10 Best Things We Saw at Iceland Airwaves 2015
Iceland is the new Brooklyn. That is the growing impression in central Reykjavik, where the recovery from the nation’s economic crash in 2008 is evident in a forest of scaffolds and cranes, on building sites promised to new apartment blocks and a waterfront luxury hotel. The explosion in commercial development, just since Iceland Airwaves ’14, was enough to make one think of the tech-and-rent boom that’s transforming Austin, Texas, the host city of SXSW, and threatening the local, bohemian heritage at the heart and founding of that festival
The 2015 edition of Airwaves, established and still primarily sponsored by the national airline, Icelandair, was, like the construction around town, bigger than last year: five days, November 4th–8th, with nearly 100 acts appearing in 14 venues just on Saturday, and more than three dozen unofficial-venue sites running across the long weekend. The announcement in August that Iceland’s all-but-literal queen, Björk, had canceled her closing-night concert subtracted a slice of luster from the festival. And the only Sigur Rós action was the premiere of a new film, Circe, an impressionist documentary about circus life with a soundtrack by members of that band.
But if there were no evident successors to those artists — and their international footprint — across the bill, there was no dead air either. I ran into the members of Mercury Rev on arrival, right after I got past customs and baggage, and ended with long solid runs on the 7th — an hour of collective free improvisation at the arts space Menge; the supercharged-hip-hop undertow of the biracial Canadian punk band the OBGM’s (short for “Oh Baby Gimme More”); Japanese psych-metal ninjas Bo Ningen — and the 8th, where a long dance-rap-techno menu at Vodafone Hall included the alpine-vocal modern rock of the Icelandic group Agent Fresco and the agit-loop and socialist-geezer free verse of the English duo Sleaford Mods.
Here is the best of what happened to me in between.
12 Tonar Records, November 4th, 5:30 p.m.
The Mr. is actually a Ms. — Sigurlaug Gísladóttir, an Icelandic singer–keyboard player who is half of a duo, Mr. Silla and Mongoose, and a member of the spectral-electronics group múm. This brief solo set, to celebrate the release of her new solo debut, Mr.Silla (12 Tonar), packed the compact downtown-Reykjavik store, with a line going outside, down the stairs, onto the sidewalk — a testament to múm’s national-superstar stature. Gísladóttir’s voice was a characteristically indie-female coo — a high, feathery suggestion of emotional weight affirmed more by the gently insistent pulse and frosted shadows of the broad chords underneath. In that sense, Gísladóttir performed music that sounded, inevitably, like a piece of múm: an isolation of textures from that group’s hum and flutter, made delicately compelling by the magnification and, conversely, the cozy press of rapt, local devotion.
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