Preview: United States vs Iceland Airwaves

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.

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