Early start today, with the new Björk Digital exhibition at Harpa Concert Hall, handily timed to coincide with Airwaves.
It starts on the fifth floor with the exhibition cascading down the floors right down to the basement. I had no idea what to expect, and like the other 19 in my group, felt more than a little nervous. This wasn’t helped by being lead to a pitch black room and asked to stand there, before ‘Black Lake’ kicked into life, full of the gorgeous Icelandic landscape, on two giant screens and 20 speakers redefining surround sound. You wouldn’t want to be here with a hangover.
The next few exhibits are all virtual reality, and involve strapping goggles and headphones to your face. Stonemilker is a 360° experience on an Icelandic beach with Björk dancing around you in a dayglo green dress. When she comes near and looks you in the eye, it’s unnervingly sensual.
Things get weirder from here. ‘Mouth Mantra’ gives you the chance to give Björk a dental check up, whilst ‘Not Get’ involves an underwater nymph Björk that explodes into jets of flame. This is intense stuff; genuinely intriguing and utterly unique. The family room takes things further, giving the viewer ‘hands’ to interact with the VR. I’ve seen the future. It’s scary, but it’s sound tracked by Björk.
It’s the children’s Airwaves party at Bryggjan Brugghús bistro and brewery meaning kids get to experience adults getting drunk in the daytime whilst listening to Amabadama (huge fun, kids dancing) and Hildur (not so much for the kids). They do have an IPA Airwaves Session beer though. The adults, that is.
East of my Youth are playing at the bank, which is always fun. JFDR seems to be running late, so I swap to the lovely sounds of Soffía Björg—one of my favorites from last year—at Alda. She rarely disappoints with her country tinged rock and soft vocals.
After canceling last year, it’s a relief to see Björk on the stage at Eldborg. She arrives dressed in red, with a crown and collar, half way between a court jester and a Christmas Elf. She is accompanied by a full string section from the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, but no form of percussion at all—it’s pretty much a live version of her Vulnicura Strings release. Björk launches into a stirring ‘Stonemilker,’ the strings whirling around her like a cloak.
The queen of Icelandic music patrols the stage, only stopping to perform jerky Pinocchio style dances. Eldborg is entirely quiet, everyone leaning forward to hear every breath, every note. ‘Black Lake’ turns into an epic opus of its own, almost operatic in length and intensity. The first half of the set draws heavily on Vulnicura, with ‘History of Touches’ and ‘Family’ both featuring, whilst after a short interval, she returns with another new frock, pastel blue in color and a huge beehive shaped veil. It is, of course, Gucci. The second half has some older songs, notably the malevolent ‘Vertebrae By Vertebrae’ and an enchanting ‘Jóga.’ There is little chat on stage, except to say thank you to her string section, conductor, and us. There is a one song encore, and then, she is gone. We never even saw her face.
Puffin Island are genuinely surprised that people have turned out to see them. They don’t take themselves too seriously: “It was nice of Björk to warm up for us,” they say and play 60’s inspired indie rock which goes down really well, probably after the intensity of the aforementioned star. The crowd love it, and the boys joke that they may sell a few more albums. “”e had 100 CDs made and we are already down to 70 .. hot cakes!”
Of Monsters and Men
Icelandair have pulled out all the stops and arranged a special concert tonight. It’s Of Monsters and Men at Fríkirkjan, which I’m super excited about. It makes up for not seeing them last night, and Fríkirkjan is one of my favorite venues. It’s cozy, beautiful and typically Icelandic. The queues for the concert almost reach around Tjörnin as we stood on the freezing cold listening to the geese chatter to one another. It was worth it though. From my first row pew, I witnessed Of Monsters and Men deliver a short but sweet set, including a lively ‘Human,’ a reworked and sublime ‘Little Talks’ (absolutely no ‘heys’—they’re sick of them they say) and finishing on a rousing ‘We Sink.’ It’s accomplished stuff and has been seen in stadia all over the world, but there is something very, very special about seeing such a band in such a place.
NASA is playing host to Mr Silla, who looks a little jaded after playing with seemingly every band at the festival, but still delivers a fantastic ‘I Want All’ to close. Gangly are at Gamla Bió. Jófríður seems much more at home here and steals the show with her breathy vocals over Sin Fang’s sharp beats. FM Belfast are giving their all at Harpa in their annual Airwaves party position, but I’m exhausted. I’ve flirted with a virtual Björk, seen kids dance to Icelandic reggae and been brought to tears in Fríkirkjan. I think that’s enough for one day.
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.