Tag Archives: Icelandic music

My favorite 10 things to do in Reykjavik

I’ve put a top 10 list of places I frequent when in Iceland list together.   9 favorites, and 1 that I am eagerly waiting to try out.  The great thing is, you can do most of these things all year round.  These are places and things outside of the regularly mentioned attractions and off-venue gigs that you may have heard of.  It’s just my favorite spots to hit while I’m in town for Airwaves.

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1. On tour with Ívar

On tour with Ívar is one of my favorite walking tours around the city.  You’ll go down partially hidden alleyways, drink local cocktails, eat local food and the tour ends with a beer.  As a member of FM Belfast, Ívar has been in the Icelandic music world for quite a long time and he has a lot of great stories of the old and new Reykjavik.  I would suggest booking sooner than later as he books up quickly, especially during Airwaves.  You can book at the link provided above.

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2. Lucky Records

Lucky records is a massive music hub.  Typically there are bands playing during off-venue before, during, and after the festival.  The shop is pretty massive so you can shop and listen to live music all at once without feeling crowded or drowned in sound.   A lot of the Icelandic bands playing Airwaves will have music available at most the music stores and I suggest you get it while you can as a lot of it isn’t available off the island, And if it is you’ll pay more for shipping than your record.

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3. Fischer

Tucked neatly behind the city center in an old Icelandic house is Fischer.  Ran by a very musical family and their friends, the house/store has a cozy old Icelandic feel that’s quite warm and welcoming.   Throughout the shop there are displays of olden time “remedies” for common ailments all coming from an old book they also have on display.  They sell bespoke items such as sustainable tooth brushes, soaps, shampoos, and perfumes.  They also sell a 7′ that is handmade with the store soundtrack which was created by Sin Fang, Jonsi, Kjartan Holm, and Alex Somers.  If you want one I would suggest getting there at the beginning of your trip as they are handcrafted and with the influx of festival goers chances are they will be sold out sooner than later.  One of my favorite things about Fischer, is the mighty guard dog Atlas.

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4. 12 Tónar

Another of my favorite record stores in Reykjavik.  Go in, get a bit of coffee and browse both levels of the shop looking for new and used music.  As with Lucky’s, the owners and employees are very nice and really knowledgeable about the Icelandic music scene.  I have found absolute gems for great prices downstairs in their vinyl bins.  They also may have bands playing during the festival so watch out for schedules.

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5. Why not? Plötur

This is fairly new to Iceland.  A new underground record label that will most likely have basement concerts at RS6013 later in the festival.  True underground and off the mainstream Reykjavik experience.  It’s a DIY label and I highly suggest you check and follow their Facebook page for updates and notices of when bands will be playing.  They have a great catalog of music already and if you dig what you hear you need to pick it up then, as it’s rather difficult to get otherwise.

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6. Smekkleysa Plötubúð

Smekkleysa is an old staple around Reykjavik.  Smekkleysa records, (Bad Taste records) was the baby of Björk and Co, and the record store carries a lot of classics and current releases.  Kiddi, the man behind the counter has been part of the music world as long as anyone and is quick to answer any questions you may have about music current and old.

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7. Messinn

I typically grocery shop and live off cucumber and tomato sandwiches all throughout the festival, money is better spent on vodka I say.  That being said,  I always try to hit up Messinn at least once during the festival.  A few years ago I surveyed a good deal of my Icelandic friends and asked which restaurant in Reykjavik has the most true to form and best tasting Plokkfiskur (fish stew) in town.  It was unanimous that Messinn was the place, and they were right.  Served right in the skillet the food here is really good, and the atmosphere cozy, it’s perfect for the November weather.  I would suggest getting a reservation a day or two before attempting to go there as they always tend to be busy.

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8. Brauð & co

I’m not a big cinnamon bun fan, but this place made me one.  They also carry quite the assortment of bread that you can get by the slice or full loaf.  I typically grab my bread here for my breakfast and lunch during the festival.  It can get busy, but it’s worth the wait.  One of the better Icelandic secret spots you’ll find in the city.

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9. Mandi

It may seem weird, middle eastern food in Iceland, but Mandi is the saving grace of almost every late night in Iceland.  They’ll be open after the bands stop playing, and out of all the late night food spots this is the best in the city.  It will busy with locals most nights but it is well worth the wait.  Typically, I grab food to eat then and food for breakfast in the morning.  It’s a very social place so it’s easy to meet new folks and learn about unannounced gigs and after-parties around the city.

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10. Veganæs

And finally, but not least, Veganæs.  This is a new place located in Gaukurinn, A bar and possible Airwaves venue located in downtown Reykjavik.  Veganæs is a new outfit ran by Linnae and Krummi.  Linnae has been a staple for vegan food in Iceland for a long time, and her partner Krummi is in the Icelandic bands Mínus  and Legend.  I haven’t had a chance to eat here as they just opened, but it is one of the first places I plan on hitting once getting to the island.  Other great vegetarian/vegan places in Iceland are Kaffi Vinyl, and Gló

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Icelandic newbies at Iceland Airwaves 2018

The final acts for Iceland Airwaves 2018 have been announced and there are a lot of Icelandic newbies on the roster.  I’ve decided to blog about some of them and have included a brief history of each.  Also, the bands have been kind enough to answer a few “getting to know you” questions.  Hopefully I’ll be able to do a few of these posts between now and Airwaves.

Ateria

Ateria is a family trio, sisters Ása and Eir and their cousin Fönn. Ateria formed in 2017, and won Iceland’s famous new music contest, Músíktilraunir in March of 2018.  The trio have studied classical music for years, and their music incorporates what they’ve learned creating a darker folkrock-ish feeling.  Funfact, the name “Ateria” is derived from the latin name for the eider duck, Somateria mollissima.

What acts would you say hold kinship with your music?  Ateria:  “One always perceives one’s own music differently than other people’s, so we find it very difficult to determine what acts are similar to ours.”

What other Icelandic bands are you looking forward to seeing?  Ateria:  “We are looking forward to seeing Between Mountains, Vök, Mammút, Ólafur Arnalds, Hórmónar, Mókrókar, Sóley and Agent Fresco.”

Do you have any albums, or merch for sale.  Where do folks go to get it?  Ateria:  “We don’t have any albums or merch for sale.”

If you could be any animal covering any song, what would you be, and what would you cover?  Ateria:  “We would be eider ducks covering ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi’ by Radiohead.”

Kjartan Holm

While this isn’t Kjartan Holm’s first time at Airwaves, previously performing with his other bands such as For a minor reflection and Tófa, this will be his first solo performance.  His broad knowledge of musical genres have allowed him to collaborate, produce, and work with a great number of Icelandic musicians and has taken him all over the globe.  Focused more on composition, his solo material carries an almost dark atmospheric sound combining a diverse pallet of instruments, sounds, and beats.  Kjartan, along with Jónsi, Sin Fang, and Alex Somers, also created the background soundtrack to the store Fischer located in downtown Reykjavik.

What acts would you say hold kinship with your music?  “I guess stuff like Tim Hecker, Stephen O’Malley, Ben Frost, Fennesz and things like that come to mind. When I write this kind of music I’m just following the mood I’m in at that particular moment. Mixing together processed sounds with recordings on top of that for endless amount of time until I’ve created something I think sounds interesting. The structure kind of comes automatically in that process.”

What other Icelandic bands are you looking forward to seeing?  “Bára Gísladóttir is definitely one of the most interesting acts around in my opinion, Gunnar Jónsson is really good, Ingibjörg Turchi, SiGRÚN and Tófa.”

Do you have any albums, or merch for sale.  Where do folks go to get it?   “My debut album as a solo artist is being mastered as we speak. It won’t be out until early 2019 though. I have older stuff, everything from barely-touched demos to finished orchestral pieces on my Soundcloud (www.soundcloud.com/kjartanholm) but that’s about it for now. When the record is out I’ll start promoting in properly. For those interested they can check out my website for more sounds: www.kjartanholm.com”

If you could be any animal covering any song, what would you be, and what would you cover?  “That’s easy. I’d be a Raccoon covering Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’.”

Shakes

Shakes consist of Logi Marr and Frank Raven.  You may have heard of Logi’s former band, Lily of the Vine but Shakes is as about as far from that sound as you can get.   Formed in 2016 Shakes are on a mission to bring back real drums and good melodies.  Their first E.P. is all about sex, drugs, and casualties.

What acts would you say hold kinship with your music?   Shakes:  “We don’t really feel like anything influences us really, our album Red Motel was basically about murdering your girlfriend in a motel room..never heard that before..but I guess Bobby Vinton is cool.”

What other Icelandic bands are you looking forward to seeing?  Shakes:  “No idea who’s playing besides us.”

Do you have any albums, or merch for sale.  Where do folks go to get it?  Shakes:  “We have a 7″ double single vinyl for sale in the UK only. We will be bringing it for airwaves and people can buy it at the show. We will also maybe collaborate with a icelandic designer and bring some cool stuff for sale, you don’t wanna miss that.”

If you could be any animal covering any song, what would you be, and what would you cover? Shakes:  “Shakes ARE fucking Cheetahs and I guess if we were covering we would do something badass, I wanna be adored with Stone Roses. Maybe we should on Airwaves..see you then.”

Sycamore Tree

less than a year old, Sycamore tree has already gained quite the following.  The duo consists of Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, of Silvía Night fame, and the fashion designer Gunnar Hilmarsson.  soothing instrumentals topped with an eloquent chanteuse.  Another fun fact, Gunnar Hilmarsson once designed the uniforms for Wow Air.

What acts would you say hold kinship with your music? Sycamore Tree:  “Sometimes it´s hard to tell for an artist to be the best judge on that. We create really without thinking about what other people do and we follow our heart. The names we hear popping up when people talk about the Sycamore Tree “Sound “ are everything from Leonard Cohen, Lee Hazlewood, Beth Gibbons to Mazzy Star. Basically we don´t know or really care to be honest.”

What other Icelandic bands are you looking forward to seeing?  Sycamore Tree: “There are so many great ones. Warmland, Agent Fresco and Between Mountains I don´t want to miss. But I could mention so many more.”

Do you have any albums, or merch for sale.  Where do folks go to get it?  Sycamore Tree:  “People will be able to buy our album in all music stores and most cafés in Reykjavik.”

If you could be any animal covering any song, what would you be, and what would you cover?  Sycamore Tree:  A Lion Covering Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) by David Bowie ( This is Gunni answering this question )

For the full line-up head over to here.  And of course, to listen to the full line-up check out their Spotify playlist:

 

 

 

 

 

FM Belfast – Island Broadcast review

FM belfast is by far my favorite dance band to see live.  I’ve jumped up and down and picked confetti out of my hair for over 8 years watching this super-group of musicians and they’ve never let down.  Their 4th album, “Island Broadcast,” delivers that party feel and has quickly become my second favorite album of theirs, only slightly behind “How to make friends.”

The beats on the album are much more energized and dance-able than “Brighter days,” but there is a strong undertow of reality with the lyrics, creating a unique contrast that solidifies the album.  Each song on the album is it’s own story of growing old but not growing up, holding your head above water and encouraging others to do the same, and spending what little time we have on this rock enjoying where you are and what you have.

While I could go through and describe what I felt track by track, I’d rather just highlight a few of my favorites and post videos so you can make up your own mind.  The only official video I could find for songs on the album is the album opener “All My Power.”  A back and forth of two folks, one who feels guilty, the other the reason why:

My favorite track on the album by far is “The Game”

“You’re so pretty” began as a short story written by Lóa about aging restlessness.

And “Fearless Youth” was written by  Örvar Smárason and is a tribute to youth and friends of the past.

I asked Lóa a few questions and she was nice enough to answer, here they be:

  1. As a whole, the music on the album is a lot more lively than on Brighter Days, and yet  the lyrics are some of the most pensive and serious out of your albums.  Was this contrast intentional?

The contrast was not intentional no, unless Árni meant it to be so and forgot to tell me. I don’t know why the album is more lively. Maybe because we finally realize that we have nothing to lose. The track Strobe for instance is just a rave mantra to dance to. It’s not necessarily a logical track to be on the album but I don’t care about things like that anymore. Trying to do what you think people want you to do is futile.

  1. Throughout the album, there is a “them” that you seem to rally against.  Is there a single entity that is “them”, or are they different song for song?

“Them and they” usually means some force or people who are more powerful than you and control something in your life or want to control you. It’s not about anyone in particular, it’s more about trying to stay sane in our strange world.

  1. The voices in my head really appreciated “Agent” as they feel it is their rallying cry for working together to make me resemble somewhat of a normal human being? But for normal folks, who’s being encouraged in the song?

You and me are being encouraged. Because we feel like we are so powerless when in fact there are so many of us who feel the same way. I like to believe that most people are nice, if they weren’t the world wouldn’t function.  I’d also like to send my greetings to the voices in your head.

  1. How personal is this album to you?  There seems to be a lot of reflection of where the characters in the songs have been, where they are, and where they hope to be.

It’s personal on many levels. We write the lyrics together most of the time so it’s a bit of a puzzle and it means different things to us. For me I’m having a bit of a crisis of what I should do now. I don’t have a plan but for some reason I keep coming back to the idea of having chicken in a backyard and grow vegetables.

  1. In the Game, who are you taking the blame for, who has no shame?  And what is this bright light you speak of?

All of us take the blame for the people in power. The bright light is about hope and the weird need to believe in something or someone. For me it’s kind of a cry for a decent politician coming out of the woods to save us. I’m not a religious person and I’ve kind of lost hope in politics but there’s always a part of me that is hoping for some kind of female Che Guevara… ok this sound stupid but sincerity will do that to you.

Island Broadcast is available digitally, on vinyl, and on CD.  It’s available on Spotify, and if you want to purchase it any of your digital outlets should have it.  The vinyl and CD are available via their website.  Follow them on Facebook and and Instagram to be notified of touring dates and events.  You can also see the concert photos I’ve taken here:

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Sóley, Sin Fang, & Örvar Smárason at Bush Hall march 8th 2018

In 2017 Sóley, Sin Fang, & Örvar Smárason got together and decided to release one song a month for the entire year.  They ended the year with the vinyl, “Team Dreams,” which you can listen to here, and a performance at Sigur Rós’s Norður og Niður festival in Reykjavik.  Us that were not able attend were treated with a great New Year’s gift, as they announced they would be touring around Europe.  I was lucky enough to photograph the concert at Bush Hall in Shepard’s Bush London.

Combining three brilliant musicians can go all sorts of ways, but in typical Iceland fashion their uniqueness blended well, with obvious positive chemistry between all three.  They were slightly nervous as this was the first concert of the tour and only the second time they had played together, and while they kept mentioning this nervousness, it really didn’t show.

If you don’t want to read my babble you can click here to just go to the pics.

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite characteristics of Iceland musicians are their ability to remove the 4th wall.  And these three lived up to and surpassed that theory from the absolute beginning charming the audience with jokes, ambitions, and conversation.

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They supported themselves, each artists doing a 20 minute solo set before all joining on stage for the main event.  I had not seen Smárason’s solo material so I was pleased with this surprise.  After briefly chatting with the crowd as he set up apologized as he wasn’t going to chat through his set of ecclectic beats, and creative use of microphones.  He then performed 20 minutes of his new material giving us a preview of his first solo album, “light is liquid” which will be released via Morr Music on May 18th, check out his Facebook page for more details.

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Sin Fang was next, starting off with piano and eventually moving over to guitar a broad span of his catalog.  I’ve been watching Sin Fang since the days of duct taped microphone nests, and he never disappoints.  He even covered “teenage Spaceship” by Smog, which while the audience didn’t seem to know who Smog is, made me really happy.

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After a brief intermission, Sóley came to the stage and proceeded to sing a good amount of material.  She told us stories of chocolate spoons being used to stir things, and mentioned that she would be the queen of the Theremin by next year, I’m holding her to that.

When the trio came on stage they were accompanied by Gylfi Sigurðsson of Retro Stefson fame.  I unfortunately didn’t get a good shot of him, but you can kind of see him in the photo below:

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There is still time to catch them on tour with 5 shows remaining, and I suggest you do,  I certainly wasn’t disappointed and doubt you will be either.  You can find out more about the tour dates, by following them on their individual Facebook pages and Instagram.

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Taste of Iceland, Boston 2018

It’s March, and that means it is time for another Taste of Iceland.  The cultural event that brings things such as Architecture & Design, Literature, Film, Food, and of course, Music from Iceland to different spots around the globe.  This year’s Boston event is March 8th through the 10th, with a Cocktail pre-game on the 7th at Drink.

As this is a music blog I’m going to touch on the music portion of the event, but you can go here for the complete schedule of events, including an Icelandic food menu at Townsman, a special cocktail menu at Beat Brasserie, an exhibit on Iceland’s Design and Architectual scene at the BSA Space, and a short film festival at the Brattle Theatre.

The annual Reykjavik calling concert typically consists of both local and Icelandic musicians.  Each performing a set of material, and sometimes if you’re lucky they will combine efforts for a big finale.  This year Taste of Iceland returns to the Paradise Rock club with JFDR and Sturla Atlas on the Iceland team, and Air traffic Controller for Boston.

JFDR is Jófríður Ákadóttir.  To call her an Icelandic music veteran seems a bit shallow as  not only is she half of the legendary Pascal Pinon, but part of Samaris and Gangly two bands that have really skyrocketed in popularity recently.  She tours a lot and at Iceland Airwaves she is always playing somewhere on any given day making her one of the hardest working musicians out there in my opinion.  Ákadóttir’s music spans genres, complex beats weaving in and out of darkness,  infused with jazz, ambient landscapes, soulful poetry and classical music.

While I love her new album “Brazil” as well as her music videos, nothing quite beats seeing her live.  No matter which bands I’ve seen her in, the emotion and energy she puts into performing entirely fills the space and will leave you in awe.

Sturla Atlas is part of a hip-hop-trip-hop-rap collective in Iceland named the 101 boys.  (101 is the Reykjavik zip code.)  hip-hop heavy, Sturla Atlas brings singing and catchy choruses to his music as well.  Last year Sturla Atlas opened for Justin Bieber up in Iceland at what was slated one of the largest, if not the largest concert in Iceland’s history.

And from Boston, Air Traffic Controller will be on stage.  The name comes when Dave Munro, the lead, would send back demos of his music while serving in the navy.  Known for bringing energy to live gigs, they also have a great music video that was released last year:

These concerts are always fun, and the bands tend to interact and join in on the party with the crowds.  It’s a great way to learn about new bands hear new sounds.  I do suggest you get there earlier than later as I’ve yet been to one that wasn’t booked at capacity and as it’s free, it’s first come first serve.

So get out and enjoy a little Icelandic culture for the week, it is always worth the effort.

 

 

Day 2 of Iceland Airwaves

Another great day full of music.  I wanted to quickly tell you about the tour we took yesterday.  I had recommended it as it was something new and so I figured I should go as well, I’m glad I did as it was well worth the time and money, even for someone who has been coming to Iceland regularly for almost a decade and half.

On tour with Ívar is a 3 hour walking tour that begins at Lucky Records.  As you wind through the city of Reykjavik you meander down streets and visit places hidden and off the beaten path.  You learn not only learn where a lot of famous musicians and artists began, but you get to see where the scene is currently developing.  You learn about streets, venues, buildings, new places to go, and old favorites of the city.  As a long time visitor here I was surprised that I may change some of my go-to places in order to return to businesses we visited on the tour.  I highly recommend the tour to veteran visitors as well as newbies.

Day 2 was a full night, We started off with a small solo set from former kimono front-woman Alison Macneil (Dame Judy Wench) and ventured to Hard Rock cafe for a high energy Tófa set.  Then to Gamla bíó for most of the night where we saw Hatari, Grísalappalísa, and For a Minor Reflection.  Then we crossed over to Þjóðleikhúsið, the National theatre of Iceland, to catch a few songs from the legendary Megas.

Enough babble I s’pose, here are the pics:

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Now, on to day 3…

Ásgeir at the Sinclaire 9/30/2017

Friday night we headed out for the Ásgeir gig at the Sinclaire in Cambridge, MA. I had not heard the opener, Tusks, and was very pleasantly surprised.  You can see all the photos over at my Facebook page by clicking the one below:

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all of my Icelandic concert photos will begin appearing on the RagnaarBastiaan FB page including the upcoming Iceland Airwaves, so if you’re so inclined, like the page and follow along.