What do they have that you don’t? It’s the fifth annual Grapevine Music Awards. Which means that it’s the fifth time we’ve rounded up a panel of expert music nerds for a few rounds of drinks and the chance to hash out everything that has happened in sound since the Earth’s last orbit around the sun. We scoured the SoundClouds and dug the crates. We got together to asked the pressing questions: What’s more important, versatility or consistency? How do artists get attention these days, and how do others purposely avoid it? Is it better to be a total dick and make great sounds, or be a nice guy with mediocre music? After two weeks of turning over tune after tune we got together to ask the final question of our 2016 musicians. What do they have that you don’t? Here’s what we came up with: who they are and why they’re better than the rest.
Song of the Year: Fufanu — “Sports”
It’s not about balance, it’s a good song. When “Sports” was put forth at the first panellist meeting there wasn’t a lot of discussion around it. It was nominated, and everyone was encouraged to go home and watch the music video. At our second meeting, the vote was unanimous. “Sports” has something the others don’t (besides a guitar).
“There aren’t many other bands doing this stuff—it’s really crowd rock, like motoric drum beat and then after four minutes it goes into this dw-dw-ddjjjuuwww brilliant abstract sound manipulation on the guitars. But it’s still catchy.”
The song is a single off of their forthcoming album by the same name. ‘Sports’ (the album) is set for release on February 3, 2017 and is co-produced by Nick Zinner. “Nick Zinner on production!” one panellist notes. “Basically this album just has to work.”
As the single rock presence on our list, Fufanu came through to represent. But, like we said, it’s not about balance, it’s just a damn good song.
“If Fufanu are athletes, their preferred sport is attutude…” Read Davíð Roach’s rundown of the band and the song, here.
2015: Vaginaboys — “Elskan Af Því Bara”
2014: Prins Póló – “París Norðursins”
2013: Sin Fang – “Young Boys”
2012: Moses Hightower – “Háa C”
Artist of the Year: GKR
The Artist of the year award is about presence. It’s about creating noise, creating a scene, and generating local and international attention. It’s about excitement. And, oh yeah, it’s about music. 2016 was a loud year, and a few bands and artists rose quickly to the top. But, as one panellist put it: “This is a fucking music award. Not a PR award. All of that is concerned, but it has to be good music. It’s a package.”
GKR delivered. He showed up in grocery stores near you and has his warped “GKR” logo spilling down the chests of teens and festival-goers all around town. His self-titled album was unanimously agreed on as one of the top albums of the year. He’s young, enthusiastic and blowing up. Just like he promised.
“I knew we were going to do this,” said one panellist after GKR was agreed on. “It makes sense.”
Get the lowdown on the lowkey rapper and listen to the full-length ‘GKR’ here.
GKR talks us through ‘GKR’ in his Track By Track.
2015: Úlfur Ulfur
2014: Prins Póló
Album of the Year: Samaris—‘Black Lights’
First, the title track of “Black Lights” was nominated as song of the year. Then so was “Wanted 2 Say.” Then “R4vin.” And then it hit us. It’s just an all-around good album.
Moving on from 2014’s ‘Silkidrangar’, Samaris have advanced to a new level. “They’ve really stepped up their sound,” one panelist said. “They’re singing in English and Doddi’s production is fucking stunning—they’re just more present.” The panel went on talking about the production on this album, suggesting a reach into “James Blake territory.” The panel noted that even though the three band members were living in three different countries while the album was coming together, they managed to make it completely cohesive. “It’s not just a collection of singles but something that makes sense,” one panellist says. “It kind of reminds me of how a concept album works. I’m a sucker for concept albums.”
Oh how they’ve grown…more on the trajectory of Samaris.
Jófríður guides us through the album in the ‘Black Lights’ Track By Track.
2015: Tonik Ensemble — ‘Snapshots’
2014: M-band – ‘Haust’
2013: Sin Fang – ‘Flowers’
2012: Hjaltalín – ‘Enter IV’
You Should Have Heard This: Andi—‘Andi’
This track is creative and inspiring, and it came out of nowhere, from a man with the same name as a million other people in the world. “It’s impressive that he was released on Lady Boy Records because they get a lot of requests and just pick out stuff they really believe in,” one panellist noted. Despite Lady Boy’s reputation for releasing difficult music, the ‘Andi’ album is “actually quite accessible,” another panellist adds. “It’s melodic and upbeat. It’s probably the most accessible thing Lady Boy have done. But don’t tell them, they’ll be really pissed off.”
The irony of this “accessibility” is not lost. Or, rather, it’s easily lost. ‘Andi’ was released by Lady Boy Records in May in the very limited format of fifty cassette tapes.
“He’s like thirty years old. I’ve never seen him before. He came out of nowhere making music that’s so fully formed,” another panellist says. “It’s a whole album—or, casette—and he has his own universe of sounds. It’s really retro, mining this late ‘70s Giorgio Moroder, Italo Disco stuff. It’s light and greasy and I enjoy listening to it a lot. Which is why I think people should hear it.”
Nicolas Kunysz, one half of Lady Boy Records, tells us how ‘Andi’ came to be.
2015: Bjarki — “I Wanna Go Bang”
2014: Asonat – Connection
2013: múm – Smilewound
2012: Skúli Sverrisson and Óskar Guðjónsson – The Box Tree
Band to Watch: aYia
We’re in the SoundCloud days. An “upload” gets your music out there and a “share” starts to spread the word. It can be tedious but worthwhile, chipping away at the music industry like sculptor on a blank block until something starts to show its form. But that’s not what happened with aYia.
“aYia came out fully realised,” one panellist notes. “They came out and they’ve got tracks, they’ve got music to talk about, they’ve got a live show setup. They come out ready to go, and it’s kind of refreshing.”
aYia released their first single “Water Plant” through Bedroom Community, the record label and collective formed by Valgeir Sigurðsson, and the comfy home of Nico Muhly, Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason, among others. The group toured around Ireland before landing home for their first Icelandic gig at the moderately well-known music festival Iceland Airwaves. Though sparse (so far they’ve only released two singles and played a handful of shows), their music is charged with a lasting quality that signals their potential in the coming year.
John Rogers gives us the scoop on aYia’s Handful of wind…
Best Live Performance: Hatari
Best Live Performance was the first category to reach a consensus decision. In fact, it was so quick that Hatari had this award before we even finished reading out the categories. They may have even had it before the category existed. “Hatari win hands down,” the conversation began. “They put on a real performance. It’s performance art, you know. So pretentious and it’s fucking awesome.”
The appropriateness of the award is further driven by the fact that if you want to hear them, you have to see them. They have one song online and they don’t have a Facebook. Search for Hatari online and you can hardly find anything, the panel notes. But their lack of online presence is made up for and then some in their live performance. “He’s shouting at you saying, ‘You’re a slave, you’re a slave,’ and you’re like, ‘Fuck it, yeah, I am.’ He’s calling the crowd a bunch of dicks and we’re lapping it up. Love it,” one panellist said.
“It’s poetry, it’s punk, it’s electronic with like fascist aesthetics,” another panellist added. “It’s a real live show, and you have to go there to experience it.”
Dying to know what it’s like? Hannah Jane Cohen and Ciarán Daly tell all.
2014: Pink Street Boys
Shout Out: Hið Myrka Man
Hið myrka Man are the coolest girls at school. You’re so into them and they’re so not into you. That’s why they win our shout-out category. We came up with the category last year to basically do whatever the hell we want with it, to give credit somehow to someone or something that doesn’t quite fit into the other six categories, and haven’t been around long enough to “be remembered.” And that is exactly what Hið Myrka Man are. They’re the perfectly imperfect non-conformist record label that doesn’t really give a shit about press, or what you think. So we’re here to drool all over them. They’ve released two compilation albums called Myrkramakt, and threw a festival by the same name this year that coincided with Iceland Airwaves.
Musically, they encompass “a whole DIY scene that isn’t one particular genre. They overlap with bands like Naðra and Hatari, they have electronic and hip-hop influence,” one panellist said, going on to describe a Perturbator/Mysþryming/Hatari gig. “It could be anywhere,” the panellist noted, “but it was in that scene. So it was bizarre and it was brilliant.”
Lord Pusswhip sheds some light on the dark side.
Artist to Remember: Biogen
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, they say, but foresight is less than perfect. Every once in awhile comes someone with that special gaze—those who aren’t looking back, but are looking at what’s to come, whether they know it or not. “Biogen is a huge pioneer in Iceland,” one panellist said. “In breakbeat, in drum and bass, just electronic music in general.”
Earlier this year a Karolina Fund was created by friends and family to release a set of his tracks on CD and vinyl. “He has a whole family around him,” another panellist noted, regarding the Karolina campaign. “He created music but he also created a scene for that music to be proliferated.”
That’s why Biogen gets our “Artist to Remember” award: for seeing something that wasn’t yet there.
The Panel: Who They Are And Why They Get To Choose
As December rolls around, the Reykjavík Grapevine office descends into a chaotic frenzy of bartering and debates. The only influence our editors have on our Music Awards is helping decide who sits on the panel. The criteria is a broad taste in music, impartial behaviour and a way with words. Our panelists have always been, in one way or another, music professionals or respected figures from the music scene. After we all sign off on the choices, we sit and wait with baited breath for that most joyful day of the year, December 29th, when we hear the results. Here are the people who made the tough choices:
Alexander de Fontenay
The lushly named Alexander de Fontenay is an energetic presence on the Reykjavík music scene, whether he’s booking the best DJs around for the Stofan Cafe’s monthly programme, or playing out himself, whether as part of the duo It Is Magic, or under his solo moniker of Bervit. He’s also a promoter of the regular electronic music night Rafnæs, and was one of the ears-to-the-ground tastemakers who helped curate the Grapevine Grassroots concert series in 2016. Alexander seems to pop up everywhere, and always has a valuable and refined take on the local scene. Thanks Alexander!
Davíð Roach will be familiar to regular readers as one half of Straumur, with Óli Dóri. Both of the pair are busy DJs in Reykjavík, and they also host a radio show, write a popular new music blog, and, of course, a regular column right here in the Reykjavík Grapevine. Straumur have made it their constant and never-ending mission to stay on top of exactly what’s what in the Icelandic music scene, but they’re also totally on top of what’s going on internationally, which lends a welcome context to their expert take. They don’t come more expert than this. We love you, Davíð Roach!
Meg Horan arrived in Iceland several years ago, and immediately made her presence felt, hitting the ground running with stints working behind the scenes on festivals such as Reykjavík Music Mess, Innipúkinn, Rauðasandur and Breiðholt festival. She then had a stint as label manager at one of Iceland’s premiere record labels, Bedroom Community. She is currently working in communications for Icelandic Music Export (IMX), where pretty much all the new bands in Iceland sent their work for her to post on their blog, newsletter and social media pages. She’s also an active DJ around town. Sounds hectic, wow. Go Meg!
Winners deserve prizes, so we’d like to say a special thank you to the companies that supplied our fifth Reykjavik Grapevine Music Award winners with the following tokens of appreciation for their efforts.
One winner gets a free night of luxury at Hótel Búðir. Thanks to Reykjavík Excursions, a lucky artist gets a tour-friendly one-year Flybus ticket for getting to and from Keflavík Airport. We also teamed up with Sushi Social, who’ve invited one of the bands to have a luxurious dinner party. One of the bands will receive a print run of band T-shirts, courtesy of Dogma. Another lucky winner will receive a gift-voucher from musicians’ haven Tónastöðin, and another will get a vinyl-junkie’s dream: a gift-voucher to spend in Reykjavík Records. Finally, we’ve teamed up with the Grapevine’s Best of Reykjavík award-winning restaurant Snaps, who’ll host a dinner party for one of the bands.
So whilst streaming revenues are bullshit, Icelandic bands can rest easy in the knowledge that if they get really, really good, one day, the payoff could come—their friends at the Reykjavík Grapevine might make it rain! Sure, it’s rain made out of sushi, but it’s still rain. Keep up the good work, bands! It could be you!