The off venue circuit@Airwaves 2016
By: Richard Jenns
I’ve been to Airwaves on-venue twice before, both amazing experiences for countless reasons. Nothing was going to live up to those trips; I knew this coming out for my third visit to this remarkable festival, however this time I decided to change tact. It had been four years since my last Airwaves, I’ve grown older, mellowed somewhat. The days of partying until the morning and finding the energy to do it all over again for 4 days solid seemed a distant memory. This time I wanted to take a more relaxed approach to the festival, so I decided to ditch the wristband and stick to the off-venue schedule.
The off-venue shows are often set in unconventional locations that give the whole thing a more intimate feel to it, where every bar, coffee house, museum, shop and even a hotel lobby in Reykjavik is transformed into a music venue over the course of the festival. People pile into cramped, poky spaces, standing literally inches away from the artists. Those unable to get inside stand outdoors, listening to the music through open doors or peering through windows to get a better look at the action. The bands normally play shorter sets, almost giving you a sneak preview into what they can do. The bands hope that these ‘unofficial’ shows will lead to good word-of-mouth and draw out larger crowds to maybe go check them out at an on venue show they’re performing (most artists perform at least a couple of shows over the festival, sometimes more). In fact, you can arguably enjoy what the music Airwaves has to offer 24/7 without having to buy a ticket.
Nursing an appalling hangover (a combination of duty free booze and strong craft beer at Ölstofan the previous night), I started my off venue adventure (with the lovely Ingibjörg in tow) at the quirky Laundromat Café, which serves as a café and laundrette. Local radio rock heroes Dikta were up first. The cafe was packed out and the enthusiastic crowd bellowed out every word to each of the band’s soaring, pleasing songs, even more so for their big hit ‘Thank You’. I nodded approvingly, sipping on my soy latte (how things have changed). We decided to stay put and watch Icelandic reggae band AmabAdamA, who were fantastic and got everyone moving, even people out in the street were getting involved.
What I think sets Airwaves apart from other festivals, is the sheer variety of artists on offer across the five days. Other highlights on the off venue path included melodic Antipodeans Middle Kids and word wizard Kate Tempest furiously spitting lyrics and witticisms at the legendary (and personal favourite venue) KEX hostel. The crowds made up of largely politely drunk, casually mannered Icelanders, and curious tourists bop along. However, this nonchalant attitude in the locals is also evident when trying to get served by largely uninterested staff, which means waiting to order food and drink can sometimes take a lifetime – OK look I get it, most of the staff are probably hungover throughout the duration of the festival.
One of my favorite moments was catching Slovakian instrumental Post Rock bearded dudes – The Ills, crammed into the tiny upstairs bar at Whisky rock dive ‘Dillon’. During their final song, the band, handed out a guitar to someone in the crowd, who ripped into a solo over the bands crushing crescendo as if his life depended on it, the crowd hanging onto him as he writhed around the limited floor space.
I was fortunate enough on the last day of Airwaves to catch Icelandic electronica pioneers MÚM, who performed an improvised, experimental live score to “People on Sunday”, a masterpiece of German silent film. This was the first time I’ve seen MÚM in action and I wasn’t left disappointed. There were still plenty of other shows I could have checked out that afternoon, however after 3 days of venue hopping and imbibing Icelandic ale, I was beginning to feel fragility of my existence, so alas I called it a night (although not before visiting the world famous fish restaurant Sægreifinn, try the lobster soup, it’s incredible).
Sticking with just the off venue circuit this year was certainly a different experience to previous Airwaves. I didn’t feel as pressured to plan as rigorously to see the bands, be disappointed by the inevitable schedule clashes and rush between different venues, only to queue. I’ve always found that Airwaves is about exploring, spontaneity and seeking new experiences, so it was a thrill to venture into an off-venue to discover some great new music, as opposed to queuing up for hours in the cold to watch a bunch of bands you’ve already heard the hype about. Instead you can do what I did this year and take it easy, not worry about missing out on the big names and just go with the flow, you won’t regret it.
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