Iceland Airwaves – advice on Iceland

Speaking of travel, it’s nearly time for Iceland Airwaves again. Though I won’t be going this year, Mike Hedge recently asked me for some tips to get the most out of Iceland and Airwaves so he can make the most of it.

When I went last year I took loads of photos and my brother and I
recorded a daily hangovercast. In case you missed that last year, or even if you want to listen to it again, you might be pleased to hear that it now has it’s own podcast feed. Subscribe here, or click here to lazily add it to your list in iTunes.

Here’s what I‘d want to know if I was attending Iceland Airwaves, and/or visiting Iceland for the first time. I’ve tweaked the message I sent Mike and dotted a few of my photos around to make it more convincing. These are my tips, but I’d also dearly love to hear what I’ve missed for when I go back one day.

Sam at the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is really close to the big airport at Keflavik. You can, and should, arrange (either in advance, or at the airport when you arrive) a transfer from the airport to Reykjavik via the Blue Lagoon. It’s well worth it, and is a very nice way to unwind once you land.

Reykjavik 101 - panorama

101 Reykjavik (the postcode for the middle of Reykjavik, which also lends its name to a charming film) is possibly the most intimate and friendly city centre I’ve ever visited. Even during busy times such as Airwaves, everyone seems to know each other. Noticing that you’re from out of town people will want to help make you feel at home. It’s lovely, once you get used to (or are prepared for) the fact that being able to talk to random strangers on the street is a reasonable thing to do. What, in London or New York it would mark you out as an insane person, is perfectly normal in Reykjavik.

Keriđ crater

It’s well worth hiring a car and going for a drive. You won’t need it for the city, but when you want to get out of the city and see the country you can either rent a car or take a slightly-overpriced coach tour. The car rental option is more fun. Here are some of the things you can see:

Geysir

  • Geysir (the geyser for which all others are named)
  • The waterfall at Gullfoss
  • Lots of other waterfalls (Seljalansfoss, Skogafoss, etc)
  • The Keriđ crater
  • Amazing scenery generally. We just kept stopping the car to take photos.

And in the city of Reykjavik itself…

Baejarins Bestu hot dog place

  • the Baejarins Bestu hotdog place is famously good. You need one of these. Unless you’re a vegetarian of course.
  • The Hallgrímskirkja cathedral has to be seen.
  • I really liked hanging out at the cafe called Prikið (all these ‘ð‘ characters are pronounced ‘th’ by the way), and as a way of getting into the day with a burger (and all too often a beer) for breakfast-at-lunchtime.
  • The lobster soup cafe/shack is called Saegreifinn on the harbour. You Must Absolutely Go There and have lobster soup with bread. Whale & putrefied shark are optional.

Lobster soup

And then there’s Airwaves.

Planning is important here. They publish the list of artists, so take a look through and find the ones you don’t want to miss. It will help you plan ahead when the schedule is released.

You’ll probably find that the venues are more of less themed. Heavier stuff will tend to be scheduled in a particular venue, mellow stuff in another. Last year, the venue called Iðnó was where a lot of the laid back, and sometimes not so laid back, indie stuff was happening. Many local bands played there, with one whole evening dedicated to music published by the Bedroom Community label. A lot of bands on 12 Tonar were there too. Speaking of which, 12 Tonar is also a great record shop, and will no doubt be one of the better off-venue locations again this year. These off-venue gigs are cool, and a good way to warm up in the late afternoon before the main events start.

Nico Muhly, through the window of Kaffibarinn

Some venues will get very busy when the big names are on. bear in mind that about half of the people at Airwaves are locals, who love the fact that big foreign names come over to play. One evening we opted to avoid the crush at the Bloc Party gig, and I’m glad we did. I can see Bloc Party anywhere. I went to Airwaves to listen to icelandic and nordic music rather than stuff imported from the UK, Canada, the US, etc.

Trentemøller

I found it helpful to relax and enjoy where I was, even if it meant sitting through something I didn’t 100% enjoy (say, because I knew the next thing was going to be awesome) rather than rushing from place to place and always missing the start of every set. Hanging out at one venue for a whole night (which we did at least once, and even when we did move around, we stayed in venues for chunks rather than for just one set) meant less rushing around, seeing things I wouldn’t have planned to see and discovering new acts.

Greg Haines

Photographers love Airwaves. Partly because Iceland itself is so amazing, and partly because in most of the venues at Airwaves it’s really easy to get right up next to the action. Airwaves is the chance many of these bands have to be showcased to international audiences, and they love the cameras in the venues. (Don’t know about the US, but this is very different to the UK where cameras and recording devices are often banned from gigs). Although there were a couple of venues with dedicated photographer pits right up close, which you needed a press pass to get into, most of the venues didn’t have that though and you can wander up to the front and get some great views (as long as you’re not getting in anyone’s way). Wonderful.

Lastly, and this might sound weird, booze in Iceland is taxed beyond belief, and spirits are stupidly expensive, if you can even find a shop licensed to sell anything more than beer. We found that taking a couple of bottles of spirits with us saved us a small fortune. Watch the import limits though. When we flew from London you were only allowed to take 1 liter of spirits per person into Iceland.

Have fun in Iceland, and have fun at Airwaves. I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it.

Iceland Airwaves – hangovercast #5

NB: if you want, you can subscribe to hangovercast as a podcast. But don’t feel like you’ve got to.

Episode five. Final update from Airwaves 2007. We fly home today. Recorded in the hotel hot tub. Not very hungover at all really.



Hangovercast #5

Skífan record shop:

Organ:

Helgi Valur & The Shemales Plants and Animals Plants and Animals Plants and Animals Plants and Animals

Iceland Airwaves – hangovercast #4

Your daily dose of hungover Airwaves musings. This afternoon, we chat about Saturday night.


Hangovercast #4

Kaffibarinn:

Fríkirkjan:

Iðnó:

Sam Amidon Ms John Soda Amiina Seabear Lali Puna

Iceland Airwaves – hangovercast #3

A slightly delayed hangover cast today due to being out quite late last night. Icelanders enjoy their Friday nights.


Hangovercast #3

Kaffibarinn (16:00 Bedroom Community)

Iðnó:

Art Museum:

Iðnó:

I forgot to mention my hangover tip of the day. It is this: get back to the hotel after a seriously long night at 7am and enjoy the guilty pleasure of eating a hot breakfast before a few hours sleep.

Nico Muhly, through the window of Kaffibarinn Loney, Dear Loney, Dear Trentemøller Rökkurró

Iceland Airwaves – hangovercast #2




Friday morning hangovercast (about Thursday night)

Nordic House:

  • 13:00 – Boys in a Band

  • 13:30 – Sprengjuhöllin

Bookshop:

  • 17:00 Jónas Sigurðsson

  • 17:30 Seabear

12 Tonar:

  • 18:00 Plants & Animals

Iðnó:

  • 19:45 Stereo Hypnosis

  • 20:30 Kira Kira
  • 21:15 My Summer as a Salvation Soldier (NB: they’re not actually brothers at all. My mistake.)
  • 22:00 Ólöf Arnalds
  • 22:45 Valgeir Sigurðsson
  • 23:30 Ben Frost
  • 00:15 Sam Amidon

Other stuff: Bardi

Ben Frost Iceland Day 4 191 Iceland Day 4 155 Iceland Day 4 107 Kira Kira

Iceland Airwaves – hangovercast #1

Sam and I woke up this morning with mild hangovers after the first night of Airwaves. We made a hangovercast over breakfast in which we mumble about the bands we saw last night. Enjoy.


Hangover cast #1 – Wednesday night

Here are the bands we saw…

12 Tonar:

Organ:

NASA:

12 Tonar Rökkurró Þórir Lights on the Highway Shadow Parade

Iceland – day 2

An 8am start in order to sort out rental car and have breakfast. (The sausage, egg, beans and weird-cold-potato-cubes were tolerable, but Sam made an exciting discovery: muesli, yogurt and watermelon makes a refreshing breakfast.)

Theory: “golden hour” lasts all day here. At this time of year, even in the afternoon the sun is low in the sky, giving you that lovely near-dusk look.

Packed cameras, tripods, mp3 recorder, spare batteries, sweets, bottles of water, maps, plenty of extra layers. 12 hours and 500km later, we had seen…

  • The lake and nature park of Þingvellir (the whole country looks like a nature park to me)
  • The geyser at Geysir (the one which lends its name to all the worlds geysers)
  • The (huge) waterfall at Gullfoss (with amazing ice formations thanks to the spray)
  • Ate another amazing hotdog
  • Keriđ crater (water-filled dead volcano)
  • Seljalansfoss (tall skinny one)
  • Skogafoss (shorter, fatter one)
  • Vik (town on South coast with a beach of black volcanic sand)
  • Passes the greenhouse village all nicely lit up
  • Stopped at a geothermal power station to take long exposure pictures (and got asked “what are you doing here?” by a security guard)
  • Drove around for a while following the pillar of light which is the John Lennon memorial. Eventually found it (and got some mediocre photos of a spectacular sight)

Geysir Gullfoss Grass Vik Power station

Back to the hotel room and paid 500ISK (a little under £5) for 1 hour of wifi to upload photos and check email. Strange, when it’s free in every bar. The Airwaves music festival starts tomorrow. Very exciting.

Iceland day 1

My brother Sam and I are in Iceland for a week. We flew in this afternoon from London Heathrow to Iceland Keflavik, which 40 minutes outside Rekjavik.  Importantly, it’s also only 15 minutes from the Blue Lagoon – an amazing geothermally outdoor pool full of blue-green algae and strange squishy mud. The departure of the transfer bus was kept waiting by group of kids delayed in the airport, but we soon forgave them when they turned out to be a choir. A choir which sang beautifully on the bus (and even, briefly, in the lagoon).

I don’t think I’ve yet found a better way to relax and de-stress after a flight then soaking for a couple of hours in hot, eggy, milky blue water. There’s a waterfall, grotto-like steam room, and a sauna (which we ignored). Dotted around the edge of the lagoon itself are containers from which you can scoop mayonnaise-like mud. Rubbing white mud onto your face is nice, but the biting wind means you really want to keep your face dry.

Post lagoon, San introduced me to the best hot dog in the world ever, complete with the local treat of crunchy onion bits. Here’s a tip: go to the blue lagoon and on the way out, have a hot dog.

Iceland skies Blue! Blue Lagoon Blue Lagoon

The hotel is basic, and a 20 minute walk into town, but comfortable. Comparing tour prices with car rental was amusing: 7000 ISK (£70?) per person for one 8 hour trip around three or four of the major tourist attraction (Gullfoss, Geysir, etc). Renting a car, however, is only 4995 ISK for 24 hours. That’s tomorrow sorted then.

Walk into 101. The wind is cold, and initially my nose and ears are stinging, so I remember the technique of wrapping a scarf around your head. With that, a hat and a hood, I’m pretty cosy, with the exception of my thighs. And so, we walk into the hippest town centre between London and New York – Reykjavik 101. Hot chocolate at a cafe, then find the 10pm showing of Sigur Ros ‘Heima’ film at a nearby cinema. Wow. Back at around 1am, tired and happy.

More photos are being added to this set as I can upload them.

Iceland Airwaves 2007

I’m getting rather excited about Iceland Airwaves (find it on Upcoming.org and Last.fm). I fly to Reykjavik with my brother, Sam, on Monday 15th October, and we won’t return until the following Monday. Seven whole nights of Icelandic bliss.

Blue lagoon

Blue Lagoon by Tomosaurus on Flickr

The festival itself runs between Wednesday 17th and Sunday 21st October, and takes over nine different venues in Reykjavik, as well as a ‘hangover party’ in the Blue Lagooon (above) plus more events running in eleven ‘off-venue’ locations including clubs, record stores and coffee shops.

The list of artists playing at the festival is eclectic to say the least, and the schedule is impressive. Just some of the bands I’m looking forward to seeing:

I missed last year, but my brother’s enthusiasm for the event meant I had to join him this time around. To give a flavour of it, after the event proper finished, Erlend Øye (of Kings of Convenience) fame played an acoustic set in a church in the middle of nowhere for an audience of three or four people. Fortunately, one of them captured and shared the moment…

Although Sigur Rós (my long-time favourite Icelandic band) are not scheduled to play this year, Sam and I are hoping to take in quite a bit of the local Sigur magic. Having missed tickets for it in London, I’m looking forward to seeing the film ‘Heima‘ which is playing in Reykjavik that week. Plus, Riceboy Sleeps (formed of Jónsi Birgisson from Sigur Rós and Alex Somers from Parachutes) are exhibiting a new video at the Turpentine Gallery in Reykjavík as part of the Sequences Art Festival.

I just need to pack some warm clothes, a notebook, prepare the iPod and get some spare batteries for the camera.

Update:
John Lennon´s Memorial Peace Beacon is in Reykjavik.

It´s turned on on his birthday (October 9th) and off again on the day he was killed (December 8th).

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