In its 24-year history, Iceland Airwaves has grown to be recognised as a reliably brilliant festival: one that continues to offer a wide-ranging line up, while serving its country’s small but mighty community of creatives and new music fans. Against a backdrop of the impressive Mount Esja, the three-day event (November 2-4) will see artists of all levels from across the globe descend on Reykjavík’s city centre, where venues include museums and eye-wateringly beautiful churches. The festival’s idyllic setting means that wandering around dozens of quaint yet lively bars and music halls in the evening can feel magical.
The 2023 edition may include big names such as Bombay Bicycle Club and Yard Act, through to breakthrough talent like Blondshell, but at the heart of Iceland Airwaves is a desire to platform local musicians. A country with only 300,000 inhabitants – roughly the same population as Leicester – its contemporary music scene is well-connected and thriving, with many acts having been given the opportunity to perform at the festival in the early stages of their career. Iceland Airwaves has previously played host to recent NME Cover star Laufey and Daði Freyr of Eurovision fame – both of whom were born in Reykjavík, and have gone on to earn recognition across the globe in recent years.
As we look forward to one of the last festivals of the year, here’s who NME will be rushing to catch across the many weird and wonderful venues of Iceland Airwaves 2023…
Who: Westfjörds-born songwriter with a clear, diamond-bright vocal
When: November 4, 20:00, Art Museum
Look out for: Returning to Iceland Airwaves for a second year, the 21-year-old will air tracks from her 2022 debut ‘They Only Talk About The Weather’, a collection of lightly psychedelic folk songs perfect for fans of Holly Humberstone or Searows. The album was nominated for an Iceland Music Award earlier this year, where judges praised Margrét for her honest and richly detailed stories of growing up in the isolated town of Westfjörds.
Who: Multi-faceted alt-pop collective from South Korea
When: November 4, 00:20, Gamla Blíó
Look out for: In the case of Balming Tiger, there is truly strength in numbers: since they formed in 2018, the musical collective has expanded to comprise nearly a dozen songwriters, rappers and producers. Recent debut album ‘January Never Dies’ – which NME described as “eclectic and inventive” – reflects the energy of the group’s live shows: colourful, upbeat and totally unpredictable. Add this lot to the top of your ‘must-see’ list.
Who: A testament to the ambition and perseverance of independent artists
When: November 5, 00:00, Iðnó
Look out for: “I realised I have to trust my own thing and my own voice now,” Dutch-Sudanese singer Gaidaa told Crack in May 2022. She was describing the journey to her gorgeous debut EP ‘Overture’, which addressed the hope and challenges she has faced as an independent artist without a huge team or financial support backing her. Her Iceland Airwaves slot will cap off six months of transformative live shows for Gaidaa, which have seen an artist truly – and finally – come into their own.
Who: Provocative trio revitalising Irish rebel music
When: November 4, 00:40, Gaukurinn
Look out for: It’s been something of a banner year for Belfast’s Kneecap. Having kicked things off with a spot in the NME 100, the trio have gone on to sell out shows across the US, announce a biopic and sign a deal with Heavenly Recordings [Lynks, Fran Lobo] ahead of their forthcoming debut album. They rap about both hedonism and the reality of growing up in post-Troubles Northern Ireland – the music is both compelling and wickedly funny at once.
Who: Brighton indie gang with a cracking debut album to their name
When: November 4, 23:40, Gaukurinn
Look out for: Some fantastic, memorable choruses from a band making noise at each festival they play. Having conquered the likes of Glastonbury, SXSW and Latitude in the past few months alone, Lime Garden are gearing up for a run of shows – including a UK headline tour in early 2024 – to kick off their debut ‘One More Thing’, due next February. Trust us, you’ll want to hear some of these ace album tracks nice and early.
Who: One of Sweden’s most promising new pop prospects
When: November 3, 21:20, KEX 1st floor NÝLÓ
Look out for: In June, the Gothenburg-raised Lyn emerged with ‘A Bowl Of Unripe Fruit’, a breezy and energised ditty that introduced an intriguing new voice. After finishing her studies at the Musik Makarna songwriting academy as a teenager, Lyn forged her way into the industry by sending cold emails with her demos to managers and journalists. Her next challenge? To hone her live performance, starting with an appearance at Iceland Airwaves.
Who: Dublin rockers who thrive in dark, chaotic basement venues
When: November 5, 01:10, Gaukurinn
Look out for: Vocalist and guitarist Karla Chubb formed Sprints to rebel against the limited expectations of women she used to see in her local scene. The music she and her band now make torches all of the frustrations of her past; the grungy, Porridge Radio-like single ‘The Cheek’ was written about the prejudices she has faced as a bisexual woman. “It is important for me to flag these things because it’s not right,” she told NME in 2020. Right on.