Reflecting back on The Current's trip to Iceland Airwaves 2019

by

Iceland Airwaves Jim McGuinn
girl in red leaves The Current Day Party (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)

For the third year in a row, The Current travelled to Reykjavík to be part of Iceland Airwaves, one of the premiere music discovery festivals in the world. And like in past years, we set up shop at a venue, hosting Day Party events with artists from around the world, which we streamed live and later aired on the radio. I was part of the team in 2017 when we broadcast from Akureyri, and had the honor of hosting the parties this year from a venue called Hressingraskalinn in the center of Reykjavík. Here's a bit of my diary of our time in Iceland...

Thursday — First day back! Flew Wednesday overnight from MSP, landing at 6:30am, getting from the airport to downtown Reykjavík by 9. Check in, Euro-style breakfast, and Team Current ran over to start setting up Hressingarskálinn, the venue where we will host our Day Parties. Then I went to the Center Hotel Plaza to be on a panel about on Future-proofing radio along with Kevin Cole (KEXP) David Fricke (Sirius/Rolling Stone), Siobhan McAndrew (BBC6), and a host from Icelandic Radio 2. I ate Shellfish soup at Icelandic Street Foods for lunch, reindeer, duck, char, and salmon tapas at ROK for dinner, and I caught a few bands — Brott Brekka, Una Stef and SPF74, Between Mountains, Hrim, Brett Newski, Mac DeMarco, and Shame.

Always great to see Shame again, and felt a sense of Midwest pride catching Milwaukee's Brett Newski, who in search of a drummer wound up with the most famous one in Iceland, The Sugarcubes' Siggi, and they even covered an old Violent Femmes tune. In Iceland. But my discoveries of the day were two Icelandic bands — Between Mountains, who sang beautiful and joyous songs, and Hrim, featuring vox by Osp, who struck me as a mixture of Aby Wolf + Massive Attack + Game of Thrones.

Along the way Norm and I grabbed a Pylsa (hot dog), and saw friends David Fricke, Begga, and Leigh Lust at Shame, capping off a tiring, sleep deprived, but musical first day in Iceland.

Friday was the first day of The Current Day Party at Hressingarskálinn and we had at-capacity crowds all day, checking out Between Mountains (Iceland), Hachiku (Germany/Australia), JFDR (Iceland), and Dave from Boy Azooga (Wales), who all played great sets for appreciative music fans from around the world — pretty indicative of the Airwaves experience — half the acts from Iceland, half from elsewhere, and a similar breakdown of fans — as we made new friends with people from all over the world this week — Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Japan, Ireland, Canada, the UK, and of course, Iceland.

Thankfully this year we didn't have to do a total breakdown between days, which is nice when you have a multi-day party.

Across the way from our Center Hotel Midgardur is Hlemmer, which is sort of like a mid-high level food court (maybe like St. Paul's Keg and Case market?), where we could order from multiple restaurants. I had awesome fish and chips for dinner.

From there it was out to shows. One of the cool things about Airwaves is the variety of venues — from the 2,000 capacity Reykjavík Art Museum to 500 capacity Kirkirkjan (Free Church), to smaller rock clubs, restaurants, record stores, and even laundromats. This night I caught Siv Jacobsen at Kirkirkjan, Elin Hall at Idno, Anna of the North at the Art Museum, and Grisalappalisa at KEX hostel, Icelandic indie rock legends, who released their third album last week and announced they would be breaking up! The live set was a revelation and a highlight of my night, and when I introduced myself to their guitarist Andrew, we realized we had met — he was JFDR's guitar player at our broadcast from Akureyri in 2017.

Saturday it was another amazing day of music, starting with four artists playing The Current Day Party at Hressingarskálinn — Minnesota's own Graveyard Club (that's a long way to go to hang out with friends from the neighborhood!), who made their second set of gigs and travel in Iceland, then Dutch rockers Pip Blom — whose fizzy pop felt refreshing on a chilly Reykjavík day. Next up was girl in red, and it was awesome to chat with Marie and Martin - they might become a big breakout from this year's festival. Closing out the afternoon were English shoegaze purveyors of exquisite noise (and a lot of stomp boxes), Penelope Isles.

Nate Ryan and I then ran to catch up with a Nanna and Brynjar from Of Monsters and Men, who were playing a rare hometown show headlining the festival's last night. We returned to the hotel, unloaded our 11 Pelican cases and headed out for dinner, returning again to Hlemmer, near the hotel. Work week finished, all that was left was to check out music. Team Current split up from here, and I set out to roam the streets and shows of Reykjavík.

Bumped into Unnar, the owner of Hressingarskálinn, on my way to Dillon (a venue), who was busy prepping to open a third location for Icelandic Street Foods. Then saw Jacek Kozlowski, who manages Kaelan Mikla — Reykjavík is small like that.

Saw a set at Dillon from Hachiku — I couldn't help but go up to her dad and tell him how much we loved her music. He beamed with pride. From there we went to the Art Museum to catch Whitney. It's one of the coolest bigger venues in Reykjavík, which you can see by photos.

Ending the night similar to the night before, up front and center for the farewell show from Grisalapapolissa — and they did not disappoint. While it was impossible to feel the same as the locals, us having just fallen for the band as they were breaking up (plus, the entire show was in Icelandic), it was easy to appreciate their music and presence. Hopefully the band members will continue to produce vital music in the years to come.

A late night and long day, but the mile walk back to the hotel from Idno was a perfect cap on another great Airwaves experience.

Sunday we spent our off day driving South of Reykjavík and seeing incredible waterfalls, beautiful horses, and the strange and wonderful countryside. Sunday night we went to the Seabarinn for lobster soup and fish kebabs, and a relatively quiet night. Monday we went to the Blue Lagoon on our way to the airport — which was magical and big thx to Begga and Iceland Naturally for their guidance and support, Iceland Airwaves and our team for the collaboration, and all the artists and fans we helped to connect for another awesome year of The Current at Airwaves.

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31 Photos

  • Iceland Airwaves Jim McGuinn
    Jim did not heed TLC's advice. (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    The Current team at Iceland Airwaves (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Between Mountains (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Hachiku at The Current Day Party (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Pylsa - Icelandic hot dogs (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    A view of Hachiku (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Broadcast manager Erik Stromstad (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Audio Technical Director Michael DeMark and Erik Stromstad (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Penelope Isles (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Icelandic band Grisalapapolissa (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Program Directors unite! Kevin Cole of KEXP and Jim McGuinn of The Current (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    JFDR and Jim McGuinn outside of The Current Day Party (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Hanging it's Norm Winer Ali Lozoff and Unnar Helgi - owner of Hressingarskalinn (and Iceland Street Foods) (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Sergio Pablos Martinez operated a video camera at The Current Day Party (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Hachiku at Dylan (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Whitney at Reykjavik Art Museum (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    girl in red (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    This is Magnus Arni Oder Kristinsson - who we brought on to the team to mix. A producer, mixer, and bassist in Benny Crespo's Gang, Magnus was a great addition, and it's always good to have some locals on your side to translate or explain any of the quirks of pulling off events far from home. (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Icelandic countryside (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Photo does not do this justice. -- at Skogafoss Water Fall. (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Little horses! (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Let's walk to the top of the waterfall! It was 380 stairs. Later that day my phone said I'd climbed 53 stories. Most of it right here. (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    The view from the top of the waterfall (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    On to the next waterfall! In Vik. (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    This waterfall, Hvolsollur, was next to the others There were 5 in a row. (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Seljalandsfoss waterfall (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Hvolsvollur waterfall (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Skogafoss waterfall (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Skogafoss waterfall (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Nate Ryan, Erik Stromstad, Ali Lozoff and Jim McGuinn (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)
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    Seabarinn location for lobster soup and fish kebabs (MPR Photo | Jim McGuinn)