Planning for Iceland Airwaves is never easy. Not only are there the usual line up clashes - the worst clash being part Mogwai, part Slowdive, part Editors supergroup Minor Victories against local heroes Of Monsters and Men - but dropouts and additions adding to the dilemma. Nineties’ British popsters Lush have pulled out last minute, seemingly to be replaced by the least expected person ever, John Lydon. Mr. Rotten will be opening the new Icelandic Punk Museum. Who could have seen that coming?
Grime star Stormzy has also beaten a retreat, to be substituted by noughties favorite British rapper, Dizzee Rascal. This could either be a poorly informed or inspired decision, as Dizzee is somewhat at odds with his fellow Airwaves performers.
Björk failed to show at last year’s festival, except for a masked press conference, but she is a late and welcome addition to this year’s line up. Not only is she bringing her critically acclaimed show to Harpa for two exclusive (and pricey) performances, the interactive Björk Digital exhibition arrives fresh from London, Australia and Japan. This has to be a must-see.
Homegrown talent is very much on show. There are performances from established and exceptional Icelandic artists such as Sóley, FM Belfast and Sin Fang. Then there are artists that have built an audience over the past couple of years and won’t fail you this time either; see Mammut, Mr Silla or Gangly. Also see JFDR, Samaris and Hildur for examples of Iceland’s freshest, most brilliant music. There are definitely a few good brand new bands this year, too, and being surprised by the brilliance of a band you’ve never heard before in a peculiar venue is one of the best reasons to come to Iceland Airwaves at all. Last year, Tófa nearly popped my eardrums in a tiny bookshop downtown. I came out smiling.
There seems to be a hefty amount of quality acts from the United States at Airwaves. The sultry Julia Holter is coming to show off her superb Have you in my Wilderness album, whilst California’s singer/songwriter Margaret Glaspy is gracing Reykjavik Art Museum. There is a dose of classic US pop with a hint of Motown and soul, courtesy of Lake Street Dive. Santigold, The Internet and Warpaint are also making the hop across the pond.
If that’s not enough, there are some really special performances, too. They are the ones you have to get separate wristbands for, but are entirely worth it. Múm performing with the Kronos Quartet seems to be unmissable, as does the Bedroom Community and Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. The most special performance might be the festival’s finale. PJ Harvey plays the final concert on Sunday, and should be truly great if her last two albums are anything to go by. Her soaring vocals, intriguingly prophetic lyrics (see ‘Let England Shake’), talented backing band and a penchant for doing the unexpected, mean that Dorset’s finest might just make Iceland shake too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some serious planning to do.
Edward Hancox - edhancox(at)live.co.uk
Edward Hancox lives in in the United Kingdom with his wife and two small, noisy children but spends as much time as he can in Iceland. Music—especially contemporary Icelandic music—is his other passion. He writes about both subjects for Iceland Review and in his debut book, Iceland, Defrosted. He does not consider himself an expert on anything.