Anna of the North at Iceland Airwaves 2019, by Ian Young
Anna of the North (photo: Ian Young)

We take music discovery north (way north!) of the Bay to check out the best up-and-coming artists from Iceland, Europe, and beyond.

The end of October tends to mark the arrival of some self-evident truths. The World Series. Crisper weather. Pumpkin spice lattes. But for the last five years, it’s meant one thing in particular for me: getting ready for Iceland Airwaves.

Airwaves, which began in an airplane hangar in 1999, is a showcase festival that attracts over a hundred up-and-coming Icelandic, international, and American artists — as well as a handful of popular ones — to play shows in over a dozen venues scattered throughout downtown Reykjavik. Expect everything from elfin singer-songwriters, Ukrainian rappers, throat singers, thrash metal, post-punk, bubblegum pop, and everything in between, playing in venues that range from sweaty 200-person clubs to the lobby of a bank to an arena-sized stadium.

It’s the unknown that’s exciting when it comes to Airwaves. While other festivals live and die by their headliners, Airwaves thrives on serendipity, discovery, and curiosity. (It also thrives on a lot of beer and the local hooch Brennivin.)

This year, despite a pared down-roster that “only” saw 130 bands perform versus over 200 last year, there was plenty to discover and enjoy. The main focus was twofold: check out Icelandic artists who were playing Airwaves for the first time and revisit Icelandic artists who’ve become favorites over the years. Namely, Kælan Mikla who are a trio of goth witches who play driving, intense darkwave and Hatari, a BDSM-esque performance art collective who also happen to have been Iceland’s pick for last year’s Eurovision contest.

Check out the gallery below to see this year’s favorite moments, and experience the magic of Airwaves yourself next year by grabbing early bird tickets.

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