Text by: Oddur Sigmunds Báruson​

The music festival Iceland Airwaves is just around the corner. It’s always an exciting time to be in Reykjavík while Airwaves is going on, even for those who don’t have a ticket. The city is noticeably affected by the festival’s many activities, one can sense there is some new energy in the air. Reykjavikians have claimed that once a year they feel like they live in a big city, and that is during Airwaves.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Airwaves. The first one was held in 1999 as a single event in an airplane hangar at the Reykjavík Airport, hosting only five bands. Since then the festival has grown, both in size and reputation. Now it has become four days long, internationally acclaimed music festival attracting thousands of visitors each year. Last year the Airwaves hosted over 200 artists from 30 countries.

As a tourist, there are probably few better ways to explore Reykjavík than to go to Airwaves. Firstly, the concerts are well-spread over the downtown area, so guests are forced to go around and see all the best of Reykjavík. After the festival they should have become quite orientated to the city. Secondly, the guests get involved in the local life of Reykjavík. Airwaves is not a tourist event, it’s a local cultural event. Most of the artists and other guests are Icelanders. So, it’s not like going to the Blue Lagoon, where the only ones you meet are other tourists.

Musically, Airwaves is an interesting event. It has definitely its characteristics – some things that make it stand out from other music festivals. One could describe it as homely and vibrant. The festival’s official goal is showcasing new music, both icelandic and international. Most of the artists are rather new on the market, active and uprising, armed with some fresh and original music. The line-up is down by the grassroots but still of good quality. You don’t go to Airwaves to see some famous, veteran bands play songs you’ve heard a thousand times before. You go to Airwaves to discover new artists – to hear music you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Airwaves does not focus on one musical style. But to be honest, you may expect it to be a bit on the indie side of the spectrum. Nevertheless, it provides quite a good cross-section of the music scene in Iceland. While many other festivals take pains to bring acts in from all over the world, Airwaves reserves the vast majority of its slots for native artists. It is also worth mentioning that Airwaves has introduced a gender quota to increased male-female balance among its performers. Their goal is to reach a total equality in 2022.

One of the best parts of Iceland Airwaves are the off-venue shows. They are small and free entry concerts taking place all around Reykjavík during the festival week. Last year there were around 50 places hosting off-venue shows. The city library, museums, churches, cinemas, clothes stores, kindergartens and nursing homes are among the places that have hosted off-venues. The off-venues happen during the day and are supposed to be finished before 7 pm when the main program begins. Many of the artists on the main program also play some off-venue shows. So, like I said in the beginning, even the non-ticket holders can enjoy this lovely festival.

Iceland Airwaves will take place this November 6-9. According to their website, some tickets are still available.

Visit the Iceland Airwaves website: https://icelandairwaves.is/