Coming into music tour season, it’s with great pleasure that Label Networks showcases some of the top tours and festivals of the upcoming season. But we’re starting with the last festival of the season first, the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival which takes place in October, in order to give readers time to book flights. This is clearly one festival not to be missed.
Oddly, the Iceland Music Festival does not occur during the long summer nights of Summer Solstice. Instead, it serendipitously occurs during the cusp of seasons. At this time, just below the Arctic Circle, Reykjavik, Iceland is painted by nature. Nights turn black-purple and neon green with aurora borealis and days of half-sunrises bathe the city in an amber glow. Houses painted red, cobalt, and yellow, tightly packed between narrow streets, shops, and café’s vibrate in this Arctic glow with an unearthly effect. On the horizon, mountains flat from glacial drift and a black North Atlantic Ocean remind you of the source of an omnipresent biting wind. Yet the city’s sheer physicality, which also straddles the Atlantic rift, makes it a creative outpost for artists cultivating their own culture.
The unique results are not new to pop culture. Bjork, poets, and various fashion designers have told the city’s story of magical inspiration. What’s fascinating however is that Reykjavik is a creative settlement that continues to spout individuals who change the way the world views art, fashion, and especially music. As writer Rob Young aptly described it in “Desolution Angels,” “Amid the general mulch of homogenized and syndicated culture the world over, such small flurries are what remind you that things don’t have to be the way the big forces want you to believe it is.”
Iceland’s flurries are grounded in its artistic scenes: Fashion designers Nikita and Aftur, musicians Sigur Ros, Emiliana Torrini, and Mum, indie films “Children of Nature” and “101 Reykjavik,” the graffiti art underground harbored in skateboarding hubs in warehouses near Esso oil tanks…and the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. Coming into its 6th year this ‘05, the music coming out of this festival offers a cutting-edge artistic scene that results in a small musical flurry of its own.
The Iceland Airwaves Music Festival, produced by Mr. Destiny and Iceland Air, captures the attention of true music fans looking for the next big thing. Call it a Nordic “South-by-South-West” the Iceland Airwaves is the only place we’ve been able to actually pub-crawl and see 7 top-notch bands perform in one night.
Last year, we were amazed to see Keane (UK), The Stills (Canada), The Shins (New Mexico), and Sahara Hotnights (Sweden) among the mix. Sahara Hotnights’ set was on fire thanks to the rhythmic fuel provided by one of the best female drummers we’ve ever heard, and two perfectly synced guitar players. But watching The Shins literally 5 feet away was about as thrilling as it gets especially when you consider the irony of their New Mexico Americana sounds penetrating the icy city of Reykjavik with songs like “Kissing the Lipless,” and “Caring is Creepy.”
During the day, the IcelandAirwavesMediaCenter is an unpretentious hub for musicians, journalists, and anyone who wants to walk in. We ran into our local favorites, Non-Phixion, from New York City hidden in puffy-coats and fur hoodies. Where else but in Iceland could we rap with the rappers over cappuccinos about the state of the Northern European hip-hop scene and the benefits of soaking in the Blue Lagoon—which we all planned to visit at the festival party on the last day.
While Iceland is probably most known for Bjork and Sigur Ros, the Iceland Airwaves Festival never disappoints in introducing new North Atlantic artists such as Mum, Even Johansen, a.k.a. Magnet, Singapore Sling, and the old-school collective, Gus Gus. With 6 different venues ranging in coolness from intimate art gallery, movie theatre, and dance-hall-esque stages, the range in music among the 120 artists who performed throughout the 4 days matched the moods of the sets being created.
As The Shins’ James Mercer, summed it up, “We really didn’t expect all of you to know the words to everything we’re singing tonight.” But in Reykjavik, the city that literally straddles the North American and European tectonic plates, good music crossing borders seems destined to be a part of the culture of the community.
Finally, Iceland Airwaves has the ultimate rap-party: soaking in the geothermal Blue Lagoon whilst drinking blue vodka drinks. Known for it’s geothermal wonders, the Blue Lagoon is a natural phenomenon whereby boiling hot water from the center of the earth bubbles to the surface in the middle of a black lava field producing a white silica that works miracles on human skin. Icelanders have made the most of their precious Lagoon complete with bridges, floating massages, a steam room in the middle of a lava bubble, and a powerful heated waterfall that pounds out any hang-over tightness left in your shoulders. Floating there, in the Icelandic Blue Lagoon with ILO playing and fellow journalists and musicians swimming about, is as unique as it gets towards having the ultimate music festival experience. For more information, go to www.icelandairwaves.com or www.destiny.is.