Iceland Mag

6 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Turning Reykjavík into one huge music venue!

By Sara McMahon

  • The sound of music Iceland Airwaves has played a huge role in introducing local musical talent to an international audience. Photo/Valli

In early November each year, the heart of the tiny coastal capital beats to a slightly different rhythm—everything from the melodic tones of indie rock to the pounding beat of heavy metal. Should you take a stroll down Reykjavík’s main thoroughfare, Laugavegur, you can’t help but notice the sound of music coming from literally every nook and cranny—every bar, coffee house, and even some shops become concert venues during the five days of Iceland Airwaves. Everybody joins the party!


Iceland Airwaves music festival was first held as a one-off event in an airplane hangar at the domestic airport in Reykjavík in 1999. Since then it has become an annual event with thousands of music lovers, journalists, and music industry people in attendance. One could even say it has become part of the Icelandic festive calendar: we’ve got Christmas, New Year’s Eve, the pagan midwinter festival Þorrablót, Easter, Midsummer’s Eve, and finally, Airwaves.

For the past years, the festival has played a huge role in introducing local musical talent to an international audience, as well as extending the tourist season, which traditionally was only three months, ending in August. The festival has also had a very positive economic impact on the local business community. Around eight thousand guests attended last year’s festival, more than half of which were international.

Many well-known artists have performed at Iceland Airwaves throughout the years, among them are Florence and the Machine, Klaxons, Hot Chip, Flaming Lips, Wolf Parade, Bloc Party, Robyn, Björk, Sigur Rós, GusGus, and Of Monsters and Men.
This year’s line-up includes Beach House and Hot Chip as well as local acts, including HAM and Mr Silla to name only a few.

The story of Hanger 4

“The idea of an annual Icelandic showcase festival started to develop around a concert I promoted for the band GusGus in February 1999. By then the second GusGus album for the English label 4AD was about to be released, and instead of having the standard release concert in London, we decided to do it in Iceland and have the media come over here,” says producer Þorsteinn Stephensen. The very first Iceland Airwaves was the brainchild of Þorsteinn and his partners, Baldur Stefánsson and Snorri Sturluson, at the promotio 


The originator, Þorsteinn Stephensen.

Newcomers Sigur Rós and the band Grindverk also performed at the GusGus concert, and according to Þorsteinn, people within the music industry were hugely impressed with the outstanding musical talent to be found in Iceland.
“So that’s where the idea of creating a music festival that would showcase Icelandic bands and talent came from. The first Iceland Airwaves was then organised in October 1999 in Hanger 4 at Reykjavík Airport.”

Þorsteinn and the rest of the Mr. Destiny team managed the festival for the next decade, or until IA took over.
“After eleven years, it becomes a part of you, and I feel very proud of what we have achieved and all the people that put massive time and effort into this project.”

"That way I still get to follow what’s going on, just like a father who has seen his kids strike out on their own.”

Although he no longer manages the festival, Þorsteinn attends the event whenever he has the chance. He compares himself to a father who has just seen his children leave the nest.

“I try to visit the festival when I can and also work closely with some of the artists that perform. So that way I still get to follow what’s going on, just like a father who has seen his kids strike out on their own.”

Iceland Airwaves - A Rockumentary, by Iceland Airwaves


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