What will 2022 be remembered for? If 2020-2021 were “the lost years,” where artists went insular and mused on solitude and resilience, then 2022, in comparison, was the year of fresh starts; a cautious but joyful movement towards normality. Larger-scale live events and concerts returned, as did festivals (welcome back, Iceland Airwaves!) and international touring opportunities. Once again, we were able to fill spaces with voices, rub shoulders with strangers and dance the night away to our favourite songs. Live music: we love you and we promise we’ll never take you for granted ever again.
That being said, the impact of COVID-19 still echoes through every region of the creative sector; this is a horror that will go out with not a bang, but a whimper — and, unfortunately, we are the source of those whimpers. While the true extent of the harm done to the performing arts environment will take years to unfold, studies have already begun to come out confirming what both artists and culture-consumers know instinctively — the post-pandemic landscape is smaller, quieter, more expensive and more challenging to work in.
But, as always, art finds a way, and 2022 saw the release of a phenomenal amount of extremely high-quality music from Icelandic artists. All in all, it was a strange and significant year for music. To take stock of it all, the Reykjavík Grapevine once again gathered a panel of some of the country’s finest musical experts to sift through the vast output of the last 12 months, so that together we can celebrate those whose music reached us, stayed with us and guided us through the year.
2022: Judging the Year
It’s cliché to say, but judging these categories is extremely hard. Our panellists spent weeks researching, listening, debating and sending late night emails insisting that this or that track just had to win a category. Through our time deliberating and deciding, certain themes emerged. The first is that 2022 can be classified as the year of the Icelandic album. The Album of the Year category was by far the most challenging to decide: there were just too many goddamn great releases over the past 12 months. Clearly, all of the writing and recording time unexpectedly gifted to artists in the previous two years has been put to good use. Notable, too, is the quality and production value of these products. Icelandic music has never been sleeker, cooler, or more put-together.
The second notable feature of the 2023 Grapevine Music Awards is that we are sadly handing out our first posthumous award. It was a unanimous decision on behalf of the judging committee that Svavar Pétur Eysteinsson — Prins Póló to his fans — should be named Artist of the Year. Svavar’s contribution to art, music, photography and performance — to name but a few of his many areas of influence — will be felt for years to come. We were lucky enough to speak to some of his closest friends and loved ones about the impact Svavar had on the creative scene in Iceland.
Whatever you end up remembering 2022 for, we are sure of one thing: it sounded great. Without further ado, here are the people who made it so, the beautiful, creative winners of the 2023 Grapevine Music Awards!
Artist Of The Year: Prins Póló
It is with honour and great sadness, that we bestow the most prestigious award of the lot to our dearly departed Prins Póló. Svavar Pétur Eysteinsson — a titan of Icelandic music and culture — died September 29, 2022. He leaves behind a formidable legacy, a mass of visual art and design, album after album of brilliant songwriting and, of course, a host of bereaved fans.
[Read More: A Memorial: The Prins That Understood Us]
Svavar first rose to prominence as a musical artist in the 2000s as part of the iconic band Skakkamanage (Svavar’s partner, Berglind Häsler, was also a founding member). The group released three albums, one of which, ‘All Over The Face,’ was nominated for a Kraumur award.
Svavar was a man of many talents, which included, diversely; photography, organic farming, event management, visual art and poetry. But it is his musical work as his alter ego Prins Póló that he is best remembered for. He showed a unique ability to hone in on the aspects of humanity (and often a very specifically Icelandic humanity at that) that are often overlooked and unexplored, offering them up to listeners in a warm, humorous and tender manner. As a result, many of his tracks became unofficial anthems. From including the Nokia ringtone in his tracks, to gently poking fun at the quintessential Icelandic phenomenon of ditching your loved ones in favour of a hot beach holiday for Christmas, this prince was a man of the people. He saw us, and we felt seen.
“Svavar was the diamond of the Reykjavík Music scene,” one of our panellists commented. “I don’t see this as an honorary award for his life’s work: he’d be worthy of this title even if we hadn’t lost him this year.”
“The presence of Prins Póló is such that you didn’t realise it was already all around till suddenly it was at risk,” another added. “It only created a reminder that his voice will continue to be heard all around — in his music, his art and his undeniable ongoing influence that transcends the Icelandic music community.”
Svavar is survived by his partner Berglind, their three children and many beloved friends and collaborators. You can hear from some of them and read more about the life and times of Prins Póló on page 14 of our January 2023 issue.
Album of the Year: Hekla, Xiuxiuejar
In a year that was characterised by the sheer number of — let’s not mince words here — banging Icelandic albums, one stood out from the crowd.
On paper, it shouldn’t work: an album of theremin, voice and cello. Pitch that cold and most would baulk at the idea. But the formidable Hekla Magnúsdóttir has once again proved all assumptions wrong with her third album, ‘Xiuxiuejar.’
The title comes from the Catalonian word for “whisper” (the artist spent much of her youth in Barcelona), and is pretty apt for an album that sends chills up your spine. But Hekla stays firmly away from the B-movie horror film expression that most people associate with the theremin. In an interview with this paper back in November, Hekla herself described ‘Xiuxiuejar’ as having, “a January sound — really, really dark and cold and windy.” We have to say, she’s pretty much spot on. Full of foreboding, deep, dark noises that make you instinctively wrap your blanket a little tighter, ‘Xiuxiuejar’ invites listeners to explore the intersections of ambient, electronic and doom — with the tiniest sliver of light thrown in to save us from utter despair.
“There are times while listening to ‘Xiuxiuejar’ that I’ve had to replay a part again and again, just to try and figure out how she’s making that sound,” one panellist told us. “And the sounds—a lot of them aren’t exactly ‘musical.’ And yet, somehow, the whole experience is a totally addictive listen.”
While all of these descriptors might suggest a piece of art that’s exciting, but not exactly… enjoyable, somehow that’s just not the case. While we accept Hekla’s work might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s surprisingly accessible. Our judging team praised ‘Xiuxiuejar’ for being, “both approachable and extremely creative.”
“The album is a bold presentation of darkness and beauty,” a panellist confirmed. “It’s mysterious and captivating, a journey to some beautiful hell I’d like to stay in.”
“Crank it up in the darkest months,” they continued. “Let’s stare into and celebrate the eternal void of obscurity!”
Honourable Mentions: Ari Árelíus – ‘Hiatus Terrae’, Börn – ‘Drottningar dauðans’, JóiPé – ‘Fram’
Song of the Year: Salóme Katrín, The Other Side
“I don’t remember the last time I heard so many people excited about a song,” said one of our judges of “The Other Side,” the winner of our Song of the Year category. And there’s a lot to be excited about here. Salóme Katrín’s heavyweight track comes out of an ambitious 2022 album made with fellow musicians ZAAR and RAKEL. ‘While We Wait’ features two tracks from each artist, plus an opener from all three playing together. The album itself is a fabulous effort, remarkably cohesive given its structure, and sets an interesting precedent for the future of recording collaborations.
But it was Salóme’s second solo track on ‘While We Wait’ (which she also released as a single) that really caught people’s attention. “I’ve heard it playing around a bunch and I love it every time,” one of our judges commented, adding: “It’s a really great song and a total curveball from her last record. It sounds like it could have been at home on one of Angel Olsen’s rock records, but it’s still very distinctly Salóme.”
Salóme Katrín is still a relatively new kid on the block: her first EP was only released in 2020. And yet with “The Other Side,” she easily ticks all the boxes as if she’s been knocking out hits for years. Catchy lyrics, driving rhythm, a delectably distorted indulgent guitar solo: it’s the sort of song you could easily imagine a huge festival crowd roaring along to. In just a few short years Salóme Katrín has shown us exactly what she is capable of. All that’s left is to see what she’s got in store for us next: we have a feeling we won’t be disappointed.
Video of the Year: BSÍ, “Jelly Belly”
BSÍ were Grapevine Music Awards winners in 2022, receiving the accolade Song of the Year for their track “Vesturbæjar Beach.” Amazingly, they’ve made it back into our hit list for the second year running to win Video of the Year for the music video accompanying their single “Jelly Belly.” Is this a Grapevine Music Awards first? We couldn’t be bothered to check in any great depth (we’re not real journalists, we just do culture), but from our lazy attempts at research, it certainly seems so!
To be honest, BSÍ — who consist of Sigurlaug “Silla” Thorarensen and Julius Rothlaender, and whose name either stands for Brussel Sprouts International, or is in homage to Reykjavík’s terrible bus station — were discussed by our judging panel in relation to a number of different categories this year. Since the release of their debut album ‘Sometimes Depressed…But Always Antifascist’ in 2021, the duo’s star just keeps on rising.
The video for “Jelly Belly” was the handiwork of director — and Silla’s childhood friend — Ugla Hauksdóttir. It features the two bandmates, plus a couple of adorable child actor lookalikes, playing dress-up and deconstructing traditional gender concepts. Oh, and Julius wears a frog mask at some point, but we’re not exactly sure what that’s meant to mean, and we’re too scared to ask.
One of our panellists summed it up thusly: “the space BSÍ takes up is fascinating as a modern take on the punk movement, where everything they put out includes a satiric mirror to our society,” they said. “It’s like activism with a twinkle of humour in its eye. This unique flavour lends itself particularly well visually, so it’s no surprise that ‘Jelly Belly’ — a video where the two members are mirrored in child actors portraying a younger version of themselves having fun but also dressing like grown-ups and playing with gender norms — is a great example of their work, and makes this video worthy of this recognition.”
Best Live Act: Flaaryr
“Flaaryr really takes you on a journey in his live performances,” our judge said. “He navigates time, sound and space like some kind of magical octopus.”
If that’s not enough to get you intrigued, we’re not sure what is. The truth is that Flaaryr — real name Diego Manatrizio — might not be well-known to all of our readers, despite being a familiar face and regular community organiser within the Post-dreifing scene. But those who have been lucky enough to witness one of his performances first-hand know exactly how fun, captivating and engaging he is to see on stage.
“My daughter said it sounded like he had a whole band with him — she was amazed that one person could make all of these different sounds,” one panellist laughed. And it’s true: Diego’s use of loops, pre-recorded and sampled sound and different musical — and non musical — instruments makes for a set that’s just as visually entertaining as it is sonically. From mirrors to alarm clocks, it’s never easy to predict what might show up on stage. Diego even runs regular improvisation nights, ‘Allt er hljóðfæri,’ or ‘everything is an instrument’ — a name that pretty much sums up his approach to music-making.
To that end, in 2022 Flaaryr performed one of his most ambitious sets yet. As part of the RUSL sustainable design festival, the artist didn’t play guitar at all, instead creating all sounds through interacting with different items on stage (including a flamingo garden ornament) that were rigged up with contact mics. In the spirit of the festival, all of the objects were discarded household items, really proving the old adage; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Only in this case, Flaaryr’s treasure is ours to share.
Honourble Mentions: BSÍ, Bjarki, gugusar
You Should Have Heard This: Sævar Jóhannsson
There’s a neo-classical movement sweeping Iceland these days. And yet, for every Grammy-nominated, internationally touring Ólafur Arnalds, there’s a Sævar Jóhannsson: quietly putting out beautiful music, but only receiving a fraction of the glory. For now, that is. “I think he has a bright future ahead,” one panellist said, confidently.
While Sævar has previously released a couple of albums under the artist name S.hel, 2022 saw him deliver his first release under his own name. ‘Whenever You’re Ready’ is a sparse, emotional and hauntingly beautiful collection of instrumental pieces. The main focus is Sævar’s delicate piano playing, supported by electronic elements and strings.
“The title is apt,” one of our judges mused. “It’s as if he’s acknowledging himself that you might not know him yet, but whenever you’re ready: he’s there for you to discover. His mastery of his craft is sure to bring his name to the forefront of the world of Icelandic composers in years to come.”
The You Should Have Heard This award is intended to acknowledge that sometimes the media doesn’t always get it right, and an excellent artist slips under the radar. Do yourself a favour and make sure that Sævar Jóhannsson doesn’t pass you by.
Honourable Mentions: Final Snack, Bucking Fastards
One to Watch: Neonme
Salka Valsdóttir is not an unknown entity in the Icelandic music scene. A member of the mighty all-female hip hop collective Daughters of Reykjavík, as well as gritty, experimental rap duo CYBER, Salka has already firmly established herself as a significant player in the field.
With a CV as impressive as this, it’s no wonder that when rumours started to swirl that Salka was set to launch her solo career under the stage name Neonme in 2022, people were hyped.
“Neonme is one of the most exciting projects to watch develop, as Salka already has a brilliant career as a performer and producer. She’s on track to become one of the most exciting producers in all the land,” said one panellist enthusiastically. “It’s thrilling to see her work on a solo project and I can’t wait to hear how it’ll continue to develop.”
Salka released two singles last year as Neonme (our panellists in particular praised the music video for her track “The Flower Phallus”), and performed her first live solo show as part of the INNI showcase during Iceland Airwaves. Such was the excitement for her debut that the building was stowed out. Those who managed to squeeze themselves in were well rewarded.
“As Neonme, Salka artfully pairs dreamy melodies, mythical soundscape and eerie, sometimes violent Aphex Twin-ish beats into a lush universe we all want to live in,” a judge described.
Honourable Mentions: Sameheads, KUSK
Shout Out: Árni Hjörvar and Sigtryggur Baldursson
It should be noted that for this category, two of the panellists each have close personal or professional links to one of the award winners — kind of an occupational hazard of working in the arts in Iceland, but important to point out nonetheless. Each took a step back in the decision-making process when it came to their respective “vested interest” in the name of fairness.
Sometimes, no matter how much debating and deliberation takes place, it’s just impossible to pick one winner. For our Shout Out award this year — which seeks to celebrate those who have made an outstanding contribution to the music scene in Iceland — our panel quickly realised that there were two individuals clearly deserving recognition.
The first is Árni Hjörvar: “Árni is one of these people that if you don’t already know who he is, you’ll almost be embarrassed when you find out you didn’t,” said one judge. For those who are maybe feeling a creeping sense of shame, here’s the lowdown: Árni started out as a local Reykjavík musician, playing in legendary 2000s bands such as Kimono and Future Future, before moving to the UK to join English indie-rock outfit The Vaccines. Which is, you know, kind of a big deal.
But even though playing with a huge, NME award-winning band is pretty commendable stuff, our panel is choosing to recognise Árni for a completely different strand of his work. Since returning to Iceland in 2020, Árni has been working predominantly as a music producer and his name came up again and again as we discussed our favourite releases from the past twelve months. From Kvikindi to BSÍ, Ólafur Kram to Hekla — and many more in between — it turns out Árni is a common denominator linking them all.
“Árni deserves a shout out for his admirable work in the scene, work that’s already affected the sound of this generation of local indie rock,” said one panellist.
The rest agreed. “His depth of experience working at a world-class level as an artist, paired with his incredible enthusiasm for the craft, is bringing a level of sophistication to the grassroots recording scene here in Iceland one could argue we haven’t seen before,” a second judge added.
Our second winner of the 2023 Shout Out award goes to a man who has decades of experience of the Icelandic music scene under his belt. A founding member of the iconic Sugarcubes (that’s Björk’s first band, for those who don’t know), Sigtryggur Baldursson was one of the most significant figures in the punk rock scene of the 80s and 90s. He even appeared in the cult documentary film “Rokk í Reykjavík.”
The list of bands and artists Sigtryggur has collaborated with would take up half of this article, but includes, to name but a few, Þeyr, Kukl, Emiliana Torrini and Ben Frost. Over the years his career has spanned genres and continents. A recording artist, performer, broadcaster, musical director, composer, project manager and producer: there seems no end to the number of strings in Sigtryggur’s bow. Since 2012 he has held the position of manager of the ÚTÓN, the Icelandic music export office, providing support for home grown talent to make their own debuts abroad.
“One could make the argument that Icelandic music export is synonymous with Sigtryggur Baldursson,” said our panellist. “Not only can we say that the entire indie scene stands on the shoulders of giants called the Sugarcubes, but in 2022 he celebrated his 10 year tenure at the Iceland Music export office.”
They continued: “Given the plans announced by the Icelandic government for a new music office, we know that ÚTÓN in its current formation is being phased out. As such it’s important to take this moment to acknowledge this absolute legend for his contribution to Icelandic music.”
2023: The Panellists
Josie Anne Gaitens is the Culture Editor of the Reykjavík Grapevine, as well as a musician and community organiser. She has worked in numerous roles in the music industry, from large scale festivals to booking tours in rural, 30-seater venues. Originally from the Scottish Highlands, she first moved to Iceland in 2019 and has been hooked ever since. She is a member of the arts collective Kvæðakórinn, as well as board member of the Icelandic chapter of shesaid.so.
Hrefna (Habbi) Helgadóttir joined ÚTÓN/Iceland Music during the pandemic after working in music/tech in London for 10 years. Her expertise is using data to create effective strategies to promote music and artists, which in her current role she utilises to promote Icelandic music abroad and also actively sharing that knowledge with the local community. She also co-hosts the MakeWorkWork podcast on creative work which has reached #1 on the careers chart in Iceland and has listeners in over 60 countries.
Ása Dýradóttir is the bassist of MAMMÚT and head of Reykjavík Music City. She’s played with and participated in work by a big range of local artists throughout the years, project managed the last two Reykjavík Arts Festival and was a part of the Battle of the Bands jury for years. Her heart beats with the Reykjavík music and arts scene.
Ægir Sindri Bjarnason is musician as well as the founder of the (literally) underground DIY venue R6013 and Why not? Records. R6013 is operated on a pay-what-you-can model and aims to provide a safe, accessible and fun performance and recording space for artists and concert-goers. Ægir has been part of the Reykjavik music scene since his early teens, and performs with a number of bands, as well as recording and releasing his own music.
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