Published January 9, 2009
Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdóttir:
Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdóttir is managing director of the Iceland Music Export office, IMX, founded in 2006. On a shoestring budget, Hildibrandsdóttir has managed to create a vibrant and effective export agency that is an increasingly positive force in the promotion of Icelandic music abroad.
Eldar Ástþórsson has much experience in promoting Icelandic music. As manager of Iceland Airwaves in the mid 00’s, Ástþórsson put together some of the fantastic line-ups that gained the festival its rock-solid reputation as a music lover’s haven. Now he manages the Kraumur fund that supports fledgling musicians, and is part of exciting start-up Gogoyoko’s team, a company that plans to revolutionize the way music is sold on-line.
Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen:
Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen is an authority on Icelandic music. He is a veteran music scribe for local newspaper Morgunblaðið, where he has published many learned essays on the subject of Icelandic music and its various scenes, as well as reporting on shows by local bands and reviewing albums.
Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen: It’s been a rather uneventful year for Icelandic music, or at least it hasn’t been a year for big phenomena like when Icelandic hip hop topped the charts in 2002, Mugison hit it big in 2004 or Sprengjuhöllin last year. The big news and common denominator for this year is probably the Páll Óskar box set. 2008 has been a year of chillin’, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. There are lots of things happening, but there are fewer peaks on the landscape. It’s more even. Icelandic hip-hop is full of activity right now, even though no one seems to notice, not to mention the hardcore and metal scenes. A lot of great records are being put out, but there hasn’t been a standout one.
Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdóttir: From my point of view, this has been a great year for Icelandic music. I live in the UK and get to follow the bands that have an active and organised international touring regime going. I was very pleasantly surprised by Celestine; they managed to book a two-week tour and a major festival appearance before I even caught a whiff of them. The younger breed of musicians seem more active and able in promoting themselves abroad, organising longer and more effective tours than we have seen before.
And it has also been a pleasure to watch the institution that is Sigur Rós operate. This year they took four Icelandic bands with them on 2-3 week tours, and it has been very exciting to observe the results. The biggest news this year for me, however, was probably Ólafur Arnalds and his career. His concert at the Barbican in June was definitely one of my highlights for the year. To witness this self-managed 21 year old getting discovered and scoring a record deal after making an intro for a German metal album, then eighteen months later packing the Barbican. I’ve never observed as speedy a progress as with Ólafur; it is a pleasure to see such a focused young man promote himself. And there are plenty more albums released in 2007 that have been making splashes this year. The possibilities seem limitless.
Eldar Ástþórsson: I don’t know if I can vouch for this being an uneventful year. I think we’ll wind up seeing a lot of the scenes, bands and musicians that have been brewing and coming out in 2008 harvesting in 2009 and beyond. And I must concur with Anna; you had to be very observant to notice all the musicians’ success abroad. The new breed of artists seems to take a different route, where they take longer, more extensive touring over playing a couple of shows on London and sending out a press release. They are doing things themselves and approaching the global industry from a different angle than those that came before them. Like Celestine, that just went for it – a great band that believed in themselves, booked a tour and released two albums this year. They don’t wait for success or recognition; it’s like they’ve caught on to the fact that being a successful musician is hard work.
AHH: This is a point, the bands have also been more active locally. Like the Kraumur and Rás 2 tours, artists seem to be realising that they need to get out there and play their music for an audience that builds up slowly. A lot of these bands, like Mugison and Sign, are playing 50–100 gigs annually.
AET: This is the new mentality, as indicated by Celestine and Ólafur Arnalds. Fifteen years ago, you had to have a hit with your first song or else… now people are in it for the long haul. Two great examples are Jóhann Jóhannsson and Gusgus. Jóhann steadily works his career, and Gusgus have built a great base throughout the years that they utilise.
AHH: People are realising that this is a marathon. Mugison has been at it since 2004, Sign have been doing it for years and are getting very organised at touring over and over. Helgi Jónsson is another example.
EÁ: And as we said, a lot of this great activity is happening internationally. Like the Borko/Seabear tour this fall…
AHH: Seabear have sold something around 20,000 records through Morr Music: a great success and Sindri is a great musician.
EÁ: It’s not easy to spot from over here. Seabear released a great record in 2007 and have a whole lot going on for them, but they don’t play a lot of local shows…
AHH: I think this evolution is great news for Icelandic music in general. Bands get better from touring, and those who get the opportunity to play dozens of shows each year undergo a certain experience that definitely shows in the output that follows. Páll Óskar, for instance, is a great example of a musician who has been touring and promoting endlessly, always at it, always playing. A great role model, as are Bubbi and KK and others.
EÁ: Another interesting thing is that the independent and DIY artists seem more adept at promoting themselves over here. They have been doing great things these past few months with record sales; bands like FM Belfast, Mugison are outselling the ones that opt for major release and distribution deals. And there are a lot of great records being released every week. Making a top ten list for the year would be very hard, Sin Fang Bous, Emiliana Torrini, Lay Low, all the others… it wouldn’t fit!
AET: Before naming my top three records of the year, I’d like to mention how Kimi Records and its manager, Baldvin Esra, have been doing an admirable and great job this year. Baldvin runs the label from Akureyri and has released a lot of really strong records, just plain good music, that has been promoted in a refreshing way and with a passion you don’t often see in the music industry. But to name just three records, I want to mention Celestine’s At the Borders of Arcadia, truly comparable with every great extreme metal band I’ve heard thus far. Sin Fang Bous is the greatest album I’ve heard this year and Emiliana Torrini is doing some of her best work on her new album, a great clash of accessibility and experimentation. Dark and catchy.
AHH: If we’re naming three albums, I’d like to mention Celestine as a big and pleasant surprise. Dísa released a great album that shows great promise for the young artist. Emiliana was great, of course. And then I have a personal favourite, the album Villi Valli released this year, produced by his grandson Viddi [of Trabant fame]. It was such a beautiful little project, from the design to the participating musicians. It’s somehow gorgeously Icelandic to bridge the generation gap this way. And of course there is the Mógil album, which I loved. I guess that makes more than three?
- Where? Kaffi Hressó, day before Christmas
- The Mood: Glowing