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PREVIEW: Iceland Airwaves
The Quietus , October 18th, 2016 13:28

Ahead of next month's edition of the Icelandic festival, we select the must-see homegrown highlights and a few extra essentials to make the most of your time

When a festival really turns it out with a quality line-up all the way across the board, it's frustrating in extremis to have promised yourself some months back - with the best intentions - that you'd continue the worthy tradition of highlighting only a small subset of the acts on the bill as must-sees. In the case of this year's Iceland Airwaves, as with last year's, that means only providing the run down on the essential Icelandic artists appearing at the festival.

Taking place in more venues across Reykjavík than I have fingers to count them - from art galleries to clothes stores to the more conventional bars and clubs - Airwaves has the capacity to play host to homegrown talent on an almost intimidating scale: no one needs to get bumped because Björk is doing a run of two shows or because PJ Harvey is playing. And, while it's true that you might have to choose between braving queues for a Big Name Artist instead of seeing three or four of what might be potentially your New Favourite Artists, having that choice at all is a luxury not afforded by many festivals.

In that spirit of inclusion, much has been made in the last year of the hip hop scene in Reykjavík — essentially since last year's Airwaves where Reykjavíkurdætur caught a swathe of journalists (from i-D to, yes, The Quietus) off guard and turned them into evangelists for their cause — ranging from mainstream North America-facing music to the slightly less canonical, with acts like Sturla Atlas getting their shot at warming up for Justin Bieber.

We may even be close now to the tipping point: a world in which talking about Icelandic music no longer immediately conjures the sound of the first six Sigur Rós albums. There is a sense of plurality now: there are Icelandic musics; there are Reykjavík scenes.

For six days in November, between the mountains and the sea and vast expanses of treeless green and ash-tinged ice, at the convergence of Europe and North America, those pluralities are yours to explore.


Our friends at the Line of Best Fit describe this formerly anonymous trio as a "trap super-group", and pretty much have it right on all fronts. Between their beats and the shifted vocals, Gangly seem to verge conceptually on something like Siren House: while SALEM's King Knight echoes through their music, the more abrasive Witch House vitriol have been replaced with something equally haunted, potentially darker, and yet infinitely more enticing. (As for the super-group part, Gangly collectively contains members of three of the capital's most established acts — Sin Fang, Oyama and Samaris. Speaking of which...)


Earlier this year, Samaris released Black Lights – a summer album for people who just aren't sure if longer days are really something they want to be dealing with right now," according to yours truly – fusing melancholy clarinet and trip-hop style beats with vocals that oscillate between the high and low ebbs of the emotional spectrum. In a live setting, they bring a fog-like atmosphere which seems, at once, to provide clarity and warp the reality of the room.


Yeah, theres no way around it, it's an unfortunate name and someone needs a good talking to. In terms of what actually matters, though, it's worth reserving judgement: if the softer side of the Drake spectrum is the one you find yourself curled up in, alone with your thoughts and a glass of something stronger than your heart manages to be, then you're going to save your complaints about Vaginaboys being called Vaginaboys until after Vaginaboys have played. (It's called desensitisation, I'm doing you a favour.)


Reykjavíkurdætur are brash and they're in your face, and if that's something you don't enjoy then you need to ask yourself what exactly about a collective of confident female rappers taking a musical stand against gender inequality and sexual shame in contemporary culture bothers you so much. And, whether you like it or not, when you think about it, either way they've done their job.

(Read out interview here.)


Post-rock that isn't beholden to the formula of post-rock is a scarce commodity - though one that bands like Korea's Jambinai have proved to be very much in demand - and in that sense Oyama are a rarity. While their "multi-layered guitars that shimmer and roar, and sweetly discordant vocal harmonies" may not sound unfamiliar in theory, in practice they're deftly put to work with shoegaze and dream pop influences in an ambient maelstrom that's much more satisfactory than the sum of its parts.


Why YAMAHO? Because, sometimes, at 2.30am – three of four hot dogs deep – all you want is music you can dance to delivered by someone who knows exactly what they're doing.

Oh, and because it's all about choice (see how I worked that in?) — here are five artists from elsewhere you ought not to miss if you can absolutely help it


Anna Meredith


Minor Victories

Let's Eat Grandma