Jim McGuinn sums up Team Current's Iceland Airwaves experience

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Iceland Airwaves retrospective
The Current's Mark Wheat and Jim McGuinn get a selfie with JFDR and her guitarist following the live broadcast from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

It felt kind of surreal to hear Marcus Mumford speaking a phrase in Icelandic to the cheers of the crowd at the Valshöllin sports arena in Reykjavik this past Sunday night. It was the first time the band had ever played in Iceland, and according to Ben Lovett, they wanted to come check out Iceland and be part of Iceland Airwaves, going to see Michael Kiwanuka and other bands the night before, and touring the famous "Golden Circle" of Geysir, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Þingvellir National Park on the morning of their show. As one band known for exemplifying "The Current Effect" — as our support (and honestly, the support of our listeners) back in 2009-10 helped break the band to wider audiences worldwide — it felt like I had come full circle myself, seeing this triumphant gig to close out a festival best known for artist discovery. There had been a bit of blowback over the band's booking directed at Iceland Airwaves, a famously hip music fest more likely to feature Flaming Lips, Vampire Weekend, or TV on the Radio than something deemed at this juncture to be so commercial as Mumford and Sons. Yet the band rose to the challenge of playing what's for them a smaller venue; fans in the roughly 5,000-seat hall clapped and sang along, and the band introduced a few new songs and even covered Springsteen in their two-plus hour set. They won over skeptics, from Mark Wheat to Grímur Atlason, the main organizer of the festival, both converted by the sheer passion of the band preforming live.

Meeting Grímur had been one of the highlights for me at the Festival — this is a guy who for many years now has put together this quirky and beloved fest — balancing the booking of more than 250 acts onto a dozen official and more than 50 unofficial stages, spread across five days and nights — while also himself playing bass in at least one band most years (I saw him in Dr. Gunni, an old-school punk group who played a tiny venue called Gaukurinn). Grímur is the visionary who has pushed the fest further onto the global stage, including expanding this year to include shows in Akureyri, where The Current broadcast from for two days on November 2 and 3.

Akureyri was less cacophonous than Reykjavik, with just three official venues and four off-venue venues (including Götubarinn, where we set up shop). It was also easy to settle in at Akureyri's main venue, Hof Cultural Center. While in Akureryri, probably the favorite show of Team Current was put on by The Colorist with Emilíana Torrini. The Colorist are an avant-garde classical ensemble, who re-imagine an artist's work using a variety of standard and unique instruments — violin and viola, but also homemade vibes, calabas, prepared piano, bass clarinet, and something that looked and sounded like scraping a bed spring. They rebuild the songs, then Emilíana, beloved in her native Iceland, sang gorgeously over the top. It was weird and wonderful, cool and unique … in other words, it was Iceland.

We also caught Ásgeir in Akureyri, and Ásgeir's music resembles that of Bon Iver — dynamic falsetto vocals, inventive arrangements that build and are built on songs that seldom return to an easy chorus, and a light show that elevated the experience beyond anything else we witnessed in our week there. Among the supporting acts, we also saw great sets from 200.000 Naglbítar, Ösp, JFDR, Hildur, and Mammút, a well-liked Icelandic band who have been mainstays of their scene since around 2004. While several of the Icelandic artists in Akureyri took advantage of playing in the North of Iceland to sing and/or speak to the crowd in their native language (a luxury an international artist like Ásgeir seldom gets to enjoy), Mammút recently released their first all-English album and were heading the other direction.

Returning to Reykjavik on the Saturday of the festival, we saw more than a dozen artists in a night, popping in and out of nearby venues to catch three to four songs before moving along carnivorously to catch something else. It was all delicious and fun, and for anyone who has been to SXSW in Austin, Texas, it is perhaps what that festival felt like 20 years ago, before overcrowding and corporate sponsorship changed the character of SXSW. There's a scale and accessibility that Iceland Airwaves manages to cling to fiercely. It's a music lover's paradise — a smorgasboard of sound, from the raw Icelandic hip hop to punk to metal to indie to dance to folk to atmospheric — and we caught a lot of that our one night in Reykjavik during the main fest. Highlights included HAM — a longstanding metal band that includes the current Minister of Health for Iceland, Óttarr Proppé, who shouted after every few songs "We are HAM!" to the cheers and rock hands of the adoring crowd. We also caught Fufanu, featuring the son of the Sugarcubes non-Björk co-singer, Einar Örn (reminiscent of Chris Osgood of Suicide Commandos, Einar is one of the longtime ambassadors of Iceland music and mayhem), and sounding a bit like Blur, for whom they have opened. GusGus headlined that show, along with Malian band Songhoy Blues, while Mammút played before Michael Kiwanuka at another venue, and the big-event gig was Fleet Foxes at Harpa, a gorgeous venue and the Iceland Airwaves festival HQ. Fleet Foxes played to a hushed room, bringing harmonies and even a choir to the stage, and their appearance at Airwaves was a major appeal to Icelanders, who don't see as many touring acts as we're accustomed to.

And maybe that contributes to the health of the Iceland music scene. There were a lot of comparables to the Twin Cities music community, from the high level of cross collaboration, the urge to compete with each other to be original, and the need to make their own art, because they live in a place that, until a few years ago, was very difficult for outsiders to reach. Despite the massive increase in tourism (for a country with only about 340,000 residents, tourism has grown from a few hundred thousand annual visits to likely top two million this year), the charm of Iceland and its music scene is in the twists on culture forged by being created in such a unique space. At times in Iceland, when looking at fantastic mountains, lava fields, or northern lights, it feels like you are on another planet or on the moon, isolated from the rest of the world and able to foster your own reality. That reality manifests itself in the creative music and culture, and let it forever continue to mutate and resonate, with fests like Iceland Airwaves opening up to let us peek inside.

Resources


Iceland Airwaves - official site

Related Stories

  • Mark Wheat shares his thoughts on Iceland Airwaves Following several days of musical and cultural discovery at Iceland Airwaves, Mark Wheat shares his thoughts as he reflects on his experiences in Akureyri and Reykjavik. See what Mark has to say, and browse a roundup of performance videos from our live broadcasts from Iceland.
  • Watch Emiliana Torrini and The Colorist perform at Iceland Airwaves The Current enjoyed two fantastic days of live performances and interviews from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland, as part of the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. Watch Emiliana Torrini and The Colorist perform their song, 'Thinking Out Loud,' recorded as it was broadcast live to The Current's listeners.
  • Watch Mammut perform at Iceland Airwaves Music Festival The Current enjoyed a fantastic day of live performances and interviews from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland, as part of the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. Watch Icelandic band Mammut perform their spellbinding a cappella song, 'Bye Bye,' recorded as it was broadcast live to The Current's listeners. Be sure to join Mark Wheat on Friday, Nov. 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Central Time for more from the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival.
  • Watch Asgeir performing at Iceland Airwaves The Current enjoyed a fantastic day of live performances and interviews from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland, as part of the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. Watch Asgeir perform his song, 'Stardust,' recorded as it was broadcast live to The Current's listeners. Be sure to join Mark Wheat on Friday, Nov. 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Central Time for more from the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival.

78 Photos

  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Gotubarinn, The Current's broadcast venue in Akureyri, Iceland (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Mark Wheat hosts the live broadcast of JFDR from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    JFDR performs during The Current's live broadcast from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Osp performs during The Current's live broadcast from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Osp performs during The Current's live broadcast from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    The audience applaud during The Current's live broadcast from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    The audience gathered during The Current's live broadcast from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Mark Wheat poses with Osp following their performance on The Current's live broadcast from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Emiliana Torrini and The Colorist perform during The Current's live broadcast from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Emiliana Torrini and The Colorist perform during The Current's live broadcast from the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Mark Wheat poses with Emiliana Torinni and The Colorist (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Snow falls on the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Team Current pose with the manager of the Gotubarinn pub in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Mark Wheat finds his favorite food in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Another public house in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Another public house in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Hof Cultural Center is the largest music venue in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    JFDR perform at the Hof Cultural Center in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Vok perform at the Hof Cultural Center in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Vok perform at the Hof Cultural Center in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Vok perform at the Hof Cultural Center in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Emiliana Torinni and The Colorist perform at the Hof Cultural Center in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Emiliana Torinni and The Colorist perform at the Hof Cultural Center in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Emiliana Torinni and The Colorist perform at the Hof Cultural Center in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Show in the Graeni Hatturinn (Green Hat bar) in Akureyri, Iceland. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre in Reykjavik (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland landscape (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Fleet Foxes at The Harpa (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    The Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre in Reykjavik, Iceland (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Fufanu perform at the Reykjavik Art Museum (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Iceland Airwaves audience at the Reyjkavik Art Museum. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Fufanu perform at the Reykjavik Art Museum (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Fufanu perform at the Reykjavik Art Museum (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Fufanu perform at the Reykjavik Art Museum (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    HAM perform at the Reykjavik Art Museum (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    HAM perform at the Reykjavik Art Museum (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    HAM on screens outside the Reykjavik Art Museumm (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Songhoy Blues perform at Iceland Airwaves (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Songhoy Blues at Iceland Airwaves (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Michael Kiwanuka performs at Iceland Airwaves (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Songhoy Blues at Iceland Airwaves (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Reykjavik (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Michael Kiwanuka performs at Iceland Airwaves (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Mark Wheat with Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Reykjavik (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    The Perlan in Reykjavik, Iceland (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Mark Wheat explores "ice caves" in the Perlan museum (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Flatiron-style building in the center of Reykjavik (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Seeking the famous hotdogs of Reykjavik (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Iceland Airwaves retrospective
    Fleet Foxes at The Harpa (Nate Ryan | MPR)

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