Iceland Airwaves Day One: Operators, Vök, Agent Fresco, and More | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Iceland Airwaves 2015

Iceland Airwaves Day One: Operators, Vök, Agent Fresco, and More, November 4th, 2015

Nov 13, 2015 Photography by Laura Studarus Iceland Airwaves 2015
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I cried on the plane on the way home from Iceland Airwaves. Granted it was my own fault—I should have known better than to watch The Lego Movie when I was feeling vulnerable. But there’s something to be said for an event that leaves you riding so high the only way to come off it is to shed tears in front of strangers. And so begins a true to life recounting of my five days in Iceland (a.k.a. the time before the tears). For clarity’s sake I have omitted any mention of stimulants. But just assume that whenever there’s a lag in the action, coffee and/or chocolate was involved.

I arrived at Keflavík airport at 7am on Wednesday morning, landing in total darkness. A bus branded with the Airwaves amoeba artwork picks us up. Later I will learn that several of my friends were on the same ride, but at the moment, jetlag prevents any form of facial recognition. I sit behind Ariel Pink, whose exhaustion mirrors my own. The driver puts on Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” which feels eerily appropriate.

After a restful nap (Read: 45 minutes of pretending I’m not too excited to sleep, plus a hot shower) I strike out to explore. Our wristband pickup is at Harpa, the city’s Opera house. Made of a series of cut glass pieces fitted together, it’s an absolutely stunning building—the architectural equivalent of the Northern Lights. It houses a large chunk of shows I’ll see over the next few days, but somehow the novelty never seems to wear off.

By the evening I’ve already blown past my bedtime twice over, but the night is just beginning. As part of their cool kid initiative (my words, not theirs) KEXP held a series of sessions at KEX Hostel, a.k.a. the go-to housing for hip poor travelers. I squeeze into the bar area to catch Operators. Despite never having connected with Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, or Divine Fits, I was an instant fan of Operators on first listen. (It’s the 1980s synth affect. Or perhaps I’m a Goth in twee clothing.) The gang proves that their energy translates, even in small spaces. I danced and/or swayed. My scribbled notes were already becoming increasingly inscrutable. Dan Boeckner looks like Nick Cave? Or David J? Have I seen any of them in the same room together?

This is not Dan Boeckner…or is it?

Part of the joy of going to a music festival abroad is seeing local bands. (Yes, I realize a phrase to this effect appears in every one of my recaps. Gunna tattoo it across my forehead and save us all time.) Luckily the first night’s program was almost entirely Icelandic, so I practiced what I preached by default. First up was Börn. Punky and fun, but slightly tame, I couldn’t help but hope I’d see the set build to some kind of unhinged glory. The charisma was there, it was just on slow boil.

More in your face were Reykjavíkurdætur. Then again, it’s hard to not be in your face when you’re an eighteen-piece, all-woman, rap collective that performs in nude body stockings. Their sheer size and gender slant were memorable enough to earn a status as a novelty act. But they managed to make fun of the genre without becoming a joke themselves. Even when rapping in Icelandic the message was clear—sup feminism?

I took an instant liking to Agent Fresco’s epic post-rock sweep, led by the eerily familiar falsetto of frontman Arnór Dan. Later I learn that he sang on the last Ólafur Arnalds album. You know when you meet someone and you know you’re going to like them because you have a beloved mutual friend? Yeah, that. (Memo to fans of Mew: you’re going to eat these guys up.)

My night ended with Vök, who I’ve also seen in Norway in Poland this year. The downbeat trio performed a tight, haunting set full of crackling synths, thudding trip-hop beats, and a live sax playing. It probably doesn’t hurt that frontwoman Margrét Rán’s pronunciation bears a passing resemblance to Björk, so on an international level they’re bound to carry that whole Iceland = mystery banner well.

Tomorrow: A tale of two Johns.

Check out day one photos here.

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(www.facebook.com/icelandairwavesfestival)

(www.facebook.com/theoperatorsmusic)

(www.facebook.com/borndeyja)

(www.facebook.com/shlengideng)

(www.facebook.com/agentfresco)

(www.facebook.com/Vokband)




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