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Icelandic music – Part I

By gwblogabroad

The more attentive readers here may have noticed in my first post that I absolutely love music. Because I wanted this blog to sounds really intellectual, I went to and searched for “music”, as one does. There are many excellent quotes about music there but for this particular piece I have chosen a quote from the famous misogynist Friedrich Nietzsche who once said “If a woman seeks education it is probably because her sexual apparatus is malfunctioning,” probably while slowly stroking his moustache and pausing intermittingly for dramatic effect. However he also said that “without music, life would be a mistake.”  I don’t agree, really, but let’s pretend for a moment that all is good, and that this is a great introduction to an intellectual, contemporary piece on the role of music in the modern world.

For someone that really loves music, Iceland is a great place to live. For a nation so small it is really nothing short of amazing how active the music scene is. If you’re a Buddhist I highly recommend raking in some good karma so you can be reborn on Iceland in your next cycle. If, however, you are not Buddhist then I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you. I digress.

Seeing that this is a somewhat cultural blog I figured it would be a good idea to give some insight into Icelandic culture.  Specifically I want to write a bit about Icelandic music. We all know about Björk and Sigur Rós (if you don’t, you and me have a problem) so I’ll try to focus the attention on bands that are less known, but should most definitely be famous. This is a rather sizable task I’m setting myself so I’ve decided to split it into four parts. Roughly these are as follows; electronic, folk, rock and Icelandic Airwaves. Without further ado, here is part one.

Part I - Electronic

Gus Gus

Gus Gus is one of those titans of the Icelandic scene that seems to have been around forever. They always put out solid stuff. I remember that they played once at a dance in my gymnasium in Iceland (almost the same as high school) and they actually sold out faster than the world famous Ratatat that also played at one of our school dances that year so yeah, they’re pretty solid. Personally though I’ve always felt like there was something missing, they were great but just not quite in the zone. Last year they put out a new album and this time they’ve added a new singer; Högni. Högni is also the lead singer of mega-group Hjaltalín, which I’ll mention in Part III of this series. It turns out that Gus Gus + Högni = electro magic. Their album from 2011, Arabian Horse, is one of my favorites of the year. Enjoy!


Apparat Organ Quartet

AOQ is an odd ensemble. It’s composed of five members, who are all well known within the music industry for other projects, amongst them Jóhann Jóhansson. Jóhann Jóhansson is probably the name on this list, most likely to sound familiar to readers, as he has become quite famous within the neoclassical music-sphere. AOQ, though, is entirely different from his more somber music. The band uses a vast array of outdated synthesizers, organs, cheap electric pianos and vocoders to produce songs of, what can hardly be described as other than, hard electronic rock. Their albums are complex and demanding, but the melodies and drops of powerhouse ecstasy are amazing. They’re also truly an experience to see live.


Ólafur Arnalds

From Jóhann Jóhansson to another giant of the Icelandic neo-classical scene; Ólafur Arnalds belongs in this section because he not only produces amazing neoclassical soundscapes, but he couples then with intellectual electo-beats. His albums are at once hauntingly beautiful and heavy head-banging bass-orgies. The kind that makes you sway, frown your eyebrows and think “daaaaamn, this is it, right here.” In reference to Part IV of this blog-series, Ólafur Arnalds is also one of the acts I look forward the most to seeing at Iceland Airwaves each year.


FM Belfast

And now to something completely different. It’s hard, really, to put the energy of FM Belfast into words. The music, as confessed by the founding band members, is engineered to be perfectly suited to young, sweaty parties. The music is fast, uninhibited and joyful. That’s only part of the experience though. Seeing FM Belfast live, at a good venue, is nothing short of amazing. Everyone dances, everyone is drenched in sweat, no one cares at all. It’s amazing.


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