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Iceland Airwaves 2016: The 25 Most Exciting Performances

on November 07, 2016, 6:30pm
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Dream Wife

Punk Pop House Party

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Photo by Lior Phillips

Pop punk trio Dream Wife deliver the ultimate form of empowerment, the type that’ll make you want to hug someone and lash out at an oppressor, all at the same time. “I am not my body, I’m somebody,” Rakel Mjöll sang, positively glowing with a righteous strength. “I spy with my little eye bad, bad bitches,” they chanted. And they’re not just looking out for other women, Dream Wife are bringing the change to the children. Between rousing anthems at their Harpa set, Mjöll detailed an off-venue show they’d played earlier that day, in which a group of cute five-year-olds came up front. “We taught them a very important thing that kids have to know these days,” she smiled, then holding her hand up with the rock and roll horns. “I think it was my highlight of the year.” In an increasingly conflicted and strange world, Dream Wife’s feminist-powered hooky jams make them an absolute inspiration.

–Lior Phillips

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Julia Holter

Piano and Pop Ballads

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Photo by Lior Phillips

The performance space at the Reykjavik Art Museum seems difficult to navigate; the long white hall is beautiful in its simplicity, but its sharp angles and metal and concrete surfaces are unforgiving sonically. Visually, Julia Holter’s set was bathed in pulsing white light, making the place feel like a lighthouse, further abetting her siren qualities. The echoes bled together a bit during some of her quieter moments, but Holter’s set overcame those pitfalls handily. The magnificent “Horns Surrounding Me” opened the set on a high note, while the parading Have You in My Wilderness epic “Sea Calls Me Home” rang out majestically. Though she occasionally appeared angelic, a note after pulling out deep cut “In the Same Room” made her feel more human. “I’m going to have some wine, I haven’t played that song in four years,” she laughed. But none of the rust showed, and Holter delivered a sweeping set full of beautiful subtlety.

–Adam Kivel

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The Ills

Slovakia Pop-Rock Trio

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Photo by Lior Phillips

One of the best things about a festival like Iceland Airwaves — one spread across multiple venues throughout a city and with schedules occasionally in flux — is stumbling across a band entirely by happenstance. In a quest to see another band, I found instead that The Ills had their set time swapped with the set I’d planned on seeing. But, what the heck, why not stick around? And the Slovakian quartet’s massive, heavy post-rock/math/shoegaze slabs more than rewarded that curiosity. “We landed yesterday, but we still feel like we are hovering over your beautiful island,” guitarist Martin Krajčír laughed. And thanks to my stumbling and lucking into their instrumental swells, I felt like I was floating a few inches off the ground too.

Adam Kivel

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Minor Victories

Moody Supergroup

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Photo by Lior Phillips

Where there was some concern that performers like Julia Holter or Margaret Glaspy might suffer some from the echoing sound at the Reykjavik Art Museum, those built-in effects seemed destined to amp up the massive strength of Minor Victories — and they did just that. The post-rock supergroup’s performance pushed a little more into aggressive rock than shoegazing soundscapes, and the crowd ate it up, roaring in appreciation at Mogwai guitarist Stuart Braithwaite’s wah pedal-infused solo. While he and vocalist Rachel Goswell of Slowdive never looked morose in their main bands, they just looked excited and happy to be performing with Minor Victories, and that feeling was contagious. The ambitious “Folk Arp” and the explosive “Cogs” stole the show, but the set was jampacked front-to-back with powerful alternative rock with plenty of noise and reverb to back it up.

–Adam Kivel

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Karó

Future Radio Pop

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

Unlike other Western countries, Iceland doesn’t chase American trends. Their music world is caught up in the experimental, and often that means pop acts stay weirder than anything casual US listeners will find on their car’s radio dial. But Karó, one of Reykjavik’s newcomers, sings like she grew up listening to our biggest pop names. Like the middle ground between Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, she hits relaxed high notes with a semi-raspy undertone, skating through vocal leaps over rounded but vibrant electro-pop. But live, she picks up the cadence of Lorde, likely because she’s notably young herself. Karó releases her debut EP early in 2017. Her first festival performance took place at Sonar earlier in 2016. She avoided eye contact with those at NASA while she performed, staring at a spot on the back wall or the floor by her feet. Instead of detracting from her booming voice, though, it increased her authenticity, showcasing an artist who’s clearly gifted with a powerful set of lungs and knows how to use them, but has yet to become self-absorbed with that power — if she will at all.

–Nina Corcoran

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