Iceland Airwaves 2018 Recap, Photos, and Playlist

Music Reviews :: 11.26.18

Photography by Erin Jean Hussey

By Erin Jean Hussey

Couldn’t make it to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves 2018? Don't worry! WERS traveled to Iceland in partnership with Iceland Naturally and put together a roundup of some of the biggest performances for you to enjoy.

Iceland Airwaves 2018 was the festival's 20-year celebration. Taking over 20 venues in Iceland's most populous city, the festival brought nearly 200 acts from over 30 countries, performing over four days from November 7th-10th. From Nordic folk music to international punk, indie, and electronic, every year the festival offers a smorgasbord of sound with an emphasis on burgeoning Icelandic talent.

Wednesday, Day 1: Hildur, Kaelan Mikla, 11:11

My first stop was the Reykjavik Art Museum to kick off the evening with Hildur, an Icelandic electro-pop singer/songwriter. Though she has yet to release a full-length album, she is a musician to be watching in Iceland. The crowd bopped and swayed to her hit singles like "I'll Walk with You.” Continuing the femme fatale energy up next was Reykjavíkurdætur, or “Daughters of Reykjavik” with their tongue-in-cheek Icelandic rap featuring the occasional English word. Arguably their most popular song of the festival “Ekkert Drama,” an ironic parallel to the explicit way male rappers sing about women, caused the crowd at the Reykjavik Art Museum to start roaring and jumping.

At the next venue, IÐNÓ, the energy of the evening stayed strong. Though, in natural Airwaves fashion, there was a very different sound. Moody, Icelandic post-punk trio Kӕlan Mikla filled IÐNÓ with robust basslines and atmospheric synths that captivated the crowd. Much like their musical energy, a buzz has been building around the trio leading up to the eminent Airwaves. They recently performed at Meltdown in London, after being personally invited by The Cure frontman Robert Smith.

A nightcap to day-one came in the form of a secret, intimate off-venue show that began precisely at 11:11 at “The Palace.” Once a year, GYÐA, Ásta Fanney, and Jófríður Ákadóttir (JFDR) play a few songs as “Palace Muses.” The ethereal women presented a string inspired setlist of Renaissance pieces, Ancient Sumerian poetry, and an original song known as "Nicholas Cage Angel." Three Icelandic fairies perched on a plush pink couch dusted the crowd with goosebumps. Their gentle voices caressed the evening into its end like a lullaby.

Thursday, Day 2: GYÐA, Milkywhale, Snail Mail

Gyða Valtýsdóttir, as GYÐA, opened the crowd's ears and hearts for the second evening of Iceland Airwaves. Gyða Valtysdóttir first rose to prominence as one of the twin singers in the first lineup of múm, and classically trained in cello. Her delicate voice and careful bow against the strings of the cello are paradoxically powerful. It felt as if she harnessed every audience member’s breath to handle each piece of music with care. The evening took a complete 180-degree turn as we entered the basement of our next venue, Silfursalir. The room was backlight in deep red light as Milkywhale brought the party meter up on stage with electro-dance sounds. Initially started as a dance performing arts collaboration, Milkywhale is the result of combined forces from choreographer, dancer, and singer Melkorka Sigríður Magnúsdóttir and musician Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson.

Afterward, we watched an honest and vulnerable performance by teen indie rocker Lindsey Jordan as Snail Mail. With buzzy guitars and reverb-tinged melodies, Snail Mail performed her contemporary “slacker indie.” Though, her set felt far from lazy. Her lyrics underneath connected with the crowd through raw sincerity, such as “I’m not into sometimes,” about waiting around for a lover on her song “Heat Wave” and "Is there any better feeling than coming clean? And I know myself and I'll never love anyone else” from a track titled “Pristine.” Airwaves knew Snail Mail and we definitely loved her.

Friday, Day 3: Keychange Mixer, Reykjavíkurdætur Part 2, Fufanu, The Voidz

Day 3 began at local hangout Skuli Craft Bar for special stripped down performances and interviews with JFDR, Hildur, and Reykjavíkurdætur. We caught Reykjavíkurdætur perform once again and we weren't disappointed. We met with them after their performance too, and they were happy to power pose with me for a photo.

Concert attendees and media took a break from the music to attend an Airwaves mixer with Keychange. Keychange is an international campaign which invests in emerging female talent whilst encouraging festivals to sign up to a 50:50 gender balance pledge by 2022. Iceland Airwaves is the first international music festival to break the gender parity with a 50/50 lineup of performers.

WERS had the pleasure of attending a Keychange mixer and watch Emiliana Torrini accept the Keychange Inspiration Award. For our first official performance of the evening, we caught Fufanu at Gamla Bio, whom WERS listeners may recognize from Taste of Iceland 2017 in Boston. Both floors of the venue surged with Fufanu's psychedelic rock and icy synths, as the band rocked out effortlessly. Lastly, The Voidz were exactly what one would expect if you’re looking to indulge in early ’00s nostalgia. Julien Casablancas, formerly of The Strokes fame, formed The Voidz in 2013. The Voidz' “experimental rock” was just as confusing as it was entertaining.

Saturday, Day 4: Axel Flovent, Total Hip Replacement, Soccer Mommy, Blood Orange

Where did four days go? Saturday brought us to the end of Iceland Airwaves.  Arguably the most stacked lineups of the festival fell on Day 4. WERS reconnected with the young, warm Icelandic indie-acoustic Axel Flovent. Axel Flovent performed earlier this year in Boston at Taste of Iceland 2018. We finally saw JFDR solo backed by GYDA on cello with her band.

JFDR is currently one of Iceland's most prolific musicians. She cooed classics like “White Sun” off her album Brazil and even introduced some new, more upbeat tracks that hint at a strong pop influence. Blood Orange was arguably the most emotionally wrenching performance aside from JFDR’s. Both artists performed in the legendary Harpa music hall.

Dev Hynes, known as Blood Orange, is a singer/songwriter, and also a classically trained ballet dancer. If you search for Total Hip Replacement, you’ll find reviews on prosthetics for old people. Total Hip Replacement is a Danish funk-reggae band who played their Airwaves performance at the Hard Rock Reykjavik. Consisting of seven members ranging from trumpet, trombone, sax, and keys, their sound brought much needed soul to Reykjavik. For the first time at Airwaves thus far, I saw many attendees dancing and swaying, they even got down on the ground as the brass instruments built and jumped back up in unison. The band made their way through the crowd as if they were an Airwaves official marching party train.

Iceland Airwaves was truly was a music lover's paradise, one moment we were dancing to an Icelandic hip-hop collective in the Reykjavik Art Museum and two songs later we were in the basement or at Harpa, one of Reykjavik's greatest and distinguished landmarks listening to the ethereal sounds of JFDR. Even Iceland's Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, made a playlist to celebrate the occasion! We shared our recap playlist below.

WERS Iceland Airwaves Playlist 2018

Look at The Light - Sin Fang

The Sun Will Go Out - Sin Fang, Soley, Orvar Samarason

Ekkert Drama - Reykjavíkurdætur

Your Dog - Soccer Mommy

Heat Wave - Snail Mail

The Moon Will Never Turn On Me - Mammut

Up All Night - Surf Dads

Come Along - Total Hip Replacement

Before - Vok

Leave It In My Dreams - The Voidz

Hear This - Jarami

Abc - Grisalappa

You’re Not Good Enough - Blood Orange

Forest Fires - Axel Flovent

Ellismellus - Moses Hightower

Jungle Drum - Emiliana Torrini

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