Iceland Airwaves, billed as “the world’s most northerly new music showcase,” is also one of its best. Founded in 1999, the event has grown from a one-off in a Reykjavik Airport hangar to a sprawling, South by Southwest-esque discovery festival and music conference. Now, Airwaves is returning to downtown Reykjavik after two long years as a COVID casualty, taking over the otherworldly volcanic island’s capital city this week for the first time since 2019. Paste was there then, and we’re back here right now. So before the festival officially kicks off tomorrow, Nov. 3, we’re rounding up a handful of acts to catch if you’ll be in attendance, too, from the established to the emerging, the international to the Icelandic, and everywhere in between.
During—and as a result of—the festival’s forced hiatus in 2020 and 2021, Airwaves organizers Sena Live took the opportunity to adjust. The 2022 festival will look a bit different, with “just” 87 acts (down from 2019’s 130) performing across three days, instead of the usual four. Certain features of 2021’s “Live From Reykjavik” livestream remain, with all sets from three of the festival’s main venues streaming online for free. But there’s also an added emphasis on the communal experience of the festival’s return to Reykjavik, with organizers establishing a central hub known as the Airwaves Center. It all gives “we’re glad to be back.”
With a quick glance at the 2022 lineup, a handful of names catch your eye right away. You likely don’t need to be told to go see 2021 Mercury Prize winner Arlo Parks, ascendant Aussie punks Amyl & The Sniffers, 2020 Best of What’s Next picks Porridge Radio, veteran English pop-rockers Metronomy or a DJ set from Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp. But at the end of the day (which is admittedly a moving target this close to the Arctic Circle), Airwaves is about discovery—we’ve built this preview in that same spirit.
Airwaves 2022 tickets are in short supply by now, so you’ll want to move quickly if you have yet to lay your plans to attend. (If you’re unable to make it, there’s always the livestreams and festival playlist to enjoy.) But if you’ll be in Reykjavik for the return of Airwaves, here are 15 acts we hope to see alongside you.
A 21-year-old indie-folk singer/songwriter from the small town of Isafjordur in Iceland’s Westfjords region, Arny Margret just released her debut album they only talk about the weather in October on One Little Independent Records. There’s a keen sense of Margret’s home in her music, which evokes both wintry austerity and the warmth of intimacy and belonging. A pianist and self-taught guitarist, she cites Andy Shauf, Phoebe Bridgers, Bon Iver, Leif Vollebekk and Gregory Alan Isakov among her influences.
Last year, Lahore-born, Brooklyn-based composer and singer/songwriter Arooj Aftab made history with her breakout album Vulture Prince. With nods for Best New Artist and Best Global Music Performance, she became the first Pakistani woman to not only be nominated for a Grammy, but also to win one, for Vulture Prince standout “Mohabbat.” She’s been touring in support of the album throughout 2022, and now finds herself among Airwaves’ biggest international names.
Icelandic duo BSÍ are much more fun than their name would have you believe. Best friends Silla Thorarensen (drums, vocals) and Julius Pollux Rothlaender (bass guitar, “toe synths”) named their band after their hometown of Reykjavik’s central bus terminal, i.e., “the most miserable location in all of Iceland,” per press notes. This BSÍ’s world is a far more pleasant place to spend your time: Thoraresen and Rothlaender’s sound, as heard on their 2021 full-length debut Sometimes depressed … but always antifascist, has been described as “weird-lofi-cute-pop-punk-surf-riot-indie.”
There’s no band quite like Vancouver collective Crack Cloud, who released their second full-length Tough Baby in September. Frontman, drummer and lyricist Zach Choy said the band made their 2020 debut album Pain Olympics “with no expectation of making another,” making its follow-up an unexpected pleasure. Those tracks (as well as their personal-favorite early material) are a good bet to translate into one of Airwaves’ most memorable 2022 sets.
Daughters of Reykjavik
Reykjavíkurdætur, as they’re known in their native Icelandic, are an all-female-identifying rap collective who formed in 2013 and have since become some of the country’s brightest rising stars. Citing influences like Little Simz, BIA, Tommy Genesis, Björk, Princess Nokia, Arca and Eartheater, the eight-piece rap in both Icelandic and English over high-energy electronic production. They released their debut album RVK DTR in 2016, and their most recent, Soft Spot, in 2020, but as the femcees themselves say, “You can’t know what the fuss is about until you’ve seen Daughters of Reykjavík live.”
Francis of Delirium
Paste hailed Francis of Delirium, the indie-rock project of Luxembourg-based musician Jana Bahrich, as the Best of What’s Next in 2021. Bahrich’s sound splits the difference between Smashing Pumpkins and Caroline Polachek, as she told us at the time, “merg[ing] this grunge, ‘90s, guitar-driven stuff with more pop melodies.” The project has three impressive EPs to its name, including 2020’s All Change, 2021’s Wading and this year’s The Funhouse.
Teenage DIY-punk trio GRÓA made their Airwaves debut in 2018, and have performed at the festival each year since. Hrafnhildur Einarsdóttir, Fríða Björg Pétursdóttir and Karólina Einarsdóttir grew up playing only classical piano, but the self-taught rockers have since become one of the biggest names associated with Iceland’s post-dreifing art collective. As heard on their most recent album, 2019’s Í Glimmerheimi, GRÓA embody both punk’s scrappy passion and its independent spirit.
Reykjavík’s Inspector Spacetime are much more than the fun band name they share with their 2021 full-length debut. The Reykjavik Grapevine honored the trio with their Artist Of The Year award in January, hailing their “remarkable album [...] and twelve months of unmissable high-energy gigs.” It’s easy to share their enthusiasm for Inspector Spacetime, whose ebullient songs reference blanket forts and Buzz Lightyear, not to mention blend elements of disco, U.K. garage, house, and drum and bass.
Hailing from the remote Faroe Islands, Kóboykex have only three tracks to their names, the most recent of which, “Night Out,” they just released last week. Both members of the duo are prominent figures in the Faroese music scene: Sigmund Zachariassen is known for playing in punk bands like Joe & The Shitboys, while Heiðrik á Heygum is a multi-hyphenate who’s been making music, films and visual art for years. On paper, the duo’s “western/electro” sound doesn’t work, but in practice, something clicks. Kóboykex sound like what a sleep-deprived Thom Yorke would write after bingeing spaghetti westerns.
Faroese rapper and producer Marius Dam Christophersen, aka Marius DC, released his debut single “Drip Drop” in 2019, and has been drip-dropping songs ever since. His music exudes an underdog’s ambition and passion, with tracks like his latest, 2022’s “Woah,” showcasing his “still bombastic, nothing ‘bout me understated” persona, which contrasts his unassuming appearance. The teenage emcee from one of the world’s smallest countries has outsized skills.
Nation of Language
When spotlighting Nation of Language as the Best of What’s Next in 2020, Lizzie Manno praised the band as “the most exciting new synth-pop act in years” on the strength of their debut album Introduction, Presence. Last year’s A Way Forward continued to fulfill the Brooklyn trio’s promise, making their timeless blend of new wave and krautrock sounds an obvious highlight of Airwaves 2022. Some day, you’ll brag that you saw this band.
Reykjavík-based band Pale Moon, the Icelandic/Russian husband-wife duo of Árni Guðjónsson (a former Of Monsters and Men member) and Natalia Sushchenko, released their debut EP Dust of Days in 2019, and their debut album Lemon Street this past summer. That timing was fitting, as the pair’s psychedelic guitar-pop sound does tend to evoke the midnight sun’s endless days more than it does a Pale Moon. But celestial discrepancies aside, the duo’s dreamy hooks and springy psychedelia are an ideal oasis from all the hustle and bustle of Airwaves.
Another standout of the post-dreifing scene, and the first act to release music through the collective, Skoffin have described themselves as “the loudest band in Iceland.” The hard-rocking quartet list Television and Talking Heads among their influences, which checks out in droves on rippers like “Sætar stelpur,” off their 2020 album Skoffín hentar íslenskum aðstæðum (roughly, “Skoffín is suitable for Icelandic conditions”). Your hearing might not thank you for rocking out with Skoffin, but your ears certainly will.
Sucks to be you Nigel
If there’s one band I’ve kept coming back to while writing this piece, it’s Sucks to be you Nigel, the tongue-in-cheek punks who made their full-length debut with last year’s Tína blóm. This band—vocalist (“more of a screamer than a singer,” she argues) Silja Rún Högnadóttir, guitarist Vigfúsi, bassist Krumma and drummer Erni—exudes fun at all times, and their raw, explosive DIY rock screams “riot-grrrl B-52’s.” It will not suck to be you at their show.
Reykjavík quartet Supersport! emerged from the ashes of one of the post-dreifing scene’s most prominent bands. Bjarni Daníel and Þóra Birgit Bernódusdóttir played as bagdad brothers for two years before forming Supersport!, eventually recruiting Dagur Reykdal and Hugi Kjartansson to round out their lineup. The band’s DIY guitar-pop sound, as heard on their 2021 debut album tveir dagar or 2022 single “taka samtalið,” draws inspiration from The Beatles, mixing whimsy and charm with winning melodies.
Scott Russell is Paste’s music editor and he’ll come up with something clever later. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.