Lumo Club’s Simon Roche has been going to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves every year for thw last seventeen years. Here’s our highlights of the new music showcase from 2023.
There can only be so many city festivals in the world where the city itself, or at least the remoteness of it and the wondrous landscape around it, is every bit the draw. This certainly keeps our group coming back every year from the early 2000s through the Big Ticket years of large international acts.
The Iceland Airwaves festival, now well over 20 years old, has returned in scope to that smaller, pocket-sized affair and is all the better for it. This year the lineup felt perhaps a bit light on the medium sized names but the real joy is in the acts you have never seen, and of COURSE there was simply not enough time for everything that we hoped to catch.
This small city is buzzing during the festival days. You will always be up against the tourists in mountaineering gear on the high streets, but the cafes and record shops will be a Tower of Babel of accents, many returning from the US, Canada, Denmark, Germany and beyond and meeting friends once a year here. In the legendary local outdoor pools, you’ll see wristband holders striking up conversations across the hot pots. Locals are like the northern lights – rare enough to catch, but twinkling and very entertaining when you end up in their company – even better the later you meet them.
It is a festival that really must be experienced at least once (warning: it IS addictive). It all starts on the high of you touching down on this magnificent lava rock in the north Atlantic, and then a trust in the music booking, a willingness to take risks and various levels of commitment depending how many acts you want to catch.
Without question, you need to go over the playlist in advance and plot out a few bands you are curious about. You’ll have a chance to catch Squid – let’s say – in the cavernous Art Gallery, but also a Greenlandic dance producer in Idno theatre, five minutes walk away. The rooms in Kex Hostel (a new one added this year) always feel like off-venue magic even if they have ended up on the main festival listings now. And has there ever been a bad gig in low-ceilinged sweatbox Gaukurinn? Add to this daytime gigs by mainly local acts in record stores such as 12 Tónar and random local shops too.
Drunk on curiosity, we probably took on a lot – zipping about on our city scooters – but we found some magic, as you always do. The following are our discovery highlights from Iceland Airwaves 2023.
Check out the list, the gallery by Jakob Bekker Hansen and a playlist below.
Confident and steady like he’s been decades in the business, the London-based Nigerian/Irish soulful jazz artist has a pop edge, his voice pins you to the floor and the full band including a double sax player were dynamite.
The Vancouver based singer-songwriter’s bookish, acoustic front is a thin veil to her brilliantly-written soft, sad bangers. Layers of texture, and a ‘coolest fucking bitch in town’ singalong is really peak-day-one behaviour.
We stumbled upon Lithuanian artist Monikaze in Kex smashing about on her controllers and pads, fitting in vocals-as-instrument and whipping up a party. She was even better the next night in Gaukurinn.
It can be hard to engage the room in Gamle Bio but Belgian indie charmers The Haunted Youth inhale dreamy 90s guitar pop, and smash it out through a joyful wall-of-sound.
Someone boiled down fun, bouncy electro rock into two French dudes wedged into the middle of a stage in matching Napoleon jackets. By the end of the show you have utterly forgotten about winter and are covered in sweat.
Taking some instrumentation from his indigenous Sámi background, this Norway electronica producer is pacey yet hypnotic. Prize for oddest instrument of the festival, a tiny, plastic sax-synth.
Gigs of the festival
It was never not going to kick off was it? In the belly of Gaukurinn, Belfast’s own tipped a JCB of loud, ballsy, as Gaeilge fuck-you over the city while still being dangerously charming.
Off-venue in the grandest of ways, young Icelandic composer Gabríel Ólafs with the Reykjavik Orkestra performed his highly accomplished works in a fabulous room in the Harpa concert hall. The local community were out in their dress suits and gowns. An utterly beautiful and mesmerising sidebar.
Sneering deadpan attitude, thumping suburban indie-electro, thousand-yard staring us into compliance. This Brighton indie rock band had us eating out of their hand.
Early birds for 2024’s three days (Nov 7-9) are currently on sale at a very reasonable €90. https://icelandairwaves.is/tickets/