Live, Look — November 23rd, 2012

An Iceland Airwaves Retrospective — 10 Questions with Boompa Owner, Rob Calder

Hey, it’s Charlotte from Boompa. I sat down with Rob last week — mere days after his return to Canada — to ask him about his recent experience at the renowned Iceland Airwaves festival. The 5 day long event is held annually across a mixture of venues in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik.

This year, Mark Hamilton of Woodpigeon scored a well-earned spot as one of the 10 Canadian artists (out of over 200 acts overall) featured on the festival roster. Rob was lucky enough to tag along for the ride. We spoke with him about Woodpigeon’s Icelandic debut, the country’s capital city, his favourite Airwaves acts, and tips for newcomers to the festival. Oh, and what it’s like to run into Björk.

Rob braving the elements at an Icelandic Waterfall

1. Have you ever been to Iceland before?

RC: No, this was my first time.

2. How was it going to a festival so far away from home? What were the vibes like?

RC: The locals were all really mellow and nice, but also obviously excited about the festival. More than one local said that Airwaves was like Christmas to Icelanders.

The festival actually runs in way that it uses both official and off-site venues, so throughout the days I got to wander around the entire city and see shows in pretty creative places. The combination of daytime and official nighttime shows was also pretty great. You just end up drinking a lot all day and bumping into new people who are doing the same.

Downtown Reykjavík

2. How did Woodpigeon’s sets go?

RC: At Airwaves, each invited band gets one official showcase, and then on Friday there’s a bunch of smaller, unofficial showcases that you can perform in if you’re a part of the lineup.

On Friday, Mark [of Woodpigeon] played 3 sets in one day for the unofficial showcases. The shows were at a Backpackers Hostel, a small bar in the main

Opera House (called, “the Harpa”) and in an Art Gallery. Each of the venues worked really well with the music because they were all relatively small and really intimate.

Woodpigeon on his way to the Backpackers Inn

The Art Gallery was probably the best of the three — it was standing room only and he played in the corner of the room, surrounded by all this Icelandic art, while everyone huddled around by the front of the stage. They loved it. I definitely think that was his best set.

4. And what about Woodpigeon’s official show at the Harpa?

RC: The official showcase was huge. I actually got a chance to play trumpet on 3 songs with him, which was great, and Benni Hemm Hemm [fellow Icelandic Airwaves artist] also sat in for Mark’s song, “For Paulo.” Like the Art Gallery, it was standing room only, but it had this beautiful sound because of the venue. It was more like a classical concert.


From L-R: The Harpa, new friends Mark [of Woodpigeon] and Benedikt [Benni Hemm Hemm]

5. Did you get a chance to explore Iceland’s capital / the festival city, Reykjavik, outside of the festival? What about the rest of Iceland?

RC: Because the festival runs throughout Reykjavik, we were essentially exploring the city each day of festival. It’s an amazing city. It’s got this combination of old world charm and new modern touches. Though it’s still reeling a bit from the 2008 financial crisis, overall it seems to have rebounded. One of most amazing buildings there is the Harpa, which is right on the water. It was the main showcase venue and had 3 theaters inside.

I also went to some amazing restaurants, ate famous Icelandic hot dogs, rotten shark meat, horse, and the best soup ever.

After the fest, I got the chance to travel in the rest of the country for few days. We drove the Golden Circle [a ~300 km tourist route that runs from the capital to central Iceland and back] and I got to see the Gullfloss Waterfall, the Geisers, and I hiked a glacier. It was all awesome.

Panorama of the Glacier

6. Any differences between the Iceland vs. Canada music scene?

RC: I’d say there are more similarities than differences, in the fact that there’s really established genres. They have a prevalent roots and folk pop scene, and then there’s also a more eletro and dance-y scene, and then a parkour and heavy metal scene. The similarity is that even though Iceland is so small, it seems like there’s a real bond between artists and genres. It’s very similar to the Canadian music scene in that way — it seems small and secluded.

Coming together for the music at Iceland Airwaves

The other thing is Iceland’s cold, harsh climate. Because of this, the tone of the music that Icelandic musicians write has a very similar kind of tone to that in a lot of Canadian music.

 7. Other than Woodpigeon, were you looking forward to any particular acts in the festival? 

RC: I really didn’t know a lot of the local Iceland scene but stumbled upon shows by Benni Hemm Hemm, Sykur, and Retro Stefson that were really great. Other acts I know well that I saw were Sigur Ros (who were amazing), Phantogram, Blouse, and the Canadian bands Passwords, Half Moon Run, and the Barr Brothers. Dirty Projectors also blew my mind with their singing abilities. I feel like they’ve reset my standard for live performances.

8. Who were your favourite acts at Iceland Airwaves? Did anyone catch you by surprise?

RC: Dirty Projectors and Benni Hemm Hemm were definitely in my top favourites.

Dirty Projectors on Stage @ Iceland Airwaves

Although it wasn’t a show, Bjork caught me by surprise when I bumped into her at a bar. I chickened out and didn’t say hi. She was wearing a veil and winged sneakers…?!

8. What was the coolest part of the Festival?

RC: The most amazing thing for me was the size of the fest, in general. They showcased 150 bands from Iceland alone (including Sigur Ros!) when the entire population of Iceland is only 320,000 people (about the size of Victoria BC).

9. What are your festival survival-tips to any future Iceland Airwaves attendees?

RC: Stay close to town, wear warm layers, bring a flask, soak in thermal hot pools everyday to recover. Also, maybe open your mind up to the Icelandic Bands. It is insane how good they all are for the size of the country. They will love you for supporting them!


The Airwaves Crowd

Iceland Airwaves 2013 is set to run between Oct 30 and November 3 of next year. Visit their website for more details here.

To listen to Woodpigeon’s latest CD, Diamonds, visit his Bandcamp or purchase the exlusive album from the Boompa Store.