I write my final dispatches from the front lines of Iceland Airwaves, not from the trenches but from the aeroplane sent behind lines to retrieve us weary travellers. Saturday was a somewhat different experience to the days that preceded it being, as it was, the day I had to set aside my afternoon for more pressing record label business. Sadly, I then missed the off-venue program I had set aside for myself and chained myself, metaphorically speaking – I don’t have one of those briefcases you see in spy movies, to the laptop.
When I did venture outside, like a bunny rabbit after a particularly violent storm, nose twitching, eyes curious, I found myself downtown in Gaukurinn. Ok, yes; this was the third time this festival that I heard the fantastic Tófa, but it was their only on-festival show and I rather fancied it. They opened with Fightgirl and the sound and energy was immense. 10 minutes later, all was silent. Gaukurinn this year has been a technical mess. Coals, Tófa, and Go Dark, all suffering from power outage problems. Something to be looked at next year, I suspect. Nonetheless, Tófa owned the stage.
To my shame, I missed the excellent Tonik Ensemble (featuring too many fireworks’ own Jón Þór) earlier in the week, so I made sure to be in HARPA to see the second show. I arrived, however, in the midst of Gunnar Jonnsson Collider’s set; a collection of ambient, electronic – almost post-rock – pieces which, alongside the stage visuals, took the proverbial breath away. Tonik Ensemble took to the stage with their own visuals and a harder beat. I was a little underwhelmed when I saw Anton play on his own in Warsaw recently, but tonight – flanked by guitar and bowed bass, he is on top of his game. A beautiful, understated and at times powerful set. I was – and, I must confess, still am – unaware why Ben Frost didn’t perform (I must really find that out, mustn’t I?) but his replacement, FM Belfast member and damn fine performer in his own right, Hermigervill did a fine job. An electronic set that would have been a match for many later in the evening.
In amongst all of this, I was lucky enough to bump into the rather laconic figure of Gazeta Wyborcza’s Łukasz Kaminski, and we walked together to Iðnó for Anna Meredith. While there we were joined by TBA’s Tomek Nowakowski and bumped into 5000 Management’s Andy Inglis. Anna Meredith is incredible. Andy described her in a message this morning as “extraordinary” and I completely agree. The music has an intensity I’ve rarely experienced in a live band and the musicians with her verge on the virtuosic. I can’t stress enough how anyone, everyone, reading this must listen to her album, Varmints, now. I’m serious. Stop reading this and go find Varmints, listen to it, then come back and continue. Ok, go…
…right, you’re back. Bloody marvellous, isn’t it? Scotland’s album of the year, don’t you know.
From idno, we moved across to NASA for Mr. Silla, the solo project of Sigurlaug Gísladóttir from múm and it’s all very pretty, soothing music, but it feels like an anticlimax after the previous show, so we moved on to Gamla bíó for Gangly. Gangly are an Icelandic supergroup (in as much as an Icelandic group really can be a supergroup given they all play in each other’s bands anyway) featuring Jófríður of Samaris, Sindri of Sin Fang, and Úlfur of Oyama. I wasn’t fussed for Gangly, but was convinced by Tomek’s enthusiasm and I’m glad I followed along – it was lovely, low-key, downbeat r&b.
From Gangly to the performance of the festival, FM Belfast’s headlining show at HARPA. It is is exuberant, exciting, ebullient, and exhausting in the best possible way. It is impossible not to grin until the face hurts as the band perform and I’m only sad that it will likely be another year until I see them play again.
It was time for bed, or so I thought. On my way home, I decided to pop in to Gamla bíó to catch a little of Sykur – a favourite from past festivals. Not only were the band on top form, but I bumped into the Tófa guys and hi-jinks ensued. A lovely way to end the festival and a delightful, enticing, invite to return next year. I’m sure, as much as one can be, that I will.