Iceland Music Awards

Behold! The Reykjavík Grapevine’s Third Annual Music Awards!

Behold! The Reykjavík Grapevine’s Third Annual Music Awards!

Published January 9, 2015

Haukur S. Magnússon
Main photo by
Baldur Kristjáns

The following is true: We at The Reykjavík Grapevine really like music. You could say we love it. We love music. Every goddamn person involved in this publication lives and breathes music every hour of every day. Every hour.

It’s true.

As a matter of fact, many of us were initially drawn to Reykjavík (and subsequently became involved with The Reykjavík Grapevine) following a long-standing fascination with the city’s vibrant music scene and the myriad of wonderful people that make it up.

In light of this, it makes sense that we would celebrate the music scene that inspires us daily with The Reykjavík Grapevine Music Awards. It’s not like the Grammys or anything—there’s no red carpet ceremony (there is a kickass party for the victors and their friends, though)—but everyone gets something nice, like a meal at a fancy restaurant or a year’s supply of guitar strings.

The idea boils down to this: we want to honour some of those wonderful people who make living on the edge of this desolate rock on the edge of the Arctic Circle bearable, enjoyable even. We want to heap them with praise and bestow fun prizes upon them.

It’s our way of saying a little thank you in recognition of all the entertainment, inspiration and food for thought and conversation that musicians bring to the inhabitants of our chilly northern isle.

We want to show our love, because we can.

As always, you should feel free to fret and disagree with our panel. You could even write us a letter telling us why (for the last time: if it’s not an asshole letter, we promise to print it and everything!).

Song Of The Year 2014: Prins Póló — París Norðursins

Is Charm Something You Can Hoard?

There was never any doubt as to the song of 2014. The results were fixed from the get go. Our prestigious panel barely bothered discussing the category, let alone arguing their choice. The debate went like this (we have it on tape): “So, song of the year… ‘París Norðursins’, right?”

“Right.”

“That’s alright then. What’s up next?”

Listen to the song in question here.

After we thoroughly pestered them to give us something to write about in this category, a panel member finally remarked:

“’París Norðursins’ is a just about as perfect as a pop song can get. The melody, the beat, the lyrics, the atmosphere and the attitude all wonderfully complement one another, coming together to form a perfect harmony of pure pop bliss that the world’s most celebrated songwriters would be thrilled to accomplish. With ‘París Norðursins’, Svavar Pétur and his cohorts have earned a permanent placement in Iceland’s pop history. It is most certainly the song of 2014.”

As a thank you for making SONG OF THE YEAR, we teamed up with Hótel Búðir to get Prins Póló a free night of rest and relaxation at the wonderful retreat.

Band Of The Year 2014: Prins Póló

DSC_8505_6176a_Prins Polo

Those who have closely followed the development of Reykjavík’s music scene over the past decade or so have undoubtedly derived much joy from watching Prins Póló grow from strength to strength in recent years.

Prins Póló is the solo venture of one Svavar Pétur Eysteinsson (joined in concert by his wife Berglind and their friends Kristján Freyr and Benni Hemm Hemm), who made his first appearance on Reykjavík’s stages in the early noughties playing with twee quirksters Rúnk (“Masturbation/Repetition”) and quickly made a name for himself as a unique, fiercely independent and perennially DIY-minded artist. Throughout the decade, he further cemented his reputation through his work with indie rock outfit Skakkamange (where he is also joined by his wife), before making a name for himself as a hyper-creative cultural instigator-slash-entrepreneur, founding and running an independent book/music/art/design store-slash-music venue called Havarí, which doubled as a cultural hub and meeting spot for Reykjavík’s artists and musicians in the decade’s latter half.

A graphic designer by trade, Svavar further made a mark on Icelandic underground culture by creating book jackets, album covers and posters for his contemporaries, honing his uniquely original, ever-evolving aesthetic while actively supporting local artists.

Despite many successes and impressive projects, Svavar seemed destined to forever remain in the underground, an artist’s artist, influencing popular culture from the sidelines as his uncompromising attitude ensured he would never appeal to the masses.

As the years have passed, Svavar’s aesthetic remains just as eccentric, his stance just as uncompromised. But something weird has been happening lately. Svavar Pétur’s various projects (the latest one is a line of vegan sausages) have been gaining fans in the unlikeliest of places, and chief among those is Prins Póló.

The Prince’s rise to glory has been a slow and steady build-up that no one really saw coming. It finally reached a tipping point during the summer of 2014, when the band exploded all over Iceland’s airwaves via top pop hit “París Norðursins,” which was embraced equally by every facet of Icelandic society, from ‘modern rock’ radio to commercial MOR stations to vapid tabloids and TV stations.

All of the sudden, Prins Póló is everywhere, beloved, revered and celebrated. The band of 2014, without doubt or question. And the best part is: aside from a natural, gradual evolution, his approach and aesthetic have remained consistent throughout, as dedicated to the DIY spirit, as supportive of the underdog, as inclusive and welcoming as ever before.

Everyone loves an underdog proposition, and it’s with a lot of pride that we crown Prins Póló The Band Of 2014.

As a thank you to Prins Póló for being such a great band that we had to name them BAND OF THE YEAR we teamed up with our three-time best goddamn restaurant SNAPS to invite the band to a luxurious dinner party.

The Prince Speaks

We called up Svavar and asked what advice he would give to today’s loser teenagers who harboured hopes to become Grapevine’s Band Of The Year 2030.

This is what he told us:

“It took me a while to accept the fact that I had absolutely no shot at athletic glory, and I would never be crowned Mr. Iceland in a beauty pageant. But, when I did, there were no obstructions. It was just me and the guitar.

But, armed with a guitar you can go anywhere. One doesn’t need to be the world’s greatest guitarist. Being the world’s worst guitarist is also an advantage. And you don’t need to know how to read music and you don’t need to be good at math. You don’t really need to be good at anything. You can be both ugly and stupid.

But you can never be lazy, because that will result in absolutely nothing.

What’s important is this: you need to believe in yourself, and do what you want. Don’t get stuck doing what others want to do. Music isn’t something you want to do. Music is something you need to do. And this is true of all creation. It has to happen, and while it’s happening, other things just need to wait.

Album Of 2014: M-Band—Haust

M-Band-promo-pic

As our team of experts quickly discerned, 2014 was, in fact, a pretty damn good year for Icelandic music. We had esteemed veterans like Ben Frost, GusGus and FM Belfast dropping major releases, while newcomers such as Börn, Pink Street Boys and Óbó hit hard with some unbelievably accomplished débuts.

After much debate and discussion, our team reached the conclusion that 2014’s best goddamn album was the work of a bright young whippersnapper who just a short while ago crashed onto the scene and started making waves. We are of course talking about M-Band, the musical outlet of one Hörður Már Bjarnason, whose stunning début album ‘Haust’ (“Fall”) absolutely captivated anyone who came across it.

[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=670953602 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]

Quoth the panel: “At the start of 2014, Hörður had already proved beyond doubt that he is one of the most talented musicians of his generation—not only through his solo work as M-Band, but also as member of bands like Nolo, Retrobot, and next-big-thing Tonik.”

“Expectations were high, but Hörður really came into his own with M-Band in 2014. After a couple of years of development, ‘Haust’ turned out to be a beautiful and fully-formed work that incorporates both structure and spontaneity—from pounding 4×4 rhythms to simmering, poetic ballads and squalls of electronic noise, ‘Haust’ is a wonderful debut led by powerful creative instincts. An instant classic.”

To thank M-Band for making ALBUM OF THE YEAR, we teamed up Flybus to present them with a year’s worth of transport to and from the airport.

You Should Have Heard This In 2014! Asonat—Connection

Asonat by Hallur Karlsson
Photo by Hallur Karlsson

The “Most Overlooked” category is where we try to shine a light on releases that might have fallen under the radar for whatever reason, and people just need to hear. Right now.

And this is pretty great, because, as we learned in our discussions, one of 2014’s best releases was also one that failed to register with most casual music listeners.

“It’s not really surprising that Asonat’s ‘Connection’ didn’t top any charts upon release—they are after all a fairly unknown group whose members have mostly operated on the fringes up until now. But it is a great album that will appeal to almost anyone who gets the chance to gives it a chance. Electro veteran Ruxpin’s wonderful songwriting filtered through the band’s unique and highly evolved soundscapes and topped with the Björk-like stylings of singer Oléna make ‘Connection’ worthy of anyone’s attention. For starters, check out album high-points “Quiet Storm” and “Before It Was”

“Don’t miss out.”

To thank Asonat for making the wonderful “Connection” we teamed up with our friends at Bravó and Húrra to give them loads of free beer.

Band To Watch 2015: Fufanu

Fufanu by Birta Rán
Photo by Birta Rán

The experts all agree: Fufanu is THE band to watch in 2015.

“Fufanu totally knocked the socks off almost every international industry and media representative that attended Iceland Airwaves 2014, and it’s no wonder: when Fufanu are good, they are REALLY good. As the band sails full-force into 2015, they are aided by an impressive record deal and some crucial celebrity endorsements—it is truly All Eyez On Fufanu, 2Pac-style.”

“Make sure you don’t miss out.”

As a thank you to Fufanu for being so awesome, we teamed up with Sushi Samba to invite Fufanu to a luxurious dinner party for six at the restaurant.

Live Band Of 2014: Pink Street Boys

Pink Street Boys by Rúnar Sigurjónsson
Photo by Rúnar Sigurjónsson

Picking the best live band of 2014, was a no-brainer, as anyone who witnessed Pink Street Boys in concert in 2014 will attest.

And, as we learned, our panel certainly witnessed Pink Street Boys in concert last year.

“Pink Street Boys are the band that Reykjavík so desperately needed. Their take on sleazy garage rock may sound almost offensively basic at first listen, but whenever they take the stage, the gang—and they are a gang—morphs into a force so in-your-face and brutal that the audience can be driven into a state of sheer hedonistic insanity. They might not be able to command a stadium at this point in their career, but then they aren’t the kind of band you want to experience in a stadium. You need to be able to smell their body odour. You need to see them now.”

As a thank you to Pink Street Boys for being such a great goddamn live band, we teamed up with musicians’ haven Tónastöðin to get them a year’s supply of guitar strings. Use them well, guys!

Band To Remember: Þeyr

Þeyr stærri

We made up the “Band To Remember” category especially for all you tourist-types (who might imagine that Icelandic music got off to a start with Ásgeir or Of Monsters And Men), so that you might learn about some of the wonderful, wonderful artists that preceded today’s hip modern artists. Think of it as a sort of public service, and a sign of respect and gratitude.

This year, our panel unanimously agreed: “Whoever hasn’t heard Þeyr already, needs to hear Þeyr already. They are the quintessential Icelandic band; creative, mysterious, iconoclastic and fiercely individualistic.”

You need to listen to Þeyr. While you wait for their catalogue to download, read Dr. Gunni’s take on the band’s story below:

In 1981, a flock of serious men came out of the woodwork clad in long black overcoats. They probably clutched a Joy Division or a Þeyr record under their arms. Þeyr didn’t start out as the deep young thinker’s go-to band, though. No sir, in 1979 the band approached Svavar Gests, a record mogul from another dimension, bearing two corny pop songs that were representative of the music they were making at that time. Svavar liked the songs well enough to agree to finance a Þeyr album to be released on the SG label that he’d run since the early 60s.

The band Þeyr were a group of friends who had been dabbling in music since the mid-70s. They started to record their pop songs during the winter of 1980, and had about half of a LP ready when they decided to take the summer off. During the summer of 1980, the band got hip to all kinds of new sounds through friends and relatives—both progressive new wave and modern art music, such as Schönberg’s. When the recording sessions commenced in the fall, Þeyr’s sound was totally transformed. Also there had been a lineup change: those who didn’t surrender to the new sound were ceremoniously dismissed.

Þeyr were on a roll. The band added two guitarists to their ranks, Guðlaugur “Godkrist” Óttarsson and Þorsteinn Magnússon, who had played in Eik, a progressive band that the Þeyr boys had loved during their formative years. His transformation to the new style was celebrated with a ceremony during a Þeyr concert in February of 1981. He spoke of being “freed,” as his long hippie hair was shorn on stage.

Iceland’s first new wave band

Þeyr were called the first “new wave” band in Iceland and had a very “new wave”-ish stage presence. The members behaved like spastic robots and sometimes the gigs would start with the members carrying in a coffin containing the band’s singer, Magnús Guðmundsson. During the first song, long and tall Magnús would rise from his coffin, and proceed to loom over the crowd like a cross between Frankenstein and Dracula in his long black leather coat, gravely singing and frozenly staring into the distance.

Þeyr and their close circle of friends got involved with all kinds of mysterious ideologies.  Occultism and mysticism coloured the music and the band’s outlook. The regular Þeyr fan tried his best to understand what Aleister Crowley, Nicolai Tesla, Wilhelm Reich, the Illuminati and all the other stuff Þeyr harped on was all about.

The band’s first 7 inch was called ‘Útfrymi’ (“Ectoplasm”)—and included “Life Transmission,” an ode to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who had taken his life the year before. The record came with a propaganda sheet where the band declared that they wanted to have spiritual intercourse with the Icelandic nation. The record was released on the band’s own label, Eskvímó, like most of their other records.

Inducing tropical climates

Þeyr were pranksters. When ‘Iður til fóta’ (“Innards at feet”)—a 10inch featuring four accessible new wave songs—was released in September of 1981, the band issued a press release claiming the album was equipped with a weather control device. At that time there was only one radio station in Iceland. “It is remarkable that during the days that the radio plays the record, Iceland experiences an almost tropical climate,” they stated.

The band’s second LP, ‘Mjötviður Mær’, saw release in December of 1981. The term “Mjötviður” comes from Old Norse mythologies, which is interesting since the band’s main ideologist, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, would much later become the high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, the religious organisation for those who practice belief in the Old Norse gods.

It is a diverse album, its songs ranging from the soft instrumental song “Mjötviður” to the driving “Rúdolf”—soon to be every drummer’s favourite, due to Sigtryggur Baldursson’s signature beat. Also to be found on the album are experimental tracks such as “Iss” and “2999,” which features the sounds of a bulldozer that happened to pass the studio. The album got rave reviews in the Icelandic media, the consensus being that Þeyr were now in the top league of Icelandic rock bands.

To thank Þeyr for being so awesome, we teamed up with Harppa’s restaurant, Kolabrautin, to invite Þeyr to a luxurious dinner party.

The Panel

1_Anna

Anna Ásthildur is one of the newer arrivals to the local music scene. She brings a fresh perspective on what’s happening, gleaned via her varied work with Icelandic Music Export, the You Are In Control conference and the Icelandic Music Awards. She’s also part of a downtown DJ duo called Myth & Lazybones, and is an active enthusiast of electronic music. That Anna, she’s so great!

1_OliÓli Dóri is a well-known advocate of new and exciting music—Icelandic and international—via his long-running radio show Straumur (tune in to X-ið 977 Monday nights at eleven pm) and through his website, Straum.is. He can regularly been found playing records at downtown’s top bars and clubs, and writes a monthly new music column for the Grapevine. Óli has top-notch taste, and follows the local scene with eagle eyes. We love that guy!

1_EgillThe third man is none other than local music legend Egill Tómasson. He’s the longest-serving member of the Iceland Airwaves team (involved in the festival’s production since the beginning, pretty much), and has as such amassed a truly in-depth knowledge of Iceland’s music scene. Every year, Egill closely observes the hundreds of homegrown applicants the festival receives, attending gigs, listening through demos and dealing directly with most of the bands. Few people know more about Icelandic music than Egill, so it is an honour and a privilege to have him on our panel. Thanks Egill!

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