Icelandic bands and artists that you should check out!

Icelandic bands and artists that you should check out!

Are you bored with your playlist? Don’t worry, we are about to load it up with some new and iconic Icelandic music. Iceland's music scene has exploded over the last forty years and we are so here for it! The country is home to some very talented musicians, singers, and songwriters. Most of them have taken their music worldwide and are still touring across the globe, while others are just breaking onto the scene. You may even be surprised to find out that some of these popular artists are from this small island. So let’s talk about the Icelandic bands and artists that you should check out!


Kaleo

A famous band that is from Iceland is Kaleo. This group of childhood friends formed their band in 2012. They were raised in Mosfellsbær, which is a suburb of Reykjavík. Before they were popular worldwide they were known as Iceland’s number one rock band locally. Their band name translates to "the sound" in the Hawaiian language, making it a unique name. 

The band members are lead vocalist and guitarist JJ Julius Son, drummer David Antonsson, bassist Daniel Kristjansson and lead guitarist Rubin Pollock. The band dropped their first album in 2013 named Kaleo. Then in 2016, they came out with their most famous album A/B. Some popular songs that you may recognize from that album are "No Good", "All the Pretty Girls" and “Way Down We Go”. This album topped charts across the world, putting Kaleo on the map.

Then in 2021, they came out with their newest album “Surface Sounds''. This album was known for its famous hits including “I Want More” and “Break My Baby”. Kaleo is still performing and making music. Catching them performing a show in Iceland would be a bucket list experience!

Our Favorite Track: I Want More

Ásgeir Trausti

Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson is an Icelandic singer-songwriter and musician. He also plays guitar in the Icelandic band The Lovely Lion. Ásgeir initially thought he was going to have a career as a javelin until he got into a bad accident. After that, he became an Iceland success story. He is also from the small town of Laugarbakki, which is a very small village in Northern Iceland. He said growing up in a small town helped him focus on his hobbies which allowed him to get better and better at music. 

His debut album, Dýrð í dauðaþögn was released in 2012. The popular single "Sumargestur", made it to number two on the Tónlist, which is an unofficial but widely quoted Icelandic Singles Chart. Other well-known tracks on this album are  "Leyndarmál" and the title track "Dýrð í dauðaþögn". After this, Ásgeir released four more albums in 2014, 2017, 2020, and 2022. Some popular songs from these albums are “King and Cross" and “Youth". You will hear so much art in his songs. He even collaborated with his father,  Einar Georg Einarsson, who is a celebrated Icelandic poet. 

Our Favorite Track: Youth

Of Monsters and Men

If you have had any access to the radio or the internet in the past ten years, you most likely have heard of “Of Monsters and Men”. But did you know that this indie folk rock band was formed in Reykjavik? In 2010, lead singer and guitarist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, singer and guitarist Ragnar "Raggi" Þórhallsson, lead guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson and bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson formed the band.

They gained attention in Iceland when they won the 2010 Battle of the Bands competition which took place in Reykjavik. They shortly after released their EP “Into the Woods”. Then in 2011, they released their first studio album “My Head Is an Animal''. This album even reached number one in Australia, Ireland, and the United States. This album included the world-famous hit “Little Talks''. This song went completely viral and was #1 on charts in many different countries. This allowed Of Monsters and Men to play at some famous musical festivals. Including Coachella, Newport Folk Festival, Osheaga Festival, and Lollapalooza. 

Then in 2014, they released Beneath the Skin which showcased "Crystals". During this time they reached 1 billion listens on Spotify, which is a huge accomplishment. They released their third album Fever Dream and Tíu in 2019 which included their hit "Alligator". 

In addition to their popular album tracks the band recorded specialty songs for tv shows and movies. This includes The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Walking Dead, and Jessica Jones. The band is still making music but they are not on tour as of right now.

Our Favorite Track: Mountain Sound

GUSGUS 

Have you heard of the funky yet dramatic electronic Icelandic music group GUSGUS? If not, you are missing out. They actually refuse to be referred to as a band and instead opt-in for being called a fjöllistahópur, which can translate into art or a circus. They joined the music scene in Reykjavik in 1995, when they were all hired to help with a short film that was featured on youtube. They were tasked to create the soundtrack and that is how GUSGUS came together. An unusual start that ended with a big payoff. 

Over the past twenty-five years, they have released 11 albums! Their first album Gus Gus was released in 1995. Followed by  Polydistortion and This Is Normal, produced in the late 90s as well. Then in 2000, Gus Gus vs. T-World dropped, followed by Attention in 2002. Forever was released in 2007, 24/7 in 2009, and Arabian Horse in 2011. Then in 2014 Mexico was released, Lies are more Flexible in 2019, and finally Mobile Home in 2021. As you can see, the band has been super busy during their musical career!

The musical group has had 15 different members come and go over the years, all bringing a unique twist to their music. Birgir Þórarinsson has been with the musical group throughout the band’s existence.  Daníel Ágúst has also been there for most of it, with a brief break midway through. Birgir Þórarinsson has witnessed the band going through all of its ups and downs. From bankruptcy, team turnover rate, drug issues, and oh so much more. GUSGUS is a staple in Iceland that created the electronic music scene in Iceland before it was popular worldwide. Their song Love is Alone is the most popular track from their previous album released in 2021. They have also been on a European tour. GUSGUS is continuing to make music and we are so excited to see what the fjöllistahópur does next!

Our Favorite Track: Over

Daði og Gagnamagnið 

Daði Freyr is the frontman of the unique band Daði og Gagnamagnið. This singer was born in Reykjavik and has a unique story and is relatively new to the scene. Daði was initially supposed to perform his song “Think About Things” at the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2020. The event got canceled due to Covid. Then in 2021, he was able to sing his song “10 Years” at the Eurovision Song Contest 2021. He finished in 4th place, drawing attention from all over. 

He was joined for his performance by the group he called Gagnamagnið. Which is made up of his sister Sigrún Birna Pétursdóttir who is a backing vocalist. His wife Árný Fjóla Ásmundsdóttir who is a dancer and his friends Hulda Kristín Kolbrúnardóttir who is backing vocalist and Stefán Hannesson who is a dancer. And finally, Jóhann Sigurður Jóhannsson who is a dancer. The group tours and performs together, providing a fun stage presence. 

Daði Freyr's first EP dropped back in 2017. Shortly after in 2019 his first studio album was released, & Co. Then in 2021 the album “Welcome “ hit the scene. This album contained the Daði og Gagnamagnið ‘s most popular songs. Including 10 Years, Feel The Love, and Think About Things. Since Daði Freyr is newer to the scene, we can’t wait to see what the group has in store for us!

Our Favorite Track: Think About Things

Pollapönk

Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about the kids out there. The Icelandic punk children’s band  Pollapönk is a family favorite. The band was formed in 2006 by singer Heiðar Örn Kristjánsson and lead guitarist Haraldur Freyr Gíslason. They were both initially from the rock band Botnleðja and were both teachers. Their vision was to create music that could be enjoyed by both children and their families.

They created their album Pollapönk as a project for the Iceland University of Education’s graduation. After this, Haraldur's brother Arnar Þór Gíslason and Guðni Finnsson joined the band, where drums and bass were added. This prompted a second album release in 2019 for their Meira Pollapön album. Then in 2011, another album was released by Aðeins Meira Pollapönk.

In 2014, their song "Enga fordóma", which was about anti-bullying, won the  Eurovision Song Contest. The song was translated into English and is commonly known as “No Prejudice”. The band hasn’t done much since 2014 but their song is still popular throughout the world and has gained a lot of awareness for children and bullying. We are excited to see if they make a comeback in the next few years. 

Our Favorite Track: No Prejudice

Björk

The most well-known musical artist on this list has to be Björk. Most people don’t even know that she is from Iceland either! Her long list of history cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs but we will highlight some of her best work. She has been hot on the music scene for four decades, starting her career at the age of 11. She was born and raised in Reykjavik and gained fame from her alternative rock band, the Sugarcubes. When the band broke up in 2021, Björk went on solo. 

She released her solo album “Debut” in 1993 followed by “Post” in 1995. She released more albums in 1997, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2001, 2015, and 2017. A lot of these albums climbed the Billboard Charts, putting her well into the top 20 on some. Some of the singles that landed her in the Top 10 were "It's Oh So Quiet", "Army of Me", and "Hyperballad".  In addition to topping charts, Rolling Stone named her the 60th greatest singer and the 81st greatest songwriter. We agree!

In addition to singing and songwriting, she is also an actress. That is right, she truly does it all. In 2000 she starred in the Lars von Trier film Dancer in the Dark. She even won the Best Actress Award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. In addition to this, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "I've Seen It All". 

She also still helps Iceland and is an advocate for environmental causes in the country. Her career is still going strong and she has become a triple threat over the years. Björk is the epitome of iconic not only in Iceland but worldwide. We are so excited to see where her career continues to take her over the next four decades.

Our Favorite Track: Human Behavior

Bríet 

Bríet Ísis Elfar, more commonly known as Bríet, is a female Icelandic singer from Reyjavik. This 23-year-old began her musical career by singing in jazz bars and performing at off-venue concerts in Iceland. You may even recognize her for her participation in Iceland Got Talent.

Bríet sings in both Icelandic and English. Her first single, "In Too Deep" was released in 2018. Then her album Kveðja was released two years later in 2020. Which had a unique blend of  Scandinavian pop music and country music. Eight songs from the album made it to Spotify's Top 10 list for Iceland as well. Recently in 2021, Bríet was selected as the album of the year at the 2021 Icelandic Music Awards. She is an artist to keep your eye on and we expect her to blow up worldwide over the next year. We are filled with excitement to see what this rising star is going to bring to the table. 

Our Favorite Track: Cold Feet

Sigur Rós 

If you are looking for an Icelandic band that has been making music since the 90s then look no further than Sigur Ros. The band from Reyjavik is composed of singer and guitarist Jón Þór "Jónsi" Birgisson, bassist Georg Holm, and keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson. The band was formed back in 1994 in Reykjavik. 

Von and Von brigði was their first album which came out in 1997. The album gained popularity throughout Iceland making them a household name. Their second album Ágætis byrjun dropped in 1999. Their songs became famous from word of mouth in Iceland to eventually worldwide. Then when their infamous song “, "Svefn-g-englar" appeared in the movie Vanilla Sky, it was all history. Fans from all over followed the band.

In 2001 their third album Rímur was created with Icelandic local fisherman Steindór Andersen. Steindór was featured reciting poetry during the six songs on the EP. Their fourth album Takk came out in 2005 which featured a more rock and roll vibe. Their track "Hoppípolla" blew up and got them featured on the Slumdog Millionaire Trailer and the film We Bought A Zoo. In 2007 the band released a documentary that featured their summer tour in Iceland and their homes. Then their fifth album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust was released in 2008. We recommend checking it out!

After the fifth album, Jónsitook on a musical solo adventure with his first solo album "Go”. Which was released in 2010. But in 2013 the band had two members leave yet another album was released, “Kveikur”. Some songs from the album appeared on Game of Thrones as well as Blackwater. 

Finally, in 2020 the band gained back a member and released Odin's Raven Magic. Then the band announced their first tour in five years! The tour is still happening with a show taking place in Reykjavik in November. Sigur Rós has an extensive musical history and they truly are a huge part of Iceland’s music scene. 

Sigur Rós has so many albums for you to explore. In addition to these, you can find collaborations and side projects that the band has done. We recommend grabbing a seat at their next concert since they are truly Iceland’s most iconic band! 

Our Favorite Track: Hippípolla
(We can guarantee that you've heard that song in some Hollywood movie)

Jón Jónsson 

Get ready to listen to the music of Jón Ragnar Jónsson who was also a former soccer player. His music style is known as the Icelandic version of Jack Johnson.  Jón has been sharing his music with us since ten years old and also studied music in his local school. From there, he attended Boston University on a soccer scholarship. During this time he pursued writing, recording, and performing his songs at local venues in Boston. After he graduated he returned to Iceland where music became his primary career.  

Singles “Kiss in the Morning”, “Lately” and “When You’re Around”  got a lot of time on the radio. This allowed him to gain popularity before his album, Wait for Fate, was released in 2011. He performed at different festivals in Iceland including Icelandic Culture Night, Icelandic National Day, and the Þjóðhátíð Music Festival. Then in 2012, he got his big break when he traveled to New York. He had an audition with Reid’s Epic Records Label and was signed. Since then he has put out popular singles such as "Feel for You" in 2013, "Ljúft að vera til" in 2013, and "Ykkar Koma" in 2015. He hasn’t come out with anything new in the past few years, but we are just patiently waiting for a new single drop!

Our Favorite Track: All, You, I


Where Can You See Live Music In Iceland?

Now that we talked about which bands to check out, we can discuss where you can catch their next show. 

Iceland Airways

The most popular music festival in Iceland is Iceland Airwaves. It is an annual music festival held in Reykjavík in early November. The festival spans four days and its main focus is showcasing new music, both Icelandic and international. The festival's main sponsors are Icelandair and the City of Reykjavík. The festival takes place at different locations and stages throughout the city. They showcase hundreds of acts ranging from unheard-of up-and-comers to headline status artists. This is an awesome opportunity to discover new music or to see your favorite band. 

Flatus Lifir

Flatus Lifir is located in Hex Hostel in downtown Reykjavik. It is a brand new pop-up bar and restaurant. The vibe here is a bit fancier than a pub but not too fancy. The friendly staff and locals will make the venue even more welcoming. This is a fantastic place to listen to local live music while also enjoying a delicious meal.

Húrra

Located in Reykjavík is the premier live music venue, Hurra. They were voted "Best for live music" and "Best All-Around Bar" in The Reykjavík Grapevine in 2015, 2016 & 2017. In addition, to live music, they also offer comedy shows and other events. You can check out their lineups on their Instagram Page. This is a great place to check out local Icelandic musicians!

Græni hatturinn

Located in Akureyri is the live music venue of Græni hatturinn. This venue provides tons of bands and live music. They even have cover bands for you to enjoy. Enjoy some cold local brews and cocktails while enjoying your favorite musicians. You can view their upcoming events here. Græni hatturinn is an awesome place for you to enjoy music in the “Capital Of The North” 

Harpa Concert Hall

This venue located in Reykjavik showcases not only concerts but also exhibitions, conferences, ballet, and more. Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is not a hole-in-the-wall venue but provides orchestra-type shows. The building is quite stunning and features a distinctive colored glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. Harpa is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera, and Reykjavík Big Band, which hold regular concerts throughout the year. Harpa is a magical place to visit during the holidays when they do seasonal ballet shows such as the Nutcracker. Every now and then you will get famous Icelandic artists that team up with the Orchestra, which is why it deserves a spot on our live music list!

FAQ

What is traditional Icelandic music called?

It is called Sagas and Rímur. Which is the tradition of singing sagas. This type of music can still be found in the Icelandic folk songs known as rímur.

Why does Iceland have so many musicians?

It is said that Iceland has so many great musicians because of their culture. They are influenced by traveling and listening to musicians from around the world. With that combined, beautiful music is created.

What do Icelandic people listen to?

Hip-Hop is hands down the most popular genre in Iceland as of today. Pop music is another front runner and is known to be a musical style of Icelanders. You can also expect to hear jazz, Rock, and classic music when visiting Iceland!


Leah Bilquist wrote this article.

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