Unfortunately we missed out on getting tickets. But the generous festival organizers understand the great anguish of those missing out, and put on off-venue shows all over town in shops, bars, hostels and even a hair salon. At these off-venue shows, most of the bands who have come here to play Airwaves perform a shorter set for free! So again, I was in luck!
The first show I went to see was on Wednesday night at Hallgrimskirkja Church. The Icelandic record label Bedroom Community were hosting a 'special night' with some of their most talented musicians, including James McVinnie, Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnasson. The location was unbeatable, the soothing dull white warmly looming over the congregation sat silently. Unfortunately we only heard 'Air to Breath' from Bjarnasson, but we were delivered Royal Wedding organist James McVinnie's treatment of New Yorker Nico Muhly compositions and even a single Arvo Pärt piece early on. The concert also included some electronics which sifted through the speakers into the fireside warmth, 'crumbling', earthy, and at the other end of the spectrum I was driven to smoothness by Nadia Sirota's viola.
The next afternoon I walked 2 minutes down the road from our apartment to Studentakjallarinn where five Canadian bands were doing some off-venue sets. We caught the end of Diana's set, a female-lead group on Jagjaguwar, and carrying that aesthetic worthily. They were followed by Royal Canoe, with masses of equipment from out in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They've been supporting Alt-J on their recent tour, complimenting and developing on that unique electronic/indie sound, where vocal effects, synths and electric/acoustic drums collaborate in visceral ambiguity... when singer Matt Peter's adopts the guttural, numbing tones the audience were in raptures, wide-eyed.
Later on we went to see Olafur Arnalds at the largest venue in town, Harpa. The first part of the show was the Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra playing Max Richter's reimagining of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and after a short interval Arnalds gave us his new album For Now I Am Winter from start to finish. Much of the audience were in tears when he closed on a song dedicated to his attending family about his late grandmother. I was impressed by the visuals of the show, with the silhouette of vocalist Arnor Dan Arnarson hauntingly decorating the wall behind the orchestra. His band Agent Fresco I also caught the next day at Studentakjallarinn, where the singer shows great versatility in also providing lead for the antithesis of an Olafur Arnalds show. Preceding Agent Fresco were Me & My Drummer, a German two piece whose single 'You're a runner' is definitely worth downloading.
The evening actually brought me to my knees when standing quietly in Harlem I saw Bjork come in for two minutes, look around and leave again. Instead of making some intelligent remark to her I instead smirked dreamily, unable to control any part of my body, doing all I could not to drop my drink. I had to ask my friends if they had seen her or had I just imagined it. They had, but apparently I am the only person to react like a 12 year old.
And yesterday, perhaps the highlight, we were charmed into a hair salon where US singer Jon Grant was singing on the stairs, while a friend of his distributed thick hot chocolate to the audience crowded among the mirrors and chairs. His music is simple storytelling, but when listening to him I felt charmed to relearn that individual histories can be told so humbly. We were sitting next door at the record store 12 Tonar when I checked my facebook to see that Bedroom Community had invited Damien Rice on down to play Kafebarrinn, starting now. So we flew around the corner with other likeminded facebook-checkers, into the famous bar. Soon enough, short and behatted, Damien Rice stepped up to the stage through the audience and played a half hour set, frenzied and improvised, including Volcano, Delicate and I Remember off his album 'O', that never fails to remind me of a certain time in my adolescence, and it was all echoing around Kafebarrinn. Rice has supposedly completed recording some new material in Reykjavik, and is a frequent visitor to the bar when in Iceland.
To top off the night, I made a little Iceland Airwaves wristband out of tissue paper and sneaked into Harpa to catch Jon Hopkins. It worked! I was able to see most of Midlake's set, the band behind 'Trials of a Van Occupanther', which was on heavy rotation a few years ago. I was in hysterics as Jon Hopkins came on stage, blessing my good fortune and innovation with tissue and a biro. The weekend has been incredible, and I met some hypnotic characters, and now I am hypnotized