Rethinking the Blue Lagoon

The first time I went to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon was during Airwaves 2012. I entered on a press pass and listened to DJs while I soaked in the milky blue water, surrounded by lava rock. It was so cold and windy that day they couldn’t keep the water warm enough, but I stuck it out long enough to get a drink from the swim-up bar and experience each of the pool’s special features – waterfall, sauna, silica face mask. I concluded the Blue Lagoon was cool, but overpriced and over-hyped. Despite the pretty setting, the difference from normal Icelandic swimming pools didn’t justify the price.

Still, when I brought my whole family to Iceland this April, it felt obligatory. And now I’ve had to rethink my opinion. Continue reading


Blue Lagoon


Joseph Boyden says in Through Black Spruce

Fucking stories. Twisted things that come out no matter how we want them.

Regular readers of this blog know that if a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll take a thousand words. With less than two weeks left until Iceland Writers Retreat, I wanted to tell some stories about getting ready for that trip. But this week I am sick, and all my drafts keep getting twisted. So until the NyQuil wears off, I will leave you with a picture of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Right now, with my nose blocked and my head foggy, I can’t imagine anything better than soaking in its geothermally heated mineral waters.


Chilling at the Blue Lagoon

Stamina began to be an issue on Saturday, and not just for the old farts like me. The occasional napper could always be found on the couches or in the hammock in the KEX lobby, but today they were dropping like flies. At one point, all of the couches were full.

Dropping like flies

I began to see the wisdom of hosting the Blue Lagoon Chill Party on Saturday afternoon, and as much of a challenge as it was to get up in time for the bus out there, I was really looking forward to treating my headbanger’s neck with a massage while floating in geothermal waters.

The Blue Lagoon

Unfortunately, all spa services were cancelled for the day; not because of the crowds anticipated for the Chill Party, but because the water was too cold for the workers to spend a whole shift submerged. According to the staff I talked to, the geothermal power plant that feeds the lagoon was operating at full capacity, but the wind blowing over the surface of the water was stripping the heat. Apparently, by 2014 there will be a hotel on site that will be able to offer spa services in these circumstances. But today, I would have to be satisfied with a soak.

The Blue Lagoon is in a lava field.

The chest-high water was only lukewarm, and currents in the water could be shockingly cold. People clustered in the warm pockets. Despite the drama of the lava field setting, it was looking like the Chill Party was named too literally for maximum enjoyment. But then I found the sauna, and then the swim-up bar, and by rotating through the lagoon, the sauna, and the bar, I ended up spending most of the day there.

One of mankind’s greatest inventions.

By the time I left with mind and neck muscles relaxed, the Chill Party was in full swing, dance music thumping on the PA, singers in fur coats standing on the side of the pool.

I should have followed the advice about using the provided special conditioner on my hair before and after my soak. Even though I put my hair up, of course it got wet, and the weird mineral mix in the water did funky things to the texture. It took a couple days before I could get a brush through my hair, even though it wasn’t tangled. Fortunately, hat head is the official hairstyle of Iceland Airwaves, so it didn’t really matter.

Back in town, I dropped off my soggy bathing suit and switched out cell phone batteries, and headed out to catch a coffee shop set from Lockerbie. The place was packed, and the band hadn’t shown up yet. My neck was starting to ache again and I was starting to get an exhaustion headache. In need of caffeine, I ordered a coffee and crowded in. A man at the table in front of me gave up and left just as my latte came, so I grabbed his seat and contemplated whether the hassle of cramming into a too small space that wasn’t set up for music was really worth it.


Lockerbie raced in, and with apologies for losing track of time, set up for their show less than five feet in front of the table where I sat sipping coffee. When they started to play, I could hear the guitarist and keyboardist singing along even though they didn’t have mics. I decided tiny venues were worth the trouble after all. Despite the bright lights (great for photos!) and waitstaffs weaving through the crowd with laden trays, the sound at the coffee shop was actually better than at the club where I saw Lockerbie earlier in the week, and the atmosphere was actually pretty well suited to Lockerbie’s wholesome, youthful energy anyway.

Sharing instruments was a minor Airwaves theme. I also saw it at Nova Heart and Siinai.

Always a fan of Thai, I had noticed several places along and around Laugavegur. I decided to continue the Chill Party mentality of self-care and eat dinner for a change, so I headed to a noodle shop for phad thai. Apparently, Icelanders think that salt is an Asian spice.

Without checking my schedule, I headed down to the Deutsche Bar, for the next show on my list. Only when I got there did I realize I had an extra hour. I was the first person in the bar, so I ordered an Egil beer and sat down with my phone to check the Airwaves app for shows I could catch in the meantime. Egil beer wasn’t nearly as nice as the Christmas Bock I’d been drinking at KEX, so I nursed it slowly. There were no shows nearby that would finish in time for me to get back in time for Stereo Hypnosis. The music on the speakers was a KEXP-quality mix of hip hop, old country, and Ásgeir Trausti. Feeling slightly guilty for making it to only one show before 8 pm, I nursed my beer and watched as the bar began to fill for the first show of the night.

Stereo Hypnosis

I can’t resist a good backstory, and Stereo Hypnosis has a great one. It’s a father/son duo, where the dad, who also performs under the name Jafet Melge, founded an ambient electronic performance group and the son, who organizes a chillwave festival in Iceland, drops beats under the name Beatmakin Troopa. In the almost total darkness, you could barely make out the duo (plus a guitar player). Visually out of sync – dad looking like a beatnik with his shades on in the dark, bearded son resembling a billboard cod fisherman in an Icelandic sweater – but sonically harmonious, Stereo Hypnosis was hypnotic indeed, and perfect for Saturday’s chill theme; but not remotely monotonous or boring. I seldom dip into the waters of chill and trance, but when the mood strikes, Stereo Hypnosis have what it takes to hold my interest.

1860 at Harpa

Coffee, beer, and an electronic set had cured my headache. Feeling spry, I headed to Harpa to finally see 1860. They were as charming and intelligent in performance as they had been interview, comfortably joking with each other and the audience between songs. One of them confessed that this was his tenth and final performance of the festival, and apologized if any of the stress leaking out of his body landed on anyone in attendance. He also dedicated a song, “I’d like to dedicate this next song to the lady dancing in the back. This one’s for you Freak Out Lady.” I was glad he said that, because I had already taken a picture of her and planned to caption it “someone’s mom?” A new song rounded out the set, giving me a little chill on the chorus, and then I ran upstairs to be nice and early for Agent Fresco, determined not to be stuck outside again.

This one’s for you.

I got there in time to catch the last two songs by The Barr Brothers. This is what I learned:

  1. They have a harp
  2. They’re really good
  3. I should start listening to them

I’m late to the party.

Three things everyone else already knew, but I had to travel to Iceland to find out.

I had a great spot for Agent Fresco, and it was a great show. But it also made me grateful for the acoustic set at Nordic House that I heard earlier in the week. In contrast to the backstories and personal feeling of the earlier set, this was a big show. There was smoke and lights and volume. This might also have been the moment when my world view began to disintegrate. A constant theme in the interviews I’d done and in the music I’d heard so far was that the broader a musician’s exposure to sounds and ideas, the richer the resultant music. I have always been resistant to genre classifications, but Agent Fresco embodied the theme so thoroughly that by the end of the show, I really couldn’t have even told you what those classifications were supposed to mean anymore. I’m going to have to find a new way to talk about music, because they still haven’t started to make sense again.

On a less metaphysical note, I loved how the bass refused to disappear into the music, and likewise, the bass player himself, who was enough of a showman to upstage almost any frontman besides Agent Fresco’s. Speaking of whom; wow.

Yeah, about him. Wow.

Standing next to me on the rail was a young Englishwoman who was ditching classes at music college to be at Airwaves. We bonded over the plight of shorties trying to see the stage, and after Agent Fresco, we went downstairs together to see Siinai.

Playing in almost total darkness at 11:30 pm in a venue with seats, the Finnish band’s doomy instrumental set put more than a few people to sleep. But for those with the will to stay awake, there was some really interesting stuff happening. I think the bass had extra strings on it. There were two drummers, but only one was playing a traditional kit. In addition to sticks and brushes, that drummer sometimes used his elbows. Addressing the crowd for the first time at the end of the set with a shocking bass voice that I hope appears on the album, Siinai left the stage and my English friend left for another show. I settled in for the next show – Mr. Silla.

Mr. Silla

I knew they would be good, because KEXP had included them in their curated lineup at KEX. But I had missed that show, and was catching up now. And they were good. But I’m at a loss to describe them, because my entire vocabulary for describing music had washed away in the Airwaves flood. Like a channelized river, my brain just let it flow by with no better description than “good.” Making a mental note to listen to Mr. Silla’s recordings at a later, more cogent date, I went back upstairs for yet another Ásgeir Trausti set.

At this point, [the point where I attend my third Ásgeir Trausti set of the festival] I feel like I should probably explain myself. But my word count on this post is getting high, and technically, I’m crossing into Sunday. So maybe should stop here, and make excuses later.

Him again?