From Iceland — Kiasmos Returns

Kiasmos Returns

Published May 13, 2024

Kiasmos Returns
Photo by
Joana Fontinha

The influential Faroese-Icelandic electronic duo will end their hiatus with the release of II

It’s difficult to gauge the exact influence minimalist electronica duo Kiasmos has had on the international techno and electronic music scene. Their ingenious combination of classical, electronic and rave music has been prevalent in their works since their 2014 debut Kiasmos — a distinct amalgamation that imitators soon fought to emulate. Seven years after the release of the EP Burst and a self-proclaimed hiatus, Kiasmos is ready to release the EP II on July 5 via Erased Tapes.

The 5-to-9 before the 9-to-5

Behind Kiasmos is the multi-hyphenated team of Janus Rasmussen and BAFTA-winning Ólafur Arnalds. With blooming individual careers as musicians and producers, Janus and Ólafur have always made it clear — as they do to this day — that Kiasmos was never meant to be their 9-to-5. Despite their best efforts, their act became immensely popular, translating into worldwide tours with less time to work on their solo material.

“We were playing a lot of shows and the same material for a long time,” recalls Janus of the pair’s pre-hiatus touring schedule. “We’d lost interest in half of the songs we were playing. But it happens with things like these. Then you want to do something else for a bit and you start missing what you were doing before. It ebbs and flows.”

“I’ve learnt that in order to make something sound great, you have to put a lot of hours into it.”

“It was always supposed to be a side project,” Ólafur emphasises. “When this had become the main gig and we were constantly touring, I was like, ‘Eh, no. I want to go back to the other place.’”

Wanting the freedom to dip in and out of collaborations, Ólafur notes a renewed interest in his solo material. “It became much more interesting for me to work on my own stuff. You want to enter a collaboration, get something out of it and then go back home and use what you learned,” he reasons. “If you’re always collaborating, you need the outlet to use all this knowledge you’re learning and the inspiration you’re receiving from the other party.”

Itching for techno

Kiasmos hinted at a comeback with the release of their EP Flown on March 26. News of the forthcoming record broke in April when the band announced a slew of European and North American shows. Their tour kicks off with a hometown show at Gamla Bíó on May 27.

For Ólafur, ending Kiasmos’ seven-year stasis transcended both will and want. “You have to find the need to do it. It’s not just about interest or willingness,” he says. “There was never a point in time when anybody could tell us to write another Kiasmos album. And one day, we showed up to the studio. The day came when we found that we needed to make some electro music.”

Interestingly, Ólafur can pinpoint the exact hour of that need, calling back to a live performance session he participated in with the French music company Cercle. The video of that performance features Ólafur and his band playing in Hafursey, near Katla volcano. “We did this shoot up in the highlands,” he starts, later commenting on the debilitating cold the musicians were exposed to. “I decided to sneak in one Kiasmos song [“Blurred”] into my setlist. It was so much fun that I decided to go home and make some Kiasmos.”

For Janus, the intricacies of Kiasmos’ live shows spurred his return. “A Kiasmos show is a very special mood, something I can’t replicate during my shows. It’s somewhere in between. It’s dance, it’s euphoric. It’s loudness and dance. I’d started to miss those moments. It’s not easy to obtain that atmosphere, in my opinion.”

Kiasmos widescreen

As concerted album production started in 2021, Ólafur admits to being in the dark about the state of contemporary dance music because of the pandemic. He cites artists such as Fred Again and his production of more uptempo club music influencing Kiasmos’ record. “Subconsciously, we started making faster music. So the more recent songs are clearly influenced by that.”

We’d lost interest in half of the songs we were playing.”

Besides including faster music than previous releases, II is also more sonically substantial. Its sound design is fuller, with more frequencies for the listener to chew on. Every song is a miniature epic, substantiated by the duo’s quintessential piano use, tapestries of strings, and the anchoring drums and basslines.

While Janus and Ólafur attribute their increased music quality to more careful attention to detail, the album highlights the musicians’ deep understanding of production and writing. It’s the result of decades of honing their craft and developing their individual styles, which coalesce harmoniously on their new album. “I can’t always say why things sound better. You’ve just done it for so long, you’re making better sounds,” Janus explains.

Master of their crafts

However effortlessly it comes to Janus and Ólafur, it’s by no means perfunctory work. “I’ve learnt that in order to make something sound great, you have to put a lot of hours into it,” Ólafur explains. “It’s not enough to make a beat, layer some bass and then walk away. You have to create the beat, write the bass line and then spend five days nonstop in front of the computer, fixated on every little detail on those two tracks. And suddenly, you have a moment, after an excruciating amount of time, of ‘Right, there we have it.’”

The duo’s creative process extends its shelf life past the finished album release. Kiasmos’ approach to creativity is a sober reminder of the malleability of music: things aren’t over until you say they are. Following the final mixing and mastering, the pair still needs to prepare their live shows.

“The album tracks are written to be listened to at home. Then you take it to a 3,000 capacity club and you just want to host a rave. You need to change the song and find parts that work for clubs. I really enjoy that, I think that’s a very creative process,” Ólafur concludes.

Kiasmos are set to perform at Gamla Bíó on May 27. The band’s second LP, II, is out on July 5. Listen to their EP Flown, out now. Get your tickets to Kiasmos’ hometown show at





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