“In Iceland, strangely utopian techno-punk for a world on the brink of disaster”

In a country of only 350,000 people, creativity is an increasingly vital export—no greenwashing required. Document went to Reykjavik ahead of Iceland Airwaves to discover a music scene seeped in furious optimism.

‘Can a small city festival transform an entire country?’ That was the name of a press conference hosted by Björk and author-activist Andri Snær Magnason at Iceland Airwaves in 2015, calling for emergency action to save Iceland’s highlands from its government’s industrialization schemes.

Airwaves’s new managing director, Will Larnach-Jones, who took over from Atlason in 2018, has spearheaded an inspiring and eclectic panel-driven program called Airwaves Pro–formerly Iceland Airwaves Lounge and Conference and produced by Iceland Music. This year’s slate of speakers includes the iconoclastic Nelly Ben Hayoun (Director of Experiences at Amsterdam-based University of the Underground, where you can earn a Master’s degree in the basement of an Amsterdam nightclub) and will feature a guided hackathon focused on harnessing the power of Reykjavik’s creative industry. “While only 350,000 people live in Iceland, the country’s global music footprint is oversized,” the organizers state. The implication, refreshingly free of any virtue-signaling, is that its global carbon footprint isn’t.

The performance lineup—punctuated by the anti-capitalist BDSM techno-punk of Hatari, the introspective darkwave of Kælan Mikla, the bisexual vegan ‘shitpunk’ of Joe and the Shitboys, and a myriad other genre-defying sound experiments—is just as sinister, eclectic, and surprisingly hopeful. If it’s true that comedy often masks misery (just look at Sweden, known as the land of happiness, with lesser discussed suicide rates) then melancholia can be a sign of life, the sound of lusting after something better on the other side. “If optimism ever was like an emergency, it’s now,” Björk said in 2017, when most of us were still collectively curled into fetal position following the election of Donald Trump. “Instead of moaning and becoming really angry, we need to actually come up with suggestions of what the world we want to live in, in the future, could be. This album is supposed to be like an idea, a suggestion, a proposal of the world we could live in.

Iceland Airwaves takes place November 6-9 in Reykavík with travel packages available here. Travel for this article was provided by the festival’s founding sponsor Icelandair.

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Document Journal is an independent culture, arts, and fashion magazine founded in New York in 2012. Published biannually in the spring and fall, the magazine is printed in book format and distributed globally.