Maybe the only most fun factor about Iceland Airwaves—which made its triumphant return final week for the primary time since 2019—is the sensation that yow will discover your new favourite band round any nook. The Arctic Circle-adjacent music discovery competition, unfold throughout varied downtown Reykjavík venues, is most simply understood as a smaller, chillier South by Southwest, however on the similar time, there’s nothing else fairly prefer it. The entire metropolis, house to almost two-thirds of Iceland’s inhabitants, vibrates with chance all through Airwaves, all in celebration of the artistry that animates it. With dozens of reveals, culled from a lineup break up nearly evenly between worldwide and Icelandic acts, Airwaves 2022 made for a whirlwind of previous favorites and new finds, elegant stage productions and DIY ragers, Krombachers and sizzling canine. “Inspiring” is an inescapable Airwaves descriptor, and for good purpose.
Paste prefaced this yr’s barely scaled-back, sold-out competition with our picks for 15 acts to see, and caught as a lot of them as we might. No music competition expertise is full with out quite a few tough selections, although luckily, Airwaves—between its extremely walkable environs, dependable group and low (although not oppressively so) temperatures—not less than makes scrambling between units comparatively painless. I noticed musicians play clothes and document shops, a church, a museum, a hostel, an opera home, a recording studio, a basement and a road nook. I missed acts I’d been anticipating for weeks, and noticed others I’d had no plans to. I might’ve executed one million issues in another way, but I wouldn’t change a factor. Listed below are the ten finest units I noticed at Iceland Airwaves 2022.
Picture by Mummi Lu
Arooj Aftab’s Saturday evening set at Frikirkjan, a fast, chilly stroll alongside the lake away from Reykjavík’s middle, was one of many competition’s most entrancing and meditative oases. The slender church was packed, and Aftab’s otherworldly vocals, accompanied by Gyan Riley’s virtuosic guitar taking part in, emanated all through the hushed house. The warmly charismatic artist informed tour tales and carried out 5 songs from her breakthrough album Vulture Prince, together with her Grammy-winning “Mohabbat” (“That is the banger,” Aftab famous in its intro). Riley proved himself “rudely good at music” (as Aftab described him) all through, utilizing a loop pedal so as to add layers to his flurries of nylon-string guitar (and, at one level, what seemed like an electrical mini-sitar). The pair’s give and take made for a mesmeric, wandering collection of serenades that had viewers members leaning again in Frikirkjan’s pews, eyes closed, their senses of marvel unleashed.
Picture by Aníta Eldjárn
I went into Brimheim’s Friday evening set at Iðnó realizing exactly nothing about them, and left impressed. Led by Danish/Faroese singer/songwriter Helena Heinesen Rebensdorff, the Copenhagen/Malmö-based five-piece’s dynamic artwork rock by no means stopped shapeshifting lengthy sufficient to lose its momentum, evoking the daring guitars of the Battle on Medicine one second, and the operatic vocals and preparations of Zola Jesus the subsequent. Rebensdorff’s songwriting is rife with emotion, and dwell, Brimheim (which interprets to “house of the breaking waves,” a reference to Rebensdorff’s native Faroe Islands) render the rise and fall of these emotions with full, atmospheric power, matching explosive musicianship to their cathartic choruses. The band carried out songs from their 2022 debut album can’t hate myself into a distinct form, in addition to their 2020 debut EP Myself Misspelled, closing with a strong rendition of the latter’s title monitor.
Picture by Mummi Lu
BSÍ have been one in every of three “Greatest New Acts” honored at Friday’s Airwaves Plus Awards (alongside Árný Margrét and superserious), however you by no means would have recognized it from their Thursday set on the cozy Kex Hostel—the tight-knit duo of Silla Thorarensen and Julius Rothlaender have been fairly unassuming onstage, nearly shy. Whereas highlighting BSÍ for our competition preview, I’d been puzzled by Rothlaender being credited with “toe synths”—positive sufficient, he performed Kex in his socks, controlling the band’s digital sounds by toeing a few MIDI controllers at his toes. BSÍ’s energetic dream-pop jogged my memory of Alvvays, no small reward, and I used to be glad to have caught them in a extra intimate setting (fairly than on the comparatively expansive Gamla Bíó, at which they’re pictured above), the place I additionally spied their post-dreifing ally Bjarni Daníel (of Supersport!) entrance row. Their Sometimes depressed … but always antifascist standout “Vesturbæjar Seaside” was caught in my head for the remainder of the competition.
Picture by Alexander Matukhno
Vancouver’s Crack Cloud closed out a stacked first evening of Airwaves at Gamla Bíó, and did so in kick-ass vogue. Drummer and vocalist Zach Choy, his equipment pushed to the very entrance of the stage, sat on the middle of a seven-piece band that includes harp, saxophone and twin guitars, in addition to bass and keys. They opened with a number of tracks (“The Politician,” “Please Your self”) from their newest album, this yr’s acclaimed Tough Baby, but in addition included songs from their 2020 debut Pain Olympics (“Tunnel Imaginative and prescient”), in addition to even earlier materials—of their “Thinker’s Calling” efficiency, with its spiky guitars and snotty vocals, I wrote in my notes, “This shit simply rocks.” Choy could be the nucleus of Crack Cloud, however the band’s true madman is keyboardist Mohammed Ali Sharar, who gave a frenzied, keyboard-blurring, bongo-blasting efficiency. Although Crack Cloud burned by means of their time earlier than they may ship their deliberate final monitor (Choy received the group fired up for another, however the powers that be weren’t having it), I can’t think about anybody within the viewers was left dissatisfied.
Picture by Keira Lindgren
Daughters of Reykjavík’s (aka Reykjavíkurdætur) predominant stage-equivalent set on the Reykjavik Artwork Museum was a blockbuster competition efficiency if ever I’ve seen one. The all-women rap collective placed on an undeniably enjoyable posse present from second one, full with colourful costumes and group choreography—they posed just like the Icelandic Avengers on the finish of their opener. Daughters of Reykjavík’s womanhood is essential to their artistry, and so they be sure you realize it: One member lactated onstage throughout “Sizzling MILF Summer season,” whereas in a while, the Daughters introduced up a male-identifying viewers volunteer, solely to mock-eviscerate him throughout the next tune. “We go to remedy, they go to house,” they rapped through the subsequent monitor, high-energy 2022 crowdpleaser “Flip This Round,” touchdown a intestine punch amid the spectacle. The globally aware Daughters devoted a major chunk of their set time to calling consideration to the ongoing women’s rights protests in Iran, dedicating their subsequent efficiency of “Drusla” to these preventing for bodily autonomy. And so they put an exclamation level on their set with sex-positive lure banger “Thirsty Hoes,” crowd-surfing by means of the climactic monitor.
Picture by Mummi Lu
Younger, submit dreifing-affiliated punks GRÓA hammered the ultimate nail into Friday evening’s coffin, exuding confidence and talent past their years whereas taking part in to a packed home at Gaukurinn. Theirs was one of many wildest units I noticed, but they have been in fixed management—their music is stuffed with sudden tempo adjustments, these moments the place an thrilling tune turns into doubly so, and their blue-wigged, badass drummer Hrafnhildur Einarsdóttir executed these shifts in notably skillful vogue. In the meantime, GRÓA ripped by means of a set spanning weirdo art-punk, snotty pop, skewed synths, noise-rock riffs, motorik grooves and a recorder solo—to not point out one stretch the place two of their members performed two recorders every, and a number of bits the place members leapt into the viewers and went bonkers. GRÓA’s set was as deliriously enjoyable because it was spectacular.
Picture by Alexander Matukhno
This was one other set I went into blind, and boy, did ignorance turn into bliss. The primary act to take the 2022 competition’s predominant Artwork Museum stage, Gugusar—aka 18-year-old electro-pop prodigy Guðlaug Sóley Höskuldsdóttir—was in near-constant movement all through, delivering an exhilarating efficiency that performed out like one steady dramatic motion. Alone onstage with solely a microphone, Gugusar traced her music’s topography with unerring focus and objective, whether or not whirling and windmilling across the stage in time to a giant beat drop, or dancing with balletic depth towards a racing breakbeat. Dwell, you possibly can see she’s locked in and is aware of every instrumental intimately, her actions utterly in sync with every beat—she produces these, as properly, and is a hanging singer when she brings it, delivering some sustained and ethereal, but forceful vocals. Gugusar began Airwaves off on a excessive word, and, for me, was maybe the competition’s single most nice shock.
Picture by Alexander Matukhno
The ultimate set of Airwaves 2022 was additionally one in every of its best—and completely its most enjoyable. Reykjavík trio Inspector Spacetime—Egill Gauti Sigurjónsson, Vaka Agnarsdóttir and Elías Geir Óskarsson—pushed by means of some early, upsettingly persistent technical difficulties (Agnarsdóttir’s mic was cursed, apparently) to throw a completely uproarious Saturday evening dance get together at Húrra. The fun-loving trio walked out sporting crowns, and at one level Óskarsson eliminated his denims to disclose … jean shorts. They reeled off bouncy, bassy, hooky jams together with “Below My Underwear,” “Hvað sem er,” “Hitta mig,” “Bára,” “Inspector Spacetime” (which concerned some raucous crowd participation) and their killer nearer, “Dansa og bánsa.” My notes from this set are a fraction of what they have been for each different—I couldn’t have taken many extra if I’d needed to, amid essentially the most tightly packed, delighted viewers I noticed at Airwaves. After all of the isolation and nervousness of the Covid period, going full “No ideas, solely Inspector Spacetime” was nothing in need of transcendent.
Picture by Florian Trykowski
Brooklyn synth-pop trio Nation of Language’s Thursday evening set at Gamla Bíó marked their first time in Iceland, however primarily based on the rapturous response they obtained (by which even frontman Ian Devaney appeared greatly surprised), it received’t be the final by a longshot. The band’s setlist pulled evenly from their 2020 debut Introduction, Presence and 2021 follow-up A Way Forward, additionally incorporating their thumper of a September 2022 single “From the Hill.” Devaney leaned into each vocal word, stalking the stage, lunging and boogying whereas delivering the band’s anthemic melodies. He and Aidan Noell, the band’s keyboard participant (and Devaney’s spouse), have been a bit out of sync, however nobody appeared to thoughts within the least amid the trio’s huge renditions of “Car,” “Wounds of Love,” “This Fractured Thoughts” and “Throughout That Tremendous Line” (throughout which the group began a clap utterly unprompted), to call a number of. There weren’t all that many American bands at this yr’s Airwaves, however it’s protected to say Nation of Language represented us properly.
Picture by Mummi Lu
It was throughout Ólafur Kram’s Saturday night set at Húrra that I began feeling the competition equal of the “Sunday scaries”—preemptively lacking the music within the final hours earlier than its finish. The band (whose identify I like to recommend you learn backwards) was a reminder of all of the issues that make the Icelandic scene particular, all rolled into one: The quintet’s sound is equal components eclectic and tongue-in-cheek, the band bursting with youthful creativity as they gleefully colour outdoors the strains. “The subsequent tune is a bit bizarre,” stated keyboardist and vocalist Iðunn Gígja Kristjánsdóttir, underselling “Gullinsnið,” which opens with Sleater-Kinney swagger, solely to department out into lute (or one thing comparable) and trumpet interludes, then a climactic singalong. Mansplainer kiss-off “Hótun” melds fluttering bossa nova with rock power and girl-group backing harmonies, whereas “Listasaga” (about “that feeling once you’re unsure for those who’re in love or simply actually sexy”) is ska-like rock, full with synths and an extended, cathartic crescendo. Their set’s joyous singalong conclusion, get together rocker “Aumingja Þuríður,” cemented Ólafur Kram as an Airwaves standout.
Iceland Airwaves will return to Reykjavík Nov. 2-4, 2023. Restricted Tremendous Early Chook tickets are available now.
Scott Russell is Paste’s music editor and he’ll provide you with one thing intelligent later. He’s on Twitter, for those who’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.