Airwaves: Rockin out in Reykjavik (Iceland)!

It’s officially Autumn and for me, and that means gearing up for Iceland Airwaves music festival in Reykjavik. Held from November 5 – 9, music will essentially take over downtown Reykjavik for the week and there’s no escaping the tunes. If you’re music obsessed like I am, Airwaves is basically an early Christmas. If you aren’t aware, a quick Google image search will show you how beautiful Iceland is. Add a week of music and possibility of seeing the northern lights, and it’s no wonder this festival grows bigger every year. Beauty aside though, it’s the festival spirit that really sets Airwaves apart from the rest. There’s a feeling that anything can happen at Airwaves, and it just might. One minute you’re watching Sinéad O’Connor perform in a church and the next you’re at the American ambassador’s house eating rotten shark while someone plays Ol’ Dirty Bastard on the piano. Yes, that really did happen one year.  But it’s Airwaves; of course it happened!

Icelandic Airwaves concert-goers enjoying a set in hot springs

The Flaming Lips are the big headliner this year, and Sweden’s The Knife have announced that their appearance will be their last ever as a band.  Son Lux will undoubtedly bring the house down during his set, and Mercury Prize nominee East India Youth is set to make an appearance on Saturday night.  I’m excited to finally see Perfect Pussy and I’ve been told not to miss Australia’s psychedelic group King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.  With a name like that, you kind of have to check them out, right?

To add to all this, there’s the off venue program, who’s lineup hasn’t even been announced yet.  For those not lucky enough to get a festival wristband, the off venue program offers a chance to see music for free all over town. Anywhere you can fit a guitar, there will be a band.  The jewelry shop, the grocery store, the bus station – they’ve all have acted as a venue for folks who just wanted to play.  Bedroom Community, an Icelandic label who’s roster boasts an eclectic mix of groundbreaking artists, hosts my favorite off venue program at Kaffibarinn, a favorite local pub.  “Bedroom Community and Friends” as it’s been billed, have featured a variety of really special shows over years. Owen Pallett, Mariam the Believer, and Damien Rice have all played, as well as the label’s own stellar acts and surprise collaborations.  No doubt, this year will be equally as special.

With any music festival, who you plan to see is often not who you end up seeing.  You get distracted. You meet people. You might have a few too many beers. But there’s always a select few shows that you make a point to be in attendance for.  At Airwaves, there is obviously an emphasis on Icelandic music as it makes up more than half of the lineup.  If you find yourself at this year’s festival, it’s well worth making sure you see some of the locals. Here are 5 lesser known Icelandic acts that have made my do-not-miss list this year.


For A Minor Reflection 

When Sigur Ros needed another touring member, they called in Kjartan from For A Minor Reflection, if that says anything about how good these guys are.  Truthfully, it wouldn’t feel right to come to Airwaves and not watch them play.  From tiny bars to big concert halls, every show I’ve seen them do feels intimate, personal, and full of surprises. Their particular brand of post-rock is as dynamic as it is melodic. It can be aggressive and at times very gentle.  But what they do best , is express joy.  There are rumors of a new record in the works so here’s hoping we get a preview.

Here’s a video of them playing in the lobby of a hostel for KEXP webcast during Airwaves ’11.



Kiasmos is made up of one half Ólafur Arnalds and one half Janus Rasmussen. Arnalds is best known for his classical compositions and recently won a BAFTA award for his contributions to the hit English television program “Broadchurch.” Rasmussen is the mastermind behind Faroese pop veterans Bloodgroup. While the two have sporadically dropped a song over the years, 2014 saw the release of their debut full length album. Together, the two have made a techno record that’s equally as perfect for your headphones as it is the dance floor. I’m looking forward to finally seeing it live.

Here’s the video to their track “Thrown”


Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Miners’ Hymns

In 2011, Fat Cat records released composer Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s score to the Bill Morrison film The Miners’ Hymns. The film uses hundred year old archival footage to document the Northeast of England’s coal mining history.   Jóhannsson‘s accompanying brass heavy score is utterly devestating and affecting. This year at Airwaves, Guðni Franzson will conduct the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in a brand new orchestration of the piece at Harpa’s Eldberg concert hall.  I was fortunate enough to see it performed once in New York City a few years ago and it has never left my mind.  This will be a real treat to see again.

“The Cause of Labour is the Hope of the World”



Ólafur Björn Ólafsson (aka Óbó) has yet to release his debut album, but his impressive musical resume boasts work with the likes of Sigur Rós, Jónsi, Emiliana Torrini, Stórsveit Nix Noltes, Slowblow, Benni Hemm Hemm, Múm, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Valgeir Sigurðsson to name but a few. There’s a buzz about his upcoming record, and one song is available to hear on his label’s Soundcloud page. He plays my favorite venue, Frikirkjan, on Saturday night.  My interests are definitely piqued to see what he comes up with.


Low Roar 

Recently out on tour with Iceland’s latest musical success story Ásgeir Trausti, Low Roar released their second album in 2014.  Titled simply “0”, the record is a gorgeous piece of work from front to back.  I hesitate to describe it because a lot of what makes it so good is the space they leave inside the music.  They are the perfect example of that band you want to get really famous, yet the selfish side of you wants to keep them for yourself.

Here’s the video for “Breathe In”:


Tickets to Iceland Airwaves officially sold out last week.  You can see the entire lineup at


(This is a guest BLOG from our good friend Pete Olshansky – @PeteOlshansky)


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