats, and a synthesizer, there is a complementary juxtaposition occurring and drawing the crowd in.

Never staying still, Meisrow moved fluidly around the stage, sometimes almost delicately, as if she were trying to maneuver around invisible cracks in the ground. Even when a photographer in the press pit was flashing their camera in her face, Glasser gracefully strided up to him, shook her finger no, and gave a reaffirming wink. Despite her delicate movements and ethereal voice, Glasser packed a power leaving the crowd entranced and wanting more.

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SBTRKT @ NASA, by Lizette Garza

My trip to Iceland is now complete! After so many days of covering hip-hop and seeing some awesome DJs, never, would I ever think that I would hear some Drake! ButSBTRKT certainly did it and killed it on stage tonight. I had seen him as a lone ranger at North Coast Music Festival this past summer but it definitely wasn’t as lively as it was tonight.

I’ve been listening to the remix version of “Wild Fire” featuring Little Dragon and Drake for weeks now but who would have thought that exact remix version would be played here, tonight, in Reykjavík. Especially after talking to so many hip-hop lovers and artists no one ever mentioned Drizzy so it came to me as a lovely surprise.

The original song has been played in-between sets at NASA every time I was there, so I knew this show was a must-see and I made sure that I was front row to catch every second. But boy, oh boy was that a battle. Hands down, the most packed show I’ve seen and I walked away with bruised knees, and practically a broken rib because of the rowdy crowd. From the first song SBTRKT played, people were knocking each other over to get a peak at the man who hides behind a mask and his DJ set.

His performance and visual style has become a part of his trademark. He performed in his usual tribal mask with his basic setup (acoustic drum kit with extra electronic triggers) and was joined by his striking guest vocalist Sampha, who sang and played keyboard. They worked hand-in-hand to make music made off a computer come to life on stage. SBTRKT bounced back and forth between drumming and his electrical equipment while Sampha handled the singing and energy of the crowd.

Only complaint I had was to the guy in charge of lighting for the show who had one job and one job only: to keep the light down just as Sampha asked. Every other song, Mr. Light Man would raise them, probably to unveil SBTRKT’s alias but by the end all was well and the show carried on with the crazy crowd.

SBTRKT puts the average DJ to shame, taking live performances with a computer to another pinnacle. He combines dub step, R&B, and Chicago house music with deep feeling lyrics, killer rhythms, and impeccable liveliness and instrumentation on stage. If there was one DJ show to see at Iceland Airwaves this year, without a doubt SBTRKT was it.

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Day Three: What You Heard on the Third is the Word, Bird, by Aaron Pylinski

My cohort Andy and I took a ride with Pétur from IKEA SATAN to their practice space creatively named the North Pole. Unnur, the drummer, and their bass player Hannes met us at the space for a practice session.  From there, we took off to Amsterdam to watch Swords of Chaos and Liturgy play.

Swords of Chaos played an intense and erratic set.   SOC killed it much like a predator in the wild.   Though they had to adapt and overcome some power issues, they really didn’t miss a beat and kept the crowd teeming.  The off-stage antics of their lead singer, Úlfur, was more than enough to make up for some technical mishaps.  Ditching the melodic interludes heard on their first full-length LP, The End Is As Near As Your Teeth, they brought a stellar routing of loud metal sodomizing the crowd’s ears.  I spent much of the festival meeting local acts and these cats were definitely in the top three best sounding bands I caught.

News was already spreading about the arm wrestling that was about to take place after my interview with SOC and bands were anxious to see what was going to transpire.  No one wanted to act on anything, though, until Liturgy took the stage.  And who could blame them, getting more loud-ass metal under your belt before an arm wrestling match was the only way to go.

Liturgy fell victim to the crappy wiring and was robbed out of an amazing intro.  They were saved (barely) by bringing their sound as hard and massive as they could.  Once they came off the stage, I made my way to the dingy, smoke-filled basement to conduct my interview.

Momentum was setting up on stage, as my SOC interview was starting, so I hurried through questions before more mayhem would ensue upstairs.  The some-2000 pound collective of leather, denim, beards and flesh that is Wistaria were waiting for the interview to end as they stood watching downstairs, partly because their set was next and also because I was to arm wrestle SOC’s drummer, Raggi, after the interview.  There was a biker bar-like crowd in the room and they were pretty convinced Raggi was going to take home the killer trophy I made for the band.  That was until I took my jacket off and unleashed the awesome power of my 14 1/2 “ pythons (thanks Arms by Arnold).

By far the biggest guy in the band, Raggi was slightly intimidating but I knew in the back of my mind I had to win.  My fiancé alone would kick the crap out of me if I came home beat by the Viking arm slayer.  Raggi’s a bear.  Three songs into their set earlier in the evening he ripped off his shirt and I realized, “This dude is way bigger than the pictures of him on the interweb.”  That’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me.

The band’s bass player told me Raggi has done this quite a few times before and had even broken a couple of his opponent’s arms in the process.  If this was a scare tactic it was almost working, I might have been touching cloth but more so for the fact that I had about eight or nine Viking beers under my belt.  Game was on.  Raggi and I measured out our distance by touching our hands against each other’s forearms and then grasped hands.

On the count of three we were pushing against each other.  Our shoulders were shaking and though I felt a good amount of pressure against me, I had no problems dropping Raggi’s hand to the tabletop in seconds.  That was too quick and I wanted a second round.  So, we measured up again.  This time Raggi started giving it a real go and I kicked it into overdrive.  My bicep grew and the blue Oni mask tattoo on the inner part of my arm, that I lovingly call Ralph was stretched to capacity.  I brought Raggi’s hand over the top and just before I slammed in on the table for a second time, gave it a cute little kiss followed by a loud, resonating boom.  The contest was over, but since the band was kind enough to participate, they got the trophy and we parted ways.

The rest of the night was a complete blur.  I went to Square and watched HaZaR spin some music, pounded a beer and then took off out the door.  I was planning on going toFaktory, but the line was uber long so Andy and I took off on a pub-crawl.  I remember ducking into a joint, pounding some pints of Viking and watching a sparkly black-haired lady dance to ‘80s butt rock before staggering to the hotel.  Being a boozer is fun, so long as you know what you’re doing and the night ended most perfectly.  Good night, Reykjavík. Unfortunately, I have to get on a plane and fly out tomorrow (tear).

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Video: Arm Wrestling in Iceland, by Andy Keil

To elaborate a bit more on the hospitality of Icelandic bands, Swords of Chaos was not only accepting of bringing us backstage after their raucous set that had lead singer Wolf singing the last song on top of the bar at Amsterdam, but they were downright enthusiastic. The headlining band for the night (if you can call them that), Wistaria, was kind enough to vacate the premises for a bit while we conducted the interview so long as we agreed to invite them back for the actual arm wrestling match and promised to share a few beers and talks about favorite bands afterwards. Before they left they managed to rattle off 6-7 other Icelandic bands that we absolutely HAD to check out.

Watch the whole match with Swords of Chaos drummer Ragi here.

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Daily Blog: Day Two, Iceland Airwaves

Great Food, Great Music, Great Interview with Gang Related, by David Sparacio


Today I missed the breakfast at the hotel because I woke up too late.  However, that was

OK because my first meal of the day was fantastic.  Believe it or not, I have never eaten lobster before.  That is until this trip.  I had it for the first time yesterday at Tapas Barinn restaurant in Reykjavík.  Today I went to a restaurant called The Sea Baron, where I had their famous homemade lobster soup.  It was delicious and comes with a basket full of bread and butter.  On a cold and rainy day, it doesn’t get much better than that.

The first performance I saw was Ólafur Arnalds.  One word to describe his music is simply: beautiful.  The combination of him playing the piano with the addition of his string players creates some of the most soothing music I’ve ever heard.  Afterwards I went to Gang Related’s performance, a band I interviewed earlier in the day.

After getting soaked in the persistent rain here in Reykjavík, I arrived at Amsterdam venue.  It’s a bar with a smaller performance space.  I sat down at the bar, turned my head around and saw Albert and Jón sitting at the table in back.  They were waiting to go onstage, and had to start a little late because another band was having sound check problems.  According to Gunnar, all of the bands that performed at this venue yesterday sounded bad because they were having audio problems.  The power also went out a few times yesterday because they had all of the equipment plugged into one outlet.

Before Gang Related started playing there weren’t many people inside, but as soon as they began the place filled up.  They were fantastic!  The rhythm and feel of their music is very addicting.  They only played a few songs because they started late due to the earlier problem.  I didn’t want it to end because I was enjoying their music so much.

The best part about getting to know this band is the fact that they are so nice.  They are incredibly down to earth and humble.  Any question I had, they answered.  We talked about everything from their style of music to eating rotten meat, and to top it off, I heard an incredible performance from a great group of individuals.

Below is a sneak peak of my interview from Friday with vocalists Gunnar and Albert at Café Paris in Reykjavík. Stay tuned for a fully produced interview soon.

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Day Two: Hospitable Artists in Iceland, by Andy Keil

Ask an American band to show you their practice space and chances are there will be a few chuckles involved. Bands in the U.S. quickly become jaded to the press machine. Interviews are added to the daily routine and “access” is reserved for magazines like Rolling Stone or Spin.

That’s not the case in Iceland. The Icelandic reggae band Obja Rasta invited us to their practice space where most of the cities notable bands rent space. After an hour of talking about the origins of the band and plenty of cigarettes, we started to part ways when they offered us a ride so we could stay out of the rain a bit longer. A welcomed gesture since we spent 20-25 minutes walking to the building (located right on the ocean) from the city center.

Not only that but they also offered to show us the studio where they recorded their music allowing for a stop for food along the way. Studio History is a one car garage that was converted into a cozy two room studio. To our surprise, the lead singer of Dungen, Gustav Ejstes, was visiting an old friend (the owner of the studio) and creating some music before his set later in the night at the Reykjavík Art Museum.

We were humbly added to their friend group making sure to introduce us to each of their friends when we ran in to them later in the night at the art museum. That kind of attitude goes a long way, especially for foreign journalists.

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Packing Day Two With Winners, by Emily Harbaugh

Despite Reykjavík’s constant barrage of rain today, it did all but deter me from exploring the city for new music. Hopping from venue to venue with some rest breaks in between, I was soaking up all I could.

I started out my night of music at the Reykjavík Art Museum. The stage had been left with a fog so thick you had to assume that the stage was actually there. It was clear the next act was going to be a treat simply judging by how the crowd would scream at the crewmembers setting up equipment. As the lights dimmed, Agent Fresco came out on stage and everyone went absolutely wild. Even if this band wasn’t in your musical repertoire, you would be acting as if you were seeing The Beatles in 1964.

Formed in 2008, Agent Fresco comprises Arnór Dan Arnarson (vocals), Þórarinn Guðnason (guitar/piano), Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson (bass/synth), and Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson (drums). Shortly after their formation as a group they won Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s Battle of the Bands. All members are classically-trained musicians, with some specializing in jazz, some in classical music, and with vocalist, Arnór Dan Arnarson, as a classically trained Opera singer.

Blending rock, pop, and hardcore, Agent Fresco managed to create a unique sound and absolutely master it. With Arnarson erupting into his operatic vocals sporadically throughout songs, intensity was created between the music and lyrics, which are sure to leave even the most ambivalent listener moved.

Playing a variety of songs from their 2010 album, A Long Time Listening, Agent Fresco transitioned smoothly between songs and kept the energy running the whole time. At the end of the show the crowd was left on a music high and didn’t want to come down. Chanting “Meira!” (Icelandic for “more”) over and over again, Agent Fresco left a lasting impression.

It would be hard to top the experience of Agent Fresco, but 2010’s Músíktilraunir winners, Of Monsters and Men, were playing across the street at Glaumbar and I had been wanting to see them for a while.

This venue was packed. Literally wall-to-wall there were people and I started to become nervous I would be stuck at the back of the bar for their performance. However, I put on my “Big City Girl” pants and barged through the crowd making it to the very front.

Although the stage was tiny, the seven members occupying it made the best of it and didn’t seem to mind. They played a majority of songs from their recently released album,My Head is an Animal (including their single “Little Talks”) as well as a brand spankin’ new one. Engaging the crowd, OMM frequently had us clap along, yell ‘HEY!’, and sing some ‘la’s’, which provided a much more intimate atmosphere than the Agent Fresco show.

It is obvious why both of these groups have been Músíktilraunir winners, which I have to say, makes me very excited for who the future winners will be.

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Photo courtesy of Patrick Principe 

Bizarre Childhood memories from Oy, by Lizette Garza

Think, Erykah Badu of Switzerland. Artist Oy opened up with some slam poetry, surrounding herself with miniature dolls in control of her sound machines. I felt right at home (Columbia College Chicago home) in an almost empty room full of hipsters where she began to perform her unique music; but unique cannot come near describing Oy and her music.

She sang about childhood memories with her jazz, hip-hop vocals. Remember when you were a kid and never wanted to take a bath? Or you were afraid of the ‘angry toilet witch’ who would grab you down if you didn’t flush in time, maybe not that last one but there are the exact themes Oy stressed.

Her performance was a mixture of live sampling from kid toys, hip-hop beats and jazz vocals. At one point in the night (now in a almost full venue) she leaned to the microphone, calmly sticking out her tongue and making that “raspberry” sound. You know the one, when you blow on someone’s belly causing them to squeal like a little pig. She recorded that, continued it on a loop, and blended it with a beat. She then proceeded to pick up a baby rattle, and added that recording to her mix. Meanwhile she flicked at her miniature dolls; each had their own sound as if they were the members of the band. But this was not just one song, she continued on throughout her solo performance, bringing childhood memories to life on stage.

Oy certainly brings something new to the table: she creates this new way of performing, making it intriguing and hard to even blink since it is so bizarre, yet she builds this intimacy with the crowd. She is inventing new and original ways of using her voice, live samples, dark-noises, poetry, and comedy all into one.

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The Second Verse is Much Better Than the First, by Aaron Pylinski

I guess aside from the softball-size raindrops that fell early in the morn on day two of Iceland Airwaves the entire day was a total dynamite success.  People moan all the time about how the weather can get, but sometimes you just have to embrace the suck, put your head down and drive forward.  After a night of crazy dreams and waking up in more clothes that I thought I brought with me I got my motor started, slammed some bangers and mash got myself into town and interviewed a bad assed blues rock band called IKEA SATAN.

Photo from Facebook

No need to be mislead or wondering, IKEA SATAN are indeed the anti-advocate for the store within their name.  The band is all of three hard-charging Icelanders who take their music serious and take their stance on the obvious just as serious.  The band is Unnur Kolka, a cute and not too assuming masseuse by day the bands drummer/lead singer by night, Pétur Úlfur axe master and probable brainchild behind the band and Hannes Þór, bass player who was unfortunately not available for the interview.  Fret not, faithful followers for I have an invite to see them play privately at their practice space Saturday and it shall be a wonderful time for all.  Stay tuned for follow-up video footage and drop dead awesome photography of the session in later posts.

Photo Courtesy of Andy Keil
The interview train rolled along and my next big stop was a Q&A with Reykjavik’s premier reggae band, Ojba Rasta.  Formed in 2009, Ojba Rasta has taken notes from the deepest roots of reggae and ska music including (but not limited to) the SkatalitesLee “Scratch” Perry and his holiness Bob Marley.  The interview was held at their practice space off the warf where the smell of haddock and cod were in the air.

This matters not for after the interview, we cruised out to their recording studio just outside of Reykjavík called Studio History.  As we rolled up, the space was a converted one-car garage, Gustav Ejstes the lead singer for the Swedish rock band Dungen was ripping, rapping and rhyming on a turntable.  That’s when you know the evening is going to turn out bad assed when one of the top acts for the night is getting stupid behind a turntable with a fake plastic saxophone and a flute.  Dude was hotter than two rats making it in a wool sock and I couldn’t have been more privileged.  Such is life and I could go on for hours, the night moved on from there.

Photo Courtesy of Andy Keil

The rain was torrential, painful and incredibly cold as we were dropped off in the city center.  Taking shelter from the cold in an English pub, the evening was still unfolding into something more dynamite.  The time came to take in some acts and the first on the plate wasEl Camino who was playing at Gaukur a Stöng.  I wanted El Camino, but I gotContalgen Funeral, a bluesy five-piece with a standup bass, trombone, dude on drums, a lady vocalist and a dreadlocked banjo player rocking tunes out like he had a voice passed down by Tom Petty.  The band had a solid sound and though there may have only been 20 people in the bar, the crowd was tight.  They switched between English and Icelandic lyrics and in all honesty, the Icelandic lyrics were much better and touted a folkier sound.  Truth be told, they had that Phish-like jam band mantra about them and it wasn’t until after three songs into the set that I realized I was watching the wrong band and in the wrong bar.  Well, it was a swing and a miss for the most part, but after a while I was knee deep in a band that was totally worth the mishap… epic fail, Pylinski.

By the time I realized my folly, finished my Icelandic brew and headed to the right venue, El Camino was already off the stage.  Such is life and my beer buzz was starting to kick in.  I had bigger plans for an hour starting at 2100 (that’s 9 P.M. for you non-European minded individuals).  Sinead O’Connor played a church called Frikirkjan and I had an eagle’s perch for the set.

Photo by Aaron Pylinski

Coming out to the stage, she was in light spirits and quipped, “Only a few steps away from the alter, so I’m going to be very, very naughty.”  Barefoot and black-clad, Sinead came out with her thick Irish brogue and titillating the congregation with quips on her family and the location for which she was playing. Sporting a Jesus T-shirt and a Rastafarian tattoo, the entire set was a paradoxical whimsy but well played from beginning to end.

Moving on and looking for a pick-me-up, I headed back to Gaukur a Stöng for a couple of pints and some dodgy music.  I then took in a band calledCliff Claven, which was a decent way to pass the time waiting for my next endeavor.  The band sounded a lot like Interpol with a more pronounced rock ‘n’ roll edge.  They drew in Iceland’s “finest” hipsters.  Subsequently, these hip lil bastards got stupid drunk, made complete asses of themselves and were quickly escorted out of the venue.  My hat’s off to the security, those hipster crack heads were so annoying they were on the verge of a Chicago-style beat-down.  Though they were monstrous-sized Viking dudes, it would have been my pleasure to close them out.

Photo Courtesy of Andy Keil

Hipster D-bags aside, the evening got better when my hetero life-mate, Andy Keil joined me to see the Swedish powerhouse rock monsters called Dungen.  If history proves me right, their lead singer was totally hanging out with us early in the evening at Studio History.  Not only was the set beyond amazing, the cats from Ojba Rasta met us out and took up camp right next to us in the crowd.

Photo Courtesy of Andy Keil

The evening ended out at Glaumbar with Endless Dark.  If you don’t know anything about these five dudes know that they don’t slow down any time during their set and they epitomize what its like to be on crack.  My ringing ears and my want for something savory took me out of the bar after the show and somehow managed three slices of pizza and rode a cab back to the hotel.  Now it all writes itself.  Standby for day three; drunker and more dangerous than ever.

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Daily Blog: Day One, Iceland Airwaves

Bárujárn @ Café Amsterdam, by Andy Keil

Similar to Austin’s SXSW, Iceland Airwaves sets the city of Reykjavík alive with the sound of music. As with any festival, you can spend a significant amount of time planning which artists to see, but it’s not necessary.

After spending most of the day getting a bearing for Reykjavík, the night was spent traversing the 101 in search of sounds that to make the ears perk. A huge queue outside of the Reykjavík Art Museum for Beach House diverted our original plans and we continued to wander. Not far though.

The familiarity of surf rock guitars peaked our interest as we walked by Café Amsterdam. The three-piece Bárujárn was laying down an impressive set that attracted a crowd of roughly 50 people to gather. Calling themselves hard-surf rock mixed with psyche is a more than appropriate way to describe the band.

The voice of lead singer Hekla has a sort of metal bravado, which he carefully weaves into the guitar, bass, and drums. It’s also important to note that they sing in Icelandic, something a bit out of the ordinary for bands looking to garner some attention Stateside or throughout the rest of Europe. You don’t need to understand the lyrics to catch the groove these guys are laying down. Listen to one of their tracks on gogoyoko.

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Day One: Local Flavor, by Nicki Butler

From a remote broadcast half way across the world to a hip-hop concert, day one in Reykjavík comes with mad flavor and style.

We kicked off the day off at KEX stage where radio station KEXP 90.3 from Seattle set up a live broadcast from Iceland Airwaves.  It was there we met Kevin Cole assistant program director and afternoon jock for KEXP. After dealing with a blown breaker and lost signal, Kevin graciously sat down to drop some knowledge on his experience being at Iceland Airwaves and also the culmination of getting the live broadcast up and running. He gave great insight into just how to approach the festival not only from the broadcasting and journalism side standpoint but also how to get all you can out of this beautiful city of Reykjavík.

Mammút

MAMMÚT,  a local Reykjavik post-punk band with charm and charisma was the first up close and personal musical experience of the day.  They felt like you’re favorite band playing at your favorite local spot. That local spot being the KEX Hostel just off the ocean filled with a few hundred sweaty fans. Their sound is hard to describe. It seemed to contradict itself at times. Neurotic in delivery but so crisp and honest you had to give them credit for revitalizing creativity. Lead singer, Kata squeezed up front in between two guitarist and a bass player. Small in stature, she filled the room with her piercing vocals and avant garde scats, and shrieks over what felt tight chords brought by guitarists and bassist.  This incredible band definitely had my Airwaves starting off proper.

After sunset a belly filled with a delicious traditional Icelandic meal from Tapas Barrin, I headed to the Gaukur á Stöng for some hip-hop Icelandic style. BlazRoca is the name and rocking the crowd is his game. Clearly a hometown favorite among Icelanders, Blaz tore the house down with charisma a ruthless delivery. His rhymes, although completely in Icelandic, still engaged the crowd foreign festival goers.  Backed by his production team Madness4real and brother Cesar A. BlazRoca banged out song after song to a crowd that seemed to go from novice fans to all out devotees. Today’s energy is seemingly unmatched, but I can’t wait to see what Iceland Airwaves has up its musical sleeve the rest of the weekend.

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Iceland by way of New York City, by Aaron Pylinski

The camp was down to travel into the concrete jungle that is the Big Apple, Gotham whatever you want to call it; but only the brave few tend to venture into the seething masses that is Manhattan.  I haven’t been scared of anything since the summer of 2000; that was when I started to make a living of jumping out of airplanes.  New York City was a kitten compared to the straight-up combat that I was used to and a jaunt into its core was more than welcoming.  It beat sitting in the airport for damn-near 8 hours and I needed to release some over stock of surplus of energy from Riot Fest in Chicago from the Saturday before.

Flying into JFK, I looked out the window with child-like amazement.  My headphones blasted Bad Brains as the blond-haired debutant next to me was fixing her makeup.  I guess it only makes sense to dude yourself up before you touch down in Gotham.  Looking below, I could see the water was dark and the rapid decent brought on the feeling of spiral landing into Baghdad International Airport.  The white crests of the waves and the dark greyish blue water contrasted perfectly against the hulls of oil tankers and trash barges below.  As we drew closer to landing, I noticed the white sandy beaches were butted up against high-rise buildings and trash heaps.

After checking my bags, I hopped the E Train into Manhattan.  The New York City subway system rumbles underground like some metal subterranean worm.  Each hiss and crack from the tracks gives an air of speeding under the teeming masses above with a lightning quickness.  The subway car was filled with all spans of humanity, from the veiled Persian woman to the over-cologned Hispanic man in a Canadian tuxedo.  The speckle-painted floor was surprisingly clean dispelling the rumors of dirty New York subways; at least for now.

My tattooed arms caught the attention of the veiled Persian.  I watched her looking at me; her eyes scanning up and down my arms.  She caught me catching her and she dropped her gaze back down to her laptop.  My train rumbled to a stop in Midtown Manhattan and I’m up to street level.  I blew into an Irish pub called the Tempest and order up some adult beverages.  The thick New York accents, sticky tabletops and Rangers hockey on the TV tells me I’m in the right place.  This is the kind of dive that could last a million years, much like the cockroaches after the apocalypse.

After some beers, its back on the train, back on a plane and back into the air.  I touch down in Iceland and the cold weather greets me with a brisk embrace.  After a rocky start, it was good to get some music under my belt.  I sit down in the music hall called Harpa in downtown Reykjavík and am immediately blasted by the rhythmic, brass dominated styling’s of Orphic Oxtra.  They were an incredible step through ‘60s jazz with an Icelandic twinge.  The 11-piece ensemble was warmer than the weather and deeper than the dark water outside.  Their sound trimmed around the “7 Samurais” genre of jazz music and encompassed a multitude of French arrangements complemented by a deep pounding tom drum.  The accordion was an interesting addition to a well-rounded sound.  There was plenty of trade off between the piano player and the horn section, subbing out traditional jazz for a more bohemian sound.  The smiling gypsy behind the standup bass tied the entire group together as they rolled through song after song.

By the end of the evening, I was merrily stumbling through the streets taking in the sights and sounds of my first evening of Iceland Airwaves.  Strolling through bar after bar, I take in bands like Bárujárn, an Icelandic three-piece tooling around with a surf rock sound.  A perfect end to a busy day and a great way to send off a road-weary traveler.

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Forgotten Lores @ Gaukur à Stöng, by Lizette Garza

In the lightly dimmed room at Gaukur à Strong people were finally making their way from the bar to stage. Fridirk Dor an R&B artists, had just performed and next up was Forgotten Lores, also know as FL.

Forgotten Lores a Reykjavík hip-hop group founded in 2000 is made up of five members: Byrkir, Diddi Fel, Class B, Introbeats and DJ B-Ruff. Two of them being DJs and three being MCs, made their way to the stage. It was not the typical “gangster looking” hip-hop artists that those in the U.S are use to seeing. There were no baggy jeans or Nike high-top gym shoes to catch my eye, it was actually when they starting putting together their set.

The crowd waited patiently for the show to begin. While the DJs practiced their scratching, it reminded me of being back at home, bumping to an almost Old School ’90s hip-hop track, with plenty of bass.

FL’s beats were excellent, the group has a knack for creating infectious dope beats and combining that with the complicated Icelandic language. Their presence was certainly noticeable since the crowd was moving their hands up and down, the MCs moved, danced and jumped all around the stage, never getting tired. It was hands down the best hip-hop music I’ve heard so far in Iceland. Class B lead MC said, “We are the best simply because we have a core and a friendship to work together as artists. We show that through the music, we give back to people who have our support, you know? We don’t make money doing this, we all have other jobs and [stuff], so it drives us and good hip-hop continues to be what we focus on.” FL is currently working on their third LP, bringing their sound and audience with them into the unknown, a trip most definitely worth taking.

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Countdown to Yoko Ono, by David Sparacio

On Day One in Iceland, the first band I went to go see was a Canadian band called Young Galaxy.  They were playing at the NASA venue.  I thought this band was OK.  I didn’t love them, but I didn’t hate them.  They had good sounding music, but it wasn’t upbeat enough for me. NASA is known for its wild, energetic concerts.  With Young Galaxy, I didn’t experience that.  There was no beat that made me want to dance.  I left after about half an hour.

After Young Galaxy, I went to a smaller venue and heard a band called Mr. Silla.  I listened to this band for only a few minutes because it was too slow for me.  I went across the street to the Reykjavík Art Museum venue to listen to a little bit of the U.S. band Beach House.  This venue was pretty amazing because of its massive size inside.  There was a giant stage up front and a ton of floor space.

To end the night, I went to go see Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band.  According to yoko-ono.com, “Yoko Ono is an uncompromising artistic visionary who was already an avant-garde superstar before she met John Lennon.  Today, Yoko is finally recognized as an influential artist who pushes the boundaries of the art, film, music and theatre media.  The present time marks a renewed resurgence of interest and celebration of her work.  She has recently received high media profile due to the simultaneous reissue of her music catalog on the Rykodisc specialty label as well as for the premiere of her off-Broadway theatre piece Hiroshima.”

I saw Yoko Ono Plactic Ono Band in the Harpa venue. The show started off pitch black, and then you hear recorded tapes of Yoko Ono and John Lennon.   Then, a documentary style video starts to play.  It shows Yoko Ono and John Lennon and gave background about their lives.  Then with sunglasses, a black shirt, black pants, and a black brimmed hat, Yoko Ono stepped onto the stage.   I thought her performance was just weird.  In many of the songs that she performed, she wasn’t singing.  She made these noises that sounded like a lamb baaing.  Then she did this song to an odd video being projected on the back screen.  There was a fly on the flesh of a human being, and it kept walking on the human.  It started on the arm and then moved to the face.  When the fly went on the mouth, Yoko Ono starting adding sounds with the music to make the picture suspenseful.  Many times, it looked like the fly was going to crawl into the mouth, but it never did.

Overall, I really liked Yoko Ono’s band.  I saw four electric guitarists, one guy playing a trumpet, a keyboardist, and they pulled out a French horn for one song.  The music sounded really full and larger than life.  However, I didn’t really care for the sound of Yoko Ono.  She’s definitely no John Lennon.

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The First 40 Hours, by Sarah Zwinklis

Iceland’s overcast sky, light drizzle and slight breeze, the type that is just enough to make your nose run, made us Chicagoans feel right at home. Alongside the weather and hotdogs, the music also cured that tinge of ‘homesickness.’

'Afterlife' from the album 'See Mystery Lights'

After a long day of wondering Reykjavik, the sun set- actually the sky just seemed to get darker and the crowds came out. A line hugged the side of a mint green building baring the name “NASA.” Not National Aeronautics and Space Administration, however the Metro-esque venue that housed a few North American bands, including: Young Galaxy, Active Child and Yacht. These bands called to me, because even though my feet ached, all I wanted to do was dance.

Hailing from Montreal, Young Galaxy is a trendy pop indie group featuring a female vocalist/tambourinist, Catherine McCandless and lead guitarist/vocalist Stephen Ramsay. Although McCandless voice was pleasant and boy can she play a mean tambourine the overall set was lackluster. The rhythmic beats, at first, were enjoyable but soon it seemed that Young Galaxy had accidently played the first song over and over and over. Even the overindulged partiers didn’t seem to be impressed. However, Young Galaxy did pack the space, and even Björk came to support the group.

LA’s Active child was a pleasant surprise. The combination of bass, electronic drums, keyboards and even a harp made up some sweet beats and had a good portion of the crowd moving. Pat Grossi had variety in his music that most electro- pop lacks. His use of the harp is fascinating and his showmanship has nothing missing. Bubbles, lights and of course smoke machine were all present. Who said bubbles weren’t manly?

When the urge to dance creeps up, I only have one answer: Yacht. The group made up of Jona Bechtolt, Claire Evans, Bobby Birdman, Jeffrey Brodsky, and Katy Davidson. I had been introduced to Yacht in 2009 at Wicker Park Fest. Their choreography was why I went, yet I stayed for the nonsensical music. My expectations were high. Although the crowd ate up, Bechtolts and Evans act- they seemed…off. Rather than working together, the two battled for the spotlight. Bechtolt stage dove into the audience, then Evans stage dove into the audience… TWICE. Evans busted out a dance move, Bechtolt broke out the robot. The highlight of the entire set was Evans final stage dive and an excited fan sucked her fingers. Disgusted, Evans screamed out into the mic- leaving a reverb throughout the next stanza of the song.

These imperfections make shows entertaining and a reason not to just stay at home and listen to the album. Even if bands might not be interesting enough to watch- Young Galaxy, they are still worth knowing.

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Ferlegheit review, by Emily Harbaugh

It looks like we’re definitely not at South by Southwest anymore. Upon arriving in Reykjavík for the 11th annual Iceland Airwaves Festival, it has quickly been proven this festival is unlike any other I’ve attended.

Navigating down Laugarvegur, a powerful, booming voice rings out over the street. Despite the fact I was completely lost and this shop boasted tourist information, going in was something I needed to do. Situated in the front of Reykjavík Backpacker’s Café, a six-piece band, Ferlegheit, was playing to a handful of people. Vocalist, Margrét Guðrúnardóttir permeated the tiny room with her voice, packing the powerful punch Adele is noted for having, while also featuring the sassiness of a Supreme.

Despite Guðrúnardóttir’s voice, the band lacked stage chemistry. Both guitar players as well as the bass player rarely ever looked anywhere save for the neck of their respective instruments. The accordian player and the drummer could also be easily overlooked if one focused all their attention on Guðrúnardóttir, which many did.

Although most of the energy came through their vocalist, the music itself was on point. Blending funk, rock, soul, and blues with both Icelandic and English lyrics, Ferlegheit never let a single head go un-bobbed, or a single foot go un-tapped. By the end of the set, the crowd grew from a meager handful to people crowding the doorway and the bar. It was quite obvious I wasn’t the only one lured into the cafe by Guðrúnardóttir’s voice.

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Mammút @ KEX, by Colin Lazorka

It’s 06:00 GMT. I finally set foot off of the IcelandAir flight that took me and seven fellow students five hours from NYC all the way to Keflavík International Airport. I take a deep breath, feel instantly healthier as the cool, pure air enters my lungs, but then start to cough uncontrollably as a lack of all my years of inactivity. From the moment we arrive in Reykjavík, we’re off to work. Seeing the sites, trying the food and drink (more to come on that later) and of course listening to as much music as our brains can handle after two hours of sleep. We all made our way to see our new friends at 90.3 FM KEXP Seattle, at Kex Hostel, which used to be a biscuit factory. The place is packed to the brim with sweaty, buzzed natives, as well as tourists, like us, here to see some of Iceland’s most promising musical talent. My luck would have it, we walked in at just the right time. The first artist of the day had just closed his set, and this new group begins to set their gear up for their performance at 15:00. At first, the name Mammút doesn’t mean much to me. I have no idea what to expect from this five piece that call Reykjavik their home.

With Katrína Mogensen on vocals and Synth, Ása Dýradóttir on bass, Alexandra Baldursdóttir on guitar, Arnar Pétursson on Guitar, and Andri Bjartur Jakobsson on percussion, this band has perfected a sound that some strive their entire careers to achieve. The perfect blend of melodic and heavy, Mammút does it all with sparkling delay, ambient reverb, clever bass lines and drums that would make Sigur Rós’ Orri Páll Dýrason fear their power.

The band played a variety of new songs for the packed, stale beer-soaked hostel. All with an intensity and passion that stirred emotions and locked your eyes to their presence and your ears to the beautiful sounds coming out of the speakers.

Mogensen has a very hypnotic way of drawing you into the music and not letting you go. The way she blends the synth and deep haunting reverb of her Icelandic vocals, is something of pure beauty. My first day of Airwaves was a stellar one. I got my ass rocked off by a band called Mammút in a small hostel in Reykjavík. What more could a music dork need? Only in Iceland will you hear a band so amazing and so true to themselves, as Mammút.

Take a listen and like them at facebook.com/mammutmusic

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PREVIEW STORIES

Meet the Columbia Cast @ Iceland Airwaves 2011, by Nicki Butler

Columbia College adjunct professor Althea Legaspi fell in love with Reykjavik Iceland at first sight when she decided to venture to Iceland Airwaves Music Festival in 2007. She’s been returning to the festival every year since covering it for a variety of publications. This year, however, is different . . . she’s bringing along eight Columbia College students for some firsthand experience in covering an international music festival. A collaboration of Radio, Journalism, Arts Entertainment Media Management, and Audio Arts and Acoustics students will hit the ground running October 12th. Nicki Butler sat down with the students to hear about the process of preparing plus just what the students want to take away from the trip.

Meet the Cast: Iceland Airwaves 2011

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Iceland: A place so hip you probably don’t know much about it, by Colin Lazorka

It’s the closest European country to our shores, about five hours from NYC by air, but many people in the States likely don’t know much about it. Colin Lazorka researches some facts and myths, along with Icelandic food and culture to prep before he and his classmates depart for Iceland Airwaves.

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Preview: Staying Safe At Festivals, by Sarah Zwinklis

Before traveling abroad for a weekend of musical enjoyment, Sarah Zwinklis researches ways to keep festival goers safe. RAINN representative Kate Hull and SABRE creator, David Nance, share safety tips when attending a large event. Learn how Iceland’s rape prevention organization, Stígamót, is working to keep the public protected.

Image taken from Stigamot.is
Image taken from RAINN.org

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Rock While You Shop: A peek at fashion and music at Airwaves, by Lizette Garza

The 2011 Iceland Airwaves Musical Festival has sold out but those who don’t have tickets can still enjoy the festivities. Last week, the Iceland Airwaves staff released the off-site schedule for the 2011 Festival. For those of you that don’t know what off-site venues are, they are various places: stores, shops, cafés, bars, clubs opened for artists and musicians to play and showcase their music to the public.

The fashion world in Iceland has been booming internationally and locally due to their new and innovative fashion lines and festivals. According to Ice News “The recent Icelandic design festival, DesignMarch found high recognition when the New York Times made specific reference to the festival in its ‘41 Places to Go in 2011’ feature, where Iceland was placed fourth on the list.” Many of these Iceland design festivals and fashion shows include shops and lines such as Kronkron and Kormákur og Skjöldur. Lucky for those who will be near Reykjavik on October 12 through October 16; they will get a chance to check these shops out since they will be hosting off venue shows for Iceland Airwaves.

Kronkron a fresh, fun, innovative shoe and apparel store on the main shopping street of Reykjavik opened as a sister store of Kron by Kronkron which was established in 2000. Hugrún Dögg Árnadóttir, Kron founder and an Iceland fashion designer said, “Kron focus’ on shoes while Kronkron is all about up-and-coming designers and then more established designers who (have) been loyal to themselves for years.” The store has made a name for itself, gaining recognition and establishing a home to many designer’s lines (Vivienne Westwood, Bernhard Willhelm, Tsumori Chisato, and Marc Jacobs).

Photo Courtesy of Kronkron.com

As for Kron and Iceland Airwaves working together, they’ve had a relationship for several years now and continue again this year. Kronkron’s store will be hosting shows as an off-site venue spot. Hugrun says “the store has always been (a) good venue for artists to use the space with their installation. The same goes about music as it is quite common that we have concert(s) few times per year. For the last few years we have been part of the off venue as friends of Airwaves.” There is no stopping Kronkron and many other fashion boutiques in Iceland, they will continue to integrate their work with musicians, artists and friends but what can we expect different from Kron this year? It’s their new line, aw11! So as a music lover and fashion shopper, I plan to stop in and listen to some sweet jams and shop, fellow festival-goers should join me.

Off-Venue Schedule:

Thursday
Kron Kron
20:00	 Guðmundur Úlfarsson
19:00	 Sindri Eldon

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A First-Time Hitchhikers Guide to Iceland Airwaves Music Festival, by Aaron Pylinski

The festival circuit has a problem with becoming stale, especially in North America.  Many solutions are suggested for this problem, but most are largely concerned with the “one-up-manship” of the music industry, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the “one-up-manship” that needed adjustment.  Size, location and artists involved were the real issues at hand.  Going from Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza to Austin City Limits seeing Eminem and My Morning Jacket perform the same canned act is throwing the festival ring into a stale and rather boring Mexican standoff facing fans against the same ol same ol.  As a solution, one could trek outside the strict confines of these borders and branch out to greener pastures and a music scene less tread on by big media.

Iceland Airwaves started in 1999 in an airplane hanger with the purpose of providing new music from around the globe a springboard into a larger fan base.  The festival is set in the capital city of Reykjavík.

Studying Iceland before visiting, one can see it offers a wide choice of experiences for the traveler, regardless of when they visit the country. Every season seems to have its own unique charm and there are always opportunities to experience new things, discover beauty and be mesmerized by the freshness and colors of nature.

An open mind and willingness to explore are about the two most massively useful things an extra continental hitchhiker can have. And from reading the spoils available outside of the festival itself, a tour of the greater Reykjavik area looks paramount for the first-time hitchhiker in Iceland.  For the first-timer looking at what to do, exploring the most significant places in the capital and some surrounding towns seems a good start.

Settings such as the Presidential Residence at Bessastaðir and the Höfði House where the all-important summit meeting between former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev, which took place in 1986 looks attractive. On top of the Höfði House being an historical landmark, legend says that the spirit of a young woman inhabits it.  Accounts vary on who she is but most commonly locals say she is either a suicide or drowning victim.

Following in the same vein of the paranormal, the Northern Lights Mystery tour is said to blend natural phenomenon with the supernatural.  The trip sounds mysterious, normally held on a bright starry night, any time from the onset of autumn darkness until the light nights of spring.  Under the best conditions, a hitchhiker may be lucky enough to witness one of nature’s most spectacular displays; the phenomenon called the Northern Lights.

Outside of Reykjavik, there are opportunities to visit quaint and less spooky areas.  The town Hafnarfjörður is said to be the home of “elves” and “humans” alike along with an old fishing harbor and fish market could be a great way to top off an all-encompassing look at the people of Reykjavík and its surrounding villages.

According to Nordicadvisor.com, another gem outside the city limits of Reykjavík holds to the local tradition of public pools and the Blue Lagoon and looks to be the best way to drink it all in.  Touting a public meeting place and natural healing facility, the Blue Lagoon is a state-of-the-art business in health, wellness and skin care powered by geothermal energy.  The entire facility is power 100% by geothermal heat and communicates a world of healing power.  For the spa wellness traveler, this mecca on an island of volcanic heat and fury is bound to be a peaceful escape from the daily rigors of the hitchhiker.

Tying tourism with the music of the Iceland Airwaves Music festival is the Imagine Peace Tower.  A booming monument that Yoko Ono designed for former Beatle and husband John Lennon, this tower of light stands as a testament to peace love and understanding.  To honor Lennon, every year, his widow Yoko Ono lights the tower on October 9th, which is his birthday.  She makes the pilgrimage to Iceland every year on the anniversary of her husband’s birthday to “light” the tower.  This tribute to peace, love and understanding is situated on Viðey Island near Reykjavik and could prove to be the musical icing on the cake that is Iceland.

Whether it’s trekking through villages or admiring art and local traditions, Iceland appears to be a step above the norm in the tourism industry and the draw is nothing short of thrilling.  It is said the evolution of every overseas trip tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of arrival, inquiry and sophistication, otherwise known as the how, why and where phases.  A good example:  the first phase is characterized by the question “How can we eat?” the second by the question “Why do we eat?” and the third by the question “Where shall we have lunch?”  The answers seem to lie over the North Atlantic and land in Iceland.

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Icelandic Labels Making Waves, by Emily Harbaugh

Iceland may be a tiny European island just outside of the Arctic Circle, but that is not all they are. Reportedly rich in culture and beautiful landscape, Iceland also has a dedicated, local music scene comprising labels committed to maintaining their culture and music. 12 Tónar, Ching Ching Bling Bling, and Kimi Records are just several labels making their mark within the Icelandic music business.

Founded in 1998 by Lárus Jóhannesson and Jóhannes Ágústsson, 12 Tónar has become a staple within the Icelandic music scene. 12 Tónar was solely a record shop until 2003 when they expanded their business by also operating as an independent record label, releasing albums from a variety of genres. By being a label and a store, the owners pride themselves on “[being] able to follow the product all the way to the consumer.” And despite the noticeable shift from physical to digital, 12 Tónar remains strong. “There [are] a lot of music lovers left to buy the old way to keep a few of us going,” Jóhannesson explains. “Amazingly, people still buy music which means it’s somewhere high up on the list.” 12 Tónar also is a frequent host of off-venue shows during Iceland Airwaves. “It’s been a party to be able to welcome so many people,” Jóhannesson confided. “Some come over year after year [and] you meet people you have not seen in a long time; it can be emotional.” They incorporate Icelandic artists, indie artists, up-and-coming artists, and more. “It’s not only a job,” Jóhannesson admits. “It’s my life.”

Airwaves Watch: Hosting off-venue shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting at 5pm (17:00); Jóhann Jóhannsson, 13 October @ Fríkirkjan; Ólöf Arnalds, 14 October @ Harpa Norðurljós

Ching Ching Bling Bling, an Icelandic label created in 2007, started out as a label to keep track of the albums the founders made themselves. CCBB quickly realized physical sales were not going to do anything for their label, which resulted in them switching to 100% digital. “We would rather spend our money on studio equipment, recording gear, [and] helping our artists record,” says CCBB founder Péter Úlfur. “It’s known that digital music sales will surpass the physical CDs any day now.” Using their family-oriented ideals, CCBB is “disregarding the dishonesty” frequently found in major label practices. “We love being involved in the process from A-Z,” Úlfur remarks. And in the process he is. As co-founder of gogoyoko, an online music store and social networking site, Úlfur has been able to help artists sell their music directly to the buyer, while also offering tools to “promote the living hell out of [the music].” Be sure to check out CCBB at 2011’s Iceland Airwaves and watch out for their stickers on ATMs around Reykjavík.

Airwaves Watch12 October 2011, Ching Ching Bling Bling Showcase @ Café Amsterdam featuring: Rafgashaus, Pornopop, IKEA SATAN, Hljómsveitin Ég, and more.

Since 2007, alternative Icelandic label Kimi Records has been run by Baldvin Esra Einarsson, along with his girlfriend (the “money-man” of the label). Kimi, which means corner, focuses on bringing in music from “all corners of Icelandic culture.” In 2010 alone, they released 15 albums, bringing up their total releases to 25. However, a year earlier, Kimi began operating an underground label, BRAK Records. They released an album every month, mostly consisting of underground, lo-fi bedroom recordings. Despite being created in the midst of the economic crisis, both labels were able to stay in business, which may be due to the CD-release mentality much of Iceland’s local scene still has.

Airwaves Watch:  Náttfari (12 October); Retro Stefson (13 October); Hellvar (14 October); Miri (15 October); Stafrænn Hákon (15 October)

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Geothermal Iceland, Preview of Blue Lagoon, by David Sparacio

David Sparacio takes you into the world of Iceland’s geothermal activity.  Learn how Iceland’s most popular site, the Blue Lagoon geothermal hot spring formed, and discover how Iceland uses geothermal energy to heat swimming pools and greenhouses, produce aluminum, dry fish, and much more.

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United States vs. Iceland: Battle of (a few) Bands, by Andy Keil

Ask an American about popular European music festivals they’ve heard of and it would likely be surprising to hear Iceland Airwaves as a response. Continuing to drive that fact home is a lack of well-known artists on the lineup. The artist with the most Facebook fans (aside from Björk’s 1.5 million) is SBTRKT with a measly 41,400 fans in comparison to one of Lollapalooza’s headliners, the Foo Fighters, who have just over 6 million.

The closest comparison would be Austin’s South by Southwest, which has become exceedingly commercial in its 25 years of operation. But at Airwaves, there’s likely not going to be a surprise appearance form Kanye West and you can probably bet Gaga won’t be pulling any stunts at the Scandinavian festival. But that’s exactly what makes Iceland Airwaves so compelling and worth the trip across the pond, it still offers the chance to discover music most don’t know yet.

Digging through the huge list of bands attending the festival, there are some rather striking similarities that can be drawn to U.S. bands. Here’s a quick run down of notable artists with eery similarities and appear to fall in the “worth discovering” category.

Arcade Fire (CA) vs Hjaltalín (IS)

We’re annexing Montreal so we can have the Arcade Fire in our corner for this little dispute, sorry Canada. Iceland’s Hjaltalín pulls off Arcade Fire-esque instrumentals exceptionally well. On top of the video included below, they have a second video of the band playing with a full orchestra, definitely a Win Butler move. Impressive but alas, Arcade Fire comes with equipped with disgustingly hip haircuts and even a Grammy under their belt. It’s safe to say that most of the world already knows Who is Arcade Fire.


Jack Johnson (US) vs Jón Jónsson (IS)

Close your eyes and listen to the beginning of “Lately” by Jón Jónsson and you’d be hard pressed to separate his music from the original surf-rock alliterated artist, Jack Johnson. At nearly 40 years old, Jack Johnson remains the title holder in this genre, due mostly to the production quality on his records.


Zee Avi (US) vs Lay Low (IS)

Zee Avi is the female yin to Jack Johnson’s yang and also falls under Johnson’s Brushfire Records umbrella. Her laid back folky rock is heavily reliant on her upbeat vocals. Add a few instruments and Lay Low is simply a less confident Zee Avi. Chalk another one up for the Americans.


Attack! Attack! (US) vs Endless Dark (IS)

This one is fun. Ask someone what they know about Scandinavian music and chances are black metal will come up. Long-haired, tatted, grizzled badass metal. Needless to say, it was surprising to see that the pop-punk/screamo genre made its way to Iceland. Endless Dark is a young Icelandic band that would be right at home in America’s heartland where this genre is alive and well. Tip of the hat to these youngsters but it’s kind of like being the best flute player in high school band.


Mazes (US) vs Mazes (UK)

The U.S.’ Mazes has been constantly jockeying for position with the UK band of the same name. So much so that their myspace handle used to be “TheBetterMazes,” which has since changed to ChicagoMazes. Without getting into the music, that’s as good as admitting defeat so this one goes to the Brits. Tell me you don’t love that video.


So there you have it. In this small sampling battle of bands playing Iceland Airwaves vs their American doppelgängers, Americans prevail in this unscientific survey by a 3-2 victory. Might be a different story live, we’re looking forward to finding out next week.

4 thoughts on “Iceland Airwaves 2011”

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