The Real Icelandic Music Scene: Interviews with Icelandic Musicians & MP3 Mixtape Downloads

An in-depth feature about the Icelandic music scene, with interviews with top Icelandic musicians, and three mixtapes with MP3 downloads and streams.

A Country In Musical Infancy

Until the 20th century, musical instruments were largely non-existent in Iceland, due to poverty and geographic isolation. As a result, Iceland’s musical history is quite distinct, founded upon untraceable native a cappella and folk songs originating from nearby European countries.

Conductor and composer Daníel Bjarnason is a world-class musician known for pursuing classical music with an experimental bent. He describes the country’s musical infancy, saying, “There was no playing of instruments to speak of in Iceland, until the last century, and our musical history is very short. In some ways, I think this is a good thing, because we are not weighed down by it, and we don’t feel that we need to continue any tradition of a certain music. So, there is freedom!”

Historically, much of Iceland’s folk music is associated with religion. As with most Nordic countries, though, the population of Iceland in the 21st century is fairly secular. A study conducted by sociologist Paul Froese in 2001 identifies 23% of the island’s inhabitants as either agnostic or atheist. Yet choirs are present in schools, churches, and communities, but the relationship of folk music and churches seems to persist more out of habit than religious devotion.

“You don’t have to be very religious to be singing in a church choir…” says Magnússon, of Hljóðaklettar. “It’s more of a cultural thing.”

Much of Iceland’s creative history can also be attributed to written works. Though it is often assumed that Old Norse literature comes from Norway, most was actually first documented in Iceland and date as far back as the 13th century. In the 14th century came a series of traditional rhyming poems, known as rímur. Much like the relationship between singing and churches, these alliterative, metered poetic verses maintain a level of symbolic cultural importance to this day.

“There is still a choir that sings traditional rímur. And if you’ve seen the Sigur Rós DVD, Heima, you can see Steindór Andersen performing a couple of them, along with the band playing, ” says Snævar Albertsson, who produces music under the moniker, DAD ROCKS!. “But, in general, it’s not a very overt source of inspiration, but more a point of common cultural identification.”

“First, you need to look at what you can do to help, and the community responds accordingly.”
— Pétur Ben

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Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/she) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

In 2017, Vee released the narrative short film, Searching Skies — which touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States — and co-organized The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. 2022 sees the release of their next short film, Reckless Spirits, which is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature film.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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Peter
Peter
11 years ago

awesome article vivian!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Brennan Novak
Brennan Novak
11 years ago

Wow. What an in depth article Viv! Nicely done. Seriously. This is like real deal journalism stuff right here 🙂

ky
ky
11 years ago

one of the better non-icelandic articles about the scene i’ve read.

GOYO
GOYO
11 years ago

check it

al
al
9 years ago

who is the author?

sOopahvi
sOopahvi
9 years ago
Reply to  al

vivian hua

Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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