How often does an event have to be repeated to warrant tradition status? If the number is four, we present to you the on-going tradition of the Reykjavík Grapevine Music Awards! Since its first ever edition, music journalism has always been one of the cornerstones of The Reykjavík Grapevine media empire and the vibrant Icelandic music scene an endless source of inspiration, debate, and drunken dancing among our writers and staff throughout the years.
In light of all this, we want to hand something back to the music community that in a way spawned us and has given us so much over the years. Those who give our grey and meaningless existence something resembling a purpose deserve to be honoured, even though we, the Grapevine staff don’t have a lot of said honour in stock.
What we give is our admiration and unbridled celebration, but also moderate prizes and a non-fancy ceremony where awards are handed out and copious amounts of alchohol will be consumed. Without further ado, feast your eyes upon The Reykjavík Grapevine’s fourth annual music awards!
Our method is as scientific and peer-reviewed as we could manage. We got three people we trust better than God and Ghandi together in a room with pizzas and a large amount of time. It’s like jury duty, everybody has to agree on the results. Their meeting was put to tape with a recording device and below is transcribed some of the reasoning for the awards handed out.
Song Of The Year 2015: Vaginaboys — “Elskan af því bara”
This was a fun discussion, and reaching a conclusion was far from easy, as 2015 brought many great tunes. In the end, our panel reached a consensus, agreeing that Vaginaboys’ breakout hit “Elskan Af Því Bara” (“Baby Just Because”) should take the cake, because it’s “so fucking refreshing,” as one panellist put it. “What a breath of fresh air—‘Elskan’ manages to be retro, poppy, experimental, detached and wholly sincere all at the same time,” they continued. The panel was also impressed with Vaginaboys’ original sound and vision: “While most local purveyors of nu-RnB take after Drake and The Weeknd a little too much, Vaginaboys’ approach to songwriting—and their overall aesthetic—is wholly unique. Nothing else around sounds quite like it—serious RnB, with soul and guts.”
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Listen to the song by clicking on the play button, or press that cool button at the top right corner to download.
2014: Prins Póló – “París Norðursins”
2013: Sin Fang – “Young Boys”
2012: Moses Hightower – “Háa C”
Band Of The Year 2015: Úlfur Úlfur
Surprisingly to some, Icelandic hip-hop totally dominated local airwaves, venues and charts in 2015—hell, as well as the radio airwaves, those rappers even claimed ownership of the Iceland Airwaves festival, which would have been unthinkable only a couple of years ago. The reason is clear though: all those years spent on the fringes granted Iceland’s hip hop scene time and freedom to expand, experiment and exercise—to carefully hone their skills to perfection, reaching a new plateau.
As the scene blew up, it quickly became clear that among many great contenders, Úlfur Úlfur had established themselves as its main ambassadors to mainstream Iceland. While Gísli Pálmi has the most dedicated following, and Emmsjé Gauti gives the best live performances, Úlfur Úlfur are the Icelandic hip hop act that Icelanders best connect with, managing to entice even the most whitebread, U2-loving, Manchester United-supporting, Independence Party-voting listeners.
And 2015 was certainly their year. They released a best-selling, chart topping début, ‘Tvær Plánetur’, played a number of huge shows, and were universally admired across different sections of the population. As one of our panellists put it: “They’re impossible not to love. Both my mother and my five year old son constantly play their record. Even [AOR-MOR station] Bylgjan plays their record.”
The panel concurred: “Úlfur Úlfur’s skills, attitude, stage presence and songwriting are all top grade. Their frequently viral music videos are stylish and tasteful, and their sound came to define the year to a large extent, reaching a surprisingly wide audience”.
2014: Prins Póló
Best Album 2015: Tonik Ensamble — ‘Snapshots’
Surprisingly enough, choosing ALBUM OF THE YEAR 2015 proved the easiest decision of the bunch. Basically, as soon as Tonik Ensemble was mentioned, our panellists started raving about ‘Snapshots’, seemingly trying to one-up each other in their declarations of love. “I wish we could give Tonik Ensemble the award in every category,” one of them noted as the lovefest peaked, succinctly summarizing the group’s collective feels. “But is it album of the year?” asked the moderator. “Tonik. Right on. Agreed.”
And that was that.
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With a decision in the bag, our panel was far from done heaping praise on ‘Snapshots’. Some select quotes:
On how ‘Snapshots’ rewards repeated listening: “I heard it for the first time and thought it was good, probably one of the year’s best. Almost a year and dozens of listens later, my conviction has only grown. It’s album of the year.”
On Tonik’s remarkable artistic growth: “I’ve always liked Tonik’s stuff, but never like this. There is a sincere and powerful aura hovering above the album, bittersweet, soulful and beautiful. It gets better with every listen.”
On how ‘Snapshots’ serves as a testament to Tonik’s professional approach and attention to detail: “He just knows what he’s fucking doing. It’s evident from listening that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of electronic music’s history, along with being up to date on the latest trends. The sprawling and unique nature of ‘Snapshots’ is the result of Tonik’s undying enthusiasm for music, and years of dedicated experimentation. He lays the album’s foundation by infusing his own, carefully crafted style with elements of 90s rave and IDM, and then sprinkles a plethora of rewarding little references all over it, which imbue the album with life and serve to provide context and points of departure…”
Worth noting is the fact that the person responsible for last year’s Album Of The Year, Hörður Már of M-Band, plays a pivotal role in ‘Snapshots’, his gorgeous vocals lending soul and lustre to its mechanics.
2014: M-band – ‘Haust’
2013: Sin Fang – ‘Flowers’
2012: Hjaltalín – ‘Enter IV’
You Should Have Heard This In 2015: Bjarki — “I Wanna Go Bang”
One of the most interesting things we learned through our panel discussion was that one of the most—if not the single most—successful Icelandic musician of 2015 is almost entirely unknown to Icelandic listeners. He makes techno. He’s called Bjarki. And in 2015, he totally went bang.
“It’s odd to think that Bjarki barely got a nod in any local year-end lists,” our most techno-savvy panellist noted, “as he was responsible for one of the year’s biggest international dance music smashes, “I Wanna Go Bang.” The numbers confirm that it really is a smash hit—it currently has 800,000 YouTube views and 150,000 Spotify plays.
The track’s global success is no wonder. With booming sub-bass as deep as the Pacific, skittering hi hats and a robotic voice repeating endlessly “Sometimes I feel like…I wanna go BANG,” it could transform a squeaky-clean choirboy into a hedonistic Berghain-dweller at the beat of a bass drum. And overseas at least, he’s reaping the rewards of his tireless work—he probably played 200 sets this year, DJing for huge crowds all over the world.”
“We’re experiencing a second wave of Icelandic techno, and Bjarki is at the forefront,” our techspert noted. “While he and associates like Exos and Ilo are very active in social media in their respective scenes, they don’t send press releases to Fréttablaðið every time they play a successful gig abroad. They simply don’t care about becoming celebrities in Iceland. That’s why nobody’s noticed them—their scene is underground.”.
2014: Asonat – Connection
2013: múm – Smilewound
2012: Skúli Sverrisson and Óskar Guðjónsson – The Box Tree
Artist To Watch: GKR
GKR burst onto the scene at the beginning of 2015 with his spitfire rhymes and a pair of playful videos for the songs “Ballin” and “Hello.” By the year’s end, he’d caught the public’s attention with his sincere ode to breakfast, “Morgunmatur,” one of the best tracks in a strong, resurgent year for Icelandic hip hop.
“With “Morgunmatur,” GKR demonstrated that his approach to music and life is way different from his peers’. Everyday swag, total sincerity and not a hint of posing. No bitches, no money… just being yourself, waking up, eating cereal and doing your thing. It’s a simple celebration, and that’s so refreshing.”
Where GKR’s newfound success might lead him is anyone’s guess, but it’s sure to be a hell of a ride. “GKR obviously has loads of raw talent, coupled with high ambitions and fire in his belly. I’m really excited about what 2016 has in store for him.”
Live Band Of 2015: Börn
Börn won this category hands down, drawing admiration from all quarters.
Said one of our panellists: “The power and energy they produce on stage is just enormous. They are fun and inspiring and angry and tight as fuck, exuding a kind of raw, primal power that could fill any venue.”
They even appeal to folks who don’t normally go for that whole “punk” thing. As one of our panellists noted: “It’s not the type of music I listen to at home, but their performances always thrill me.”
As much as they probably hate the thought, their appearance also factors in their appeal: “They come off as a gang of nerdy cool misfits, but as they start playing you get the feeling that they might be a little bit dangerous.”
2014: Pink Street Boys
Surprise Of The Year 2015: Misþyrming
Once every category had been accounted for, a minor panic overtook our fine committee. Despite several attempts, they hadn’t managed to fit in one of their favourite contenders for almost every category. This was no good.
The editor was phoned and told of the dilemma. His response: “What? No! It’s our goddamn magazine, we can do whatever the hell we want. Just make up another category or something?” So we did. Because leaving out Misþyrming would be absurd.
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So, black metal maestros Misþyrming are our SURPRISE OF 2015! Because no one really expected them, yet they came through on so many levels.
After building tension and excitement through a series of intense live shows, Misþyrming established themselves as serious contenders in their genre with the release of their face-meltingly amazing début, ‘Söngvar elds og óreiðu’. Black metal fans know about Misþyrming. And they love them.
However, it was probably their appearance at Iceland Airwaves that proved Misþyrming are that rare type of genre band that has appeal beyond the niche. Their Gaukurinn show was packed with all types of punters, curious to check out this new local band that was getting hype from taste-making publications like Vice—many of them entirely unfamiliar with metal’s more extreme fringes. As the band’s set reached a climax, it became apparent that people were fascinated by the sheer power and magnitude of their performance—and that they would be coming back for more.
Noted the panel: “For years, Misþyrming have quietly perfected their unique take on a genre that’s often at risk of going stale, and in 2015 it became obvious that they had managed to reignite that northern blaze.”
– IT’S A NEW CATEGORY!
Band To Remember 2015: Risaeðlan
Everyone agreed: “It’s about time we pay tribute to Risaeðlan, one of the best bands to come out of Iceland in the 80s.”
Why was Risaeðlan so great? Everyone agreed: “Their music made them great. And their unbridled creative joy! And the chemistry between singers Magga Stína and Halldóra Geirharðs.”
Risaeðlan played a wacky, unhinged type of rock music, rife with punk undercurrents, yet simmering with pop sensibilities. Surfacing in the late 80s as part of the Smekkleysa collective, they made a huge mark on the scene, and their influence remains audible in certain corners of Icelandic music. “I was, unfortunately, too young to attend their shows when they were active,” noted one panellist, “but I really loved their music. It was so wonderfully weird and full of whimsy, unlike anything else you’d hear on the radio.”
We hear Risaeðlan are planning a reunion gig at this year’s Aldrei fór ég suður festival, so our panellists’ dreams of seeing ‘em play might finally come true. Risaeðlan: what a wonderful band!
THIS IS HOW WE DID IT
Photos by Art Bicnick
As per usual, we called up some folks who are deeply involved with Icelandic music and whose opinions we trust pretty well, asking them to serve on a small committee that would determine who we should deck out in shiny medals and fancy prizes for their music related activities in the year 2015. These were the people we called up this time around: Eldar Ástþórsson (a veteran concert promoter and Kraumur Music Fund board member), Henný María Frímannsdóttir (Iceland Airwaves’ PR and Marketing Manager), and our very own Óli Dóri (music journalist, DJ and host of Iceland’s premier alt. radio show, Straum).
We arranged two meetings with these people, which we ceremoniously monitored and recorded for the purposes of eventually writing down and publishing their arguments. They had preliminary discussions at the first meeting, talking about what they liked in Icelandic music in 2015 and who they thought should get an award and why. Then we exchanged records and songs and ideas and reconvened a week later, after everyone had had plenty of time to think and listen, to determine the final list of recipients.
All in all, it was around four hours of feverish and passionate talking about music. And the results are here! Read on for our condensation of the discussion of how they reached their decision. Feel free to fret and disagree, you could even write us a letter telling us why (if it’s not an asshole letter, we promise to print it. We could even give you some sort of prize… imagine that!).!
A special thanks!
We’d like to say a special thanks to the companies that supplied our Reykjavik Grapevine Music Awards winner with their lovely prizes. The prizes are:
One winner gets a free night of luxury at Hótel Búðir, chilling in the countryside. Thanks to Reykjavik Excursions, a lucky artist gets a tour-friendly one-year Flybus ticket for getting to and from Keflavik Airport. We teamed up with Sushi Samba, who’ve invited one of the bands to have a luxurious dinner party for six. One of the bands will recieve a print run of 50 band T-shirts, courtesy of Dogma. A lucky winner will recieve a free year of bass / guitar strings from musicians’ haven Tónastöðin. Another will get a vinyl-junkie’s dream: a 10,000 ISK gift-voucher to spend in Reykjavík Records. Finally, we’ve teamed up with the Grapevine-award-winning restaurant Snaps, who’ll host a luxurious dinner for one of the bands.
This will hopefully serve as encouragement for future generations of musicians to release music and perform concerts, and possibly get free stuff in return. Who knows.