Festivals and their hometowns don't always mesh, but when they do—like at the latest Iceland Airwaves—it's a sight to behold. Now a five-day festival, it sets up shop in Reykjavik each October and imposes a friendly takeover of the capital. The events and locations seamlessly intertwine, with every venue in town holding performances and financial support coming from Iceland's national airline (Icelandair) as well as their broadcasting service (Ríkísútvarpíð RU).
The eleventh installment came a precarious time, of course, just a year after Iceland felt the most crippling collapse in economic history. But while mildly scaled-down and with less international acts, Airwaves still sold out long before the first chords were played. And the smoothly-run performances—all within walking distance—were rounded out with other sponsored events, like Saturday afternoon when buses hauled festival-goers to the warm, curative waters of the Blue Lagoon where Icelandic DJs and free-flowing beer made for an otherworldly party scene.
Though lacking many big-name acts, this year's Airwaves stuck to its great strength by providing a venue to discover lesser-known, homegrown talent whose notoriety might suffer from geographical remoteness. So with notable exceptions (like Crystal Antlers, Micachu & the Shapes, and the Drums) most of the musicians hailed from Reykjavik.
Check out some favorites after the jump
Iceland's Leaves run the spectrum of U.K. rock, vacillating between sprawling, contemplative pieces reminiscent of Doves and the heavier, fuzz-laced crescendos of Muse. And, fast becoming Reykavik's house band, Retro Stefson's influences span the globe, with lyrics in Icelandic, English, French and Portuguese, along with the stage energy of an high school cheerleading squad.
The ever plaintive Ólafur Arnalds took time from conducting orchestras in London to come home and perform his unique blend of precise string arrangements and electronic dissonance, while Ghostigital—helmed by Einar Örn Benediktsson of the Björk-launching Sugarcubes—aptly reflected their name with pounding synthesizers and a rogue performance in a small, fog-filled gallery space. Closing out the final night FM Belfast proved that three-MCs in a co-ed Icelandic electronica group could exist and produce inherently danceable music alongside Rage Against the Machine covers.
And even though they hail from Norway, Kings of Convenience's performance at the century-old Fríkirkjan is well worth a mention. (And totally justified the frenzied jockeying required to secure a bracelet.) Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe's pitch perfect harmonies and deadpan humor in the ecclesiastical setting made for a truly transcendent experience.
Take a look at the website for more on Airwaves and to prep for 2010.