Iceland Airwaves 2022 – Day 1

Has it really been three years since our last trip to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves? COVID turned everything into a blur, the last 2.5 years seeming both impossibly long and short at the same time, the weeks, then the seasons, then the years moving along like a smear across the table of life. After returning home from Airwaves in November 2019 I didn’t step on an airplane again for over two years, which is certainly the longest flying drought I’ve had as an adult. So stepping aboard the Icelandair flight from Seattle to Reykjavik the other day was a little strange, but also incredibly comforting, as if a little bit of my life was coming back to me. As an added bonus we get a beautiful display of the northern lights as we passed over Canada, setting the mood and getting us into the right frame of mind.

After checking into our apartment we hit the streets, grabbing coffee and pastries at Reykjavik Roasters as we watched the light of day begin to touch the highest parts of the city, the sun sneaking its way up over the horizon. It was as if we’d never been gone. I was thinking about this the other day – excluding cities I’ve actually lived in, I’m confident I’ve spent more nights in Reykjavik than any other city in the world except Los Angeles, and that’s only because I used to travel to LA so much for business (one year I made 24 separate trips from Seattle to LA).

We caught up with our friend Rob of Revenge of Calculon fame and grabbed lunch, along with a handful of the band’s new 7” Battle-Atomic Disco-Wow! / L.S.P., then opened our festival at my favorite record store in the world, Lucky Records. There we caught up with our friends Oscar and Sarah and were treated to a bump-bump-bumping techno set by Andartak. So good! While there we got the hot tip that our friend and KEXP DJ Kevin Cole was spinning at set over at Smekkleysa, aka Bad Taste Records, serving at the opening for a surprise, intimate show by Apparat Organ Quartet in celebration of their 20-year-old self-titled debut receiving its first ever vinyl release.

We hustled across town to secure our spots. The show was set up in a relatively small room, and as we got closer to AOQ’s set it became clear that this was going to be another of those classic Airwaves Deathtrap™ scenarios – a tiny room packed to the gills, people filling both stairwells completely to the point where the one door that led outside could barely be opened due to the crush. But we’ve seen this movie before and the crowd was well behaved… and besides, we probably couldn’t have gotten out of there without actually climbing onto the table where all the keyboards were set up and using it as a platform from which to leap and grab the landing railing to climb our way to freedom. Which seemed a bit excessive, so I grabbed a can of beer from the table and rode with it. Regardless, the show was a blast.

Originally we planned on hitting our favorite pizza joint for dinner, but the AOQ show threw a wrench into our plans so we grabbed a street hot dog and high-tailed it over to Gaukurinn for a couple of shows. The opener was the Icelandic band Sameheads (below), who brought a youthful energy to a strong set of post-punk indie-rockers. Man I have missed seeing and hearing live shows in small venues! These guys were a lot of fun. Next up was the man we’d specifically come to Gaukurinn tonight to see, Janus Rasmussen. Probably best known for his work with Bloodgroup and, more recently, the ambient house duo Kiasmos, I was excited to see what the Faroe Islander had in store for us.

I knew we wanted to get to the Art Museum in time to see Amyl and the Sniffers, so I fully planned on leaving Janus’ set a little early. That is until it started. And I saw God.

For 40 minutes Janus, accompanied by a violin player, poured warm beats upon the crowd. Synaptic connections in my brain that had shrivelled away from disuse during the COVID malaise sparked with interest. The crowd moved. Heads and bodies bobbed as Janus held us in the palm of his hand like a caring and knowing father, leading us out of the darkness and into the light. I felt a connection to the entire crowd, our experience at the same time anonymous and shared, and gave up on any thoughts of leaving early. I’d stay in this room forever. Call my work, tell them I quit, and have my last paycheck sent to Gaukurinn. I’ll still be here dancing with my people.

Despite the near-religious experience of Janus’ show, there was no time to stop and reflect. We had more shows to catch! We popped across the street and were surprised to see no line at the Art Museum, so in we went. We caught the last half of Júníus Meyvant’s set and moved forward into the spaces left behind by his fans during the set change. Amyl did not disappoint, the Aussie punks blowing up the joint with their fast-paced blend of punk and garage rock. Amy Taylor dominated the stage, prancing, stomping, and strutting as if challenging anyone, and I do mean anyone, to try to come up there and just try to take that mic from her. No one dared take her up on it.

We had potential plans to see a few more bands to close out the evening, but with only two hours of sleep over the last 30+ hours, we decided to call it a night so we could be up-and-at-‘em for Day 2.

Kiasmos – “Thrown” EP (2013)

I’m not sure how I missed Kiasmos. OK, it’s not like they’ve been super prolific, only putting out a split 12″ prior to 2013’s Thrown, but given that the group is comprised of Janus Rasmussen from Bloodgroup and Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds, they seem like the kind of group I should know about. I mean, these are both performers I’ve actually met! Ironically both encounters took place in Seattle, not Iceland where they are based. We got to spend some time with Janus and Bloodgroup before their show here at the High Dive a while back and I met Arnalds earlier this year when he did his live in-studio at KEXP. Both were great guys. Man I hope we didn’t miss them performing together live at Airwaves this year…

So now that I had “discovered” Kiasmos, I went online to look for a copy of their four song EP Thrown. I could only find copies for sale in Europe (i.e. high shipping costs), so despite my preference for vinyl I relented and purchased it on iTunes instead, where it is a true bargain at $3.97. I’ll still keep my eyes open for the record, though; maybe I’ll get lucky and find a copy in Reykjavik at Airwaves 2014.

Thrown is an entirely electronic album – no vocals here at all. There are two original tracks, “Thrown” and “Wrecked,” along with remixes of each – FaltyDL doing the honors on “Thrown” and 65daysofstatic on “Wrecked.” The soundscapes on the two standard tracks are certainly influenced by both performers’ other projects – there are elements of Bloodgroup beats here, particularly in “Wrecked,” while Arnalds’ presence is felt in the quieter and slower undercurrents. That’s not to say that Kaismos is just some kind of blend, because it certainly isn’t; if I’d heard this “cold” without knowing who the members were I doubt I would be able to connect Thrown to either, at least not in any obvious way. Both songs are quite good, though I’m personally partial to the more up tempo sound of “Wrecked.” The 65daysofstatic remix of it is killer as well, a shorter more danceable version that really kicks into gear just before the 3:30 mark with some deep electronic beats.

With over 24 minutes of music you’re getting your money’s worth here, and then some. Don’t let the fact that two of the four tracks are remixes make you hesitate – the remix versions are departures from the originals and more resemble unique tracks of their own than just mixes. Kiasmos also contribute a track to a new limited edition box set (5 X 7″) called Erased Tapes Collection V (as does Arnalds as a solo artist) that is also available by digital download or vinyl at the Erased Tapes Records website. I will definitely be following these guys on Facebook to stay up to date on future releases. And I’ll keep looking for that vinyl.