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Retro Stefson at Iceland Airwaves Festival

The world music-influenced band play a warm up gig at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen before the Icelandic festival kicks off

Hosting a festival has never been such a lucrative business. As more and more events fall foul to empires like Festival Republic, many can come across as featureless corporate exercises, purely held to line the pockets of organisers and stakeholders. Sorry to be bleak, but, given this dystopian viewpoint may we introduce Iceland Airwaves – a festival for purists. Held in downtown Reykjavik, and now in its eleventh year, Iceland Airwaves started life in an airplane hanger in 1999. This year Dazed & Confused will be partnering, and so, adding our prestigious name to one the most enigmatic events in the world. As a warm-up, Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen will be hosting a special gig to showcase some of the acts that Airwaves will boast. We caught up with Iceland’s own Retro Stefson who will make up the bill with Alex Metric, Factory Floor, Snorri Helgason and DJ Jerry Bouthier.

Dazed Digital: How did you guys get together?
Unnstein Stefansson:
We met at elementary school in downtown Reykjavík. But me; my brother; and Haraldur, the dancer and percussionist for the band, have been friends since kindergarten. We three share the same surname, Stefánsson, so we called the band Stefson. We have been playing together in different bands since we were nine-years old. At first we had a rap-band called Diablo, but that name maddened our parents so we called it Rapp 101 after our neighborhood (where the Airwaves festival takes place).

DD: How did you come to start Retro Stefson?
Unnstein Stefansson:
The reason we started Retro Stefson was to compete in a song contest. We were around 15 years old and older musicians working in our youth center Bóas (from Reykjavík) and Árni+1 (from FM Belfast) suggested I should start a band that would play some of the songs I had been posting online on the site. The prize for winning the song-contest was tickets to the national school dance - 5000 Icelandic kids in a huge sports arena dancing to techno music. Actually we lost, but after the contest one of the festival organisers asked us to play at the dance itself. So we were very happy about that. About nine months later we played our first Iceland Airwaves festival.

DD: Describe your sound?
Unnstein Stefansson:
We try to have an original sound. We have been playing together for almost five years so we have gotten quite tight. In addition to playing in the band my brother and I DJ a lot. So some of our new stuff has been quite dance-influenced.
DD: Where do you take your influences from?
Unnstein Stefansson:
A lot of our influences come from World Music, especially music from the Portuguese-speaking world. My brother and I grew up in Portugal to an Icelandic father and an Angolan mother, so I could name Cesaria Evora, Bonga and Super Mama Jombo as influences. But like I said before our music has now recently become very dance-oriented, but that is also because we have been arranging our songs over the years all over again for our live-set making them longer and more fun.

DD: Why do you think the Icelandic scene is starting to take off?
Unnstein Stefansson:
Obviously Björk and Sigur Rós help a lot, but the standard in the Icelandic indie scene is quite high, and you have to be original if you want to stand out from the rest.

DD: What marks Iceland Airwaves apart from other festivals?
Unnstein Stefansson:
I have been touring a lot this past year as a session guitarist for another band (FM Belfast, also from Reykjavík) so I have experienced many festivals as of this year. And I have to say that the Airwaves festival is one of the best organised. The atmosphere is great and the bands are as well. You always discover loads of new music.  

DD: Tell us about the warm-up gig at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen.
Unnstein Stefansson:
We're looking forward for the warm-up gig, I played at Hoxton in the beginning of the year with FM Belfast and it was a very fun night. I had feared the response of the British audience, but everybody was dancing and genuinely having fun. So that was quite a relief. I'm looking forward to seeing the other bands on the bill. And I'm also looking forward to the dinner there.

Iceland Airwaves London showcase will be hosted by Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen on September 9th.