Inclusivity and creating space was a common thread which wove through the entirety of Iceland Airwaves’ 20th Anniversary festival. Iceland Airwaves is a four-day music festival in Reykjavik, Iceland. Thanks to Iceland Air and Iceland Naturally, WLUW’s Music Director, Carolyn Droke, was able to cover the festival alongside other industry professionals. This year, over 1,000 Icelandic and international bands were showcased. Iceland Airwaves was also one of the first festivals to achieve the Keychange initiative. Keychange is an international initiative which promotes equity in the music industry. They encourage music festivals to achieve a 50:50 ratio of female to male artists by the year 2022.
I was able to attend the Keychange award ceremony at this year’s festival. Icelandic singer and songwriter Emiliana Torrini was awarded the Inspiration Award for her work in pioneering a movement towards greater inclusivity in the music industry. Emiliana Torrini spoke humbly to the crowd after receiving the award. She conveyed the message that women need to consciously create space for themselves rather than allowing others to take it. Not only do women need to create space for themselves, but we also need to actively build and share spaces for other women;
“Now is a very exciting time for women, a time to move forward through the old tar. Our journey has created many inspiring voices that empower us to put ourselves out there, to do the things we thought we couldn’t do. These voices bring changes and create spaces where once we were not welcome. We’re taking the credits we deserve, challenging the doubts within and supporting each other.
Something like Keychange helps empower women within our industry and like with the beginning of change in so many things in life the arts have to take the lead… so lets.”
Although I wasn’t able to see Torrini perform at the festival, I was able to countless amazing sets and discover Icelandic artists, as well as learn about Icelandic culture.
On the first day I arrived in Reykjavik, I was welcomed by an incredible breakfast spread consisting of pickled fish and pastries. I decided to go ahead a skip the Cod Liver Oil that was situated next to the food with accompanying shot glasses. I’m usually an adventurous eater but I figured I could get my omega-3’s in a more traditional way. We were immediately taken to a tour of Borg Brugghús, a large craft brewery in Reykjavik. We learned that Iceland underwent a long period of prohibition, which only ended when British soldiers who occupied the country during WWII were angry that they couldn’t drink beer.
The first act I saw was an Iceland artist Hildur perform an upbeat set in the Reykjavik Art Museum. Hildur sang in English and moved around the stage. After the show, we went to a house show put on by Icelandic artists JFDR and Gyda. They had set up a large couch in their living room and lit candles. They dressed in Renaissance clothing and played music inspired by the time period.
The second day of the festival was packed with music as well. I saw Gyda, who had performed at the house show the night before. Her instrument of choice as a cello. Her voice was incredibly quiet and angelic. It almost seemed to transcend this realm.
After Gyda, we went to another venue to see Icelandic electronic pop duo Milkywhale play. They definitely knew how to hype up a crowd. Milkywhale performed their lyrics in English, which was a trend that I noticed a lot of artists had taken up.
Snail Mail was the first American band that I saw in Iceland. It was my second time seeing her, but her voice was more resounding than I had remembered. I was really surprised at how little the crowd would dance. It was also interesting to see larger acts, like Snail Mail and Blood Orange, have a relatively small turnout compared to some of the other Iceland artists.
On the third day of the festival, I got to catch a live performance on The Current, Minnesota’s public radio station. Reykjavik's Daughters performed an insanely upbeat, definitely not FCC clean, performance. This group has been together for several years, and the number of members fluctuate from 5 to 12. Their main message is female empowerment and feminism. The group was asked to write and perform an anthem for the Slutwalk in 2014.
Vök was one of my favorite artist discoveries of the festival. Vök has played Iceland Airwaves several times in the past, and it’s clear how comfortable they are together on the stage. The even wore matching suits. The band consists of four members and is fronted by Margrét Rán. The indie dream pop/electronica band is signed to the Icelandic label Record Records. Synth-y chords opened their set accompanied by a low and steady bass beat. Fufanu was another great band I discovered that night. All the songs begin with a long introduction. They seem to draw inspiration from Joy Division, with grumbling vocals and steady, drawn out riffs.
Iceland Airwaves was an incredible experience. It was refreshing to attend a festival whose main purpose was to highlight artists who haven’t yet broken out into the mainstream. I hope to see more festivals following Iceland Airwaves’ example of a push to gender equity in music.