The Reykjavik music festival Iceland Airwaves should come with a health warning: Do not attend if you have FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. You will have a bewildering choice of musical acts and venues throughout venues in central Reykjavik. The 2023 Iceland Airwaves had 82, yes 82, different musical acts, both Icelandic and international. I salute the festival planners for successfully putting that all together.
It was, of course, impossible to see 82 music acts during the three days of the festival. I saw about ten acts, which is my limit for three days. I was very fortunate in my choices. Let’s rephrase that: I was lucky to have my wife with me, who seems to have a sixth sense that enables her to pick out great Iceland Airwaves acts.

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This just in: Faroese diva lit up a historic building at the Reykjavik musical festival!

Iceland Airwaves is, however, definitely for those who enjoy serendipitous surprises. I had the most fun in the evening when we didn’t have much planned. On four occasions, I was floored by the performance of artists I had not seen live before. Let’s start with my favorite of the entire festival: the Faroese diva Elinborg. Hallveig, my wife, insisted we head early to the historic venue of Iðnó to catch the sister of Eivör performing. She had heard that she was great. I was happy; after all, I am a big fan of Eivör and everything Faroese (excluding traditional Faroese cuisine!). And after some initial technical difficulties, Elinborg lit the room on fire. Her performance of her captivating songs was punchy and powerful. I must also give her extra points for the skillful drummer in her band. If you can see this incredible Faroese diva live, go for it.

The Icelandic singer Ásdís delivers booty-shaking goodness.

Booty shaking goodness with Ásdís

Another great singer who delivered in spades was the Icelander Ásdís. I don’t know much about her, but she is big in Germany. And I get why. The Germans like to keep it simple, and so does Ásdís. Her songs and delivery were pure fun and rock and roll. I can neither confirm nor deny that I shook my middle-aged booty to her performance. In any case, I am sorry hipsters but I would love Icelandic Airwaves to be more about this kind of fun stuff than introspective sadness.

A silhouette of a woman singing. Lasers in the foreground.
Welcome to the 31st-century spaceship with DJ Flugvél and Geimskip.

Interstellar DJ is out of this world

My Iceland Airwaves guide, my wife Hallveig, who attended the festival for the first time this year, knows many people in the Icelandic music scene. One of those is the weird and wonderful DJ Flugvél and Geimskip. Her artistic name translates to DJ Airplane and Spaceship. Her music is not my cup of tea, but as it turned out, that didn’t matter. When her music was combined with the show, it all came together wonderfully.  We saw DJ Flugvél and Geimskip at the 12 Tónar record shop on Skólavörðustígur Street. In just a few minutes, DJ Flugvél and Geimskip transformed a drab and old-fashioned record shop into a spaceship from the 31st Century with lasers, lights, and smoke. When the crowd in the packed venue started to dance with the music, I was genuinly concerned that the creaky floor would break and we would all collapse into the basement.

Icelandic singer Bríet.
Bríet dominates.

Sassy Bríet dominates the crowd

We saw the Icelandic sirene Bríet at the Reykjavik music festival. For the past few years, I have seen her evolve her brand into this super cool female icon that even transcends the determined young lady who burst into the Icelandic music scene a few years ago. She completely dominated her audience with a combination of sass, a brilliant band and a catalogue of music to kill for. However, I am dying to see her release new solo material that reflects her current starhood.

Icelandic singer-songwriter Kari Egilsson and his band,
Icelandic singer-songwriter Kari Egilsson and his band.

Kári Egilsson is a brilliant newcomer to Iceland Airwaves

Kári Egilsson is a relative newcomer to the Icelandic music scene. His recent album Palm Trees In the Snow plays frequently in my living room on weekends as it is the perfect soundtrack to relaxation after a long work  week. Singer-songwriter Kári might be new to the scene but he has been playing and studying music since he was a child. When he was only 16 he won the  ASCAP Desmond Child Anthem Award for his songwriting skills. He is a graduate of the classical and jazz departments of the Reykjavík College of Music, and has  studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Kári is a highly educated musician, just like the Icelandic superstar Laufey  Apart from the flawless songs and delivery of Kári’s music I could not help noticing that his bandmates seemed to be in awe of him. They watched his every move, and it occured me that Kári functioned less like a frontman of the band, and more like its conductor.

Icelandic singer-songwriter Ásgeir performing on stage of the Eldborg auditorium at the Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Ásgeir doing what he does best.

Superflous meddling with brilliance

We also saw the wonderful Ásgeir at the gorgeous Eldborg venue at the Harpa Concert Hall, where he played arrangements of his music with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. Ásgeir is not only a great singer, he is probably one of the best Icelandic songwriters ever. While Ásgeir’s singing and stage presence was perfect, some of the people who arranged his music for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra seemed unable to grasp the sensitivity and finesse of Ásgeir’s songs. It felt like many people arranging the music for the symphony orchestra wanted to insert themselves and their ideas into music that neither intervention nor improvement. The result was often unnecessarily bombastic and chaotic. However, Ásgeir powered heroically through it all.

Axel Flóvent and band.
Axel Flóvent and band.

Shiny happy people at the Reykjavik music festival

I had not seen Axel Flóvent perform before, although I had heard some of his songs. We were fortunate to see his set at the Hafnarhúsið venue. It was relaxed back and joyful. Axel was reuniting with his band, and this was clearly happiness on stage about being back together. Those good vibes radiated nicely around the venue.

Icelandic singer Nanna from Monsters and Men performs at Fríkirkjan church in Reykjavik.
Nanna performs at Fríkirkjan church in Reykjavik.

Polished star set to shine brighter

Then, there were two noteworthy performances at the old and beautiful church, Fríkirkjan, across the road from Iðnó and right on the bank of the Reykjavik pond. Nanna from the super band Of Monsters and Men delivered a highly polished set of her new songs. She was clearly in her element that night. I suspect she is on her way to something huge.

Slowshift perform at Fríkirkjan church
Slowshift perform at Fríkirkjan church

Moving the audience

Slowshift also performed at Fríkirkjan and delivered a similar jolt to me as Elinborg did. We were late to their performance, so we only got seats on the upper floor of the Fríkirkjan. I had no idea who these guys were, but Hallveig had picked them out as a must-see act. And they were. I am not great at describing music, but the performance was soaring, confident, and laid back. It all sounded perfect in that little old church where the combination of the music and the venue clearly moved the audience.

Musician Dadi Freyr performs in Reykjavik
Dadi Freyr left nothing on the stage.

Cancelled Eurovision star closes out the Reykjavik music festival

We had the ultimate first-world problem on the last day of the Reykjavik music festival. An invitation to an extravagant dinner party meant that we would miss a few acts in the early evening. But we headed happily into town to catch our favorite Daði Freyr to close out Iceland Airwaves. As always, Daði Freyr delivered a fantastic set to a packed venue. He may not have won Eurovision, the time when he was due to compete on behalf of Iceland the song contest was canceled due to the pandemic, but he is certainly going from strength to strength as a performer and crowd pleaser.

When Daði Freyr had finished his performance, we were exhausted. More music was on offer, but like at the dinner party we had both been to, we were full from the feast. It’s a shame we must wait a year for another round.