Iceland, a country of a mere 350,000 people, is currently a facing considerable economic difficulty and intimidating environmental problems. Not surprisingly, there is tremendous unease in the country over these issues; however, there is also a great deal of energy coming from people in Iceland that is being directed towards raising awareness of problems and making a creative transformation to a new era. A good example of this dynamic in action is the annual Iceland Airwaves festival held each November in Reykjavík.

Iceland Airwaves

The first Iceland Airwaves festival was held in 1999. The festivals are co-sponsored by the City of Reykjavik and the airline Icelandair. This year’s event will feature a diverse lineup of acts including Hatari, Agent Fresco, and Attan. Organizers talk about how Iceland’s landscape of snow and glaciers create a backdrop of majesty and power to the music itself. The general attitude is that the festival will be a good time but also a wake-up call in an era where glaciers in the country are disappearing because of rising temperatures. Over the years, the event has expanded from having mostly music to including other types of events as well. The 2019 event is scheduled to have speakers on topics including environmentalism, activism, and ecology. There is also a hackathon scheduled, which is expected to be an opportunity for both locals and visitors to show off their computer skills.

Björk and Andri Snær Magnason

Before the 2016 festival, musician Björk along with writer Andri Snær Magnason held a joint press conference to make it clear that one of the festival’s themes would be helping to save the Icelandic countryside from rampant industrialization while there was still time. This has remained one of the goals of the festival since then. Magnason, who wrote the book “Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation,” which advocates for grass-roots activism, has spelled out in his writings exactly what he feels people can and should do to help fight the ravages of climate change and over-industrialization. The pair had strong criticism for the government at the time, and this sentiment is shared by many performing at the festival in 2019.

Anger and optimism

Many in Iceland are uneasy as jobs in fishing and agriculture become automated and as other national industries are losing out to competition overseas. There is a sense, however, that the country can adopt. Two avenues for doing this are through tourism and music. More and more foreigners are coming to Iceland from all over the world to appreciate its rugged beauty, and artists like Björk continue to export music abroad, creating a positive image of the country and fueling more tourism.

DIY and punk music traditions

There is a long history of DIY marketing by artists in Iceland. For instance, in the 1980’s, alternative band The Sugarcubes sold postcards of Reagan and Gorbachev to finance their critically acclaimed records, and that self-reliant spirit is very much alive today. There is great pride among artists in Iceland in the punk tradition, and there’s even a museum of punk music in Reykjavik. Many of those active in the punk scene of the 1980s are now policymakers today. One former punk even ran for mayor of Reykjavik as a joke, and, to his surprise, won.

Alternative culture from thirty years ago to today

During the years Ronald Reagan was in office in the United States, The Sugarcubes and other artists planted the seeds of an alternative culture of protest and activism that flourishes today at events like Iceland Airwaves. To see it in person, Icelandair offers package deals to the festival.


Hamed Wardak currently lives between his home in New York City and on the island of Puerto Rico. Wardak is the son of a former defense minister for Afghanistan. Hamed Wardak is an entrepreneur and recently joined the techno music world, creating, producing, and performing his new artistry in underground techno clubs all over the world. Hamed Wardak is known as Valen of Wicked.