Iceland Airwaves: Highlights and the Future of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Anna Calvi performing at Airwaves 2014

Photo: Alexander Matukhno/Iceland Airwaves.

Another Airwaves behind us, my back is aching and my feet are hurting as I slowly realize: I’m getting too old for this shit. This was the first time I’d been to the official festival program in a few years and the first time since the festival’s semi-move to Harpa Conference and Concert Center.

Things have not really changed that much, though. There are still long queues everywhere, clashes of your favorite acts and the surprise of the highlights of the festival coming from somewhere unexpected.

What is it really that we are looking for at Iceland Airwaves? The future, I guess, up-and-coming bands. Well, that and some good old-fashioned entertainment. The highlights of the festival are when I feel that I have witnessed both. Or, in some cases, just enough of the latter to make up for the performers’ age.

The crowd at La Femme's performance at Iceland Airwaves, 2014The crowd at La Femme. Photo: Matt Eisman/Iceland Airwaves. 

Here are a few of my highlights:

Lára Rúnars

I was expecting another softly-spoken shy Icelandic songstress, but Lára Rúnars actually really rocked. Backed by a fantastic band, she reminded me a bit of Stevie Nicks with her black dress and a huge hat. Melodic, fun, yet slightly on the dark side.

Hide Your Kids

I must admit that I had never heard of this little Icelandic band until I wandered into their set on Wednesday night in Harpa’s Norðurljós. I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe it was just early schedule excitement, but I could not help dancing along. Nothing revolutionary, but their song ‘Mia’ has all the ingredients of a hit.

La Femme

I was actually thinking about going home to bed after the fantastic Megas/Grísalappalísa show on Thursday night, but decided to swing by Harpa on my way. I did not regret that decision. La Femme is a French electro disco punk six-piece that provided the perfect show for a late Thursday night session. The energy of that set was simply amazing.

a Femme performing live at Harpa during Iceland Airwaves Music Festival 2014 in Reykjavik, Iceland. November 6, 2014.La Femme. Photo: Matt Eisman/Iceland Airwaves. 

Anna Calvi

Even without the Springsteen cover (which automatically ranks an artist slightly higher in my books) Anna Calvi (pictured top) would have made it to the highlights list. Somebody called her “a little girl with a big guitar,” which actually says a lot. It’s rather odd that the music world does not have more of her kind. I don’t think I’ve seen such a tiny person belt out such heroic guitar solos since I saw Prince a few years back. One of the bigger young names in the U.K. at the moment, this girl is going places.

The Future Islands

Yeah we know, he moves like a slightly drunk dad who thinks no one is watching. But Samuel T. Herring is this band’s X-factor; without the charismatic frontman, The Future Islands would be just like a million other bands. Good, but not really great. And it’s not just his at times deliberately awkward theatrical dancing, because he has a really distinctive voice. Not to mention the occasional growl that really fires up the crowd. And the crowd at the Reykjavík Art Museum certainly were fired up.


OK, so Megas is hardly the future of Icelandic rock ‘n’ roll. But his legacy should and will play a huge part. He has been known to work with younger artists a lot and Grísalappalísa are certainly some of the more promising. But, a weird thing happened here. Megas actually took the backseat to the high energy performance of the younger gentlemen. Of course it was largely based on the old master’s songbook, but the acrobatics of Grísalappalísa’s frontmen, backed by an unbelievably tight rhythm section, really got Gamla Bíó boiling.

Megas/Grísalappalísa - Gamla Bíó

Megas/Grísalappalísa. Photo: Rúnar Sigurður Sigurjónsson/Iceland Airwaves. 

Ezra Furman

I read an article about this guy in one of the British music magazines a while back, where he was basically described as the savior of modern day rock ‘n’ roll. That notion kind of sparked this thought process of what I want the future of rock ‘n’ roll to be. After that gig, I hope it is something like Ezra Furman. Rock ‘n’ roll is not, and should not be a calculated affair, it comes from the gut. You can wear a dress and a tiara and still be the biggest rock ‘n’ roller of the festival. But, again, it helps if you do a Springsteen cover.

This article originally appeared at Iceland Review Online

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