Each November, thousands of music fans from all over the world flock to Reykjavik for the city’s annual gathering, Iceland Airwaves. It’s a four-day festival which this year attracted over 8,500 attendees.
Notable headliners over the years have included Flaming Lips, Hot Chip, Beach House and our own Hozier, but it’s not the international buy-ins that the festival is most proud of.
In stark contrast to many other international music festivals out there, Airwaves features a majority of local acts most years, with 150 of the 240 acts in 2018 hailing from the chilly island nation.
So what’s the draw for a festival-goer from Ireland, the US or the UK, buying a ticket for a line-up packed with bands they’ve often never heard of? Well, if an act hails from Iceland, they’re likely worth the risk.
The country lives and breathes great music, from soulful folk to synth-fuelled pop to heavy metal. Yes, Iceland gave us Sigur Rós and Björk, but there’s a whole new generation of artists that have followed in their stead.
Curious? Here are a few Icelandic bands to add to your 2019 playlists…
Gaukur Grétuson is hip-hop royalty in his native country. He has played at some of Iceland’s largest venues, and at his Hard Rock Café gig during Airwaves 2018, the crowd was shouting every word back to him. Shouting the lyrics might prove a tougher task for audiences outside of Iceland though, as the rapper only writes in Icelandic. GKR’s brand of heavy, sweaty, unfiltered hip hop will definitely give your 2019 playlists a sheen of cool, even if you have no idea what his songs mean.
Check him out if you like: Kid Cudi, Cardi B or Lil Yachty
Here’s a track to get you started: Hellaður
If you find some electro pop acts a little too sugary, but still love a good bop, Hildur is for you. Although she mainly sticks to synth and vocals on stage, Hildur’s also a trained cellist, and her classical knowledge shines through on tracks like Picture Perfect and Everyday. After a summer on the European festival circuit, a second turn at Iceland Airwaves in November and a couple of dates in Toronto and New York to round the year off, 2018 was a busy one for Hildur. There’s no talk of an album as yet, but with an EP and a handful of singles already, a bigger release can’t be too far off.
Check her out if you like: Christine And The Queens, Aurora and London Grammar
Here’s a track to get you started: Picture Perfect
3. Tara Mobee
At Airwaves 2018, Tara Mobee’s poptastic set was a refreshing break from some of the heavier local acts. In fact, Mobee’s style couldn’t be any more different from her Icelandic counterparts – think Dua Lipa with a slight Nordic edge. The majority of Mobee’s lyrics, as she told us from the stage, were inspired by unrequited crushes or arguments with friends, so there’s a definite ‘teenage starlet’ vibe. Teenager or not, tracks like Sometimes will have you dancing all night long.
Check her out if you like: Charli XCX and Alessia Cara
Here’s a track to get you started: Sometimes
Fans of the energetic pop collective FM Belfast will find lots to love in Milkywhale, not least because it’s a side project of FM Belfast’s Árni Rúnar Hlöðverssson. You won’t see Árni on stage much though – he provides the music from behind the scenes while Melkorka Sigríður Magnúsdóttir offers up high powered vocals and choreography. The pair joined forces in 2015 for a college performance project, and clearly found a dynamic that worked, because their first album dropped in 2017.
Check them out if you like: FM Belfast (obvs), The XX and Grimes
Here’s a track to get you started: Birds of Paradise
5. Between Mountains
Katla and Ásrós live on neighbouring Icelandic fjords, so there’s literally a mountain between them. Smart name aside, this teenage duo have a soulful, folk-inspired sound that feels well beyond their years, with seriously powerful harmonies too. The pair won Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s annual Battle Of The Bands competition, two years ago, aged just 16 and 14. Since then, they’ve put out two singles, but here’s hoping there are more to come.
Check them out if you like: Heathers, Belle and Sebastian and First Aid Kit
Here’s a track to get you started: Into The Dark