It‘s midwinter in Iceland, when the battle against frozen feet and contagious, uncontrollable yawning is in full swing. Luckily for us, however, it’s nothing that can’t be solved with a cup of coffee and some good music. So, what better time to introduce the winners of the sixth annual Reykjavík Grapevine Music Awards?
Each year, Grapevine sits down with a panel of experts from the local scene to pick out the best and brightest artists of the previous year—those who lit up the stage, took bold strides forward, and had an invaluable impact on their listeners and peers. In a country with so much to give, artistically speaking, it’s tough to choose just a handful of artists, but the discussion always turns out to be a fun and inspiring look back at the previous year in music.
In hindsight, there seems to be an interesting leitmotif this year. At least half of the winners were already well established for their work with other bands or collectives, and many were involved in multiple projects at once. Yet their potential seems to have be most fulfilled in solo projects, where they had the freedom to follow their instincts to the full, explore their own personal soundscapes and lyrical worlds, and attain a strong sense of focus.
While deciding the awards, our panel took into consideration presence, impact, authenticity and, naturally, talent. These collective choices tended to transcend the personal tastes of the panelists, instead focussing on winners who pushed themselves into new creative territory, had a tangible influence on the scene around them, and managed to capture the zeitgeist in Icelandic music.
Without further ado, we present to you the winners of the Reykjavík Grapevine Music Awards 2018.
Artist Of The Year: Jófriður Ákadóttir
Although initially suggested in the guise of her JFDR solo project, it quickly became apparent that Jófríður’s presence in the local and international scene extended way beyond JFDR’s debut album, ‘Brazil.’ “It’s super clear that she has done the most in the scene,” the panel said. “She is definitely the most prolific musician around.”
But it’s not just about the incredible amount of work that Jófríður produces. Instead, like King Midas, everything she touches seems to turn to gold. From the soft electronic beats of Samaris and the dreamy pop of Gangly, to the folk-pop purity of Pascal Pinon, her otherworldly, breathy voice is a national monument that is becoming internationally renowned. 2017 was Jófríður’s year, but her journey is still just beginning—there she goes, headed into the new year in full sail.
Album Of The Year: Högni – ‘Two Trains’
When choosing the best album from 2017, the panel was adamant to select an album that was excellent in its entirety; an LP on which the whole experience could be enjoyed without disappointment. Högni’s album ‘Two Trains’ won by a good margin for being a well constructed opus that sits independently from Högni’s previous collaborations, whilst bearing the hallmarks of his career to date. Högni’s electrifying voice was first heard in the band Hjaltalín then, later, as a powerful collaborator and stage presence in techno-pop outfit GusGus.
In his solo project, the scope of Högni’s talent truly shines through. ‘Two Trains’ is at once a nod to the past, with a sonorous male choir and heart-wrenching string arrangements, and a glimpse of the future, with its electronic textures. “The album has a good flow, but the songs also work individually,” one panellist said. “Listening to it can be a strange experience at first—almost transcendent—but it truly is the gift that keeps on giving.”
Song Of The Year: Joey Christ – ‘Joey Cypher’
A blood-sworn 101 boy, and partner in crime of local R’n’B star Sturla Atlas, Joey Christ arrived in style in 2017. His sound is fine-tuned to the hip-hop vibe that permeates downtown Reykjavík, and the Icelandic music scene in general. ‘Joey Cypher’ turned out to be the hit of the summer—the video, filmed in the newly opened Costco supermarket, went viral immediately.
Perhaps, because it was a collective mash-up that involved fellow artists and friends Birnir, Aron Can and Herra Hnetusmjör, the song “easily summed up the rap explosion in one top notch track,” as one of our journalists said. “It was a real high point in a scene that often gives mixed results.”
Read our interview with Joey here.
Live Act Of Year: Hatari
Following their show-stealing concerts during Iceland Airwaves, Hatari hardly need any introduction. This electronic synth-pop trio, clad in fascist-uniform-meets-BDSM attire, has won us over with their piercing gazes and their stoic, stony faces. Onstage, they seem to embody the long-lost conscience of a corrupt society that encourages self-indulgence, unethical individualism and a disturbing repression individuals’ sexuality. In short, our very own modern world.
As much an art project as a traditional band, Hatari bark out political tirades in a gritty, raw voice, juxtaposed against pulsing, synth-led art-pop. You can love them or hate them, but there is something mesmerising about Hatari’s performances that taps right into our primordial fascination with the most sordid aspects of humanity. All that, and you can dance to it too—and remember that your soul is not immune to the grime they relentlessly unveil.
Read an open letter from Hatari here.
Band To Remember: Subterranean
Comprised of Ragna Kjartansdottir (aka CELL7), the brothers Magnús Jónsson (aka Gnúsi Yones), Magse (aka Nagmús), Karl Davíðsson (aka Kalli Youze) and Frew Elfineh (aka Frew Taha, aka Black Fist), Subterranean still occupies a special place in the hearts of Icelanders. So much so that when one of the panelists suggested them as this year’s band to remember, the roar of approval almost shook the walls.
With hip hop taking the downtown scene by storm in 2017, young Icelanders tend to forget the precise lyrics and rapid flow of these 1997 hip hop pioneers. Their album ‘Central Magnetizm,’ which sold out in a heartbeat, was in fluent, accent-free English, making it impossible for Subterranean to be pinned down to any area of the world map. The result was an international hit that is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago.
Read our interview with Subterranean here.
Shout Out: Bára Gísladóttir & Alvia Islandia
The music that Bára and Andrea (aka Alvia Islandia) make couldn’t be more different. Bára is a young composer who has been working solo and with Nordic orchestras for the past few years on the exploration of rituals and music through an avant-garde perspective. Alvia Islandia is a young hip hop artist with funny lyrics and slightly jazzy beats. Both are ambitious, motivated, talented and self-possessed, unafraid of striding forward with self-releases and taking bold steps into their respective scenes.
Bára is a breath of fresh air for the contemporary composition scene, with discordant, even violent recordings and live performances that are as freaky as they are captivating. Alvia Islandia brings that same innovation to the local hip hop scene. As one panellist put it, perhaps because she is a young woman, “She has another perspective on life. She is not doing things like somebody else. She is simply herself.” Bára and Alvia: consider yourselves shouted out.
Read our interviews with Bára and Alvia here.
Artist To Watch: EinarIndra
The soft vocals of EinarIndra are what dreams are made of. His sound has been compared to that of The XX or James Blake, but what he does is purely his own work. “It’s kind of on-trend, but with a beautiful voice and an experimental edge,” one panelist said enthusiastically. “He could be huge.”
Despite having made music for a while, EinarIndra worked mostly on making beats until only recently, when he decided to experiment with his voice by introducing it into his most recent release, ‘Stories.’ The result is new, yet oddly familiar, like recognising someone in a crowd who you’ve never actually met before. Einar is an emerging artist, but his potential is undeniable. Remember his melancholic gloom, because he is definitely here to stay.
Read our interview with EinarIndra here.
You Should Have Heard This:
Sólveig Matthildur – ‘Unexplained Miseries & The Acceptance Of Sorrow’
After rising to prominence for her work with synth-punk band Kælan Mikla, Sólveig Matthildur moved to Berlin, where she started her own solo project. She self-released her debut solo album ‘Unexplained Miseries and the Acceptance of Sorrow’ on Bandcamp, in accordance with her staunchly independent punk-DIY style, and since then it’s also come out on cassette and CD, selling out quickly and becoming something of a cult hit.
The album is a thrilling listen, with Sólveig’s rich singing voice woven into a deep, resonant soundscape of dreamy electronic beats. But even so, it’s powerful enough to give you goosebumps as she sings her melancholic tales of heartbreak and recovery. Sólveig experiments right at the border of her electro-gothic vernacular, resulting in an album that’s at once heartbreaking and revitalising, following unpredictable waves of sound that spiral up and plunge down with tidal strength. Fall down with Sólveig and you’ll rise a new person.
Read our interview with Sólveig here.
People’s Choice Award: Hórmónar
This year, we decided to give our readers a say, running a Facebook poll from the panel’s shortlist of 30 artists. With over 1000 votes cast, the winners were feminist rock ‘n’ roll quintet Hórmónar. Read our interview with Hórmónar here, and thanks for voting!
Meet The Panel
Words: John Rogers
Andrea Jónsdóttir, RUV
A well-known and widely respected veteran broadcaster and DJ, Andrea Jónsdottir can often been found spinning vinyl in downtown Reykjavík bar Dillon, or championing new music on the radio via Iceland’s state broadcaster, RÚV, where she has worked since 1984. With her open-minded taste, sense of adventure, and keen eye for emerging talents, Andrea was pivotal in helping us decide these awards. Takk fyrir, Andrea!
Cheryl K. Ang, Iceland Music (IMX)
Cheryl is the newest arrival at the Iceland Music Export agency, also known as IMX. Her mission on a day-to-day basis is to comb through reams of new Icelandic releases, promoting them to the music industry and the public alike via newsletters, blog entries, playlists, and social media. As such, few people listen to more Icelandic music than Cheryl, making her a perfect panellist for the 2017 awards. Cheers, Cheryl!
Egill Tómasson, Iceland Airwaves
As the longest serving member in the production team behind Iceland’s most respected music festival, Egill is a true expert on the local scene. Every year, Iceland Airwaves receives hundreds of applications from homegrown bands, and it’s a major part of Egill’s day-to-day work to stay on top of which bands have recently emerged, found their stride onstage, broken new creative ground, or dropped the album of their career. Skál, Egill!
Join us on January 5th 2018 for our Grapevine Music Awards Party at Húrra, with live performances from Högni, Sólveig, EinarIndra and Bára.