Music has always been an integral part of Icelandic life. From the unique chanting sounds of Viking rhymes to the merry notes of a happy horse rider, Icelandic music and song have filled the air for centuries.
Kids are exposed to music from an early age. Recorders and guitars are common instruments found in almost every home. Icelandic music schools thrive in most villages and some of the best musicians come from the countryside.
Today, Iceland hosts several music festivals a year, boasts a number of international stars and has record companies promoting local artists on the international scene.
Smekkleysa created by the 80‘s band Sykurmolarnir (The Sugarcubes) is the pioneer company that has promoted Icelandic music and talent both here and overseas since Björk’s rise to fame. 12 Tónar is another record company which has had international success with Mugison and Retro Stefson.
While the Icelandic music scene is vibrant and engaging, the market here is small scale, so many talented musicians leave the island and invariably make it big elsewhere. Björk was the pioneer who exposed Icelandic talent internationally and since then there have been many popular bands that have risen to fame on a world-wide scale. Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, Gus Gus, Ásgeir Trausti and Kaleo have all become known world-wide, bringing attention to Icelandic talents.
Icelandic musicians can be heard on various blockbuster soundtracks such as Sigur Rós in The Game of Thrones or Emiliana Torrini singing “Gollum’s Song” in The Lord of the Rings.
These names are all familiar to international visitors, but local talent is unending as various competitions such as Battle of the Bands (Músiktilraunir) or Iceland Got Talent reveal. A new rising star and local celebrity, Glowie, shot to fame after winning such a talent contest and has been awarded a recording contract with Columbia.
Despite all these famous names, much Icelandic talent is still woven into the national fabric. Páll Óskar, Bubbi Morthens, Andrea Gylfadóttir, Jóhanna Guðrún, Lay Low and Björgvin Halldórsson are just a few of the big names that have been filling Icelandic dance halls and radio time for years.
The raw talent of Iceland is discovered at music festivals dotted around the country all year round. Major festivals featuring international stars are concentrated in Reykjvaik and include Secret Solstice, Iceland Airwaves and Sónar. If you want to hear home beats, go to a village where nature plays a huge role in the acoustics of outdoor festivals. Aldrei fór ég suður in the West fjords is a popular free festival held over Easter. This festival is a celebration of Icelandic music, Icelandic style where locals and radio heroes rock away for free.
Over on the east coast, Bræðslan is a festival celebrating Icelandic country, folk and indy music with an artsy feel in a spectacular setting. Further east, there is an indoor festival of hard core rock, heavy metal and punk, called Eistnaflug, which goes on for four days.
Travelling around Iceland, you will always hear some music somewhere. And if you don’t, just go outside and listen to the music of nature…the source of inspiration for Icelandic music and musicians.