When the mayor of Reykjavík announced the winners at this year’s Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s battle of the bands, they couldn’t believe it. Middle schoolers Ásrós Helga Guðmundsdóttir (age sixteen) and Katla Vigdís Vernharðsdóttir (age fourteen) didn’t think their newly formed duo Between Mountains had a chance in the legendary competition. They had only started playing together a few months earlier, during the cold Westfjords winter, where they reside in the tiny communities of Dýrafjörður and Suðureyri respectively.
“I was speechless, really happy, but mostly shocked,” says Ásrós, singer and xylophone player. “It’s best to experience a victory when you’re not expecting it. We were absolutely ready to go home and try again next year.”
Soft pop indie something
Músíktilraunir, the annual competition featuring young musicians age 13-25, has proven to be an indicator of future trends in Icelandic music. Past winners include Of Monsters and Men, Samaris and Mínus, each signifying the emerging sound at the time of their victories. But when asked what characterises their sound, the members of Between Mountains prefer not to be pigeonholed.
“I always have a problem with this question,” says Katla, who plays keyboards and composes their songs. “We’re kind of a soft pop indie something, but then we have an accordion song that sounds a little like polka—People are like, ‘What, I thought this was a pop concert?’ Music is just music, and I have a problem putting it in boxes.”
The name, Between Mountains, conjures up images of Ásrós and Katla’s home towns, nestled in the fjords of Vestfirðir. Katla says she’s influenced by her surroundings, the nature and the ocean. “That influence is definitely a big factor in how we interpret music and compose it,” she says. “I think I’ve also changed a lot in how I write music, the more I’ve composed and performed. We’re not necessarily sticking to the same sound. I like it when musicians evolve, and I think we will as well.”
The dream gig
Their victory in Músíktilraunir has kept them busy most weekends since, driving for hours to play gigs in Reykjavík, with future appearances coming up in France and at Iceland Airwaves. Regrettably, Katla even had to skip a volleyball game abroad to make a gig. “We’re on cloud nine, having all these opportunities to come play,” says Katla. “People keep asking us to perform and it’s really fun.”
Their first big concert back home was the festival Aldrei fór ég suður in Ísafjörður. “We played a small homecoming concert in Suðureyri after we won, real intimate, but this was our dream gig,” says Ástrós. “I’ve been going to Aldrei fór ég suður since the beginning and looking up to the musicians.” Katla concurs, and adds that they’re also excited to be part of Iceland Airwaves this year. “I listen to a lot of foreign music, but it’s different how we admire Icelandic bands, respect them for what they’re doing,” she says. “Now that we’re involved, we can really appreciate the effort it takes to get to their level.”