Ngulik, vol. 1: Overview of the Icelandic Music Scene

By: Ralka Skjerseth |

Icelandic music has been around since a long time ago. One of the oldest recollections regarding Icelandic music is its rich folk music. There are folk songs from Iceland that have been around since the late 19th century, and one of them is Sofðu Unga Ástin Mín that was derived from an Icelandic play called Fjalla-Eyvindur written by Jóhann Sigurjónsson. In the early 20th century, classical music was also quite prominent in Iceland with Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson being one of the pioneers of the emergence of classical Icelandic music. Nevertheless, the actual scene of Icelandic music actually came to exist during the 60s.

Back in the 60s, one of the most renowned names in the Icelandic scene was Hljómar, also known as Thor’s Hammer. They played garage rock and fuzz rock music. Outside of Iceland, they were pretty popular in the UK. Their sources of inspiration include The Who and The Beatles. During the late 60s until the early 70s, a psychedelic/progressive supergroup that consist of Hljómar and Flowers members, Trúbrot, also came into existence. Rúnar Júlíusson was one of the most influential pioneers in the Icelandic rock scene during the 60-70s. In the 80s, one of the bands that kind of caught my interest was Þeyr, who played new wave and post punk music. One of their members, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, once collaborated with Sigur Rós in composing the soundtrack to Angels of the Universe. Moving on to the 90s, The Sugarcubes got quite a lot of exposure. That band was one of the projects involved in Björk’s early career. Besides The Sugarcubes, she was also involved in a funk and jazz-infused punk band called Tappi Tíkarrass and a post punk band called Kukl.

When it comes to the Icelandic indie and alternative scene, one of the bands I have taken a huge interest towards was Seabear, an indie folk unit that recently came back from hiatus. Their frontman, Sindri Már Sigfússon, has two solo projects that mainy revolve around indie pop, called Sin Fang and Pojke. Some other indie and alternative acts that I also dig include a pair of twins that formed a lo-fi duo called Pascal Pinon, one of Seabear’s members named Sóley who started a solo project, and one of the bands that won Músiktilraunir (an Icelandic annual song contest) and got into quite a tremendous fame, called Of Monsters and Men.

Now, let’s move on to the punk music scene. One of the bands in the Icelandic punk music scene that I took an interest in is Jakobinarina. They have also been featured on the FIFA 09 soundtrack—it’s too bad they only lasted for four years. Some of the other Icelandic punk acts that I like are Morðingjarnir and Fræbbblarnir.

Moving on to the Icelandic metal music scene, some of the good names I recommend are Sólstafir (post-black metal; for fans of Deafheaven and Alcest), and some spectacular black metal names such as Svartidauði, Naðra, Carpe Noctem, and Misþyrming. There’s just this one atmospheric vibe that I can’t get over from the Icelandic black metal scene. The Viking/folk metal act Skálmöld is also included; you’d like them if you are into names such as Wardruna, Enslaved, Einherjer, Bathory, and so on. When it comes to Icelandic rock music, some that I recommend are Singapore Sling (characterized by shoegaze-ish elements), Mammút (powerful female-fronted band), Reykjavik! (contains subversive lyrics), and Sálin hans Jóns míns (catchy upbeat tunes).

And now we move on to experimental music; one of the experimental acts from Iceland that managed to gain worldwide recognition is Múm. Their genre is experimental pop and one of their members Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason, is involved in some other musical projects that are also worth checking such as Benni Hemm Hemm, Singapore Sling, Skakkamanage, and FM Belfast. One of their ex-members, Hildur Guðnadóttir, is an experimental cellist who has previously composed scorings for several renowned movies such as Chernobyl and Joker.

In the Icelandic neo-classical scene, some of the renowned names include Ólafur Arnalds (who used to be a hardcore/metal drummer) and Daniel Bjarnason. Ólafur Arnalds also has a cousin who is a fellow musician named Ólöf Arnalds. The neo-classical music scene in Iceland is associated with the Icelandic label Bedroom Community that was founded by the experimental musician Valgeir Sigurðsson.

What about the more « modern » side of the Icelandic music industry ? Some of the recognizable electronic and techno names from Iceland include FM Belfast. Sykur. GusGus, Hatari, and JFDR. JFDR is Jófríður Ákadóttir —one half of Pascal Pinon—’s solo project. The post-rock scene is also quite emerging in Iceland thanks to Sigur Rós. One of the most spectacular Icelandic post rock acts besides SR is For a Minor Reflection (fun fact: their guitarist Kjartan Holm is the younger brother of Sigur Rós’ Georg Holm). As for post rock, there’s also Stórsveit Nix Noltes that comes off as pretty subversive as it is mixed with Balkan folk elements. Their members consist of Benni Hemm Hemm and Múm members.

Iceland also has several music festivals, with the most notable ones being Iceland Airwaves, where the audience could reach the number of 9000, also Aldrei fór ég suður that is usually free of charge, and Eistnaflug, one of Iceland’s largest metal festivals. The Icelandic scene is also strongly associated with the German record label Morr Music. Múm, Sóley, Pascal Pinon, and Sin Fang happen to be Morr Music rosters. Although, Iceland also has its own prominent record label called Smekkleysa.

I think that’s all from me about the Icelandic music scene. So far I find the scene diverse and eclectic, presenting interesting takes on various backgrounds and genres.

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