Quiet is the new Loud?

Iceland Airwaves has a bit of a reputation of being a five all day, all night party. Yes, you could probably do it this way if you want, and plenty of people will be departing Keflavík on Monday feeling sorry for themselves, aching heads and ringing ears after five days of ‘celebrating.’ But there is another way. If you know where to look there are quieter, more cultural moments to be sought out.

There are some key examples of this: Canadian band Woodpigeon might not quite get the party started on Saturday night at Harpa, but they might offer some quite introspection of Bon Iver style leanings. Icelanders Sóley and Snorri Helgason both produce sounds rooted in meaningful lyrics and an acoustic backing, and seem to be competing to play the most shows across the festival. Snorri played fourteen times last year, I’m told, so Sóley has some way to go.

Fríkirkjan, the church next to Tjörnin, Reykjavík pond, might be the leading venue in this quiet revolution. Having hosted this year’s headliners Sigur Rós way back in 2000, and even having provided a temporary home for artists such as Kings of Convenience (from where this piece takes its name), and Sufjan Stevens. During Airwaves, it will be opening its doors to Lay Low, Patrick Wolf, Daughter and a special performance from Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnson. Its Daughter I’m looking forward to though; the hushed sand cracked vocals of Elen Tonra, combined with her partners plucked string and light electronic soundscapes might make for a breath-taking pairing with Fríkirkjan’s wooden pews and latent history.

Not far from Frikirkjan is Iðnó, a converted theatre. Iðnó isn’t quite so reverential; its acts vary wildly. In previous years, I’ve seen some very different, and very loud bands play here. This year, highlights on your Shhh! list are bound to include UK/Iceland crossover Cheek Mountain Thief, composer Nico Muhly, local girl Ólöf Arnalds, and local boy Sin Fang.

Looking for something different? Try Days of Gray, a film shot in Iceland and scored by Hjaltalín at Bió Paradís, or the opening of the Apfelsin bros. art exhibition—–the latest project from Sindri (from Sin Fang and Seabear) and Örvar (from múm and FM Belfast), or a experimental visual experience at the National Theatre with music from Sóley.

There are some things not to be missed; the Nordic House might be a trek but this is rewarded by some special sessions, which are mainly acoustic and a chance to ask questions of your favourite artists afterwards. Their line up includes Ólafur Arnalds—–who I have never seen, and I cannot wait to see—–Lára Rúnars, Rökkurró, and Agent Fresco—–presumably in their acoustic mode.

There are some different venues that are going to lend themselves to this sort of music too; Inspired by Iceland have the smallest venue, which will rule out any Metallica style enormo-gigs. There is a Salvation Army chapel that’s been pressed into service, and a bookshop that’s sure to remain civilised with Ásgeir Trausti and Low Roar providing gentle accompaniment to your page turning and coffee drinking. Similarly, Lily & Fox will be playing her gentle, delightful tunes between the racks of records and CDs in 12 Tónar.

What I’m trying to say is this: Iceland Airwaves doesn’t have to be the raving, drinking, long weekend of hedonism that it is sometimes portrayed. There are quiet, introspective moments to be had, if you know where to look. I hope I’ve given you a few pointers. Remember; quiet is the new loud. Just say it quietly.

You can read the article and more on Iceland Review online.