While only a handful of bands from Iceland have reached global acclaim, that doesn’t mean the magnificent island isn’t erupting with talent. During the most recent Iceland Airwaves music festival—our first time returning to the multi-venue international showcase since 2010—we were once again taken by Nordic acts—the local bands especially. From the broad range of genres to incredible performances and incisive lyrics to insane beats, the following standouts took us by storm. And with these five bands and at least 13 others from Iceland headed for tours around Europe and to the Netherlands’ Eurosonic festival this January, there are still plenty of opportunities to catch them live.
This year the festival sported many other acts, from CH favorite Sin Fang and the French retro-surf outfit La Femme to The Knife’s last-ever concert and an eccentric headlining performance from The Flaming Lips. But there’s something to be said about seeing smaller bands, especially when you can easily stumble into their performances at multiple venues across Reykjavik at all times of the day or night. Iceland may be a small country, but their music culture packs some tremendous might.
When you apply clarinet and percussion to undulating electronics, and unify it all with a voice reminiscent of Bjorkian-whispers, Samaris is born. The music from this three-piece is nothing shy of ethereal, with lyrics being drawn from historic Icelandic poems and the vibe being on the chill side. Their live performances offer up atmospheric heights, oscillating between dreamy and sway-worthy. Altogether, it’s a soothing, thoughtful experience.
We first caught this rock’n’roll quartet (thankfully, as they had to cancel a few Iceland shows due to illness) over in the Faroe Islands’ G! Festival, and since then they’ve accrued over one million Spotify listens on their first international single “All the Pretty Girls.” Kaleo is a little bit of everything: indie rock, ’50s R&B, ’60s folk. And yet there’s something entirely Icelandic about them. Their performances bank on lead singer Jökull Júlíusson’s charming falsetto for gentler tracks and a more raucous energy for their rock-infused pieces. There’s melody, harmony and at times, a blitz of guitars.
DJ Flugvél og Geimskip
Not a DJ at all, but an incredibly eccentric electronic singer/songwriter, DJ Flugvél og Geimskip explains each track she performs before rollicking and frollicking through each. While highly percussive and layered with digital flourishes, among personal headbangs and even giggles, this solo outfit touches upon everything from dangerous snakes to cats. And yet, it’s sung in Icelandic so all one is left with happens to be eerie, nuanced songs that draw inspiration from carnival music, spaceships and mystery. The performances are colorful and rhythmic, and most closely defined by her own description: horror-electronic.
Falling somewhere between the XX and The Knife, Vök happens to be an electronic duo with a saxophonist. Their low-key, electronic beats offer up smooth melodies with a potent edge. There’s a nice sing-along element to the choruses of their English language tracks. And the saxophone adds a nice touch to the layered guitars and keyboards.
Post-punkish, almost Joy Division-like, and with a commanding stage presence, the trio Fufanu offers a dark slow swirl of guitars and electronics. There’s a morose, cerebral edge to their lengthy tracks—with each dragging listeners deeper inward. The live performance brings elements of intense psychedelia, but this is definitely music concert goers can get aggressive with.
Iceland Airwaves will take place again next year, the first full weekend of November 2015.
Lead image, DJ Flugvel and The Flaming Lips image by David Graver, Samaris image courtesy of Haje Jan Kamps, Fufanu image courtesy of Sebastien Dehesdin for The Line of Best Fit.