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Before we kick off the bulk of this week’s CMJ coverage, we’re gonna look all the way back to last week’s Iceland Airwaves Festival. Stereogum sent photog Abbey Braden overseas to take it all in. When not commiserating with locals about our countries’ financial crises, Abbey caught dozens of sets from familiar standbys (Fuck Buttons, Mae Shi, Simian Mobile Disco) and Icelandic buzz bands (Shogun, Weapons, Ultra Mega Technobandið Stefán) alike. Vampire Weekend was there, too! There are a ton of wonderful photos (and videos) for you after the jump, along with a brief but educational report from our correspondent to set the scene.

Words and photos by Abbey Braden
The prospect of attending the 10th annual Iceland Airwaves festival had me over the moon. With the news of the economy imploding though we were all expecting it to be canceled. Miracle of miracles this was not the case and the 4 day city wide shindig went off with a resilient bang. The only conflict was whether to see native bands, many whom we have loved for ages, or take the opportunity to catch ones we’ve seen a billion times gigging for an international audience.

Held in conjunction with the You Are In Control Music conference it was quite simply the best fest I’ve ever had the pleasure of crashing. Since the fest is a bit out of the way longitude wise, you’re basically surrounded by either a) fans bursting with hometown pride or b) music aficionados that made effort to take the trip. The planning was methodical in every way. The sound in each venue, be it a museum or bar, was stellar. Every band started on time and the bouncers were stern but cool. The daily Grapevine newspaper’s festival edition (the Icelandic equivalent of the Village Voice) was spot on in reviewing the previous night’s shows and highlighting the favorites for the following evening. On a personal high note, there were photopits at most gigs. Needless to say I’m counting the days until next year.

Here is what is awesome about Iceland:


  • The locals are extremely straightforward and frank, you know when they get excited about a band that it’s going to be effing fantastic. There is no sugarcoating here.

  • Yeah, the weather is rough, but you don’t really notice it because there are 300 kids standing outside in the sleet waiting to get into a show, and if they can deal with it, I can too.

  • Almost everyone is in at least one band, and there’s a huge chance they play a brass instrument. I think the Icelandic equivalent of a jock is a trombone player.

  • Giant waterfalls and rainbows all the time.

  • There is street art everywhere: it feels a bit like Berlin mashed up with Seattle, except with glaciers hanging out in the background.

  • Icelandic Air screens Heima on demand.

  • A LIFESIZE VIKING DIORAMA MUSEUM.

  • Bars are open until 6 AM on the weekend.

  • They make the best sub sandwiches in the world. Hot dogs too, and they sell waffles from vans in the wee hours of the morning, and you run into everyone imaginable while standing in line.

Finally, there’s the tragedy resonating in the wake of the economic collapse (duh), and the bands play and people dance like there’s no tomorrow. As one band put it, “We’ve got nothing to lose at this point.” It’s incredibly inspiring to witness people forging ahead.

Now I went into this situation absolutely convinced, out of respect to Iceland’s massive output of music, that I could avoid using Bjork as a reference point. This was smashed to pieces with the first band of the festival but for good reason.

DAY 1

AGENT FRESCO

BENNI HEMM HEMM

BIFFY CLYRO

BORKO

MORÐINGJARNIR

REYKJAVIK!

DAY 2

BIOGEN

FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE

FUCK BUTTONS

GUS GUS

VISIT TO THE SAGA MUSEM

THE MAE SHI

DAY 3

DÝRÐIN

DJ GUS GUS

PLANNING TO ROCK

RETRO STEFSON

SEABEAR

SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO

THESE NEW PURITANS

VICKY

WHITE DENIM

DAY 4

BOY CRISIS

CRYSTAL CASTLES

CSS

FM BELFAST

JAN MAYEN

PRINCE VALIUM

SINGAPORE SLING

VAMPIRE WEEKEND

YELLE

LATE NIGHT SCENERY

DAY 5

BOYS IN A BAND

If you are still not sold on how much fun this was, many more videos can be viewed here.

Comments (1)
  1. Bat_Attack  |   Posted on Oct 24th, 2008 0

    Wow! This festival sounds pretty amazing!

    Nice article, too.

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