Iceland Airwaves 2016 – Day 4

We didn’t do any off venue stuff on Saturday, instead using it as a chance to do some things around town. Plus we had tickets for Björk’s show at Harpa which started at 5PM, so by time we rolled out of bed and got done having “breakfast” with our friend Leana it was already almost Noon… and only about 3.5 hours until our pre-show dinner.

So about that Björk show…

This was our first time seeing Iceland’s most famous export perform, and going into it I knew she was going to be accompanied by strings from the Icelandic Philharmonic Orchestra and would be playing material from her 2015 release Vulnicura, an album that explored the collapse and dissolution of her marriage to artist Matthew Barney. I’d intentionally avoided the album in advance of the show as I wanted to go into this show with as fresh a perspective as possible.

Based on reviews of the album I expected Björk to bring her pain to the stage, but I was completely unprepared for the magnitude of her emotional exposure. The string arrangements were intentionally disjointed and jarring, upping the unease that already flowed from her lyrics as she described the trauma of the dying relationship. It was like she cut out her heart, put it on a table in front of us, and then poured salt on it and tore at her own wounds. If the purpose of art is to make us feel, then Björk accomplished that with her first 45 minute set, making us feel her pain, making us squirm in our seats at the sheer discomfort of listening to her completely expose herself to us. I’m glad I got to experience it. And I hope to never experience anything like it again.

I was a bit concerned we were going to get more of the same following the intermission, as frankly it would have been almost been too much to bear. But fortunately the strings came to life harmonically and beautifully as we entered a more upbeat second half of the show. Björk’s voice soared throughout the hall designed for orchestras and operas, the sound perfect and the crowd quiet and attentive enough that you could hear a pin drop.

We headed back to our apartment for a post-Björk break, but then it was right back down to Harpa for another full night of shows. The on-venue schedule opened for us with Gunnar Jónsson Collider (left) and his brand of experimental rock accompanied by what were definitely the trippiest and coolest visuals we saw at the festival. At times it bordered on prog, but the electronic elements kept things fresh and interesting.

Tonik Ensemble was next, though truth be told Holly and I were chilling out for most of their set, so much so that I literally forgot to shoot photos. I feel a little bad about that because I enjoyed 2015s Snapshot as well as the entire set they played at Harpa. From there it was onto a more up tempo performance by Hermigervill (right), who we first experienced as the musical backing for Berndsen, then later seeing some of his solo performances. He had some witty and funny banter with the crowd and you could tell he was genuinely excited to be up on stage playing his music, which always makes the entire experience more enjoyable. As an added bonus, the big redhead Berndsen came out and did a couple of his dream-pop songs with his old partner in crime, which was a lot of fun.

The teenage duo Let’s Eat Grandma was next in what was a bit of a challenging set that sometimes seemed like it tried to hard to be avant garde. These ladies have some very obvious talent and there were moments within the set where things came together nicely. I respect them from getting outside of the box, but would have enjoyed it more if they played a bit more to their strengths. That being said, I’m certainly aware of the possibility that this could indeed be Advanced work that is simply beyond my comprehension. SG Lewis followed them and showed us a thing or two about how to be both interesting and different, the multi-instrumentalist wearing many hats throughout his set, one of the interesting features of which were some songs that had all the vocals pre-recorded and not being sung by anyone on stage.

That brought us to the finish line and Iceland’s best party band, FM Belfast. As always the gang from FM Belfast packed them in and the crowd density nearly reached critical mass. Holly and I stayed for about half the set before attempting to make it from the far back corner of the room to the exit doors on the other wall (♠), which took us nearly an entire song to accomplish. Eventually we rode the coattails of a bunch of dudes making a single-file path through the crowd while others filed in behind us, but it was a bit touch-and-go for a bit. So if I stepped on your foot during this, my apologies; if you stepped on mine, no worries.

Four days down… one to go!

(♠) I have yet to fully comprehend how the decisions are made as to which doors are opened and closed, and when, at those upstairs rooms in Harpa. It’s a tough floor to be on – the main walkway the two rooms share is pretty narrow in parts and it can make for some super densely packed crowds that can barely move. I get wanting to control traffic flow… but having exit doors that can’t be used at times just makes it harder to get people out of the rooms. And here’s another idea -stagger the start and end times a bit! I get that having shows in both rooms starting and ending at the same time makes some sense in terms of people being able to catch entire sets, but it’s a foot traffic disaster when you have 1,500 people trying to leave two rooms at the exact same time and spilling out into the same small space.

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