Iceland Airwaves was such a fond memory that I’m still having dreams about it almost two weeks later. I’m not sure why I even had the semblance of a thought that it’d be anything less than amazing – it’s Iceland, for crying out loud.
This was my first “real” music festival beyond the local Edmonton festivals I have attended, and I had no idea what I was doing, and I showed up by myself (didn’t stay alone for long, though).
Other than the rare occasion that two concerts have been happening on the same night in Edmonton, it’s very rare that I’ve had to sacrifice one show for another. Probably the most notable concert sacrifice I’ve made was when I took my mom to see Cayucas and Broken Bells as a birthday present instead of going to the first night of Edmonton Folk Fest to see Ben Howard and Vance Joy (the Broken Bells concert was great, but I was so sad to miss Ben Howard). I’ve also missed some notable shows in Edmonton, largely because I had no one to go with (a lame excuse I’m never letting happen again, obviously) or I was out of the country (a worthy excuse). So, Iceland Airwaves was the first time I ever had to make sacrifices on a very large scale and play constant games of this versus that.
What I Missed:
With hundreds of bands performing over five days, it’s impossible to see absolutely everything. I know it’s not important to dwell on what I missed, but I did miss some fairly notable acts that I had intentions of seeing, had it not been for scheduling conflicts or too-long queues.
- 1860 – I didn’t realize they were only doing a main-stage show once and so elected to see Vök at Gamla Bío at the same time, who were playing at several points throughout the festival. Oops.
- Agent Fresco – I could’ve stayed at Gamla Bio for their set and whoever else was playing at that venue that night, but I left to see Benny Crespo’s Gang, Ásgeir, and Sin Fang. Ásgeir wasn’t really worth it, but Sin Fang was great (I’d seen him before). I guess I had been counting on seeing Agent Fresco at Gaukurinn late on the Friday night, but the queue to get in was too long.
- Future Islands – The inevitable outcome of choosing The Knife instead. Though ask anyone prior to my leaving for Iceland, and they would tell you that I was pretty sure I was going to go for Future Islands. The Knife was my last-minute decision and was influenced by the group of people I was hanging around with.
- Caribou – He’s Canadian, maybe I’ll see him in Canada? Fingers crossed? It was too hard and too lined-up to rush to Caribou after The Knife.
- Rökkurró – I meant to see them as I love their new album, Innra. I missed them at 12 Tónar due to eating soup instead, and I missed them at Slippbarinn because I can’t wake up on time, and their main show was the same time as the Flaming Lips closing show.
- Sykur – I ended up spending the night at Idno before going to see Kiasmos at Harpa, but had I left before La Luz, I could have possible squeezed them in at Gamla Bío before I saw Kiasmos at Harpa. Or, if I trekked to Slippbarinn before Idno, I could have seen them there instead of eating pizza.
- East India Youth/Jungle – The bastards cancelled, not my fault.
- FM Belfast – How did I miss what seems to be one of the most fun Icelandic bands to watch? Still processing what happened with my schedule there. Again, had I stayed at Gamla Bío that first night, I would have seen them along with Agent Fresco.
- How To Dress Well – If The Knife had ended earlier or I walked faster, I would have caught the tail end of his set, but he just finished as I was walking in the door of Gamla Bío.
- Hozier – Schedule conflict with part of The Knife’s show, but I guess he’s one of the least interesting people on this missed bands list. And after every venue throughout the fest played “Take Me To Church” at some point in between sets, I was pretty much sick of Hozier, but I had originally intended on trying to see him.
- Lay Low – I’ve seen her play a short acoustic set, but it would have been nice to have seen a full set in a large venue with all the frills. I chose Sin Fang instead, who I’d also seen before. And, I didn’t wake up early enough on the Saturday to see her at Slippbarinn.
- Leaves – I saw Ásgeir instead.
- Radical Face – they were the same time as The Knife, it happens.
- Young Karin – I got into them just before Airwaves for the purpose of Airwaves and I meant to go to their KEXP session, but I was at Laundromat and then en route to Bío Paradis for Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Of course, in addition to learning that it’s impossible to see everything, I learned a few other things at the festival as well.
- Audiences in Iceland are very reserved. For a European music festival where I thought everyone would be on nine different kinds of drugs at any one time and drunk off their asses 24/7, I was never affected by any over-inebriated individuals, nor was I destroyed in a crowd (a couple bruises from jumping around at Retro Stefson, but that’s it). Moreover, it’s really hard to get a crowd in Iceland to dance, even at some of the dance-iest shows. I am usually a reserved concert-watcher, so I fit right in.
- I will always prefer indoor festivals. Going between venue to venue at Airwaves, some close together, some further apart, sometimes sucked due to the cold Icelandic weather and having to carry my coat around once inside. But, once inside, I much preferred that the sound could be better controlled than in an outdoor environment, and that I had access to a flushing toilet with a door. I could return to a bed at the end of the night and shower in the morning like a civilized person. I didn’t have to worry about sunscreen and dehydration from being outside in the summer all day, nor did I have to muck around in everyone’s filth and mud, and smell like a rancid animal for five straight days.
- It’s better to go alone. While I had set companions for much of the festival, I consistently reminded myself that this was my festival experience and I should let myself see what I came here to see. When I had no set plan or act, it was good to go along and discover new things with new people, but I wasn’t going to sacrifice the things I wanted to see over the choice of the group. So I departed on a few occasions and met up with them again later so I could see the bands I really like and didn’t want to miss. Plus, I met more new people that way.
- There’s no harm in getting anywhere early. I was at the very front for most of the shows that I wanted to be at the front for, which is an impressive feat.
Iceland Airwaves is a music festival that is completely about the love of music – obscure music, indie music, music in another language, confetti-laden music. You’re surrounded by fans from all over the world who, for five days of non-stop concerts, have chosen to come to a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean at the beginning of winter. “Who goes to Iceland in wintertime, ya weirdo! Why didn’t you go somewhere warm?” was said to me many times before and after this trip (though ironically, Iceland is usually warmer than Edmonton, just a bit less daylight).
After The Flaming Lips, the restaurant Prikid had a food truck set up outside of Vodafone Stadium. My friends bought hamburgers while I stood shivering – wearing tights is like wearing nothing at all, and the wind was cutting through me like a knife. I saw a familiar trio at the front of the line – three young Scottish people, a girl and two guys, who I had met at KEX Hostel during the Kiasmos and Sóley shows. I went up to them and asked how their Airwaves ended up being, and we exchanged our brief amazing stories while they waited for their food. The girl showed me her picture with Arnór Dan from Agent Fresco, and I told her about being front row for The Knife.
Finally, they had to go, since they were trying to see if they could catch any other shows downtown. “We’ll see you next year, Arielle!” one of the boys, Teague, said to me.
And the next year. And the next year.
Click below to find out about the other days I spent at Iceland Airwaves 2014: