Iceland Airwaves may have ended on the sixth of November, but we’re still recovering from the havoc Reykjavik, the capital city, wreaked for five straight days of nonstop music and trying to get our ears to stop ringing. Don’t get us wrong, we loved every minute of Iceland’s annual music festival.
We’ve used this time to collect our thoughts and identify all the bands we saw play (it’s hard to keep track when you’re running from venue to venue, Viking vendor to Viking vendor) and local venues we fell in love with.
While we won’t bore you with a recap, we will make you sit down to go through our Iceland Airwaves photo album full of our favorite moments from our trip to Reykjavik—from the night we accidentally walked into a scream metal show to the secret Of Monsters and Men gig we stumbled upon to Reykjavik’s awesome ancient theatre we discovered along the way.
See you at Iceland Airwaves 2017, Reykjavik.
Maggie Parker is Paste Magazine’s assistant travel editor.
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Walking down the main drag in Reykjavik, which is dotted with pubs, shops and graffiti-ed walk-ups, this statuesque structure around the corner is sure to catch your eye. Gamla Bíó, dating back to 1926, is a historic home that is now an arts venue. Outside features Romanesque pillars and arched doorways, and inside you'll find a large YMCA-esque hall with regal balconies. This year the space hosted only Icelandic acts.
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Word of caution: If you don't like metal, don't go to Gaukurinn; we found out the hard way that this dark and musty bar pretty much only hosts metal bands. We went there on a whim to see Celestine—which, judging only the name, we figured would be a group of sweet sounding girls. We were wrong. The all male scream metal band blew us away, and so did the audience of middle-aged moms.
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OK, these are the sweet sounding girls (plus two guys) we were looking for. Hinemoa, a band of four, was a welcomed respite from Celestine. At this year's fest, they played their mellow acoustic tunes at Gamla Bíó.
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Upon arriving in Reykjavik, we'd heard a lot of hype about FM Belfast, known for their funky beats and funny videos. We were prepped for a rowdy performance full of even rowdier dance moves, but we hadn't signed up for torn off clothing, which made this moment one of the most memorable.
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During one of your inevitable drunken late night strolls to this famous hot dog stand off the city's main thoroughfare, don't be surprised when you hear some music coming from behind the truck if you're there during the festival. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which has been open since 1937, plays host to Off Venue acts during Iceland Airwaves. This means, while it's not part of the official festival lineup, it sets up a stage and hosts live music every day and night of the festival. Some of the crowds found at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur could rival those of main venues. This was taken earlier on in this year's festivities, when the sultry voice of a sole female singer got our attention. Serving what many call the best hot dog in town—some have said in Europe—this stand may be little, but it's mighty in terms of flavor and entertainment.
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OK, the award for creepiest band name at Iceland Airwaves goes to Let's Eat Grandma. But much to our surprise, they also win an award for one of the best performances we saw. A pair of teen girls forms the group, and if you think that means they're cute and sweet with a comma after "Eat," just wanting to dine with their granny, you're wrong. Let's Eat Grandma (still not sure why they want to eat her) earned their spot on Iceland Airwaves' main stage—Reykjavik's glittering concert hall, Harpa—by playing countless instruments, from keyboard to drums to saxophone, and singing sophisticated lyrics. They also win the award for best hair flipping.
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If you thought Iceland Airwaves was all European electronica music, you were wrong. One band that makes the lineup so diverse is Ambátt, a instrumental group with ethereal tunes. While they played multiple times this year, we caught them on the first night of the festival at Iðnó, which quickly became our favorite venue. The theatre was built in 1897 and reconstructed in its original form in 1997. With multiple floors and props on display, there's plenty to explore if you need a break from the music.
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We couldn't go to Iceland's event of the year without seeing Iceland's top-selling artist of all time. Mugison played one show this year, at Reykjavik's Fríkirkjan church, a truly stunning setting for a concert. The gothic halls, towering organ and tight space made this toned down show even more intimate.
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Our favorite thing about this small city is its endless supply of artists. All throughout the festival, and really any time of year, musicians stroll the streets with their instruments going to and from gigs, and the clang of drums and strum of guitar strings resonate from the clubs. However, the music isn't limited to official stages. Like any major city, buskers are not hard to find, but during Iceland Airwaves especially, every corner of every street serves as a stage.
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Iceland's women are feisty, and their female rappers are even feistier. The 17-woman rap collective Reykjavíkurdætur (which translates to Daughters of Reykjavik) were on the top of our list of must-sees, and these feminists did not disappoint. While we didn't understand everything they were yelling about, we were totally on board, and so was the crowd, especially when they performed their last song "Ógeðsleg," which translates to "gory."