It’s new to me, this idea of ‘pre-Airwaves’ shows. It’s as if the off-venue schedule has run out of venues to invade, so has started to invade the earlier part of the week instead. This year, for example, there is an off-venue line up for both Monday and Tuesday, and yet the festival itself doesn’t start until Wednesday. I’m not complaining.
First concert of the pre-Airwaves set is ÍRiS, of whom I’ve long been a fan. She performs off venue in the loft space of Dillon, amongst the wooden beams, fashionably bare lightbulbs and slightly sticky floors. Tonight, she is performing three brand new songs. They are wonderful. Electronic trickery plays second fiddle to ÍRIS’s soaring vocals. ‘Newborn Fire’ is an intense opener, and a perfect showcase for her rich, luxurious voice. The crowd listen intently whilst supping Christmas beer. Final song ‘The Witch’ is surprisingly bass heavy, but classy with it. ÍRIS had won more than a few fans tonight, and can look forward to a busy Airwaves.

The northern lights make a brief appearance as a button up my coat and head across to Harpa. It seems like they have been waiting for Airwaves too.

Alone, and performing acoustic guitar, grand piano, accordion and a mesmerizing selection of loops, Sóley is simply stunning. Despite promising “accordion drone music, so if you’ve come for a pop concert you’ll be disappointed,” no one in Harpa Kaldalón was sorry to have come. This is Sóley at her absolute best; performing her dark fairytale world to an adoring audience.

This is actually a rescheduled concert from the summer, and part of the ‘Tin Drum’ series. Sóley was unable to perform in August due to her European tour, but we clearly benefit from Sóley returning on top form, albeit on the eve of the country’s biggest music festival. No matter though, Sóley tells us that she’s impressed to see us here tonight, and even her mum is in the audience.

Sóley started with a clutch of pieces that were clearly different from her usual set—a kaleidoscopic looping piece, the aforementioned accordion drone—“I won’t be offended if you fall asleep,”she says beforehand— and a startling piano piece that serves the show the sheer talent on show here. She completed a full set, during which the audience were so completely quiet and attentive, you could hear a pin drop. Sóley played songs mainly from her new EP, and her sublime debut album, We Sink. Sóley’s songs, like her voice, have a fragile, melancholic beauty to them. ‘Blue Leaves’ on the grand piano and ‘Wedding’ on acoustic guitar stood out in particular, but each song was so beautiful it was at once capable of captivating its listener and stirring deep emotion. I leave worried that I may have seen the best set of the week, and before Airwaves has even started.

Back in Dillon, the atmosphere has changed. It’s rammed quite literally to the rafters as word has clearly reached the masses that this is one of the few places in Reykjavík with pre-Airwaves music. The place is heaving with people even queuing on the stairs. Condensation runs down the windows and the bar staff. Grúska Babúska is the final act on of the evening, and seem a little incongruous to the crowd who may be after a little more than the wonky, synth pop on offer. No matter, the all female band put on a fine performance despite the restless, jostling crowd in front of them. New songs seem to make the most of the newest member—ÍRiS—and her talents whilst the older songs bring back memories of Airwaves in years gone by. I’m sure I saw Grúska Babúska perform a breakfast show on year, which was quite odd whilst tucking into coffee and toast.

Outside the northern lights have given way to a fierce squall of hail that threatens to take the skin off my face. If tonight is anything to go by, it’s going to be interesting to see how this years Airwaves pans out.
Originally published on Iceland Review online.