An entirely Icelandic playlist

This is a unique playlist where ALL the artists included are Icelandic. Icelandic people are very fond of their cultural heritage and musical tradition which is intrinsically related to the rímur (the 14th-century rhymes used commonly by some artists as the basis for their songs), the sagas, their language. The skillful Björk along with Múm, GusGus, and Sigur Rós might be the most well-known musicians from this country, however, when you start to look into Icelandic artists you can find real treasures. Rock, electro, folk, music for films… Their music and legacy are simply amazing! It is admirable how such a tiny and low populated country has made its way through so many different mediums so strikingly well.

101 is the postcode for Reykjavik Miðborg, the city centre, and also how Reykjavík’s core culture is colloquially appealed to. Here is where you can find the buoyant Laugavegurwhich is less than a five-minute walk from the experienced artists’ home and the youngest ones which are still to be heard. A nice way to discover new Icelandic music, if you like electro and experimental music, is to attend the Airwaves festival, at the beginning of the winter in the country’s capital. It’s been on since 1999 and the first gig of the festival took place in a warehouse during a windstorm and hence this name. After almost 20 years of existence, it still is one of Europe’s places where you can check out the most innovative and “underground” sounds.

Many of the artists are proud to sing in their beautiful and consonantal mother tongue that I’d love to speak. For example, Samaris have switched to English in their second album, and many bands mix them both in one album, like Ásgeir Trausti, who even translates a song in both languages. The beautiful and varied Icelandic landscape is reflected in this diverse playlist, since this is the music of a whole country which works on farms, takes care of horses and sheep but also makes throbbing tunes that give the world a shout out to listen to them and inevitably fall in love with this great small country. Pop, blues, electronic beats that get trapped in your head for hours, ambient, a bunch of experimental stuff, downtempo, rock, ska, reggae, etc. and music which is impossible to categorize in just one genre. It is said Biogen is the Icelandic Aphex Twin as he also craves exploring macabre contrasts and eccentric dream worlds.

 

 

Each song has its story underneath and Minn hinsti dans by Páll Óskar is a song I felt in love with when I listened to it on Eurovision Contest in 1997 – By that time it used to be interesting and fun to listen to all those European languages from each single country, which used to be proud of singing and showing the world the musicality of their prose). It is somehow a childhood song I embrace very dearly. Even though many of the artists are on Spotify, some as The Funerals aren’t yet there (there’s actually a band called “The Funerals” on Spotify but they’re more recent and they are not Icelandic, but German). They are not the happiest sounding act in the world, but as Paul Sullivan claims on his book “their genius for updating blues/country music into a raw and more crapulous context makes you want to head for the bottle and divide your time squarely between laughing and crying.” I have copied a link of them performing live on Skjár 1 TV in 2001.

 

101 is the pulsing heart of Reykjavík. […] Iceland has had a reputation for consistently coming up with the musical goods. It’s no exaggeration to say that music has played a major role in putting the country firmly on the world map. The isolated island, roughly the same size as Cuba with one-fortieth of the population, has managed to produce a steady flow of young bands over the last 25-30 years – Sigur Ros, Múm, GusGus, Lhooq, Apparat Organ Quartet, Trabant, The Leaves, The Funerals, Samaris – which have charmed music fans worldwide with high calibre and often quite left-field sounds.
[…]
I asked him what the advantages of being a producer in Iceland were.
“Intimacy and working with really good music,” he said. “Bands here know they probably won’t make the cost, let alone profit from their albums, so they just want to make a record they can be proud of. The result is often more interesting and more genuine than you might get from artists they rely on music as an income. Also, because there are so few of us, there is less fighting over the bands that you want to produce. I think we are all sharing the scene in a quite brotherly way right now.”
And the disadvantages?
“The disadvantages are that the market is really small. Because of this there is less money around, which means more interesting music but cheaper or worse equipment in studios and less time for projects.”

Sullivan, P. (2003) Waking Up In Iceland. London, United Kingdom: Sanctuary Publishing.

 

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