By Glenn Alderson
For a music celebration that takes place on an island infamous for getting only three hours of darkness during the summer months, Iceland Airwaves knows a thing or two about making a lot of noise when the sun goes down.
Located in the Nordic island country’s capital of Reykjavík, Iceland Airwaves is a hot bed for local and international talent who gather once a year for the ultimate music festival experience. The multi-day, multi-venue celebration started 20 years ago as a talent show held in an airport hangar for foreign record execs hoping to catch a glimpse of the next Bjork or Sigur Ros.
Airwaves has since grown to become an internationally recognized event for everyone, shining a light on the country’s vast music scene with tons of live shows, all night parties and general debauchery crammed into four days.
“Iceland has consistently punched well above its weight with quality music,” says Iceland Airwaves’ managing director, Will Larnach-Jones. “It’s an island, it’s remote, and yes it’s expensive, but creatively our musical output stands on the shoulders of giants.”
Larnach-Jones isn’t just talking about Of Monsters And Men — arguably the country’s largest musical export next to the Sugarcubes — Although, they are closing out the festival this year on the Saturday night.
“The festival will always showcase Icelandic music firstly and foremostly, but we want to also build on the B2B side of the festival. So many great talent buyers, agents, festival and musicians come into town, we want to give them more opportunities to do business with Iceland, collaborate, and learn.”
This year will see acts like Mac DeMarco, Shame, Booka Shade, Orville Peck, Whitney and much more, performing alongside a fantastic curation of Icelandic acts.
Matthildur is a stand out singer-songwriter and producer based in Reykjavík. Her music is inspired by late 90s R&B with elements of modern day soul. Emotive and bold as hell, she’s known for wearing her heart on her sleeve and has been on an upward trajectory since her breakout performance at Iceland Airwaves in 2018.
Whether you’re looking to sample the sights and sounds of Reykjavík, party with the locals or find easy ways to stretch your dollar in one of the most notoriously expensive but equally as beautiful countries in the world, Matthildur, offers tips on how to maximize your experience in the land of fire and ice.
Reykjavík Art Museum Kjarvalsstaðir (Flókagata 24)
Kjarvalstaðir is a wonderful museum hosting beautiful artworks by well-known Icelandic artists, and the building itself is also one of the most interesting in the city. It’s a great location to start a day wandering and admiring your surroundings.
Guðlaug Baths (Langisandur, Akranes)
Going swimming in Iceland is almost obligatory when visiting. If you want to take it one step further, you should check out the beautiful Guðlaug in Akranes, just one hour away from Reykjavík. It’s located on the Langisandur beach, where you can bathe in the warm water while looking out to the ocean. Gorgeous!
Grótta Lighthouse (Seltjarnarnes)
If you’re visiting in the winter months, you might get lucky and see the Northern Lights. The best place to see them in the city is if you go to Grótta, which is a nature reserve on the tip of the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula in the north-westernmost part of the Greater Reykjavík Area. There is one tall lighthouse but no light posts, so the Northern Lights are especially visible.
Spánski barinn (Ingólfsstræti 8)
If you want to go somewhere cosy and little bit quieter, go to Spánski barinn in the city centre. It’s the one I always go to when I want to have good conversation and an even better drink.
Kiki (Laugavegur 22)
If you’re in the mood to dance, maybe have a little kiki (gathering) and listen to the best music, definitely check out Kiki. That’s where me and my closest friends head to when we’re in the mood to go out.
Kex Hostel (Skúlagata 28)
This venue boasts the most gorgeous view to the sea and the mountain, Esja. It’s a place where you can grab a drink, listen to live music and have a truly memorable time.
Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar (Geirsgata Geirsgötu 1)
This is where you get the best burgers in Reykjavík. My brother and I are official regulars so I think it’s safe to say we really like it! Good service, great music and the best burgers.
Bæjarins Bestu (Tryggvagata 1)
This is a classic ‘must try in Iceland’ destination and it never disappoints. If you like hot dogs and would like to check out how we do it here, just order ‘one with everything.’ But if you’re vegetarian, order ‘one with everything except the hot dog’ – that’s what I do!
Hlemmur mathöll (Laugavegur 107)
The perfect place to go when you’re not exactly sure what you’re in the mood for. It’s Iceland’s first ‘food hall,’ with so many different culinary options. You can go there at any time of the day, it literally has it all.
Lucky Records (Rauðarárstígur 10) and Smekkleysa (Skólavörðustígur 16) are solid destinations for all your music needs, both offering solid browsing opportunities. You can find many Icelandic music albums and of course some classics as well. It’s the places I visit when I’m in need of some fresh new vinyl.
LOOKING FOR BJORK?
Try the Reykjavik Music Walk! An informative and entertaining tour, detailing the acclaimed Icelandic popular music scene, guided by Iceland’s foremost popular music scholar, Arnar Eggert. The tour focuses on Iceland’s pop and rock history and the landmark sites that have contributed to its remarkable success abroad. Get a front row view of the downtown practice spaces of Bjork and The Sugarcubes, concert halls used by early career Sigur Ros, historically important live venues and artist’s hangouts. Eggert has seen it all and can answer any questions you might have about the fertile Icelandic music scene.
Iceland Airwaves takes places in Reykjavík, Iceland, November 6 to 9, 2019. For more information, visit icelandairwaves.is