Iceland Airwaves Preview

It’s that time of year again. The rest of the world has put the festival season to bed and are hibernating for the winter. Reykjavík, never one to conform, is getting ready to host Iceland Airwaves. This might just be the last great party of 2013.

The signs are all there. First off, Icelandic artists are out in force. The usual suspects are all present: Rökkurró, Amiina, Sin Fang, Sykur, Retro Stefson and FM Belfast, along with the lesser spotted varieties such as Múm and Emilíana Torrini.

There are also the foreign artists, which fall into two camps: the up-and-coming, about to break through artists, or the alternative, been-around-for-a-while acts, such as headliners Kraftwerk.

This year, there also seems to be an invasion of bands from the U.K; Stealing Sheep, Money, Gold Panda, Jon Hopkins and Savages lead the charge, representing some of the best new music from the U.K. in one its frozen neighbors backyards.

I thought I’d put together a list of performers worth catching. Feel free to ignore, of course.

Actually Aluna and George, this U.K. duo have gained fans all summer with their clever lyrics and R&B styled presentation. Don’t let the R&B tag put you off—this is the real stuff. ‘Attracting Flies’ is the song of the summer for me.

Ásgeir has seemingly abandoned the rest of his name (Trausti), in his bid to be the next big thing out of Iceland. This singer/songwriter is going to do it too, with his Bon Iver leanings proving irresistible.

Karen Marie Ørsted sings over a melting pot of hip-hop, funk, soul and electro, and has the voice to sew it altogether. This Danish songstress is going to be huge. Catch her here whilst you can.

Zola Jesus
Experimental is probably the best way of describing Zola Jesus. Nika Roza Danilova performs under the stage name Zola Jesus, and provides extraordinary performances reminiscent of Florence and the Machine but much, much better.

Sounding like an Icelandic Portishead, Samaris are gaining momentum. Using clever electronics, Icelandic poetry and an often surprising clarinet, Samaris are going places.

Yo La Tengo
Going since 1984, Yo La Tengo are hard to pin down. Alternative, yes, but able to mix and match styles and influences like no one else. Often called the ‘critics favorite band’ it’s probably not surprising that their latest album received glowing reviews.

Soléy is a personal favorite of mine. With an adorable accent, and broken piano pop, this homegrown talent is hard to beat. In the right venue, she will be unbeatable.


The electronic, ever-evolving Múm are back with their first album in four years, Smilewound, which is a lot of fun. Expect contradictions of beeping arcade game sounds, sexy beats with soft, elegiac vocals.

Nite Jewel
Another female performer from the U.S. Only this one is different. Operating in a blur of 80’s keyboards and electro sounds, which her clear-cut American voice slices through. Late night fare.

John Grant
43-year-old Grant has adopted Reykjavík as his home. He has been taken in by Icelanders and the result is the impressive Pale Green Ghosts album. Definitely worth a look.

Ok, ok. I’m biased here, as ÍRiS helped launch my book in London, and Reykjavík. But she is bloody good, and her debut album is amazing.

Of course, you could ignore all the above. You could ignore everything about the program, and just drift from venue to venue, catching the very best of Icelandic music as you go. Try unusual venues and locations, such as the extended Blue Lagoon line up. Grab yourself an Icelandic beer, and the ubiquitous pylsa. If the queue is too big, move on. If the music isn’t your thing, wait for the next band.

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