It was all about the vocoders, venues and vistas in Reykjavík in November
People go to Iceland and come back with two TripAdvisor comments – about the relentless beauty of the place and how upsettingly expensive it is, always illustrated by how much a pint costs (a tenner). Since the Reykjavik-wide Iceland Airwaves, I’ve become one of these haughty Phileas Foggs obsessed with the price of alcohol – trait as true to the British as talking about the weather (Iceland is cold).
To really experience the awe of the country, I learnt that you should take a short drive out of town, although the walkable city of Reykjavik also has a handy vista of snowy mountains facing it on the other side of the waterfront, as if it’s been put there by Instagram. The cost of beer is what it is, and extends to the cost of everything else: perhaps the truest indication of Airwaves’ greatness is how much our team enjoyed itself while three of us shared a Dairy Milk for lunch one day.
Considering the festival is five days in total, we allowed ourselves to begin in a counter-intuitive fashion with a screening of Olafur Arnalds’ new movie Island Songs – a film that elegantly boasts of Iceland’s volcanic panoramas as it follows the neo classical pianist on a journey to the homes of seven indigenous musicians (including a choir master, a poet and a church organist) where they then set up a portable recording studio and compose and record a song together for an album of the same name. It’s a humbling, beautiful film that you can now find on iTunes.
Always nearby is one of Airwave’s ‘Off Venues’, where we enjoy that Diary Milk and get an initial sense of the community spirit of the festival. Over the heads of a couple eating fish soup, one local woman making a shopping list and a family of tourists trying to ignore the whole thing, we see KRÍA perform her twisted RnB about politics and conspiracies through a tonne of autotune (vocoders are currently big in Iceland, with mixed results from the likes of the Drake-lite Aron Can), in a family-run restaurant with lanterns on the wall. Off Venues like these (there’s hundreds of them, from bookstores and record shops to boats in the harbour and the public library, where we find a death metal band called Nexion) are key to Airwaves’ inclusive feel and the support of local artists. They’re free for everyone and sprawl the whole of Reykjavik, so when you hear the sell of ‘Iceland Airwaves takes over the whole city’ it’s not some tourist board half-truth.