If you travel out of the U.S. to festivals around the world, the general constant is that you still wind up seeing a lot of American artists. There are exceptions, but festivals often act as excuses for young touring American musicians to visit countries they might not ordinarily stop at, or for larger artists to return for memorable marquee appearances. For Iceland Airwaves, there are certainly international artists making their way to Reykjavik for the 2019 edition — notably Mac DeMarco, Whitney, Shame, and Chai — but this festival is as much of a springboard for their country’s own talent as it is a showcase for visiting artists.
The result is something special, a festival that works not only to bring their local audience some rising artists that might not ordinarily visit the Northern Atlantic nation, but also as a spotlight for their own thriving music scene. Casual listeners will know Bjork and Sigur Ros as Icelandic standouts, but their musical history is far deeper than just their most successful representatives. 2019 will offer up a band like Of Monsters And Men, who recently returned to the top of the Billboard Alternative Charts, as well as many lesser-known acts on the global stage.
Over the course of several days from November 6-9, the music venues of Iceland’s biggest city will take part in this musical takeover, while the daytime will host the Iceland Airwaves Pro conference. Clubs, bars, and even an art museum will take part, giving music fans a chance to see artists both big and small in intimate locations. But for those unfamiliar with Iceland’s music scene, the festival’s Director, Will Larnach-Jones, has given a list of ten Icelandic artists that attendees should be sure to carve out time for, along with the reasoning behind the inclusion. And if you can’t make the festival this year, it’s not a bad idea to check out these artists regardless, and immerse yourself in one of the most underrated music scenes on the planet.
Ásta’s music is timeless, fragile and beautiful. Her background is classical music – she’s got some serious chops – having played the viola since she was three years old and she’s been a soloist with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. She’s recently been singing and writing her own music, people have been calling her poetic and folkish with a hint of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, but I hear Nick Drake in here, too. Ásta was awarded 3rd place at 2019 Icelandic Music Experiments, as well as receiving The Best Lyrics award. This is her first time performing at Iceland Airwaves and I am so excited to see her perform.
Une Misère is somewhere between hardcore and metal – I’m not qualified to say exactly where! But I feel their sound is somehow inherently linked to Iceland. They’re total road dogs, touring mercilessly and their live show is electrifying and so tight. I saw them at Eurosonic earlier this year and they took the roof off. They’ve signed to Nuclear Blast records for the world and their debut album is set to drop imminently. They’re going to bring the Art Museum to life when they perform at Airwaves.
Kaelan Mikla is a darkwave trio with plaintive synths – to me they’re evocative of the both past and future. Their music recalls a time where things could be ‘pop’ but far more dark and interesting than most stuff today – more like ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ or ‘A Forest’ by The Cure, that kind of electronic cold yet foggy feeling, slightly scary. Robert Smith is a fan actually, he invited the band to take part in his Meltdown Festival at Southbank, too. Did I mention they also look cool as f*ck – witchy, cool and intriguing? They’re opening the festival this year.
Iceland Airwaves newbies! I don’t know much about Hipsumhaps, but they make dreamy, lo-fi indie laced guitar-driven pop. Their debut album Best Gleymdu Leyndarmálin is all over Icelandic radio right now and you can hear why, they’re really catchy and their sounds completely effortless.
Jóipé x Króli
JóiPé x Króli are ace. Their live shows are super energetic and in under three years they’ve already released three albums, with a fourth on the way. Lyrically they’ve found a way to cross over in a big way in Iceland, with well over 30 million streams on Spotify – remember that in Iceland a physical album is accredited Platinum sales at 5,000 copies. They have a new album dropping imminently and they’ll be joining the showcase for AWAL, making another step towards international success.
They’ve had a big year of success and contradictions. I think Eurovision was like a Trojan Horse for Hatari – it got them worldwide attention to flirt with controversy – but once they were centre stage they used to meaningfully express their creative ideas and political beliefs. The BDSM gear, graphics, staging and all is wildly entertaining but I like the music very much, too – I fell into a total “HATRIÐ MUN SIGRA” wormhole this year and listened to it 1,000 times. This will be their biggest show at Iceland Airwaves yet, they’re always an Airwaves favourite.
ROKKY is totally fresh – Icelandic producer, performer and vocalist via London and Berlin. She makes great techno-infused pop, it recalls things to me like Technotronic and Chicks On Speed. She’s deadpan and cool, you can hear her French electronic music and pop and her embracing of Berlin’s club and techno scene very clearly.
What’s not to love about Svavar? He’s a real troubadour in the truest sense, a charming storyteller and raconteur. His music reaches into the murky waters of the human condition, but all the while entertaining and captivating. And on top it all the nicest man as well. He’s going to be performing at a beautiful church called Frikirkjan, and I understand he’s pulling together some special things for his performance including strings and more.
Of Monsters And Men
It’s been a huge year for Of Monsters And Men with a Billboard #1 Rock album, sold out shows around the world, their song ‘Alligator’ devouring radio everywhere. Also, it’s been a long while between shows in Iceland, so this one will be a bit of homecoming of sorts. They’ll be topping the night on Saturday at Valshöllin, and from all the footage I have seen of their tour this year, it looks set to be a fantastic way to round off Airwaves this year.
Love the spare and strong music of Sunna, sounds like skating over ice, running away from something. Spare and exciting, I hear hints of Little Earthquakes-era Tori Amos amongst other things. I think she talks about her music in terms of “innocence and gloom” and that sums it up pretty well.
Iceland Airwaves takes place from November 6-9 in Reykjavik. You can get tickets here.