The Iceland Airwaves Festival 2008

Not everything in this country is collapsing like a punctured bouncy castle.

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Sudden Weather Change
This year’s Iceland Airwaves festival came at a good time – with the economy in meltdown and confused Icelanders  adjusting to hard financial times, the proud country of ice and fire needed to let its long hair down, which it did in true spectacular Icelandic style. Reykjavic, with its steely grey sky and a tiny town centre, is like a mini Seattle in mid-winter, and this year the capital, which is home to two thirds of Iceland's population of just 300,000, was overrun with a bevy of Iceland's very beautiful and an international crowd of music lovers, who all sought refuge from the cold in the warm and hazy venues and bars hosting an inconceivably huge array of music.

Dr. Spock kicked off a four-day programme of gigs from a deluge of Icelandic bands to international no-introduction-necessary stars like CSS and Crystal Castles. As seemed to be the (anti-)fashion of many Icelandic bands, Dr.Spock donned yellow marigolds, bared their big chests and screamed their way through an ear blasting set of pure metal, leading the way for an army of emo metal sets from many Icelandic bands such as Our Lives. The much-talked-about and disappointingly mainstream Biffy Clyro headlined, complete with more tattoed flesh and skinny white jeans, a look one can only, tragically, associate with the Jonny Borrell. As more and more revellers flocked to the city, the atmosphere bubbled with anticipation and excitement. Popular local hip hop band XXX Rottweiler ripped up a storm, with an impassioned crowd shouting back lyrics to their song, "fuck Gordon Brown" whilst video footage of Brown and Bush played in the background, giving them animated red eyes, fangs and horns. But, despite representing a very real anger about Gordon Brown's recent hardline take on the Icelandic banks, it also encapsulated the tremendous spirit of camaraderie and defiance amongst the Icelanders, along with a sense of humour about their situation.

The Faroe Islands’ Boys in a Band were out in force, playing numerous shows. More men than boys, the guys pumped out a rocking set complete with one Jonny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean lookalike. The most excellent punk band Skatar impressed both Dazed and the crowd with gold lame budgie-smuggling leggings and a set of riotous riffs. Hyped Brooklyn Band and "friends of MGMT" Boy Crisis played a self-conscious set, seeming like they couldn't quite believe they'd wrangled a set on stage. Billing themselves as a "sexual boy band" the NKOTB style pastiches worked but when it came to any real songs (and only three songs were played), it seems like the blog action has gotten to them before they've actually had time to practise.

Highlights of the festival were the very adorable and poppy FM Belfast, with self-deprecating lyrics and a supreme sense of fun (the best Icelandic band ever according to most of the crowd) and indie rockers Sudden Weather Change, with an early 90s MBV/Nirvana aesthetic, some well-timed head banging and a crowd of moshing sweaty naked teenage boys. Ozzies Pnau got a massive crowd response at Tuunglid, cranking up the sound system to create an electrifying electro wall of music. Crystal Castles followed with a slightly hit and miss set, with Alice’s vocals at times barely audible and the majority of Iceland waiting in a queue to see CSS and Lovefoxxx's batwinged catsuit at a venue across the road. With a "hangover party" at the awesome Blue Lagoon, the minimal techno didn't do much to alleviate a raging headache, but meant that everyone could top up with a beer in the thermal pool. A little bit "MTV pool party" but, pretty fun nonetheless.

Such a fun and extraordinarily beautiful country is very hard to leave, but leaving to find work abroad is a very real temptation to the new generation of Iceland. Still, even if the kids have to leave Iceland to find work, there's still a positive outlook and the faith that they will return enriched with experience and giving the rest of the world a taste of a highly intelligent, creative and exciting culture. Maja, an air hostess from Iceland Air, had just been made redundant and was notably dented and upset at the thought of having to leave her country. The government has given funded places at the University for those who have lost their jobs - just one aspect of how Iceland is coping with its future in a positive way. Anna Hilda, the festival's organiser, said it will be painful but like a necessary "spring clean", shifting emphasis away from the banks and back to Iceland's abundant geographical wealth, beauty and new creative talent, who will be nurtured and given more support than ever before.

A podcast of the best bits of Icelandic music will be going up soon at lofi.tv. To visit Iceland, find out more from the Icelandic Tourist Board and Iceland Air.
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