Five years on… Looking back @ the Icelandic music scene (Grapevine Magazine 2008)

The author of the best book in English on Icelandic music, Paul Sullivan, wrote a note about the music scene in Iceland since he published his book “Waking up in Iceland” 5 years ago.
Five years on… Looking back at the Icelandic music scene
Reykjavik Grapevine 11. November 2008
By Paul Sullivan
As Van “The Man” Morrison once sagely noted: “Music is spiritual; the music industry is not”. We all know which side of the fence Icelandic music falls on (usually drunkenly), but last month in Reykjavik we’ve had both sides of the story. While Iceland Airwaves let loose its usual sonic juju, a music conference called You Are In Control took care of what we might call ‘the business end’.
But let’s rewind. Five years ago I published “Waking Up In Iceland,” a book that set out to explore Iceland’s unique and remarkable music scene. Back then it was all about bands like Trabant and Quarashi, Singapore Sling and The Leaves. Thule was the name of a record label (as well as a beer) and “Esja” was just a mountain, and not a musical project.
Trawling around Airwaves last month, devouring the dynamic and contrastive range of sounds – the roaring immensity of Reykjavík! vs. the feelgood post-disco of FM Belfast; the avant bricolage of Ghostigital vs. the soaring beauty of Ólafur Arnalds; the joyful noise of Hjaltalin and Retro Stefson, to name but a few – it occurred to me that the scene has totally remixed itself.
While the scene’s Old Masters are still around – Björk, Sigur Rós and múm are all still busy maintaining their heavyweight titles, buoyed by the inexorable rise of established acts like Mugison, Jóhann Jóhannson and Emiliana Torrini – many of the Class of ‘03 are now gone.
In their place is a new breed that adds greatly to the scene’s already famed diversity. They’re more confident, yet more insouciant too. Bands seem to be enjoying themselves more these days (a bit of a global trend perhaps) and a lot of the performances, from the in-yer-face antics of Ultra-Mega-Technoband-Stefán and Reykjavík! to the jaunty collectivism of Benni Hemm Hemm, FM Belfast and Retro-Stefson – are electrifying.
Folk have been getting their shit together on a business tip too. The uncompromising DIY ethic that the scene was built on still runs through it, but artists seem to enjoy further reach thanks to the internet and its myriad resources. More acts seem to be getting out on the road, hooking up deals and using the social-networking realm to promote themselves.
Five years ago there was talk of getting more funding for the music industry and perhaps professionalizing it – that also finally seems to be happening. The Kraumur Music Fund aims “to strengthen Icelandic musical life, primarily by supporting young musicians in performing and presenting their works…by providing direct grants, professional assistance and various forms of cooperation.” So far, Mugison, amiina, FM Belfast, Skakkamanage and Ólöf Arnalds – a fine and deserving selection by anyone’s standards – have been awarded handouts and hopefully more will benefit later this year.
In terms of promotion – often a sticking point for Icelandic bands – the scene has grown an ‘official’ mouthpiece in the shape of the Icelandic Music Export office (IMX for short), a “one-stop shop” for info on Icelandic music that I was happily recruited to edit and provide content for in 2007. In the space of a year we’ve managed to build a useful two-way portal between Icelandic music, it’s fans and interested professionals, where bands can upload profiles, songs, videos and contact info for free.
It was IMX that organised the two-day conference You Are In Control, held prior to Airwaves at the Saga Hotel, which brought together an international assembly of industry moguls, keynote speakers and local musicians in Reykjavik.
So yeah, things are moving. Yet the heart of the scene remains the same, still driven by the same dynamics: a need for competition and collaboration, for creative expression and experimentation, for external recognition; to believe in the spirituality of music. Oh yes – and the need to throw really fucking great parties and make some of the greatest music in the world for no reason other than…it’s fun.
Some things, hopefully, will never change.

Hafdis Huld is working hard on her 2nd Album

Recently Hafdis Huld recorded some songs for her second Album in an extremely cold living room @ a farm house.
Source: MySpace
An Album to be released in 2009?
A song of her Debut Album “Dirty Paper Cup” (2006):
Who loves the sun

Sigur Rós: The Independent Interview (January 2009)

Sigur Rós:
Why we’re mesmerised by the hypnotic Icelandic band

The Independent
30. January 2009
Sigur Rós’s glacial soundscapes are all over British television and tomorrow The Independent is giving readers an exclusive collection of their best tracks. Andy Gill examines their soaring popularity and explains why he is mesmerised by the hypnotic Icelandic band.

Each week, along with the basic album and singles sales charts, there are myriad other charts published that track the diverse fortunes of the music industry, including those for the various major download sites, and the number of radio plays each track has secured. The one thing that isn’t measured, however, may be the most influential of all: the prominence a piece of music achieves on that most powerful of all media, television.
Television is important in a way that the other charts, by their very nature, ignore: less concerned with immediacy, it can afford to ignore the rapidly changing tastes of a fickle industry like music, but employ the same piece of music over and over again, establishing it as the musical livery of a programme or strand, and confirming it as one of the emblematic musical signatures of its era. For the last year or two, it’s been Sigur Rós’s heavenly “Hoppípolla” that can’t be avoided.
You’ve all heard it hundreds of times: that tentative piano figure cycling around and around, seeming to climb up and up expectantly like an MC Escher belvedere, until it finally reaches some emotional tipping-point and brims over, cascading in soul-lifting waves of fulfilment as strings and brass crowd round to hymn along.
It’s become utterly ubiquitous since its release in 2005, as directors discovered how perfectly it seemed to suit all manner of situations, from baby whales being reunited with mommy whales on nature programmes, to some clueless pleb finally mastering a meaningless task on any of a hundred bogus reality-TV shows. Look! She’s managed to run that half-marathon! Cue “Hoppípolla“. See! The courting swans entwine their necks! Cue “Hoppípolla”. Wow! He’s not just conquered his fear of flying, he’s enduring barrel-rolls! Cue “Hoppípolla”. Gasp! It’s the winning goal, in slow motion! Cue “Hoppípolla”. And so on.
By last year, it was almost possible to channel-hop randomly and never hear anything else. It was even used in an episode of Doctor Who, and more recently in trailers for Slumdog Millionaire. And Oxfam adverts. And The X Factor, the audio equivalent of sleeping with the enemy. Small wonder that when Sigur Rós were recording it, they gave it the nickname “The Money Song” – they immediately gauged its appeal – before settling on “Hoppípolla” (Icelandic for “jumping in puddles”).
You can hear why it’s so popular among programme-makers. Because Jónsi Birgisson is singing in his native language, it’s not stained by lyrical associations, while it fulfils our current yearning for aspirational sonic euphoria. It’s like Coldplay minus the simpering-twatness, Radiohead minus the bitter curmudgeonly aftertaste, U2 minus the overweening egotism. It’s the perfect musical soundtrack, it seems, for a UK blinded by vague empathy as it hurtles towards bankruptcy.
But it’s not, Birgisson claims, as ubiquitous on Icelandic telly as it is here. “No, that’s definitely a British thing,” he says. “Everything dramatic and ‘Hallelujah’, every dramatic ending – cue it up!” (I’m not sure, in retrospect, whether he’s referring to that “Hallelujah” or is using the word as an emotional analogue and has, spookily, simply stumbled across TV’s new-found replacement for “Hoppípolla”.)
“Hoppípolla” thrust Sigur Rós on to an entirely new plane of fame and fortune. The album from which it was taken, Takk…, was their fourth full-length outing, its predecessors having appealed predominantly to a refined art-rock constituency. Their debut album Von, for instance, sold a grand total of 313 copies in Iceland when first released in 1997, only accruing popularity when it was reissued in the wake of subsequent successes with 1999‘s Agætis byrjun and 2002‘s (). Since then, they have earned vast sums from their art, a position ironically exaggerated by the recent financial upheavals in Iceland. “Because we get our salaries and stuff from England, and the krone to the English pound has just doubled, it is actually good for us personally,” explains Birgisson, with slight embarrassment. “But for the people around us, it is not good.”
() still represents perhaps the furthest extremity of aesthetic insularity in pop music. Besides having no title as such (it’s usually referred to as “Brackets” or “Parentheses”), and a largely white, albeit elaborate, packaging, its eight tracks lacked titles, and even the songs, sung by Birgisson in the distinctive fallen-choirboy falsetto that has enchanted millions, were written in the band’s made-up language of Hopelandic, a meaningless succesion of phonemes that seems as though it ought to mean something, but doesn’t. Did meaning matter much to them?
“I think if you want to have lyrics, then meaning has to matter,” Birgisson says. “But yes, we have this kind of love-hate relationship with lyrics, because music flows so naturally for us, and when you come to write lyrics you have to put yourself in a different space. We usually start by singing some nonsense over the songs, then I listen to that, and usually, within that gobbledigook, there is often some spark of meaning – so you take out one word and start from there, and find out what the song should be about.”
Intriguingly, the band’s most recent album, last year’s Med sud í eyrum vid spilum endalaust (“With a buzz in our ears we play endlessly”), even contained a track entitled “Gobbledigook” – which with typical perversity made perfect sense in translation, being an ode to the “hair-stroking, hem-blowing prankster-boy” wind (“You make hats fly into the air, you turn umbrellas inside out too often”, etc). According to Birgisson, it was inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest, a claim that beggars belief given Sigur Rós’s reputation for creating “cathedrals of sound”. Surely Eurovision represents the diametric opposite of all they stand for?
“That was two years ago, when we were writing the songs for …endalaust,” he explains. “We had rented a big farm out in the country, and the Eurovision Song Contest was on television one night, so we watched that. The whole competition, all the way through. Then, after the contest, we just picked up instruments straight away and started playing, and this song came out. I don’t know where it came from. It’s such a crazy contest – it’s crazy that you can actually have a contest about music – and it has such amazingly bad ‘good’ songs!”
By their own standards, “Gobbledigook” was a bizarre song, its stomping beat, static structure and light-heartedness operating at a sharp tangent to the slow, steadily developed sense of anthemic yearning for which they had become celebrated. If one were to assemble all the reviews and features written about Sigur Rós, the adjective used most often would probably be “glacial”, and the critical stratagem most frequently employed would discuss their music in terms of the imposing Icelandic landscape – lazy clichés, of which the band themselves have become thoroughly sick and tired.
So how would they themselves describe their music? “I think the words that come to my mind are, like, ‘organic’, maybe,” Birgisson eventually concedes. “There’s something quite natural about it, and we think a lot about soundscapes when we are doing it. Basically, when you strip everything away from the music, at its quietest it’s normal pop songs; but it’s the way that you produce it that puts the meat on the bones of what you do. But it’s always hard for us to describe how we sound.”
Most bands, if pressed, will make similar claims on inexplicability, but in Sigur Rós’s case there’s more justification than most, their music being less permeable to descriptive, physical comparisons than abstract, emotional comparisons. And even then, they seem to have the gift of finding the gaps between emotions, sometimes leaving the listener adrift on a sea of conflicting moods and vague yearnings. In terms of instrumentation, however, they have shifted more towards using acoustic sources than electronic ones, particularly on …endalaust. This, it transpires, was more a matter of convenience when they found themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.
“When we rented the farm in Iceland, we started out using mainly acoustic instruments, and it just developed from there,” explains Birgisson. “But the basic structure of most of the songs is just acoustic, that is always our starting point.”
Do you have a favourite sound?
“My favourite sound, ever?”
Yes, a sound source, such as marimba, piano or violin…
“Definitely,” he decides, “it would be something like wind in trees, a nature sound of some sort. But as regards instruments, I like piano, celesta… there are so many beautiful-sounding V C instruments around. It depends how you play them.”
This observation leads into a discussion about Washington Phillips, a gospel singer and songwriter from the Twenties, of whom we are both fans. Like Robert Johnson, Phillips recorded only a handful of songs (16 in total) but he accompanied himself on a mysterious instrument – either a dulceola, dolceola, celestaphone, phonoharp or fretless zither – related to the hammer-dulcimer. But, as with Johnson, the lack of documentary evidence and the unique sound of Phillips’s instrument have provoked feverish debate among enthusiasts ever since.
“Is it a dulcimer?” queries Birgisson. “But it seems like he’s strumming it! It sounds amazing, like some form of harp-guitar.” His fascination with Phillips makes obvious sense, both musicians’ work exhibiting a haunting blend of certitude and vulnerability – what might best be called a fragile majesty, especially when the band’s sound is swelled by the addition of the Amiina string quartet, or the subtle lowing of horns which, on …endalaust, relates more to the British brass-band tradition than the American R&B tradition. This may or may not have something to do with their collaboration on that album with the British producer MikeFloodEllis, best known for his work with indie and goth acts such as Nick Cave, Nine Inch Nails, U2 and The Killers.”We had never worked with a producer before, and it was a good learning experience for us,” Birgisson says. “Before, it was always just the four of us together, doing everything for ourselves. When he first came, it was a weird situation, because he has his own way of working, and we have ours. He is so focused, and such a hard worker. He became like a father figure to …endalaust: he was always there, from 10 in the morning to 10 in the evening. When you have your own studio, like we do, and no pressures of time, it’s easy to just have a coffee and decide to do it tomorrow! That had been happening quite a lot with us. And it was good for us to go to other studios: we recorded the basic tracks in New York, and basically, you’re just locked in a room all the time. It was fun, though.”
Their tentative outreach programme for …endalaust did encounter one stumbling block, however, when they decided to commission the Berlin-based artist Olafur Eliasson, who created the Sun installation in the Tate Modern turbine hall, to do the album artwork, an alliance that didn’t work out as well as hoped.
“We had long talks with him and met a couple of times to discuss ideas with him, but basically it just didn’t work out,” Birgisson says. “We had just totally different characters in our working methods – he is so methodical and mathematical, so well-thought-out and correct, and has definite meaning, and we are so spontaneous and rough, and everything we do has a huge amount of soul, but no meaning.”
Instead, they opted to use a picture by the photographer Ryan McGinley of naked youths running across a road, which the band felt captured their spontaneous quality. Even that caused problems in America, where bare buttocks – at least those not belonging to porn stars – seem to offend the sensibilities.
“That was so weird!” recalls Birgisson. “When we played in America, we would arrive at venues and there would be posters outside advertising the gig, and they would be blacked out! And the CD would have stickers put over the asses! Why should they be embarrassed by naked bodies? There’s nothing offensive about it. Look at rap album covers and you see, say, 50 Cent, and he’s posing with guns and stuff, flexing his muscles – what a role model! That should be censored, surely? It’s crazy! But hopefully, times are changing.”
Oddly, for such a guileless, reserved band, Sigur Rós now seem to be the favourite band of every A-list celebrity, from tattooed rocker Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe, who appears to use them as some form of meditative chill-out refuge from his racy lifestyle, to megastar Brad Pitt. More queasily, the band’s music was apparently playing when Gwyneth Paltrow produced her little Apple. It all seems a million miles away from their lives in Iceland, as Birgisson confirms.
“It’s nothing to do with us,” he says. “We just live our normal lives in our small Reykjavik, we have our own apartments, our own families and kids, and our fame doesn’t affect us at all, I think. We never think about it, we never talk about it, and we don’t make a big thing out of it – we don’t play the media game, stuff like that. We just like to be able to walk down the street and go to a coffee-house, things like that.”
Source: The Independent
Tracklist of the Free CD “We play endlessly
1 – Hoppípolla
2 – Inní mér syngur vitleysingur
3 – Saeglópur
4 – Gobbledigook
5 – Í Gær
6 – Fljótavík
7 – Hafsól
8 – Heysátan
9 – Ti Ki

Shogun "Charm City" Release Concert @ Grand Rokk 31. January 2009

Shogun play @ Grand Rokk tonight to celebrate the release of their debut album “Charm City“.
Supporting Acts are Johnny and the Rest & Endless Dark.
Doors Open @ 21:00
Start @ 22:00
Free drinks for a while …
Entrance: 1.000 ISK or Admission + Album Copy for 1.500 ISK.

Amiina goes Commercial

Amiina‘s Song “Seoul” used in British Hitachi Ad

Mugison "I want you" Live @ Patronaat, Haarlem, The Netherlands 18. July 2008

I want you” Live @ Patronaat Café, Haarlem (NL), July 2008.
A Video by Oktober Films.

Live Shows: Retro Stefson "Hip Hop" Show @ Prikid 30. January | Agent Fresco @ Kaffi Rot 3. February

Retro Stefson Hip Hop Show
30. January 2009
22:00-23:30 @ Prikið
Agent Fresco
3. February 2009
Start 21:00 @ Kaffi Rót
Other artists are Mikado and Joelion
Free entrance

múm News: New Album & Live gigs

News on múm‘s MySpace:
The band has almost finished a new album.
They will probably be playing a lot of shows this year.
múm sounds like ‘moon’ but doesn’t rhyme with spoon. It rhymes with doom & gloom. Oh, the dark side of the múm.
“Moon Pull” Video by Christina Gransow

"We play endlessly" Free Sigur Rós CD

Sigur Rós: We Play Endlessly free with The Independent on Saturday
31. January 2009
An offer in association with Q magazine.
Album We Play Endlessly” features nine tracks taken from three of their critically acclaimed albums, including the hugely popular Hoppípolla and Sæglópur.

Sudden Weather Change signed to Kimi Records Label – Debut Album expected for March 2009

Sudden Weather Change whose 6-track EP back in December 2006 sent small crowds wild, and who rocked bigger audiences at both the 2007 and 2008 with their brand of soulful, energetic alt-rock, have signed up to Iceland’s most proactive new label.
“Kimi signed Sudden Weather Change because they are a good band and they are in it for the right reasons,” comments Kimi’s Big Kahuna Baldvin Esra Einarsson. “They play honest, wholesome guitar-driven indierock with some good harmonizing vocals. Their songs are good and the sound of their album is very good. We are planning on releasing the album on CD, Vinyl and Digital together in Iceland and Europe, and are always on the look out for collaborators all over the world, whether distributors, licensees, publishers or tour agents.”
Sudden Weather Change’s debut album is expected to drop in March 2009.
Kimi @
Source: IMX
Sudden Weather Change @