Published June 6, 2016
People say Iceland has just two seasons: winter and light winter. However, for about a year now, a third, #sturlaseason, has been shaking the country.
Many would say Sigurbjartur Sturla Atlason (Sturla Atlas), a light-skinned, blond 101 boy, is the reason for the mania around hip-hop and RnB in Iceland. He started Sturla Atlas alongside his friends, Logi Pedro and Jóhann Kristófer (Joey Christ), just one year ago, and has watched it grow tremendously since. With its rabid social media following and award for “Best Newcomer of the Year” at the Iceland Music Awards, it seems the friend-group-turned-rap-clan just keeps on rising.
The band was formed just one year ago, when Sturla, Logi Pedro and Jóhann Kristófer made an album for their friend Jón Pétur’s birthday. After hearing the finished product, they were surprised at how good it sounded. “After the birthday party, Logi Pedro suggested that we perform at a hip-hop night at [bar] Húrra. We ended up doing it, and afterwards we started recording new stuff,” Sturla explains. “We started using Twitter a lot but to this day, I still don’t understand how so many people knew about us in such a short amount of time.”
The mystical hype around Sturla Atlas stemmed from social media, as prominent Icelandic artists like Unnsteinn Manuel (Logi’s brother and bandmate) and Emmsjé Gauti started using the hashtag #sturlaseason and wearing the band’s signature t-shirt. Sturla, Logi and Jóhann soon decided Twitter would be a good way to advertise themselves, as they knew it would attract the attention of their target audience.
To the outside eye, the band’s success seems to the result of a lucky series of events, with an extra push from the band’s popular connections. However, as Sturla explains, “People instantly decide if they like something and I think people realised, when listening to our first songs, ‘Houses in the Hills’ and ‘Over Here,’ that our stuff was fresh, that Sturla Atlas could become something bigger.“
After seeing Sturla Atlas perform at Secret Solstice, Iceland Airwaves and Sónar (I’m kind of a fangirl), I can safely say their shows are like portals to Reykjavík’s it-crowd. Youngsters wearing Sturla Atlas merchandise and singing along to every word is a common sight. It’s a powerful clique—one that you’ll never beat, so you might as well join.
The band primarily consists of four members: Sturla, Logi Pedro, Jóhann Kristófer, and beat-maker Arnar Ingi (Young Nazareth). However, the Sturla Atlas squad is much larger. Their manager, Egill Ástráðsson, keeps them organised; Kjartan Hreinsson acts as their photographer and art director; and Pétur Kiernan and Brynjar Barkarson work with the band for PR projects and the like. Jón Pétur designed the first Sturla Atlas T-shirt, and Siggi Odds helped design the Sturla Aqua clothing line. The band has also collaborated with Unnsteinn Manuel and worked hand-in-hand with Sigga Ólafs. “Everyone in our friend group contributes to the band in some way, so it isn’t just about music. It’s become a kind of visual world, Sturla explains.
When I note the male dominance in the group, Sturla responds, “We are a group of friends who are mostly guys, which is probably why the band consists solely of males. When it comes to the band collaborating with people, however, gender doesn’t matter at all. Sigga Ólafs is, as of now, the only girl we’ve worked with, but it’s just a matter of time until we collaborate with more women.”
Sturla Atlas’s first album, ‘Love Hurts’, contains the band’s most famous song to date, “San Francisco.” Sturla elaborates on its success, explaining, “We didn’t expect it, but ‘San Francisco’ became our most popular song by far. The song is simple in structure and the lyrics are easily picked up. People seem to find that attractive in a song.”
According to Sturla, they wrote ‘Love Hurts’ without a budget and without too much self-censorship. After releasing the album, Sturla Atlas performed at a number of events and was even played on national radio stations. Soon after that, the group had made a name for itself within the Icelandic hip-hop scene, not as a heavy-rap group, but as an RnB offshoot from the scene. Sturla Atlas, almost immediately, decided to make a second album, ‘These Days’. While recording and producing it, the band decided to be a bit more refined and put more thought into the songs, researching what worked and what didn’t. ‘These Days’ was released in late 2015 and included bangers like “Snowin’” and “Fuckboys.” After this album, the band members each focused more on personal projects. “We kept performing at concerts,” Sturla notes, “but juggling school and the band was very demanding. Also, you can’t constantly be up in people’s faces.“
On top of new music, the band also released a clothing line, Sturla Aqua, in March of 2016, as part of an exhibition for the DesignMarch festival. Sturla Aqua was designed in collaboration with Siggi Odds and includes sweaters and t-shirts with various Sturla Atlas logos on them. “Of course, we primarily make music, but from day one, our idea for the Sturla Atlas project was to create an image. The clothing line is part of that image,” Sturla says, adding, “We thought about releasing a song along with the clothing line, but we felt Sturla Aqua was strong enough on its own. Still, the clothing line did help us further develop our identity.“
Though Sturla Atlas’s members have many things to do, even outside of the band, they’ve accomplished a lot in only a year. Sturla Sturla and Jóhann Kristófer recently graduated from Iceland Academy of the Arts, Sturla in acting and Jóhann in theatre and performance. “We use up all of our free time in the studio,” Sturla says. “And even though we are busy, we really enjoy working together. What I think people find the most interesting about our project is how laid-back it is.” Sturla’s face lights up as he continues, “We are just friends having fun together and people connect to that. It goes to show that everything that becomes successful originates from people doing something they love.”
Logi Pedro produces the music for Sturla Atlas. He has a long history in music production, having been in bands like Retro Stefson and Young Karin. “I would’ve never started making music if it weren’t for Logi Pedro,” Sturla notes. “We’re very thankful for all of his experience in both creating music and working with practical matters. There’s never a dull moment in the band, but it can be pretty demanding.” However, he tells me that working and performing alongside his friends is a luxury.
Sturla tells me he never would have anticipated the band’s success. He says he’s learned to be open to anything, as when it comes to Sturla Atlas, anything can happen. Being voted “Best Newcomer” at the Iceland Music Awards is just one example. Sturla elaborates” “It’s super cliché to say we didn’t expect to win, but we are extremely thankful for it.”
When asked how the band has changed his life, Sturla says that singing and writing were things he’d never done before. Now, he has grown comfortable with them. He says he’s also more public and is sometimes recognised by kids on the street, many of whom ask for a photograph with him. We witness this fandom firsthand: a fan twice interrupted our photo shoot with him, and during the interview, Sturla was prank-called by a group of young fans (he politely told them he was busy).
As we broach the topic of young fans, I ask Sturla how he feels performing some of his controversial lyrics in front of a younger crowd. “Of course it’s easy to justify it by saying that everyone does it, but in the end, I don’t believe that we’re having a bad influence on younger kids. They like our music and like seeing us perform, and I’m pretty sure we’re not the first ones to mention things like ‘weed’ or ‘turning up’ to them,” he explains.
Sturla Atlas’s third album, ‘SEASON2’, includes eight brand-new songs. Sturla says the band wanted the album to be created with more care than the previous two, as it should appeal to both the Icelandic and international music scene. “Some of the songs are made to turn up to at the club, but others are heavier, ones you wouldn’t play at a DJ set at Prikið,” Sturla says. “I would actually say it’s much more chill than our previous albums, with laid-back summer vibes, perfect for a dinner party.”
Sturla has a hard time singling out one song off the new album as a favourite. He says the album is mostly about being young, beautiful and out of love. Asked about what he anticipates for the album release, Sturla answers, “I’ve learned to not expect anything. Even though ‘Love Hurts’ was extremely successful, I can’t expect this one to be. I do, however, have a crazy amount of faith in SEASON2 because the standard when writing it was much higher.” Sturla continues: “The album’s overall image is clearer and the songs are better than anything we’ve ever done before.”
With a third album release behind him and a college diploma in his hand, Sturla sounds excited for the future: “I just want to be able to do what I love, to keep writing music, recording and performing. Creating art is really what makes me happy.” He smiles and adds, “Me and Jóhann were actually talking about future plans for Sturla Atlas the other day, and we came to the conclusion that our main goal is to keep the show going. Our whole life is a show and it can never stop. The show must always go on.”
It seems the Sturla Atlas show will keep going, and straight to the top at that. Summer banger “Vino” is poised take over the clubs, and the band is currently planning future music videos. The much-anticipated ‘SEASON2’ has now been released. If that’s not a strong enough dosage of #sturlaseason, Sturla Atlas will also be performing at various shows this summer, including the Secret Solstice festival in June.
Check out the Sturla Atlas website here.