So you’re international, flying to the land of elves and liberalism to find the hip new thing at Airwaves 2015 (spoiler: it’s Sturla Atlas). While many associate Icelandic music with the dreamy and ethereal tones of Björk and Sigur Rós, you might be surprised to find out that there’s also a thriving rap scene on this isolated rock on the edge of the Atlantic. Shocking, I know.
Yeah, it’s all in Icelandic, and thus incomprehensible to essentially everyone else, but that means that since you have no idea what the fuck they are saying, you can feel free to imagine whatever you want. Personally, I imagine Gísli Pálmi enthusiastically raps about veganism and being edge (those mentions of cocaine or oxycontin are with derision). Emmsjé Gauti’s first album condemns the wage gap and explores fragile masculinity. Blazroca has made a career of analysing his gender identity. Maybe Lord Pu$$whip won’t shut up about #piggate. Pick your poison.
But anyway, music festivals demand music schedules, so to help you out, here’s the acts you just can’t miss:
Shades of Reykjavík
Shades of Reykjavík are bizarre. (Read about their origins here.) But if you don’t mind things getting a lil’ weird, I guarantee they will put on a performance you won’t, or maybe can’t, forget. Previous live shows of theirs have involved crucifixion, weapons, and live tattooing, plus just watch their videos: whatever they have planned for Airwaves, I bet it’ll be good. As Aristotle famously discusses in the Poetics, spectacle is an indispensable part of theatre—Shades of Reykjavík have, clearly, studied up on their ancient Greek, so go study up on them.
This is my favourite song/video:
While Shades of Reykjavik are fun, if you can only fit in one rap show during all of Airwaves, I’d go for Emmsjé Gauti. He’s got it all: Gauti’s a great performer, his music is nice, and plus, he’s got great style. I’ve seen him live many times now, and I’ve never been disappointed. Getting political on “Nýju fötin keisarans” but then turning, well, kinky on “Kinky”—you’ll feel a range of emotions at his show. Sometimes he even takes his shirt off. Plus, he loves his Momma. What else could you want?
So ignore the name-dropping (I guess if you’re foreign you can’t even understand the name-dropping, but trust me, he apparently hangs out with every cool guy in Iceland) and check out his new single “Strákarnir” below:
Personally though, I prefer this song: #sweg
Ok, to be honest, don’t go see Reykjavíkurdætur if you’re only interested in hearing crazy beats and fancy rhythms. Their music and rap are–don’t get me wrong–good, but still relatively basic. (Of course, don’t say anything about that to them, or they might say mean things about you balding or something.)
Reykjavíkurdætur’s real appeal—and the reason I’m a fan—is because of their aesthetics. Something like 20 girls dressed up “thug” onstage with strap-ons and body hair rapping about anal sex? Yes. You need to see it. You’ve never seen it before. You’ll never see it again. We know Iceland is expensive, but Reykjavíkurdætur’s show will give you something truly invaluable—a story you can tell your friends that they probably won’t believe. Don’t miss it.
Ok foreigners, leave all of your postcolonial progressivism for this one at home. Seriously, put down all copies of Sayid and shut up about cultural appropriation. Sit back, and just accept GP for what he is, a fucking God.
Watch this video, then we’ll talk:
Yeah, I know you’re confused. Glacier Mafia? Ice Cream? What? Well stay confused baby, ’cause there is no explanation.
Anyway, I fucking love Gísli Pálmi. That said—his performances are hit or miss. At Secret Solstice and Rae Sremmurd, the boy was amazing, but at KEXPort and on Merchants’ Weekend, eh, it was pretty bad. He didn’t seem to be into it.
Conclusion: if you’re lucky enough to see Pálmi when he’s “on”, you’ll love it. But if isn’t, you’ll feel a little cheated. Now, let’s hope that Airwaves is a big enough occasion for GP to give it his all. Fuck it, let’s pray.
But anyway, just go see him. GP is the best. He’s just so cool. He literally always wears sunglasses—that’s how cool he is. Ever since the first time I saw him, I knew my goal in life was to make this man massive in America. You hear that GP? It’s time to make Glacier Mafia global.
So far, I’ve covered the “big names” in Icelandic rap, but if you’re looking for something more underground and up-and-coming, check out GKR. I first saw him when he opened for Úlfur Úlfur at Gamla Bíó a few months ago, and he impressed me—with his bleached hair and technicolour clothing, the boy worked the crowd onstage in a frenzy. He’s got a really nice voice—one of my favourites in Icelandic rap actually— and also a lovely boyish charm, kind of like Michael Cera but way less awkward and way more likeable. Know what I mean?
If you don’t, check out his video below. It speaks for itself.
Pro-tip: We all have those friends, you know the type, who read Pitchfork and Noisey religiously and are always on about the next new psychedelic-dream-postmodern-bluegrass rap collective or something. Oh, I’m sorry, I meant the new post-psychedelic-dream-postmodern-bluegrass rap collective. My bad. Well, take him or her (or zhe) to see GKR. They’ll be happy, impressed and satisfied, and you’ll look in-the-know. Win-win.
Lord Pu$$whip is like the Punch-Drunk Love of Icelandic rap. Weird comparison, but I’m trying to say we’re entering the Art House of hip-hop now. To be honest, I don’t even know how to describe Pu$$whip’s sound. It’s eclectic, like rap mixed with the X-Files. You’ll be listening to a song, finally get a feel for the beat, and then out of nowhere he throws in a theremin or some weird modulation and then you’re right back to square one. Pu$$whip is a genuinely weird dude who makes genuinely interesting weird music. He keeps you on your toes and forces you to actively listen, which is nice. This is where you take that friend who made you watch Mulholland Drive stoned, you know who I’m talking about.
Plus, if you’re lucky, you might walk out of the show with some special Pu$$whip dollar bills. Still haven’t found out what those buy you. (But email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you find out).
Úlfur Úlfur are, completely subjectively, the best thing in Icelandic rap right now. I’ve already written what is essentially a love letter to them, so I’ll keep this short. Úlfur Úlfur just makes great music. Their songs are catchy, their sound is unique, and while they do sometimes overuse the bippity-bippity-bippity flow, I think they own it. If you’re looking for a performance that’ll make you dance, go see them before anybody else. But not only that, if you’re just a rap connoisseur looking to see just genuinely great rapping and beats, go see them.
At the same time, neither of the boys are really showy onstage—you’re not gonna get the spectacle you’ll get with Shades, Gauti, or GP here—so I’d recommend preparing before with a few listens of their album ‘Tvær Plánetur’. I guarantee that everyone in the crowd will be singing along, so make sure you can adequately imitate the choruses of ‘Tarantúlur’, ‘Á meðan ég er ungur’, and ‘Úrið mitt er stopp Pt. II‘. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
This is my favourite track by them at the moment:
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