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Music of Iceland

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Title: Music of Iceland  
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Subject: Culture of Iceland, Music of Denmark, Icelandic folk music, Music of the Faroe Islands, Music of Lithuania
Collection: Icelandic Music
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Music of Iceland

The music of Iceland includes vibrant folk and pop traditions. Well-known artists from Iceland include medieval music group Voces Thules, alternative rock band The Sugarcubes, singers Björk and Emiliana Torrini, and post-rock band Sigur Rós. Iceland's traditional music is related to Nordic music forms.


  • Folk music 1
  • Popular music 2
  • Popular Artists 3
    • Indie & Pop-Rock 3.1
    • Alternative/Metal 3.2
    • Electronic Music 3.3
    • Experimental 3.4
  • List of Icelandic music artists 4
  • National anthem 5
  • Music institutions 6
    • Iceland Music Export 6.1
    • ÚTÓN 6.2
    • Iceland Music Information Center 6.3
    • Samtónn 6.4
  • Festivals 7
  • Venues 8
  • Record Labels 9
  • Producers and Studios 10
  • References 11
  • Notes 12
  • External links 13

Folk music

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Icelandic music has a very long tradition, with some songs still sung today dating from 14th century. Folk songs are often about love, sailors, masculinity, hard winters, as well as elves, trolls and other mythological creatures, and tend to be quite secular and often humorous. Bjarni Þorsteinsson collected Icelandic folk music between 1906 and 1909, and any of the songs he encountered were accompanied by traditional instruments like the langspil and fiðla, which are among the few musical instruments traditionally played in Iceland. Chain dances, known as víkivaki, have been performed in Iceland since the 11th century at a variety of occasions, such as in churches and during the Christmas season. An example is "Ólafur Liljurós", an Icelandic víkivaki folk song dating to the 14th century, about a man who, while on his way to meet his mother, is seduced, kissed, and stabbed by an elf woman while riding his horse, then eventually dies.

Iceland's isolation meant that, until the 19th century, foreign influences were virtually absent, which resulted in the maintenance of a particular rhythm, called hákveða, lost in other Nordic countries and considered one of the main characteristics of Icelandic folk music. Hákveða refers to a special emphasis placed on some of the words of a song, often the last word of each sentence in each verse. In the following example, taken from the song "Ólafur Liljurós", hákveða is shown in italics:

Ólafur reið með björgunum fram, villir Hann, stillir "Hann,
hitti hann fyrir sér álfarann, þar rauði loginn brann,
Blíðan lagði byrinn undan björgunum, blíðan lagði byrinn undan björgunum fram.

Rímur are epic tales sung as alliterative, rhyming ballads, usually a cappella. Rímur can be traced back to the Viking Age Eddic poetry of the skalds and employs complex metaphors and cryptic rhymes and forms. Some of the most famous rímur were written between the 18th and early 20th centuries, by poets like Hannes Bjarnason (1776–1838), Jón Sigurðsson (1853–1922) and Sigurður Breiðfjörð (1798–1846).

In the early 18th century, European dances like Iðunn.[1]

Protestantism has also left its mark on the music of Iceland. Kolbeinn Tumason in 1208.

Popular music

The music of Iceland includes vibrant folk and pop traditions and is expanding in its variety of sound styles and genres. Well-known artists from Iceland include alternative rock band The Sugarcubes, singers Björk and Emiliana Torrini, and post-rock band Sigur Rós, as well as electronic music groups like GusGus. Iceland's traditional music is related to Nordic music forms.

Icelandic popular music today includes many bands and artists, ranging from indie, pop-rock to electronic music. It is also increasingly becoming recognized for its vibrant and growing metal and hardcore scene[2][3]

The most famous Icelandic artist is eclectic singer and composer Björk, who has received 13 Grammy nominations and sold over 15 million albums worldwide, including two platinum albums and one gold album in the United States.[4] Followed by the post-rock formation Sigur Rós and singer Jonsi’s. Widely known outside of Iceland they were immortalized in an episode of the Simpsons[5] and more recently in an episode of Game of Thrones.[6]

Popular Artists

Indie & Pop-Rock

According to the Icelandic label Record Records the indie pop-folk group Of Monsters and Men is Iceland’s biggest act since Björk and Sigur Rós. Their debut Album My Head Is an Animal, as well as the first Single “Little Talks” reached high positions in both single and album charts worldwide. In 2013 they won the European Border Breakers Awards. Likewise did singer-songwriter Ásgeir Trausti in 2014 and is ever since successfully touring Europe and the US with his melodic-folk-pop songs that he sings both in his native language Icelandic and in English. Female singer-songwriter Emiliana Torrini is an already established Icelandic artist. Her song Jungle Drum from her 2008 album “Me and Armini” is well known abroad and reached No.1 in the German, Austrian, Belgium and Icelandic Single Charts. Her latest album “Tookah”, released in 2013, reached the Top 50 album charts in several countries.

Other artists that are attracting attention outside of Iceland is the electro-pop group FM Belfast, as well as the singers and composers Sóley and Sin Fang, which are both known as founding members of the band Seabear.


The Alternative and Metal scene is vibrant with Icelandic bands playing large festivals in Europe and the United States. The metal-band Solstafir is widely known outside of Iceland. Already back in 1999 they had a contract for their debut album with a German record label.

The Viking-Metal Band Skálmöld played two sold out shows with the Icelandic symphony orchestra in the capital’s concert hall Harpa in December 2013.[7] Agent Fresco combine metal, rock and alternative elements with the unique voice of singer Arnór Dan Arnarson and have also gained international attention. The instrumental Post-Rock and alternative-Rock band For a Minor Reflection is widely known since supported Sigur Rós on tour back in 2009. Their sound is often compared to Explosions in the Sky or the Scottish Post-Rock band Mogwai. Dead Skeletons are not only known for their unique psychedelic-rock sound but also for their artwork and an art gallery in Reykjavik run by front man and singer Jón Sæmundur Auðarson. [8] The Vintage Caravan, founded by two of the members in 2006 when they were only 12 years young, are about to play one of Europe’s biggest festivals, the Wacken Open Air, this summer.

Electronic Music

The techno house group GusGus is one of Iceland’s most successful exports in the field of electronic music. So far they released nine studio albums. The latest “Mexiko” came out in June 2014.

Other artists include DJ duo Gluteus Maximus, Hermigervill, Bloodgroup and Sísý Ey.

The international franchise Sónar held their first festival in Reykjavik in 2013 with a long roster of international and local electronic acts.


Ben Frost, born in Melbourne, living in Reykjavik, is bringing together electronic soundscapes with classical elements and noisy tunes. His latest Album A U R O R A was released in June 2014.

Classical elements also characterize the symphonic music of Icelandic born composer and singer Ólafur Arnalds. Other widely known experimental Bands are Múm and the high school originated Hjaltalín.

The trio Samaris are gaining more and more attention, especially in Europe, and are playing festivals all over Europe in 2014. Their self-released EP, “Stofnar falla”, was positively reviewed and followed up by their debut album that was released in May 2014.

List of Icelandic music artists

National anthem

The national anthem of Iceland is "Lofsöngur", written by Matthías Jochumsson, with music by Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson.[9] The song, in the form of a hymn, was written in 1874, when Iceland celebrated the one thousandth anniversary of settlement on the island. It was first published under the title A Hymn in Commemoration of Iceland's Thousand Years.

Music institutions

Iceland Music Export

Aims to aid in exporting Icelandic music abroad. Runs a website and newsletter with information about Icelandic music.[10]


ÚTÓN is the local wing of Iceland Music Export aiming to educate on matters of music promotion as well as administering funds and general consultation. [11]

Iceland Music Information Center

The MIC is a national agency for contemporary and older, mostly classical, music. It is also part of the International Music Information center.[12]


Umbrella organization for Icelandic authors, performers and producers. [13]


Iceland hosts a variety of music festivals. The biggest festival is Iceland Airwaves with over 9000 guests. It takes place in the central area of Iceland’s capital city Reykjavík for five days at the beginning of November. Also there is an upcoming highlight- festival called Secret Solstice festival which for the first time was held on summer 2014, June 20-22. The festival took place at the Laugardalur recreational area, also known as Hot Spring Valley, which is located just 15 minutes from downtown Reykjavik.

Other festivals are


Harpa (concert hall) is the biggest venue in Iceland. The opening concert was held on May 4, 2011. Smaller concerts are held at smaller venues or pubs located mainly around capital area.

Record Labels

Some of the labels mostly concentrate on one genre, whilst others are promoting many types of music. 12 Tónar and Smekkleysa run record stores in Reykjavik.

  • 12 Tónar
  • Bedroom Community
  • Blánótt
  • Ching Ching Bling Bling
  • Dimma
  • Geimsteinn
  • Hljóðaklettar
  • Kimi Records
  • Lady Boy Records
  • Lagaffe Tales
  • Mugiboogie
  • Möller Records
  • Record Records
  • Sena
  • SJS Music
  • Smekkleysa SM/Bad Taste SM
  • Synthadelia
  • Zonet Music

Producers and Studios

  • Bang Studio
  • Greenhouse Studios
  • Hljodriti (Studio Syrland Hafnarfjordur)
  • Medialux HQ
  • Orgelsmiðjan
  • Studio Syrland
  • Sundlaugin Studio
  • Gryfjan


  • Cronshaw, Andrew (2000). "Waiting for the Thaw". In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.). World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East. London: Rough Guides. pp. 168–169.  
  • Steingrímsson, Hreinn. Dorothy Stone and  
  • The Icelandic music scene after the economic collapse
  • The Real Icelandic Music Scene -- REDEFINE magazine
  • [1]

[14] [15]

  • Benjamin, Tómas Gabríel. "Gourmet Viking Metal". Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  • Reed, Ryan. "Sigur Ros Share Gloomy 'Game of Thrones' Cover". June 2014. 



  1. ^ Cronshaw, pgs. 168-169
  2. ^ "Invisible Oranges Iceland metal article". May 1, 2014. Retrieved May 5, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Icelandic Metal is the Best Kind of Metal". January 28, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2014. 
  4. ^ Booking Entertainment. "Björk". 
  5. ^ Sigur Rós. "sigur rós scores an upcoming episode of ‘the simpsons’". 
  6. ^ Reed, Ryan. "Sigur Ros Share Gloomy 'Game of Thrones' Cover". Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  7. ^ Benjamin, Tómas Gabríel. "Gourmet Viking Metal". Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  8. ^ Auðarson, Jón Sæmundur. "About Dead". 
  9. ^ "The Icelandic National Anthem". musik og saga. Retrieved November 11, 2005. 
  10. ^ Iceland Music Export. "About Iceland Music Export". 
  11. ^ Útón. "Um Útón". 
  12. ^ Iceland Music Information Center. "About". 
  13. ^ Samtónn. "Um Samtónn". 
  15. ^ "About Dead". 
  16. ^ "sigur rós scores an upcoming episode of ‘the simpsons’". 

External links

  • Iceland Music Export web-site, a comprehensive database of Icelandic music and musicians (in English)
  • Kraumur Music Fund, supports Icelandic artists, Björk and Kjartan Sveinsson of Sigur Rós are board members (in English)
  • - The Icelandic Music Page (available in English)
  • Music From The Moon A scenic documentary movie about music in Iceland & Greenland
  • ShopIcelandic Music
  • Iceland Airwaves
  • [2]
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