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Iceland Airwaves 2022 review: a triumphant return to Reykjavik

As Iceland Airwaves returns for the first time since 2019, local talents stare stages with international stars

4.0 rating

By Nick Reilly

Daughters of Reykjavik at Airwaves 2022 (Picture: Alexander Matukhno)

“There were times when we weren’t sure we’d ever get to do this again,” an Iceland Airwaves organiser tells the crowd assembled at Reykjavík Art Museum on the first night of the festival’s 2022 edition. “But we are here. We’re back.”

For the last three years, the small matter of a pandemic has meant that music lovers have been robbed of the chance to descend on Reykjavik for a line-up where emerging Icelandic talent sits happily with prolific international acts. When you factor in an array of eclectic venues and the delights of one of Europe’s most magical cities, it all makes for one of the unique festival experiences on offer.

It means there’s a palpable sense of excitement in the air as we begin our Airwaves 2022 journey over at Gaukurinn, the sweat and sawdust venue that is playing host to Sameheads, a recently formed band of Reykjavik post-punkers. It’s a perfect start to the festival, with the group’s defiant DIY spirit only matched by songs such as ‘Go’, anchored by skittish riffs which add a powerful dimension to their impressive shows. You sense that bigger things are surely in store for 2023.

Back at the Art Museum, Melbourne’s Amyl & The Sniffers are bringing that same dive venue spirit to one of the festival’s biggest venues. It might be one of the day’s biggest sets, but it’s thanks to the ever riotous and unpredictable spirit of lead singer Amy Taylor that the cavernous room feels intimate, sticky and truly defiant.

Amyl & The Sniffers’ Amy Taylor (Picture: Keira Lindgren)

The true highlight of day one, however, comes in Daughters of Reykjavik, the all-female Icelandic rap collective that Rolling Stone UK caught up with last year.

Their set is a true joy, with slickly choreographed dance routines being paired against the band’s onstage theatrics – at one point a male volunteer offers himself up for a ritualistic sacrifice. It might be cartoonish fun, but the group strike a powerful note as they launch a powerful tribute to the women of Iran near the set’s end.

“We stand with the women in Iran, fighting for a better world,” remarks singer Steiney Skúladóttir as the band symbolically chop a chunk of their hair. The group remain one of Iceland’s finest acts and one that deserves a bigger audience across the world. Here’s hoping they launch a second bid for Eurovision in 2023.

Day two kicks off with that rarest of things – Western inspired electro-rock from the Faroe Islands. That’s the elevator pitch from Koboykex, who turn out to be an unexpected delight over at Reykjavik’s IÐNÓ Culture House. Recent single ‘Night Out‘ is irresistible, as subtle electro-pop rhythms fight against Morricone-esque whistling and instrumentation.

Back at the Art Museum, Metronomy attract one of the weekend’s biggest crowds – with a queue that snakes all the way back to neighbouring Gaukurinn. Theirs is a set that leans heavily into their early electro-pop bangers, while also making time for the more subdued and contemplative material of recent album Small World. There’s also time for local banter – with frontman Joe Mount singing the praises of the Northern Lights and a beloved seafood shack that he’s had some trouble finding again.

Metronomy (Picture: Yael BC)

The final day of Iceland Airwaves 2022 begins at the festival’s main centre, where Faroese rap – that most common of exports – is gunning for the big time. It comes in the form of Marius DC, an energetic eighteen-year-old who is hellbent on proving that his sound transcends the confines of his home island. His impressive stage presence sees him jumping into the crowd to whip up an early evening crowd, while songs such as ‘Gasoline‘ lean into classic West Coast rap. Along with the aforementioned Kowboykex, it’s proof that the Faroese music scene is slowly introducing itself to the world.

We end back at the Art Museum, where Arlo Parks closes the festival with a set that showcases just why her debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams bagged her the Mercury Prize in 2021. It leans heavily into that record, with tracks such as stand-out ‘Caroline’ being sung back at her by the whole crowd. It’s the perfect way to close the festival and, as it transpires, Parks’ final gig of her first album campaign.

Arlo Parks at Iceland Airwaves 2022 (Picture: Keira Lindgren)

While question marks over Airwaves’ future may have emerged in the last three years, 2022’s offering proves that the festival is in ruder health than ever. With a line-up that flits between the best of today and the talents of tomorrow, it’s an essential trip for music lovers across the continent. When paired with the natural beauty and magic of Reykjavik, it becomes near unmissable. Here’s to 2023.