To Icelandic electronic music aficionados, the annual Sónar Reykjavík festival is something of a “techno Christmas.” In the long-established model of Iceland Airwaves, this Harpa-based two-day party mixes international big name bookings like Underworld with the cream of the rich and diverse local scene. Whether you’re an incoming raver looking to key into what’s new in Icelandic dance music, or just an open-eared festival goer looking for some clues on what not to miss, here are the must-see picks from the Grapevine music team.
Andartak is an emerging artist who has quickly announced himself as one to watch. His live sets somehow manage to put you in a grounded meditative state, while simultaneously taking you off into space. In the past two years, he has been releasing with Möller Records and Swedish alternative house label Wrong House, and had opened a label night for the Reykjavík/Berlin-based Sweaty Records in January. If you like relentless sharp beats mixed with a veil of bubbly ambient sounds, Andartak is your man. AJE
It has been a while since Bjarki—one of Iceland’s busiest and most prolific musicians, and the cover star of our new issue—performed in his home country. His most recent release “Geothermal Sheep Vol 1” dropped in December on his own steadily-growing Berlin-based label bbbbbb records. It’s a delicious and jagged mixture of ambient electro, breakbeat and techno, with tongue-in-cheek samples. Special releases from the label and a new EP by Lord Pusswhip—who is also very much worth seeing—will be available at a pop-up in Lucky Records on March 14th. Fans of Bbbbbbjarki, rejoice! AJE
Back in 1995, Cold’s EP ‘Hyper Experience’ was the first to be released on now well-respected Icelandic dub-techno label Thule Records. That same year, its B-side—“Strobe Light Network”—was played as the closing track of the legendary Love Parade in Berlin. In the past few months, two EPs with Cold’s music—‘Dub Safari’ and ‘Exiles’—were released by Thule and sister-label Æ Recordings respectively. Witness a pioneer of Icelandic techno making a strong comeback. AJE
Countess Malaise made the Icelandic rap scene do a 180° this year when she burst on the circuit with her own twisted take on horror rap. A protégé of Lord Pusswhip, Countess Malaise manages to balance party tracks with a freaky twist. Over heavy beats, the charismatic rapper pushes honest aggression, dark stories, and all-round horror—a Sharon Needles for the hip-hop crowd. Over the past year, she’s pushed boundaries in her collaborations with Cyber, Gei$ha Cartel and Black Pox. Oh, and she’s also a mad bitch live. Get afraid. HJC
Prior to this year, Elli Grill was best known for his involvement in rap collective Shades Of Reykjavík. His recent solo venture, though, showed he could easily stand on his own two, uh, bizarre feet. Come for old school mixed with trap, sprinkled with a whole lotta moonshine and hobos. And don’t worry—Elli has kept up the scary stage antics from Shades of Reykajvík. You’ve been warned. HJC
EVA808 is an underground grime and dubstep producer based in Sweden. Sónar Reykjavík will be her first proper performance in Iceland. In December, she told The Reykjavík Grapevine that it would be the perfect moment for her to socialise, drop her tunes on a decent sound system, and have some fun. Last year she released “Prrr”–praised by both Hudson Mohawke and Nina Kraviz–and ‘Oyuki EP’, both of which offer up a range of emotions for the listener. See and hear EVA808’s set for underground bass music at its finest. AJE
This darkly glamorous figure arrived onto the scene during Airwaves 2017, with a show on each day of the festival. Cross-pollinating the worlds of drag culture and abstract electronic pop, Mighty Bear’s presentation is audio-visual in nature: any danger of laptop-staring, knob-twiddling boredom is immediately dispelled by the accompanying glittering gowns and towering heels, rippling film imagery, masks, wigs, and a generally bold, creative, classy and charismatic approach to the stage. JR
Evergreen party troupe Sykur are a live spectacle not to be missed. Their now-classic singles “Messy Hair” and “Reykjavík” will sound familiar, even if you’ve never heard them before—the tunes are so natural and insistent, they arrive in your memory like some kind of electro-pop inception. They’ve been working on new material for quite a while, and if new single “Loving None” is anything to go by, Sónar is in for a treat. JR
Another Icelandic denizen of the Berlin techno scene is Volruptus, an emerging artist whose ‘Homeblast’ EP came out on Bjarki’s bbbbb label. His crisp beats come with a constant flow of ideas: ambient background washes of sound ebb and flow into wonky, dysfunctional melodies, like bold scribbles across each track. With Bjarki’s support, a wide imagination, and a sound that’s both classic and forward-thinking, he’s a potential star in the making. JR
Yagya–real name Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson–has been pumping out melodic ambient soundscapes for more than 15 years. His most recent releases—”Sleepygirls” and “Stars And Dust”—were released by the well-respected Dutch label Delsin Records in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Guðmundsson was also a member of the lauded Icelandic label Thule Records—releasing Techno EPs under the names Plastic and Sanasol—before the millenium. Yagya’s music is a journey through various emotions and intensities. But above all, it’s beautiful. AJE
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!