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Iceland Airwaves Day 1: Orville Peck, Kælan Mikla, aYia, more

Hello from Reykjavík and the 2019 Iceland Airwaves festival. The first day was a little tough, being thrown into it in full jetlag mode, but the festival eases you in with Wednesday offering fewer choices than Thursday, Friday and Saturday and most venues are all within blocks of each other. Music is everywhere during IA, including Slipbarren, the lobby bar of my hotel, where I caught a few songs from Between Mountains, a band from northern Westfjords who just released their self-titled debut album last week. (Listen below.) Led by Katla Vigdís Vernharðsdóttir, who confessed they rehearsed so much for this show she got a sore throat, Beyond Mountains make layered, ethereal guitar pop that made for a nice kickoff to the festival for me. (Sore throat or not, she and the band sounded great.)

From there it was off to the Reykjavík Art Museum, whose main hall holds at least 1000 people, for the festival’s opening cocktail party and Wednesday’s big show. First up were Kælan Mikla, a local trio who make gothy post-punk/synthpop with a decidedly witchy vibe that has already caught the attention of The Cure’s Robert Smith who had them play the 2018 edition of Meltdown he curated. (They’re also touring Europe with Alcest in 2020.) Singer Laufey Soffia sounds just a little like Bjork, but but this is driving darkwave, with Margrét Rósa Dóru-Harrysdóttir’s fuzzy, flinty bass propelling things.

Next up were another electronic trio, aYia, whose widescreen, atmospheric sound, full off ebbs and flows, builds and releases, seems custom made for big festival shows. Kristinn Roach Gunnarsson and Kári Einarsson flanked the stage on risers armed with translucent, illuminated drumsticks, while breathy vocalist Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir hung back, hiding amongst the smoke effects and beams of light. With some cool projections behind them, it was the kind of show was actually better from the back of the cavernous room.

Orville Peck was the only non-Icelandic artist I saw on Wednesday. I don’t quite get the masked, anonymous aspect, but it is a striking look, with the old-school, nudie-suit attire he and the rest of his band sport. That band is quite good, and Orville’s got some good songs too, like “Queen of the Rodeo,” “Dead of Night” and “Big Sky” (all on his Sub Pop debut), and a powerful voice, but his affected drawl repeatedly pulls me out of it. The Iceland Airwaves crowd was very into it, though.

I ducked out of Reykjavík Art Museum to do a little random club-hopping and caught a couple songs each from Flekar (charmingly mopey singer-songwriter-y indie rock who I wish I’d seen more of) and Konfect (sugary, jazzy, R&B-inflected pop). I then headed back to the museum for the last band of the night for me, Une Misère who mix metal and electronic elements (and drum-n-bass breakbeats) on their debut album which just came out last week via Nuclear Blast. As much of a jolt as their music is, jetlag was winning at that point and I called it a night.

Today, I am going to see some bands play in a lighthouse — which seems like a very Icelandic thing to do — and then Thursday night’s lineup includes Mac DeMarco, Icelandic music vets Seabear, Shame, atmospheric metal band Auðn and tons more. Stay tuned for more IA coverage and you can listen to albums from most of the acts I caught Wednesday, below.

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