Saturday at Airwaves brought a fresh new mix of bands to the scene. UK rappers, experimental cello performance and Icelandic synth pop moved the festival along with its endlessly diverse cast of acts. Up first:
Wesen were an odd couple. Bandmates Loji Höskuldsson and Oyama’s Júlía Hermansdóttir had the stage presence of a dorky (and bad) comedy duo nervously showing their friends their new music. And while the two may have seemed a bit disorganized and aimless in direction, they performed an entertaining and promising show of new music.
The first highlight came from their single “The Low Road.” Where synth bass’ had only distracted in the opening song, the mix finally came together. The song was tight and structured, and showed a clear vision of where Wesen could be going. Until they moved onto their next song, and the one after that. The band had good ideas that were unfortunately mixed with very bad ones as they struggled to find an established sound or direction in their music.
But the duo undoubtably knew how to perform. Their songs were entertaining, even at their more cringeworthy moments. They didn’t take themselves too seriously as they joked with each other and the audience onstage. The flubs were forgivable, the best moments memorable and they were established as a band to keep an eye on.
Bára Gísladóttir crawled onto the stage and hid behind her cello to laughs. Cackling and shrieking, she reached an arm underneath the cello and began to hit and smear against it. She threw a leg up to laughs. And another one. Finally she stood, but the crowd’s mood took a sudden shift from humor to disbelief. Joined by a saxophonist, she hit play on a laptop and proceeded to shriek and swell her way through the first proper piece.
The audience was left with a clear question: was that good? Harpa Kaldalón went from a packed house to three-quarters full by the end of the first piece, but Gísladóttir continued unphased.
Musically, she was … good. Great actually, if her flawless coordination with a laptop’s set sounds over seemingly structureless songs is considered. She was a cello player with intention. This was not a show for a melodious cello solo, or even a tonal one. She scraped the strings, hit it with a beer bottle and did nothing remotely near pretty.
The crowd that remained after the first song experienced something those who left didn’t. They pushed past the stink into a sort of threshold beyond the atonality and nonsense of her performance. There was something beautiful about what she did. Gísladóttir’s body hung over her cello as the unrestrained shrills and croons of her cello became cathartic, if not for the audience, definitely for her.
Kate Tempest never addressed the audience directly, but there was an undeniable connection at play. The UK poet-turned-rapper spent the night telling stories. Her delivery was commanding, and the line between rap and beat poetry was often hard to draw. A narrative bridged the set together about seven strangers on a single street up at 4:18 AM, wondering about their place in the world and life. The concept was captivating, and her storytelling was enveloping despite her rapid delivery and wordy passages. Each line served a purpose, and her painting of scenes was so vivid it brought the crowd far outside Gamla Bío and into her own imagined world.
And behind each line was massive energy. Tempest had the crowd hanging onto every word and transitions between songs were quick and hard-hitting. Her backing beats and intricate light shows made the show not only an intellectual experience, but an extremely entertaining one.