Festival Reviews

Iceland Airwaves 2017 Festival Review: The 15 Most Exciting Acts

on November 07, 2017, 11:17am
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Michael Kiwanuka

The line to get into Gamla Bíó, home of our very own Consequence of Sound stage, stretched down Ingólfsstræti for blocks; once inside the space, the crowd for Michael Kiwanuka was one of the biggest and most ravenous of the entire weekend. Despite the passionate response and massive audience, the dapper English soul musician radiated a comfortable ease, seemingly never without a soft smile. Kiwanuka spent a lot of time on songs from his 2016 album, Love & Hate, including the sublime single “Black Man in a White World” and the down-and-dirty “Cold Little Heart”. The new stuff went over well, but the crowd went wild when he dug deep for tracks from 2012’s Home Again. Every night, Kiwanuka tears open his heart and pours it all out on the stage, a raw and honest expression that continues to connect with so many and should expand his already passionate fanbase even further.



Whether subtly daubing his intimate compositions with electronic touches or weaving his honeyed vocals into a lush web, Ásgeir manages to find all the nooks and niches of the heart. The Reykjavik singer-songwriter accentuated his emotional tunes with a dramatic light show, the Harpa stage flooded with light at the trigger of splashy drumbeats and guitar swashes. Whether in English or Icelandic, Ásgeir’s voice floated above the heads of the massive, eager crowd, effortless and precise. There’s something so special about seeing Icelandic heroes at Harpa, the venue part museum, part symphony hall, part community center; just last year I saw Björk softly dominate the massive space, and Ásgeir’s comfortability in the space carried a similar weight.

Though he started at the slow end of the spectrum, his songs flowed together into an expressive acoustic-electronic knot. Some would begin only with humming, but even that simple tool would echo through the hall and into each bobbing head. No matter what type of composition, the key was Ásgeir’s incredibly controlled voice, easily ranging up and down his multi-octave range. As the smoke rose above the band and whirled between the lights’ reds, purples, and blues, his majestic voice grew even higher for “I Know You Know”. The hall fell into silent awe for large portions of the set, punctuated only be equally amazed adoration.



At the July release of their fourth album, Kinder Versions, it was clear that Mammút were taking a step towards expanding beyond their reign as one of the most important Icelandic indie rock bands. To begin with, it’s their first record with an English title, and the songs follow suit, Katrína Mogensen’s epically emotive voice connecting to a larger audience on another level. However, as their Iceland Airwaves set at Gamla Bíó proved, they haven’t given up any of their intricately detailed compositions, layers of alt rock smoke, or lush songwriting in the process. Throughout the set, drummer Andri Bjartur Jakobsson toyed with the pace, changing tempos frequently and without warning, but the band followed each tune’s mercurial shape without missing a beat. And over the top, Mogensen continued to burn like a bonfire — a signal that their power can overcome any language or border.



As Pranke, the hyper-talented duo of Icelandic guitarist Daniel Bödvarsson and German drummer Max Andrzejewski take their jazz and improvised music influences and blend them up with some Krautrock and math rock, resulting in a candy-coated headrush in the vein of Battles or Can. At the unlikely venue of the Hard Rock Cafe, the duo created their incredibly detailed and inter-linking webs with ultra-adroit precision. It’s one thing to hear their complex pieces on record, but it’s another to see their ability to nimbly shift between genres, tones, and moods, all while building silvery melodies — all without edits. The synthetic atmosphere of the venue (all red light and plastered walls) felt claustrophobic, but Pranke’s songs used the same level of layering to a dizzying advantage. At times, honeyed vocals would drip in between the synth ticks, guitar licks, and percussive thumps, like paint spattered onto a canvas. There’s a robust, layered complexity to Pranke, and yet also an immediate beauty — the Jackson Pollocks of noise rock.



One of the most hotly anticipated non-local acts at Iceland Airwaves, Pinegrove have a sound and vibe so sweetly attuned to the Icelandic scene and countryside. The New Jersey outfit so smoothly and warmly transition from indie rock to golden folk tones, led always by the welcoming smile of Evan Stephens Hall. And the crowd felt that encouraging grace, singing every word back nearly as loudly as the Pinegrove frontman did off the mic — even on a cover of Aretha Franklin’s “A Natural Woman”. In another moment of beautiful synchronicity, Hall dedicated “Size of the Moon” from 2016’s Cardinal to the “really big moon” the band (and surely every attendee) spotted on their way into Gamla Bíó. Much like the celestial body, Pinegrove’s music is subject to a beautiful mystery and a light in the darkness.


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