Iceland is one of the most musically diverse countries in the world. You can find everything and anything your heart desires so it’s no surprise to find a full-fledged Disco band in 2016. Disco isn’t all that strange for Iceland, Þórir Baldursson was rather successful in the 70’s working with Donna Summer during the global disco hay-day, and I’m pretty sure there are closets and caves with hidden disco balls and way too tight disco pants all over the island.
Klara Arnalds, Ingibjörg Elsa Turchi, Sunna Karen Einarsdóttir, Sindri Freyr Steinsson, Arnar Birgiss and Sigurður Tómas Guðmundsson are all Boogie trouble. I first saw them a few years ago at Iceland Airwaves, their live gigs are more parties than gigs and it only took a short time before they became local favorites. I’ve written about them before And this review is about their highly anticipated new album Í Bænum.
Quite frankly, Í Bænum is the perfect rump shaking album for summer. There are layers of horns, percussion, strings and a good share of bwap-bwap guitars all wrapped around a solid dancing beat that just doesn’t quit. Klara Arnald’s voice is perfect for this style of music, strong enough to rival the brass yet nimble while it dances in between the other musical players, such as on the title track:
My second favorite track on the album, “Gleymmér ey.” opens with almost a disco-80’s fusion type of sound before Arnalds voice comes to us in a lower pitch. The beat remains a highly energetic roll of percussion reminiscent of a stampede of horses rolling over the countryside.
I wasn’t going to translate any songs as my Icelandic is limited to colors, time, and asking where the bar is. But “Moldun” has become my favorite track on the album because when you listen to it, it basically translates itself. It’s fairly obvious that the song is about a disco space cowboy who has landed on a strange planet in search of his beloved disco ball which has gone missing. Feeling all alone and run out of town for being a strange disco space cowboy, he finally finds the disco ball in rafters of an old Icelandic countryside church shining down on many disco cowpeople grooving away. I mean, I could be wrong but I’m 99.2% sure I’m correct:
All in all this album will make you dance. It has become a necessary album on our party playlist, and DJ sets. Even my local bar has begun playing a few tracks off of it to keep the night interesting. You can listen to the entire album and purchase it here on Bandcamp, and I highly suggest you follow them on Facebook.
There are a lot of “top 10 Icelandic bands you should know” floating around these days. They all seem to list the same bands, half of which we already know.
By now, any person who even knows the minimal of Icelandic music knows bands and musicians such as the Sugarcubes, Björk, Sigur Rós, Ásgeir, Amiina, Mum, Seabear, Of Monsters and Men and Sin Fang. They are killing it on a global scope and are getting air play and reviews in almost every music mag out there, so I’m leaving them out of my list, they’re wonderful and loverly but we already know that.
There is a book on the history of pop and rock in Iceland called Blue Eyed pop. It’s an extremely entertaining read, all your favorite bands will be in there with their histories, and it’s shocking to see just how connected even the most distant genre types really are. It’s become one of my favorite books to loan to people, and the hardest book to get back when they’re done.
So here it is, my top 15 bands you should know, split into three categories, Veterans, Been around the blockers, and Freshies. Aside from that, there is no rhyme or reason to their order. Clicking on the band heading will take you to either a blog post I’ve written about them, or their respective interwebby pages:
I have been in love with this band since I first heard them almost a decade go. I love all three of their albums, and the sneak peaks we’re getting of the new album, such as the video above, make me happy indeed. They’ve been playing for over a decade and a half, and if you’re fans of that minimal yet heavy sound, you’ll go nuts for them. Click here for more info, including Soundcloud links. Perfect for twilight drives through the desert or pre-night shenanigans.
One of the best dance party bands out of Iceland, their live concerts typically end with hysteric crowds jamming around in nothing but their underwear. If they ever come near your town, they are a must see, you won’t be disappointed, well unless you don’t like to smile and dance. It’s hard to listen to their albums without jumping a little while smiling. I reviewed the new album here, and that post also has links to more of their goodiness. Perfect for party times and getting large crowds of people partially nekkid.
Imagine that, the crazy guy from the Sugarcubes has his own crazy band. By far my favorite band to see every year Iceland Airwaves, his break-neck rant-ish style backed up by the almost genius mixing of Curver Thoroddson make the perfect album for walking around a busy city. Another act that should be witnessed live for full effect. The video above also has Sóley, which I’ll get to later. Perfect for going crazy.
As My Summer as a Salvation Soldier, Þórir made one of my favorite songs, TheRiver. It’s been quite a journey with his singer songwriter style, as it’s not all kumbyah’s and strumming around a campfire. There are pop ditties, and an album of split personalities harshly contrasting each other in thrash and calmness. It’s creative weirdness, and well worth getting into. Depending on the album, it’s perfect for most situations.
Part of the Icelandic supergroup Seabear, Sóley has quite the solo catalog under her belt. She took time off to raise a family after “We Sink” but I just saw her at ATP Iceland, and she’s definitely back in the thick of it. Her charming voice, and well orchestrated band make for a perfect evening/road trip record.
I’ve called her the offspring of Nancy Sinatra and June Carter. Her voice is full with the slightest hint of a smokey, well rounded accent. Her back catalog has quite the folk/country feel. And the new album, “Talking about the weather” has a more full, larger band approach. It’s one of my favorite road trip albums, and was on my top list of albums to come out last year. The video above is from the new album. For me, pretty much perfect anytime.
A stage completely filled with tubes, wires and organs. These guys are amazing live as nothing is typically preset. They are a fun, high energy band synthesizing the hell out of their organs for the audience and listeners enjoyment. In 2010 I saw them by accident at Airwaves, and I’ve been an uber-fan since. Perfect for all musically inclined nerds, for rocking out on the weekend, and for when you need a climatic build up before taking on the world.
They’ve been called shoegazers, and I s’pose it fits. They won me over last year at Airwaves with both their interruptive irreverence at Harpa and their actual full gig. Heavy instruments and floating lyrics, excellent music for afternoon BBQ’s and video gaming sessions. Perfect for getting your jam on, I’ve yet to gaze at my shoes when seeing them.
Imagine if you will, walking right after twilight in the desert or across a foggy field of snow. Nothing but the wilderness casting strange shadows all around you as you trek forward towards your final destination. That’s how the very poetic sound of Samaris hits me. Their new album not available in the US yet, Silkidranga, is less atmospheric and more dance-like. But the trio’s ability to captivate my ADHD addled brain is quite impressive. Perfect for druidian chants in the countryside.
This 5 piece could almost be considered veterans as well, they’ve been at it for over 9 years. Their lead singer with her Grace slick style singing, over heavy instrumentation makes for great albums and great gigs. Perfect rock out music, the above video is their new, first official music video.
What started out as a high school songwriting project has turned into quite the band. They’ve had local success for years, but the new album has projected them into the global realm. Fantastic band live and on record, I highly suggest checking out their new album, Enter 4. Perfect for get togethers with friends, as well as swooning sessions over that damned sexy long blond head of hair.
Simple, yet energetic, I love this new band out of Iceland. It completely reminds me what we’d listen to on our way to the big city for gigs during the summers of my youth. There’s a sunny, west coast type Violent Femmes era feel to the music, and I haven’t come close to being sick of their album, “I need you to go to Hell.” Which I highly suggest you give a listen to. If this sucker gets heard, I really think it has potential to make a lot of folks happy this summer. Video above is their new video for my favorite song off their album.
Ohhh, sweet funky disco. This band won my favorite new act of 2013, incredibly fun to watch and the locals go crazy for them. Right this moment they have a crowd funding effort to put out their new album, so go help them out. And try to listen to their music without wiggling your butt…ain’t gonna happen. I was going to put an original track as the video, but I think this cover is pretty awesome.
Nooo shit, there’s a garage punk band that has emerged on the rock. A little Ramones, a little Deadbolt; A lot of Trans Am and Camero mullets. They are trashy, thrashy, and a completely new guilty pleasure of mine. Sometimes it’s the slimy little things in life that make one smile.
Recap and final band:
It’s difficult to limit my list with 10 or 15 bands,, as the scene is constantly changing, and there are always bands coming up that you should know. The best way to keep up on it is to check out The Icelandic Music Export website, blogs such as mine, or rok musik. There are still an epic amount of bands left, such as Grísalappalísa (punk), Snorri Helgason (folk), Sudden Weather Change (harder rock), For a Minor Reflection (Post-rock), Mr. Silla, Fufanu (electro-rock), and the old greats such as HAM, SH Draumur and etc…..
There is one band, of which I will never get to see live regrettably so. They were a great noisy punk experiment, and their music get played regularly at my house. Great for rocking out, and shaking your head when there really is no other way, I present Skátar playing Mahatma Gandhi with Gylfi of Kimono:
Update: Due to the overwhelming response this got, I have made a second list based on the readers suggested additions to this original ist.
Disco? In Iceland? I’ll let you all in on a dirty little secret, Icelanders once disco’d the hell out of disco. In fact, one of their own, Þórir Baldursson was rather successful in the US working with Donna Summers and others during the global disco hayday. While Disco on the small island may have been short lived, Boogie Trouble is doing a fine job of bringing it back with their ‘disco-funk-full-o-soul’ style of music.
Boogie trouble started in 2011. Myth has it the band tweaked a reggae tune to match their style and decided to keep at it. The members are all experienced musicians, with Ingibjörg Elsa Turchi formerly of Rökkurró on bass; Helga Ragnarsdóttir currently of Rökkurró on keys; Sigurður Tómas Guðmundsson formerly of Snorri Helgason’s old band Sprengjuhöllin on drums; Sindri Freyr Steinsson from Iceland’s Surf rock band Bárujárn on guitar and vocals, and lead singer Klara Arnalds, who has the ability to soothingly punch the grumpies out of any audience member within range of her energetic smile and waves of flying hair.
On my must see list at Iceland Airwaves this year, the band came highly recommended from a slew of Icelandic musicians. There is a dangerous line that can be crossed when playing funk or disco, but their strong songwriting and musical craftwork bring the energy and fun of that era while leaving behind any unintentional signs of gimmick. They were tight on the instruments and every one of them on stage appeared to be having a good time.
Most of their songs are in Icelandic, but the manner in which they are written, and the enjoyment and energy the band projects from the stage make the language barrier moot. They do have a few cover songs, including Britney Spear’s Toxic, which you can download for free at Soundcloud.
They are promising new stuff and even an album soon in the future. They are on Facebook, as well as Soundcloud. And the band was nice enough to answer my 4 very not-so-serious questions:
1. What is your favorite off-venue Airwaves, or Icelandic joint to jam at? The best place to go partying is probably Harlem because even when it sucks it is tolerable. The best place to play music used to be Faktorý but that got torn down to build hotels.
2. If you combine all of your favorite colors (for you, add your bandmates if you would), what do you get? Litographicly probably some sort of brown sludge. That or purple.
3. What are 3 of your favorite little known bands of Icelandic origin? Svartidauði, Nolo, Ojba Rasta, the list goes on. A lot of talented people happen to live on this rock.
4. If you could be any creature playing your favorite song, what would the creature be? And what is the song. Cthulu playing Strawberry letter 23, with The Brothers Johnson. That would probably be deep.
Now for the recap on Airwaves, Yes initially I was going to do a day by day, yes I was ambitious. No, after day 1, it didn’t happen. So, I am going to do a couple blog posts on stuff that was new to me, and stuff I dug.
To start off, Kudos to the Iceland Airwaves staff and crew. This was the smoothest I’ve seen it run, and I really appreciate how much help they are, even to us small potatoes that dig music and blog about it out of fun and not as our careers. So, thank you guys for another great year.
As with all 5 years that I’ve attended, there was good, and there was notsogood. The high points out numbered the rare low points and it’s easy to call this my favorite music festival of the year.
One of the highlights was the off-venue schedule being added to the app. It really made picking a band during the middle of the day a lot easier, and if the off-venue performance you wanted was too crowded, it was easy to pick something else. And this year that became more important than in the past, as it seemed the off venues were packed almost all the time, and quick changes of plans were necessary.
DJ. flugvél og geimskip
My goal was to focus on Icelandic bands that I had not heard before, I relied heavily on the suggestions other Icelandic musicians and friends, and regardless of their genre I made an attempt to see them play. I did make an exception to my rule in order to see Zola Jesus, FM Belfast, and John Grant. But all the other bands on my schedule were Icelandic, and/or bands I had seen once or twice. And with over 200 of them rarely did I have a time where I couldn’t find something to see.
Top 3 new bands I had not seen before were Boogie Trouble, Oyama, and Hudson Wayne. Oyama was on my list based on the blog I did about them, and Boogie trouble was a must see, as a lot of Icelandic friends and musicians recommended I not miss their gig.
Boogie Trouble at Hressó
Boogie trouble’s upbeat music came in second only to their lead singers energy and charisma. She was laughing, dancing around the place, and the entire band jammed away at both gigs I attended. Two entirely different crowds for those shows, and yet the band created the same party like atmosphere in both situations. They played the first day I was in town at Lucky Records, and again at Hressó near the end of the festival. Well worth the recommends they received, and their cover of Britney Spear’s Toxic is not to be missed.
While so called “shoe-gazing” music isn’t typically my jam, I was excited to see Oyama, as I like the music I’ve heard and was interested to see how their live show would turn out. I also saw Oyama twice, once in front of the 12 Tónar shop at Harpa, and once at the Amsterdam bar the last night of Airwaves.
Oyama rockin the walls of Harpa
The off-venue gig at Harpa turned scandalous, as the band was just too wild and crazy for the stone cold walls, and as their music filled the event hall, it breached the serenity of the Ólafur Arnalds Symphony experience, causing a panicked man to whisper pleas into Úlfur’s ear to stop briefly to allow the symphony to end in peace. Ok, not that dramatic, but the band did have to stop briefly, you can read more about it here.
Oyama at Amsterdam
At both sets the band played energetically and together, the smaller set at Harpa was definitely more mellow than the on-venue set at Amsterdam. And at the Amsterdam set I was really impressed with Júlía, who obviously was having issues with her voice, and yet it came out strong, non-wavering, and almost pitch perfect the entire set. the Amsterdam set was more rowdy, and there was nothing shoe-gazing about the guitar and bass trio break-down during one of their first few songs. I highly enjoyed the new tracks they premiered during their set.
Hudson Wayne at Iðnó
Hudson Wayne gets a golden star as being one of the only bands I’ve ever heard at Iðnó where I thought the sound quality was great. They were so spot on it would be hard to believe they were Icelanders and not from the Mid Western part of the U.S. They appeared to be having almost more fun than the audience. So, aside from the over-priced beer at Iðnó, I stayed the entire set and really enjoyed myself. Was very glad to finally hear them play.
Pétur Ben at KEX
I’ve seen Pétur Ben perform before, but not the newer darker catalog he has, and not with a full band. So it was great to make it to Kex and hear him play full on. Even though the new album is quite a bit darker, the music came off strong and I really dug the new live tracks.
Once again, Kex Hostel had KEXP hanging around, doing live streams of the music during the entire festival. If you want to hear the live sets they recorded, I suggest heading over here to give them a listen. They all work incredibly hard every year exposing new acts and bringing music from Iceland to the United States.
Sadly, the one set of new artists that turned out not so well was the Samaris show at Gamli Bio. There were massive tech issues from the beginning, and the band looked really out of sorts and discombobulated in their performance. I wish I could have seen them at another gig, as I was really excited to catch their act. So until I do see them again, I am holding off judgement on their live act.
Nini Wilson at Harpa
Last but not least by any means, another great new band was Nini Wilson. Comprised of Örn Ingi Ágústsson from Seabear on guitar, Árni Vilhjálmsson of FM Belfast doing vocals and guitar, and Björn Stefánsson on drums. Their music was made public only days before the festival, and yet there still was a near full venue waiting to hear what they had to offer. After taking a moment to relax via a bottle of Lavender oil, which they passed around for the crowd to inhale, Nini Wilson began a very tight set of Folk-ish rock, moving through the set entertaining themselves and the audience with quips about being naked, not being naked and of course, a few rock guitar solos intermixed. Very entertaining and I wish the set had been longer as it was one of the more enjoyable ones of the festival. Can’t wait to hear what else they have in store.
You can click any picture above to see my entire photo set from Airwaves this year.
The calm before the storm. I arrived a day early for Airwaves to try and enjoy this wonderful city before the masses arrived. The town has been busy in preparation, and after a brief morning walk I made it to Harpa to pick up my wrist band.
As usual, the weather changes in an instant, for most of the day though it was clear skies with a little wind. It seems to be the coldest Airwaves I’ve been to yet, but it’s not terribly cold…yet.
The crowd actually wasn’t bad, and the Airwaves crew really have their business sorted, so getting banded and getting out was quick and painless. I knew the schedule would be slim for the day so I took another long walk, got a beer at KEX, then headed over to Lucky Records to hear some pre-Airwaves off-venue gigs.
Lucky records new location is pretty slick, they still have a great catalog of vinyl, and now with more space it’s easy to move around, even with bands taking up the front of the store.
They were one of the few pre-gaming, so after browsing I stuck around to hear some live music
Cell 7 was setting up. It’s hip-hop from the 90’s, great lyrics and samples with a few guests to help in backing. Even though the crowd was smallish, she kept us all engaged and interacting with her, it was a good way to start things off.
Later in the evening, Camp Keighley played. A six piece band with a unique groove, and tons of energy. They really get into their music, and the crowd followed right behind them. Besides, who doesn’t love bright red ties?
It was obvious crowds were moving into Reykjavik as the audience had grown from the afternoon performances.
Next up, and my final gig of the night was Boogie Trouble. These guys, and gals, come highly recommended from the Icelandic music community, and a lot of locals showed up to hear them play. Great funk twist with a lot of disco. Their lead singer is an awesome show-woman, and of course, there were crazy dancers at the front of audience absolutely in love with the band. They did a Britney Spears cover that put the original to shame.
I highly recommend you check out Boogie Trouble’s full show later this week as the off-venue pre-game event was tight, and left us primed for the rest of the night. These guys definitely deserve the praise the locals give them.
That was all for the pre-game, today the festival truly begins and the music roster is chocked full. Enjoy everyone, be smart, be courteous, and listen away.