Chatting with another American who made the trek across the Atlantic for Iceland Airwaves, my new friend commented that he had yet to have an actual sit down meal over the few days that he had been in Reykjavik. And why would he venture into a restaurant (other than maybe to try some whale or puffin for the first time)? There’s no need. Like my hometown of Portland and so many other tourist-friendly city with a thriving nightlife, options abound for great food to grab on the go. And to have those options available for a music festival where you might be bouncing between venues all day is a very good thing indeed.
The food carts and small takeaway restaurants do some pretty amazing work, too. The above box of fish & chips was picked up at a cart that wisely set up shop right outside of Harpa, and any concerns about getting served some pre-packaged nonsense were allayed by the gleaming pile of fresh cod fillets sitting just beyond their big window. Battered and fried on site, they taste as fresh as they look with just the right amount of salt to bring out that nice briny flavor.
Strange as it may sound, another thing that every visitor to Reykjavik must try is a hot dog. It’s a slightly daring idea considering the news that came out recently about what meat is currently constituting most franks, but these are a staple of clubgoers here. And for good reason: they’re cheap, easy to make, and filling. Especially when they fill the bun with remoulade, onions (both fried and raw), and then top it with some sweet mustard.
Great as those are, I’m also currently obsessed with the pre-packaged sandwiches you can find at convenience stores around town. This brand, especially, has my loyalty. The above sandwich was great, but even better are the roast beef that is joined with caramelized onions and a sweet sauce, and the chicken and egg, which is a simple layering of roasted chicken and hard-boiled egg. Pair it with a can of ale (which you can carry with you on the streets) and you’re set.
What I’ve been wrestling with is the logic behind where they’ve been booking a lot of these off-venue events. The festival gets its most SXSW-like qualities by having artists play multiple afternoon shows throughout the event, but their choice of locations left me baffled. Two of the city’s most popular acts right now, the one woman Yo Gabba Gabba episode that is dj. flugvél og geimskip and rapper Emmsjé Gauti were both booked yesterday in the bar/hangout area of a hostel, forcing dozens of folks to cram into every available cranny to even get a hope of catching some of the music. Fine enough for a tall dude like me, but I felt bad for all the small kids who wanted to dance along to the outer space pop jams that flugvél was cranking out. Much easier to manage was the appearance by singer/songwriter Svavar Knutur, which took place amid the sweaters and reindeer hides at Icewear Bankastræti. His was the most good-natured performance I’ve seen so far at this fest, as he plucked out delicate love songs, told some truly funny stories about life on the road, and charmingly let his young daughter stand close by him while he played. Thinking back on it, kids were present at a bunch of the shows I saw yesterday, including a set by Iceland Airwaves newcomer Auður at Tjarnarbíó. As much delight as the crowd was getting from his Drake/Akon-inspired sexy songs about sexting and sex, it proved a little difficult to get into the spirit of it all when an adorable moppet in a sweater vest kept jogging in circles through the crowd. The young producer and singer took it in stride though and didn’t let it slow his roll one bit. The kids that piled into Reykjavik Art Museum for a night of local hip-hop were really just kids to me, the 40-year-old slightly-jaded journalist. All were certainly 18+. But they were also all young and brimming with energy over a night that brought together four of the city’s best rap acts for one night. Hip-hop is relatively new to Iceland, with artists and crews popping up in droves only over the last few years. And they’ve all done what so many other international rappers do, which is adopt the poses and sounds of Western artists. For all of the dudes on display last night (and it was all dudes by the way…) that meant a lot of party anthems about getting girls, getting fucked up, and getting money. That’s at least what I could pick up from the gloriously tacky visuals provided by the Eminem-worshipping Gisli Palmi (best known for clocking Jackass star Bam Margera at this year’s Secret Solstice fest), which included pictures of purple cough syrup, ecstasy tablets, and rainstorms of krona. Because, as I mentioned yesterday, with the exception of the punchy f-bombs they drop, almost all of the acts rap exclusively in Icelandic.
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That language barrier thankfully didn’t take away at all from the night. All the dudes had some impressive flow and the beats they were backed up by were deep, trap-inspired jams that stirred the capacity crowd into a frenzy.
The only exception to the Icelandic lyricism was opener Sturla Atlas, a skinny and charming lad who crooned his AutoTune-aided tunes in English. His set though left me wondering if this worship of American hip-hop tropes is a front as he and his crew slid into the chorus of one song that went, “Heading off to San Francisco/and buy me a pistol.” That the next line was about bringing his girl with him didn’t soften the surreal blow of that opening salvo. I’m going to take it on faith that it’s just a line. Something to connect him with the thug anthems that informed his Flo Rida-like work. But coming from a country where gun violence is still dominating our headlines, it stopped me in my tracks.
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