I gotta admit, this is one of the posts about my trip that I’ve been most excited to write, mainly because discovering new music is a passion for me no matter where I am in the world. But it was especially exciting in Iceland, a country that is chock full of so many incredible bands and musicians. Most people are already familiar with Björk, Of Monsters and Men, and Sigur Rós, and although each one of them is fantastic, that’s just scratching the surface of the music coming out of this country.
At the bottom of this post I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite bands and musicians whose work I was introduced to during this trip (and a couple from my last time here in 2013). The list below is not meant to be comprehensive–they are simply the ones who’ve been heavy in my own personal rotation.
If you’re looking for the latest artists who’ve emerged or who are on the cusp of emerging during your stay in Iceland, you don’t have to go further than the local Reykjavík record shops to find out who you should be listening to. From my experience, the shop clerks are incredibly knowledgeable about the latest local music and are happy to share their recommendations with you.
This last time around, I spent a lovely afternoon at 12 Tónar listening to the artists recommended to me by the owner. (I especially enjoyed this experience because they have listening stations set up throughout the store so you can hear the albums before you buy. They even served me some espresso–a clever way to reel me in/make me more motivated to make a purchase there. Spoiler: It worked.). Lucky Records is another great spot with a massive collection–I was lucky enough to be within walking distance of this shop during my first trip here and discovered a lot of great artists during that first short stay.
Keep in mind though, as with just about everything in the country, vinyl can be quite expensive, and new albums can range between $25-$45 USD (or higher, depending on the item). Whenever I go into a shop, I generally ask which albums/artists are hard to find outside of the country and start there (though it doesn’t hurt to do a quick search on your phone to be sure it’s not something you might be able to get for cheaper back home. I was able to find most of the artists on Spotify and SoundCloud, and their records for sale on Amazon). Of course supporting local businesses is always best, but if your bank account can’t afford to take home all the records you love, use these avenues to pare down your selections.
The Reykjavík Grapevine is also a great resource for new artists and releases, in addition to must-see concerts happening in town. If you’re looking to take in some live music, be sure to check out what’s happening at Húrra while you’re here–this is a popular spot with locals and tourists alike.
Ásgeir: I first heard Ásgeir when I came to Iceland in 2013–the previous year he dominated the Icelandic Music Awards. I’ve heard that pretty much everyone in Iceland has a copy of one of his albums, but that hasn’t been verified for sure (aside from several people relaying this fact to me). A lot of his records in his homeland have him billed by his first and last name, Ásgeir Trausti, but internationally he’s generally listed just as Ásgeir.
I definitely heard this song on the radio nonstop this last go-round (even though it’s apparently a Christmas song…?). Apparently it’s been a hit since it debuted and remains steady in the rotation (which I can definitely attest to).
Ólafur Arnalds: Ólafur Arnalds is in a lot of ways probably like the Sufjan Stevens of Iceland, just in regards to the breadth of his work/projects, though his span is a bit different. Classically trained, his work covers everything from reinterpretations of Chopin, dance mixes with his side project Kiasmos (who I actually got to see perform at Húrra a few weeks ago), and his own ethereal-type stuff, which was big-time comfort music for me last winter.
low roar: Another band that was on seriously high rotation during my trip and since coming home. A very mellow listening experience, at times it almost reminds me of early Radiohead (though I fear getting flack for making that comparison).
Hugar: Came across these guys unexpectedly when they opened for Kiasmos. As I watched them play, I was pretty much convinced they were the reason I came to Iceland. I ended up spending a lot of time with their debut album in the weeks that followed that show. I especially love the track “Horn”–it was incredible to hear it played live.
GusGus: This band was recommended to me by several locals. Based out of Reykjavík and around since 1995, this group specializes in house and electronica. With 9 studio albums (and 1 live one) to choose from, there’s definitely a wide breadth of work to explore from this artist. Admittedly, I have a love/hate with their stuff, but I’ve enjoyed checking out tunes focused on certain places in Iceland, especially after spending time in these places (kind of cool to listen to Selfoss after spending some time there).
samaris: If electronica is your bag, then this is another band worth checking out. Winner of the 2011 Icelandic Músíktilraunir competition, the group has become a popular favorite among locals and abroad. Jófríður Ákadóttir breathy vocals contrasts well with their somewhat heavier sound. Their self-titled debut album adds another interesting mix of Icelandic culture to its music by creating lyrics from verses from 19th-century Icelandic poems.
If live music is your scene, stay tuned for Pt. 2 where I overview some of the music festivals that are popular in the country!