Airwaves ’15. Day 1 : Having a good festival, are we?

Morning Bear start the off-venue day in a gentle way, in the foyer of a cinema with a gaggle of school kids and an overwhelming aroma of coffee. Hailing from Denver, Colorado (“there’s merchandise for sale,” the tell us, “but don’t worry, no weed”) they badge themselves as orchestral indie folk, which isn’t far off. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and sing about love and relationships, fairing best on their more upbeat songs such as ‘You and Me, My Dear’ and ‘Despise.’ Well worth checking out during their seemingly hundreds of shows during Airwaves.
One Week Wonder are an Icelandic trio, only today they are not. Their vocalist can’t make it, but they thought it would be “rude to pull out” so bravely here they are, just keyboard and guitar. They play bread and butter indie pop, although have a wicked sense of humor that comes out between songs and reminds me of Flight of the Conchords.
I’m genuinely excited to see East of My Youth, a new Icelandic band, at Kex. Something awkward happens before they start to play. The set is going out live on radio, but the band are in place too early, leaving them silently dancing to a Kiasmos track before the radio DJ can introduce them properly. It’s an all round awkward start, but they do not disappoint. The trio deliver a beautiful set of stirring electronica with vocals that remind me of Florence and the Machine. It would be easy to write them off as Years and Years with a female vocalist, except for their last song. A piano is pressed into service and a heartfelt ballad appears showing the real depth of talent here. They seem genuinely pleased to have played and even more so to have been met with such a rapturous reception. They leave the stage grinning from ear to ear.

For A Minor Reflection are a force to be reckoned with. Playing loud at a packed Hlemmur Square next to the main bus station—several bus drivers come out to see what is going on. An old favorite, ‘Ókyrrð’ gets the crowd warmed up and sounds tremendous. For A Minor Reflection play epic, widescreen post rock in the vein of Mogwai but seem grittier and dirtier than I remember. This is no bad thing, especially when they play with so much enthusiasm one band member has to mend his guitar on stage with gaffer tape and I leave with my ears ringing. This is one blistering set.

Mr Silla is playing at 12 Tónar—the best record store ever—and the place is full to the brim. People are even pressing their faces against the glass windows to peer inside. Mr Silla usually takes a support role and has provided vocals to many Icelandic bands and artists. Tonight though, she is center stage in support of her new album. The venue allows no place to hide and the audience are so close I swear I can see her tonsils when she sings. Accompanied for the first three songs by that most Icelandic of instruments, the iPad, Silla sings beautiful, sexy songs that are gentle and yet intriguing at the same time. This is no more typified than on the sultry ‘Reach for Me’ or the sublime ‘Breathe’. She is then joined by an additional guitarist but this is no distraction from the passion in her voice. None at all.

Next up is Myrra Rós, who manages to squeeze a full band into the tiny space left between racks of vinyl and the encroaching crowd. The music is ‘nice’ enough but does not grab my attention and besides the girl next to me keeps thrusting her backpack into me whilst her boyfriend films the entire set on his mobile phone. Irritated, I think it’s time to go.

Axel Flóvent opened the festival earlier this morning with a show at a home for the elderly. Tonight, he’s in Harpa with his pleasant brand of jangly folk against postcard visuals of Icelandic scenes. It’s fine but I need something more. I get it in the form of Royal in the resurrected NASA, which still reeks of paint by the way. Royal is the project of the artists also known as Borko and Futuregrapher and they make big daft pop songs which are eminently danceable, such as ‘Sangria.’ They compel the crowd to dance, so much so they set the fire alarm off. “Having a good festival, are we?” bellows Borko. Yes, actually.

Fura are late on stage but worth waiting for. Björt Sigfinnsdottír has a sensual, rich voice which works well with the intelligent electronica and some furious drumming from the new drummer. A treat of a performance and sounding particularly good in the lush surroundings of Harpa Kaldalón.

With no chance of seeing Vök due to some severe queues, I head out to one of my favorite venues —Iðnó—to catch Teitur Magnússon. The impressively bearded Teitur is from Ojba Rasta and there is a definite reggae influence here too, except it’s mixed in with a bit of everything else including sounds of psychedelia and long forgotten kids cartoon themes. The ten piece band are crammed on stage and include a smiling and dancing Silla. Does the girl ever rest?

I finish the night with Iceland’s premier party band, Retro Stefson, back at NASA. After 12 hours of the best music, I shouldn’t be fit for anything but Retro Stefson have just got this party, and festival, started.

Originally published on Iceland Review online.